The Sunday Mail
COMRADE Francis Komboni Gondo, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Elias Hondo has over the past few weeks given us new perspectives on the Second Chimurenga. In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, the red-eyed commander takes his narration to new levels.“Tongogara was a ruthless commander with tendencies of a dictator,” says Cde Hondo without blinking. Cde Hondo participated in the arrest of the members of the Badza-Nhari rebellion as part of the “Gukurahundi group” but he maintains that Badza and Nhari were justified in what they did and goes on to say “Tongogara failed to handle that rebellion properly.” Read on this gripping story…
SM: Last time you were speaking about the Badza-Nhari rebellion. Can you briefly explain to us what exactly happened?
Cde Hondo: Like I said, the Badza-Nhari rebellion was mishandled by Tongogara and others. Nhari was the provincial commander of Tete province while Dakarai Badza was provincial political commissar. These were important positions. These comrades and others came to the rear in Lusaka, Zambia complaining kuti zvombo zvatinazvo kuwar front zvava inferior. So Cletus Chigohwe arrested these comrades and beat them up thoroughly. Am not sure what exactly had happened but vakarohwa zvisingaiti.
These were commanders who had been at the war front and they knew what they were talking about. After being beaten thoroughly and with wounds all over, they were ordered to go back to the war front. When they got to the war front, they told their fellow comrades what had happened. Nhari and Badza together with these other comrades were angered by what had happened. They said ‘ahh, vanhu vanotogara mutawindi zvavo, isu tichigara musanga. Toenda kwavari to tell them our problems and they treat us like this.” They then planned to come to the rear for revenge.
Sam Chandawa (Col Wenyika after independence) was part of this group. These comrades came back to Lusaka. On this day, I was in Livingstone, still in Zambia. There were even some female comrades, I think Catherine was part of the group. They got to Chifombo and found the late Vitalis Zvinavashe there and they arrested him. The bundled him into a Land rover and came with him to Lusaka.
In Lusaka they tried to arrest Cletus Chigohwe but he escaped. I think there was also other comrades Ceaser and Mao. They took another vehicle a Fiat. They now had two cars and they went door-to-door arresting other comrades. They arrested Ndangana, Charles Dauramanzi, Joseph Chimurenga and others. People like Kumbirai Kangai were just beaten up. These comrades were armed. I arrived in Lusaka the next day coming from Kazungula where we were smuggling some weapons. Ndakawana Lusaka yese iri zii.
I was then told by some comrades that Badza and Nhari were actually looking for me also. Kwainzi ndini umwe vevanhu vaTongogara vasingaendi kuwar front. All these other arrested comrades had been taken away. Cletus Chigohwe, he was a member of the High Command, then came out of his hiding place and said let’s follow these comrades and arrest them. I told him kuti iwe ita mushe. We only have pistols and these comrades have sub-machine guns, how can we fight them? Cletus iyeye aiva nehasha and I can tell you chakapedza kuuraya vanhu nehasha idzodzo.
We then said Ernest Kadungure we are now leaving you here in Lusaka. Mataure then said, he wanted to open dialogue with the Badza and Nhari group. Tongogara disagreed saying why do want to talk to them? He actually accused Mataure of being on the same side with Badza and Nhari. Tongogara and Chitepo later went to Romania. We then went kupurazi reZanu which was on the outskirts of Lusaka. Tairara mudondo fearing these rebel comrades.
We would eat food tiri musango imomo. Tongogara and Chitepo later came back from Romania but we didn’t know because we were staying musango near kupurazi reZanu. Robson Manyika and Gwauya were then sent to go and take a group of comrades that we called “Gukurahundi.”
SM: Quite interesting. How big was this Gukurahundi group?
Cde Hondo: This was a group of about 250 fresh comrades from Mgagao. I can say that by this time, the whole command yekuwar front was now against us. It was now rear versus front. These 250 comrades came kupurazi and we discussed the way forward. We then agreed that to stop Badza and Nhari from taking over purazi reZanu, we would leave 50 comrades at the farm. While this was happening, Tongogara reported to the Zambian government what was happening.
Zambian government then arrested vana Nhari in Lusaka. Badza had gone to the war front. We decided to come up with a new command. We then appointed Patrick Mupunzarima as the new provincial commander for Tete. I was made the provincial political commissar. Chinamaropa was appointed to security while Chikono was appointed to logistics.
I can’t remember who was the medic. We then went to Kaswende about 200 comrades where some of the Badza-Nhari group were supposed to meet with some governor from Mozambique. We arrested five of the Badza-Nhari group members. There was Badza, Ndanga, Chemist Ncube, Chiridza and Chimedza.
I had never been to the front so some of the things that started happening ndaiva mutsva. When these five comrades were being interrogated, I was not part of it but I could hear these comrades screaming in pain. They were being tortured and beaten. The next morning, we said lets go to Chifombo which was now the rebellion’s stronghold.
We said we must have 80 strong comrades to go on this mission. I together with Mupunzarima went to attack Chifombo. We took the comrades at Chifombo by surprise and they didn’t have much time to resist. There were staying in groups of about 15 to 20 at different places. This was during the night and we silently arrested them. I think only one of them escaped.
On the other hand, Tongogara, Mayor Urimbo and Bombadiari took Badza and Ndanga in a Land rover. I really don’t know where they went with these comrades. I could see these comrades were up to something but they were not telling me. The next day, which was on Christmas Day, I think that’s when Badza and Ndanga were killed.
SM: Who killed them exactly?
Cde Hondo: You see, Tongogara wanted to imitate Fidel Castro. He could speak until he lost his voice. He came to me saying “yeah, Badza and Ndanga takavaendesa kuLusaka.” I thought on my own that this was not true. Ndakanyumwa but I couldn’t ask. We were now left with Chimedza, Chemist and Chiridza. I whispered to Bombadiari, asking whether it was true that Badza and Nhari had been taken to Lusaka. Bombadiari whispered back to me saying “takavauraya.” He said “takasunga ndanga netambo muhuro, umwe achidhonza uko umwe uko, kusvika afa. Asi uyu muNdau uyu, meaning Badza, ainetsa takadhonza, tadhonzazve achiramba kufa. Manyika akazoburitsa pfuti ndokupfura Badza but asati afa akati “nhaiwe Manyika, unondiurairei? Ndikafa uchazvionawo.” I was paralyzed with fear. I was now fearing for my life.
On January 1 1975, Tongogara said, “Elias Hondo, I want you to go to Teresera Base.” I was given about 115 comrades. I left Mupunzarima at Chifombo. From January 1 we arrived at Teresera Base on the 9th of January. I remember it was raining heavily. The distance was just too much and we didn’t have enough food. One the way we had captured Cde Vhuu and he is the one who was now leading us because he knew the way to Teresera. When we got to Teresera, we were about 80 comrades.
Others failed to make it. At Teresera base, this is where the comrades who had been arrested by the Badza-Nhari group were. We swamped the base and the first person we freed was Cde Ndangana. I think Joseph Chimurenga and some other comrade had escaped.
So we rounded up the base and freed all the comrades including Vitalis Zvinavashe. Tongogara had given me instructions that I should not allow them to take command because they were senior to me although we had trained at the same time. He gave this instruction because he knew that in retaliation, people like Zvinavashe would kill all the members from the Badza-Nhari group we would have arrested. Teresera Base was the base where those recruits coming from the war front would first gather once they crossed Zambezi River.
SM: How was their condition?
Cde Hondo: It wasn’t that bad, but vakanga vakasungwa. We then walked back but hey hutsinye hwaiitika ipapo kuti nditi ndiyo hondo yacho, ndakazvishaya. I think in total, 45 members of the Badza-Nhari group were killed including three women. I was later promoted into the High Command together with people like Josiah Tungamirai, Wilfred Mhanda, Mupunzarima and others. By this time, Rev.
Sithole was still in charge. Cde Mugabe and Tekere had not yet been released from prison. I remember there were some talks going on during this time, but I can’t say much about this because I wasn’t part of the talks. Due to these disturbances, hondo yakatombomira kufront. There were no properly trained comrades at the front. This is the time we deployed some comrades who had not received proper training. We later moved to Seguranza Base and it took us two days to get to this base. Vitalis Zvinavashe later followed us. While at Seguranza base, that’s when we heard that Chitepo had been killed.
SM: Let’s go back to the Badza-Nhari rebellion. When you started talking about this rebellion, you said Tongogara didn’t handle this issue properly. Can you explain what you meant?
Cde Hondo: These comrades had come to alert the leadership about the challenges they were facing at the war front. By this time, Tongogara and others in the leadership only went as far as Chifombo. They didn’t go into Rhodesia to the war front, but when they came back from Chifombo, they would claim that they were at the war front.
Because of this, they didn’t know the real situation at the war front. There was what I would call a bottleneck. Tongogara had a system of blocking leaders like Chitepo from knowing what exactly was happening at the war front. He didn’t want Chitepo and others to know what the fighters were thinking. During that time, there was Dare Rechimurenga which comprised people like Kangai, Gumbo and others. He was part of this Dare and he also didn’t want us to know what was discussed in this Dare. He would come to us and say “haaa, povho haina zvainoziva” meaning the nationalists in Dare. Remember most people in this Dare were not fighters. On the other hand, when Tongogara went to these members of Dare he would say “haaa, these fighters, vanoziveiko ava.” Aida kunatsa kwese.
I think when Badza and Nhari and their group came for the first time to say their complaints, they were not supposed to be beaten. Tongogara and the other leaders were supposed to listen to these commanders. These were provincial commanders and if this was a free Zimbabwe, these commanders would be generals. That’s how important these commanders were.
It’s like Cde Chiwenga now, he is quite senior and up there such that all those below him havafanirwi kungotamba naye. But then Tongogara didn’t put all this into consideration that there were some commanders in the High Command. That’s why I say he mishandled the situation. These commanders had valid points and they wanted to save the struggle. But instead they went back to the war front with wounds all over their bodies. What did you expect the other comrades below them to do? Tongogara mishandled the situation and this is my personal view.
SM: Are you implying that comrade Tongogara instilled fear into people?
Cde Hondo: Yes, I can say that. Most comrades did not respect him. They feared him. Sometimes aiti akasvika pazvimbo, vanhu vaiti zii, nekutya. He was a good commander, but I also saw his mistakes. He killed Mataure after accusing him of being on the side of the Badza-Nhari rebellion. Even Madekurozva who was a male nurse, he was killed. He also went to the publicity department where there was Washington Malianga. Kwakanga kune zvirema ikoko, but zvakapondwa zvose. Zvirema zvisingakwanisi kana kuita chii.
Cde Hondo: They were accused of being on the side of Badza and Nhari. That’s why I said, this situation wasn’t handled properly.
SM: You spoke about Cde Chemist Ncube saying he missed death by a whisker. How did that happen?
Cde Hondo: Like I told you three of them survived during the early stages. When I left for Teresera Base, Chemist, Chiridza and Chimedza were still captives. But I am told that Chiridza was later killed. I met Chiridza’s wife after independence in Sunningdale. She asked me together with his son what happened to her husband. I told her that I didn’t kill Chiridza. I told her that I left Chiridza, Chemist and Chimedza alive. The people who had been killed when I left were Badza and Ndanga. I don’t even know how Chemist and Chimedza survived that’s why I say vakapona neburi retsono.
SM: Some people say the Badza-Nhari rebellion was triggered by regionalism in Zanu. What is your comment?
Cde Hondo: I don’t think so. This was too early in the struggle. Regionalism later crept into the party but not at this stage. Nhari was from Mt Darwin, Badza was from the east, Chandawa was from Masvingo. So by this time, no, it wasn’t regionalism. They came to the rear in Lusaka as a force and they were well represented.
SM: Do you think these comrades had been writing reports to the rear that the leadership in Lusaka had failed to attend to?
Cde Hondo: I don’t want to speculate, but what I know is that when they came they had genuine complaints and what I know is that they ended up being beaten. I wasn’t there to talk about these reports. But you could be right because havaizongosimuka without first writing the reports.
Some comrades even lie kuti heee vakanga vatengesa kuna Smith. I also don’t think that true. These allegations were made but I personally don’t agree with that. What I witnessed is that these comrades came asking for the upgrading of their weapons.
SM: So you maintain Badza and Nhari were justified in what they did?
Cde Hondo: From my point of view I think, yes, they were justified. During the formation of ZIPA, amalgamation between Zanla and Zipra forces, I was made director of operations and I think Report, who is now Vice President (VP Mphoko) was in logistics. This is when I discovered that these comrades at the war front, had many challenges. Tongogara and his group were wrong. They should have listened to these commanders.
SM: But you were part of the group that was sent by Tongogara?
Cde Hondo: Yes, I was and I was wrong but I was taking orders from my commander. But like I told you, some of the things they did they didn’t tell me.
SM: You said about 45 comrades were killed by Cde Tongogara and his team?
Cde Hondo: Yes, they were killed nanaTongogara. Tongogara had people like Robson Manyika, Rex Nhongo, Mayor Urimbo, Chigohwe and others like Makasha vaingoshandiswa in the group that I said we called “Gukurahundi.” You used to see Nhongo with a scar on his face. He had an accident during these days together with Justin Chauke. You know since that time when I left Lusaka, I have never been to Zambia up to this day. But I repeat, Tongogara was not supposed to do what he did to Badza and Nhari. Tongogara aiti akakumaka, aiti “oohh, oohh, alright co-cocomrade, ok, co-cocomrade,” then know kuti hazvina kupera. Aiva munhu asingaregereri munhu. He would appear as if abvuma, but iye akasungirira nyaya yacho pamoyo. He was a very good soldier, but he didn’t want anyone to challenge him. Kuita seunoda kuziva too much kudarika iye.
SM: In brief, how would you describe Tongogara?
Cde Hondo: He was very ruthless with tendencies of a dictator. He used to admire leaders like Idi Amini and Samora Machel. You know Samora Machel akanga asiri wekutamba naye. Aiwuraya munhu just like that. Dai Tongogara akasvika muno ari mupenyu, ari mupenyu mwana waMagama, zvimwe zviri kuitika muno maiti baba (laughs). I am very serious.
SM: What do you mean?
Cde Hondo: With Tongogara, vanhu aingadai vasingangotaure taure zvavari kuita. Inga dai vasisiko.
SM: How come some people present Cde Tongo as a brave freedom fighter who was loved by many comrades?
Cde Hondo: Yes, he was very, very brave. Raive gamba but he was kind of a Joseph Stalin from Soviet Union. Remember Stalin followed Trosky and killed him in Bolivia. Yes, Tongo was a revolutionary, but he was Stalin-like.
SM: How were your relations with Cde Tongo?
Cde Hondo: All along we had very good relations. That’s why some comrades accused me of being a Tongo-boy because ndaingopihwa mabasa ekurear. Some people thought Tongo used to have a soft spot on me. He used to trust me that’s why he recommended that I train the first group of female recruits in Zanu. But ndakazviona kuti murume uyu haasi kwaye. Takazoburana mberi uko. I will get to that.
SM: You also said you worked with Cde Chitepo. How would you describe him?
Cde Hondo: Chitepo was a high-ranking official in Zanu, especially when the other nationalist leaders were still in prison. There was Rev. Sithole as the leader, Leopold Takawira as the deputy, then VaMugabe. Herbert Chitepo was a very quiet person. You know I interacted with him a lot but he had unique leadership qualities. Sometimes despite his high rank, he would cook sadza for us. He would use his money to buy food and cook for us. Isu taiita zvechicomrade but he was in a class of his own. He would say “huyai vakomana ndabika, huyai tidye.” He would say this nemoyo wake wose. I would equate him to JZ Moyo in Zapu. These two JZ Moyo and Chitepo, uummm vaive vanhu kwavo. Takarasikirwa paya. Chitepo was a unifier.
I remember one day when JZ visited our offices in Dar es Salaam. He started talking to Chitepo and as they were talking JZ said most people you see who claim to be Ndebeles are actually not Ndebeles but Kalangas. He said all people who claim to be Ndebeles with a totem of an animal are not pure Ndebeles. When these two leaders discovered that we were listening they walked away from the offices continuing their talk. These two JZ and Chitepo vakanga vasina havi yeleadership unlike people like Tongo.
SM: How did you see that Cde Tongo was too ambitious?
Cde Hondo: Remember Noel Mukono was the first leader of the Zanla forces. When Tongogara came, he did all he could to outmanoeuvre Noel Mukono. Later he succeeded. In Zambia we had provinces and every year we would meet for conferences. I remember it was during one of these conferences that Nathan Shamuyarira miscalculated and tried to remove Chitepo from the chairmanship. Tongogara wanted to remove Noel Mukono.
During one of these conferences, Tongogara went to Chifombo, I think about three times coming with several comrades, some of whom had just been recruited. Most of these comrades knew Tongogara and didn’t know Noel Mukono. When voting time came, Noel Mukono was beaten by Tongogara. Some comrades wanted to stop these new comrades from voting but Tongo and others said these were comrades from the war front and so they were supposed to vote also. That’s how Tongo took over from Noel Mukono. Ndiyo havi yandataura yekuda hukuru. Tongo did this but Noel Mukono was way too senior and was a member of the Central Committee that had been chosen when Zanu was formed.
Chitepo was never like that. If he wanted, he could have engineered to become president of the party when nationalists like President Mugabe were still in prison. But he never did that. He was content with his post as chairman. He was not power-hungry, despite the fact that he was educated.
Next week, Cde Hondo will give his views on the death of chairman Chitepo and how the other leaders of the party were arrested. He will narrate how he was appointed to lead the freedom fighters in Mozambique following the arrest of the Zanu leaders by the Zambian government. And for the first time, he will speak frankly about the Vashandi group. This will be a chilling and ruthless account from a tough-talking commander. Don’t miss your Sunday Mail next week.