The Sunday Mail
Cde Rhodas Karimakwenda, at the age of 15, took a decision not many teenagers could. She joined the liberation struggle. Our reporter Norman Muchemwa speaks to the former liberation fighter, whose war name was Cde Anna Matambudziko, to understand her war journey.
Question: Can you tell us about the early life of Rhodas Karimakwenda, where were you born and which schools did you attend?
Answer: My name is Rhodas Karimakwenda. I was born on 25 December 1959 in Rushinga, Mashonaland Central under chief Magaranhewe. I was born in a family of nine, being eight girls and one boy. Unfortunately, my only brother died during the liberation struggle. He was a war fighter.
I went to Rumwa Primary School in Rushinga up to grade seven, which was mostly the highest level of education, especially for us girls, during that time. At the age of 15, I crossed into Mozambique to join others who were wagging a fight against the Ian Smith colonial Government. My liberation struggle war name was Cde Anna Matambudziko.
Question: You took the task of fighting against the colonial Government at a young age, what was the motivation.
Answer: The proximity of our village to Mozambique played a major role in motivating me to join the struggle. Around 1974, there were many people crossing for military training to Mozambique and our area was one of the many places that these people passed through. As such, we had many comrades operating in our area and ensuring the smooth passage of those intending to cross into the neighbouring country.
I had gotten used to their presence and operations because we used to see these comrades almost daily. In most cases, after school, at around 5pm, the comrades would come to the village and assemble us, both the young and old.
They usually gave us orientation on why they were engaging in the liberation struggle.
They would tell us the history of the occupation of the country, how our forefathers were tricked and who the real owners of the land were. As a result of that orientation, the comrades would then liaise with our parents so that we, the young, assist them. Time and again, we were tasked to carry food, clothes and other materials to the comrades.
This was mainly done because in the event of an encounter with the Rhodesian soldiers, they would not suspect our mission because we were young. We also passed information to the comrades. Amongst the boys and girls we had included Tandi, Choruma, Mhaka. Ana Tandi ava naChoruma vakazouya kuhondo, asi vakazopanduka after the training.
We used to frequently meet comrades coming from Teresera in Mozambique and organise food for them. Our parents played an important role cooking for the comrades.
I was involved in these tasks from the age of 12 years. When I eventually went for training, at 15 years, I knew a lot of things about the liberation struggle. The manner in which we were oriented and our knowledge of how bad the Rhodesians were, gave us the urge to carry these duties without any difficult. We lived near the Rhodesia-Mozambique border and we were privy to a lot of armed struggle activities. This contributed to my joining the liberation struggle.
There was also a time when the Rhodesian soldiers would parade dead comrades, dangling the bodies from helicopters to dissuade villagers from joining the liberation struggle or supporting the fighters. These were painful experiences, but they significantly contributed in my desire to join the struggle. At the end of 1973, I was arrested together with other boys and girls and taken to Rusambo Mission. The Rhodesians threatened us with death saying they were aware of our interactions with comrades.
They then took us to a place called Nyakasoro where they had a camp. I thought that was the end of me. I feared for my life. Imagine, I had seen people killed for supporting the comrades. It was a frightening experience.
Question: How were you treated at the camps?
Answer: The situation was bad. We were treated like prisoners with no proper food and water despite our young age. We were also being tortured and this was being done to deter us from assisting the fighters. While we were held at the camp, one evening, Cde Herbert Shungu also known as Cde Changata, he is now based in Centenary, came to the camp. He was not detected, but simply left a letter on a chair that had been left vacant after mupuruvheya aititarisa aenda kunozvibatsira.
Paakadzoka akaona tsamba iyoyo and went through it before he handed it to his superiors. The letter simple read, ‘dzoserai vana kudzimba’.
Interestingly, at around 7pm we were ordered into a lorry. I feared we were going to be killed, but the lorry drove straight into our village and we were ordered to disembark.
On seeing the lorry, our parents rushed to it vachishevedzera kuti vana vadzoka.
After disembarking, the Rhodesian soldiers instructed us to stay within the proximity of our homes, failure to which we would be killed.
Question: When did you finally leave to join the liberation struggle?
Answer: Someone in our village sold out to the Rhodesians and they crossed into Mozambique at a base belonging to Frelimo and killed the base commander named Cde Patsogoro, his deputy and logistical commander.
The Rhodesians then came and paraded the three bodies on a huge granite rock in our area.
They then dissuaded us from supporting the fighters threatening that we would meet the same fate. It was a nasty and painful experience. Munhu kuyanikwa kunge hove paruware here zuva rese?
That is when we came with a decision to cross into Mozambique with a group of other boys and girls. We told a group of comrades, led by Cde Fortune Manhanga that we wanted to join the war. At first, they were hesitant because of our young ages, but they eventually gave in.
I remember leaving our area in the evening around 7pm. It was in April 1974 when we crossed into Mozambique. Our first port of call was Chikombedzi base.
Cde Richard Hove was the camp commander, other comrades there were Misheck Munhumutapa and Bhebhe. After Chikombedzi we took a different route to a base called Seguranza. We stayed there for several days. Later on, we were selected into different groups and the other teams proceeded to Tete and our group remained at Seguranza. There was a training camp at Seguranza and some comrades were being trained there for deployment to the war front. The training at this base was code named Chimbi-Chimbi.
Injured comrades were brought at this base and I remember someone who was at detachment level ainzi Cde Dhauke, he lost his life at this base due to injuries sustained in the war front.
NM: Who were the commanders at Seguranza?
Answer: Cde Bombadiari was the commander at this base, Cde Zulu was responsible for security while Cde George was responsible for logistics. We stayed at this base until the détente period. It was during the time when Cde Chitepo was killed by a bomb in Zambia in 1975.
The message came as a shock to all of us at the camp, both trained and untrained cadres, because many people knew the name chairman Chitepo. We were alerted by an emergency whistle and we all went to the assembly point where the sad news was delivered by Cde Bombadiari.
Many people, if not almost all the people at that camp had not personally met Cde Chitepo, that day there was a sombre atmosphere.
Zita rekuti Chitepo rairema, ndizvo zvoto zvechimurenga munhu wese aiita seaimuziva personally. He had a connection with people that is difficult to explain. His death almost derailed the struggle.
Like I mentioned before, this was the period around the détente and there was a directive that came from the leadership to stop the training of comrades as well as deployment of comrades to the front. Most senior Zanla commanders were arrested at the time by the Zambian Government and put in detention.
It was a known fact that the Zambians did not favour Zanla and preferred Zipra, hence this was another way of trying to weaken us.
At that time, we were hearing of peace talks that were being initiated to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table with a possibility of a unity government. The enemy almost succeeded during this détente period as the unity process looked genuine, but it was a plan by the Rhodesians to derail the struggle.
This was also around the same time group rana Cde Tandi, Cde Fata naCde Mhaka rainge richangobva mukupanduka.
They were saying hondo ngaichimira, but in actual fact vaitya kutorerwa zvigaro zvavo once the commanders arrested in Zambia were released.
This group vainge vave kuzviti ndivo vave vatungamiriri, vamwe vavakutozviti ndivo vatova ma detachment commanders.
To be continued next week