The Sunday Mail
EACH time Cde Noah Mbira whose Chimurenga name was Cde Chemist Ncube sat down to continue his shocking narration during the liberation struggle, he would first demand to be given time to pay respects to the country’s spirit mediums and his fellow comrades. “Please bear with me I am dealing with things beyond me. I want to thank Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Chaminuka, Sekuru Kaguvi and all spirit mediums of this country. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here today. Mudzimu nditungamirei nditaure this story, nditaure the truth and nothing but the truth.” The narration below will make you understand why Cde Chemist had to ask the spirit mediums to guide him during this interview.
During our last interview with Cde Chemist, he had narrated his three torturous years at the war front and we ended the interview after he had been taken to the rear in Zambia after being injured during a battle with the Rhodesian forces. Cde Chemist is one of the few remaining comrades who were accused of being part of the notorious Badza-Nhari rebellion which was accused of trying to topple the Zanu leadership in Zambia in 1974. In this no-holds barred interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvazvike, Cde Chemist does not mince his words and makes no apology as he narrates how he was ill-treated at the rear by Cde Gava (Cde Zvinavashe) and how he survived a shoot-out at Cde Tongogara’s house.
He narrates how together with Cde Badza and others they were lured into a trap and were later captured at Kaswende adding “…so we were captured at Kaswende and takatambwa bhora kuita kunge usisiri munhu.” Read on …
SM: Thank you Cde Chemist for your time. Now let’s continue your story during the liberation struggle. After being injured at the war front, you were taken to the rear in Zambia. Tell us what the situation was like at the rear.
Cde Chemist: What I saw at the rear was something very different from my experiences at the war front. December 1974, the time of detente. During this time some political detainees in Salisbury had already been released. At the war front, the Rhodesian forces were intensifying the war. Before this, when I was about to leave the war front, I remember the Smith regime had made an appeal to the Frelimo commander at Mukumbura to have dialogue or talks with the Zanla freedom fighters. With the advice of Cde Josiah Tungamirai I was then ordered to go to the rear because I had been injured and I went back to the rear with my assistant Cde Gaddafi. I was taken to Tete for treatment. Later on I was taken to Lusaka and to be honest with you I wasn’t really treated well. There was no urgency at all to treat me.
Whilst in Lusaka, at Number 93, I didn’t know what was happening at the rear when Cdes Badza, Nhari and quite a number of commanders including Cde Cephas arrived at the house. They came on a truck and said to me ‘Cde as you are aware, the armament situation at the war front is bad, so we need to meet the High Command and upraise them on the situation face to face.’ They said they had written reports about the situation but nothing had happened.
As you recall, I told you my situation in relation to my operations where I said at some stage there was really need for better armament. We were using light weapons and the enemy was well-prepared for the war and by this time reconnaissance was no longer an issue because we were now living with the Rhodesian forces and it was now atangirwa, atangirwa. In some cases we would be five kilometres apart or even less.
I spoke about the Magunje attack. It was hardly three kilometres away. The Rhodesians came with strong airpower and we lost quite a number of comrades. So all these were developments at the forefront touched every fighter that we shouldn’t be losing life like this. There was a clear need for us to improve our ammunition, strategy and tactics but still using guerrilla warfare because it was the backbone of the operation. But we had to give more support to all the groups at the front. I mean materiel support and reinforcements.
So this was the theme and basis of this meeting that Badza and Nhari were calling for. When these comrades told me this, I had no qualms with the meeting.
SM: You had fully recovered by now?
Cde Chemist: No, not even. Nobody had really taken good care of me. I had stayed for almost a week at Number 93 with no proper reception, yet I was not well. So the comrades called for this meeting and they said they wanted to meet Cde Tongo. The following day, they met Cde Tongo at some place, called Chainama in Lusaka. This meeting with Cde Tongo was attended by Cdes Badza, Nhari and Ceasar. The rest of us including Cde Cephas were not in that meeting.
SM: You were at this venue but outside?
Cde Chemist: Yes, we were outside. The meeting itself was held outside some bar and we were outside the venue itself.
SM: You were outside, but were you aware of the agenda?
Cde Chemist: All I knew was that they wanted to discuss the situation at the war front. I didn’t care about my injuries because to me this was an important meeting. Whatever they spoke about, it was agreed that Cde Tongo was going to China and on his return a further meeting was to be arranged. After this meeting we went to Chifombo and a few days later, I think a week or so we came back to Lusaka. We went to Number 93 and when we got there, I was asked to get into Cde Mataure’s car. It was a Renault 404 type. I got into this car with my gun and sat in front. Cde Badza was seated at the back. The rest of the team including Cde Nhari were in another truck. The story was that we were going to meet Cde Tongo again. We drove to Cde Tongo’s house around 10pm.
SM: So Cde Tongo had already gone to China?
Cde Chemist: Yes, according to reports. So on approaching Cde Tongo’s house and I didn’t know this was his house because I knew him staying at Number 93. So on approaching his house, someone from outside the house fired a gun at us. We later discovered it was the Zambian police. I quickly slipped out of Cde Mataure’s car. As a fighter I had to quickly come out of it, but we never returned fire. When I got out followed by Cde Badza, we escaped but the rest were under siege. I didn’t know Lusaka that much except at Number 93 so I had to follow Cde Badza who knew the Zambian situation well. Remember I told you Badza was my provincial commander at the war front. He was one of those courageous people. He would come all the way to Madziva which I had opened in May 1973. He came in August so I knew him very well, but I was wondering, why the shooting? The following morning, we went to some hiding place with the intention to meet Cde Rex Nhongo as Cde Badza had told me. I think this was somewhere in Mumbwa. That evening, came a suggestion from Cde Badza who said ‘cant we write to the chairman, Cde Chitepo about our situation.
SM: Let’s pose a bit Cde Chemist. You had gone to the war front and you had risen to become a provincial commander. Now comrade, you tell us as these comrades were taking you around you didn’t suspect anything and didn’t ask anything?
Cde Chemist: I was the provincial security officer. These comrades could have been scared to tell me the truth. I later learnt that the time I left Chifombo for Lusaka, this team had already abducted Cde Ndangana, Cde Chimurenga and Cde Gava. They took them across Zambezi to Teresera base in Mozambique. Cde Josiah Tungamirai was also taken I think. Even when we went into hiding, Cde Badza expressed ignorance of what was happening even though he suggested to me that the situation was deteriorating, leading him to suggest that we had to write a letter to chairman Chitepo.
SM: Was anybody injured during the shoot-out at Cde Tongo’s house?
Cde Chemist: I don’t know what happened there. I can only explain how we came out of that situation.
SM: You saying nothing, nothing was explained to you comrade?
Cde Chemist: No.
SM: As a trained and experienced soldier, didn’t you see that there was something wrong? The Zambian police couldn’t just start shooting at you.
Cde Chemist: Yes, you see there is something that has gone totally wrong. As a soldier, you don’t just act haphazardly. You have to weigh the situation. You have to understand what is happening. After the shooting, it was now a different story. Things had really gone wrong but I had no clue what exactly was going on. I didn’t have anyone to ask for information. From training in Kongwa in 1972, straight to Chifombo, all the three years at the war front I had never came back to the rear. My appointments came through my superiors, my provincial commanders and one of them was Badza. There was also Cde Nhari and Cde Chimedza. When Cde Badza suggested that we write to the chairman, though I had suspicion that something wrong was happening, I agreed with the idea. I thought by doing so we would quickly have dialogue because the shooting at Cde Tongo’s house spelt out that there was something wrong.
SM: Comrade, help us understand this and sorry for going over and over the same issue. Shots are fired at you and you think of escaping without asking what was going on? Yes, Cde Badza and Cde Nhari were senior to you but Cde Tongo was more senior to all of them. You still failed to find someone to ask?
Cde Chemist: As I told you, I am now put in the front position of the car. Being the security person, what I suspect is that I was being used as a decoy. I was a decoy that whenever Cde Tongo saw me, he would easily embrace me.
SM: What do you think could have happened if the Zambian police had not fired at you at Cde Tongo’s house?
Cde Chemist: As I said earlier on, the first meeting that happened between them, I was not in. By this time, Cde Tongo knew of the activities of this group because like I said they had already captured Cde Ndangana, Cde Chimurenga and others in Lusaka. But I was not aware of all this. After that meeting, I think they both knew what was happening. Remember I told you that at some point, Cde Gava didn’t give me a good reception.
SM: You see comrade, that was another red flag. Because of this someone would think, you joined this group because first you knew the desperate situation at the front as you told us, you were not given proper treatment and Cde Gava didn’t give you a good reception. So now was retaliation time?
Cde Chemist: No, not even. As I told you, when they approached me, there were other injured comrades, like Cde Tamai. My story is that I was taken as a decoy. They didn’t see me as part and parcel of their plan. Whatever I met thereafter, I met it as a soldier and I had to analyse the situation. I think when the shooting occurred, it was too late for me to do otherwise. I was already in the thick of things.
SM: Did you feel trapped?
Cde Chemist: Yes, I felt trapped but there was no way back. Looking from Cde Tongo’s High Command position, the position must have been that all the commanders from the war front were out there to oust them. To oust the leadership. So when we went to this hiding place, which was very close to the Zanu farm, Cde Badza knew exactly what was happening. He decided that we write that letter to the chairman. And yes, we did that. We wrote to the chairman and I was asked to deliver that letter to the Zanu Lusaka Town office.
SM: What did you write in that letter?
Cde Chemist: It was just an appeal that can the chairman sit down with the High Command and the commanders from the front to find a solution to the problems at the war front. It was a straight forward letter, despite the fact that Badza knew what had happened. He never revealed to me a thing. Even the abduction of these other comrades. So I delivered the letter and on delivery, I was sent with another old man, he was known to Cde Badza.
SM: So the two of you are crafting this letter and still you know nothing about what’s exactly going on?
Cde Chemist: Yes. Badza stuck to the story that ‘you know how bad the situation is at the war front’. This was no time to ask many questions. I had no other solutions, except to see the realisation of this meeting. It was quite a difficult situation. Remember I told you that by this time the High Command was thinking that every commander from the front was part of this move to oust them. I have no remorse about the decisions I made because I was already in the thick of things. My experience taught me to always exhaust a situation until you find a way out. So the High Command knew what had happened, especially the capture of those comrades. Actually, I was later to discover that the first meeting happened when already these comrades, Cde Ndangana, Cde Chimurenga, Cde Tungamirai and Cde Gava had already been abducted. So even when they went for this first meeting at Chainama, Cde Tongo knew what had happened.
Like I told you I was not in that meeting but they told me that they had agreed to meet again. When we were going for that second meeting, that is when the shoot-out happened. As we went, I was seated in front with Cde Mataure and I didn’t suspect anything. He was my senior and commissar of the party. So really it was a dicey situation for me.
SM: Ok, let’s continue with the story. You delivered this letter at the Zanu town office in Lusaka, then what?
Cde Chemist: When I got to the town office, I went in and informed the people who were there that I had a letter to deliver to the chairman. I told the girls who were manning the office that I wanted to speak to the chairman. I was given a phone and a number to call. I dialled the number and somebody from the other end answered the phone. The person told me that the chairman was in a meeting. I told this person who never identified himself about the letter and he told me to leave the letter at the office. On my way out, I tried to open the door and it was now locked. I asked the girls what had happened. I was very suspicious because clearly I was now trapped.
SM: You still had your gun?
Cde Chemist: Yes, I had my pistol. I asked who was outside the door and I was told it was Cde Chigohwe. He was in charge of security in the High Command. The girls told me to use the back door and I used the back door. I came out and saw Cde Chigohwe leaning against the front door. I just walked away but I knew I was in trouble. Cde Chigohwe was taken by surprise. He tried to follow me but I took to my heels.
SM: Comrade, you have been sent with a letter and as you deliver the letter you discover that you have been trapped in this office. You use the back door to sneak out. Earlier on, you said you didn’t have anywhere or anyone to ask what was going on. Now here was an opportunity for you to understand what was going on but still you leave this office without seeking to understand what was going on. Why? This gives the impression that indeed you were part of the Badza-Nhari group.
Cde Chemist: You actually could be right looking at it now. But like I told you, after the shooting, the situation had changed. Of course the letter was appealing for dialogue, but now I was locked inside the office. Like any military man, being captured was out of the question. I knew this was no longer a friendly atmosphere. I knew this was now confrontation. When I saw Cde Chigohwe standing outside, I knew he was a ruthless person and I wasn’t going to wait for him to capture me. Like I said, after the shoot-out at Cde Tongo’s house, I was already deeply involved.
SM: Did you know what you were deeply involved in?
Cde Chemist: In military terms, once you face a shooting, things have changed. Its time for survival. I had been used as a decoy and I could have been shot seated in the front of the car. Now after escaping, like I told you I had been driven to the town office by a certain old man who was known by Cde Badza. I had left him waiting for me at some service station.
SM: Why did you leave him at the service station?
Cde Chemist: That was my gate away car. I knew anything could happen to me.
SM: Uumm, Cde Chemist, I don’t get this at all. You have written a letter calling for dialogue and you knew nothing about the Badza-Nhari rebellion, so why the gate away car? You wanted to get away from who?
Cde Chemist: It looks so simple talking about it now. People have fired at you. Do you really know the composition?
SM: Well, I don’t know the composition but that’s not the reason why you now have to gate away from anything and everyone.
Cde Chemist: In military terms, once someone fires at you, it suggests a different scenario altogether. You now have to be cautious with everyone. I told you that the moment I sat in front of the car as a decoy, anything could have happened to me. Remember I am here to explain this because I survived this shoot-out. I could have died. We can have a lot of assumptions today but I had to do the best I could at the time.
SM: Fair and fine, but leaving the gate-away car at the service station gives the impression you now knew what was going on.
Cde Chemist: No. I said I went to the town office and was received. When I was trying to come out of the office, I found the door locked. Now having been at Cde Tongo’s house, shots are fired at you, I think I was behaving the way a soldier should under the circumstances. Let’s go through this story you will eventually understand me better.
SM: Ok, you can continue.
Cde Chemist: So I got into this car at the service station and Cde Chigohwe kept coming. As we were trying to drove off, he was actually very close. I got out of the car and ran away. Cde Chigohwe stopped this oldman who was driving the car. He started asking him where I had gone to. He looked around but couldn’t see me. I had dashed just opposite the service station. The way Cde Chigohwe was hunting for me, I knew I was in serious danger. No matter how innocent I was, I took a decision that I would not surrender.
Chigohwe later walked back to the office, I got into the car and the oldman drove me to the hiding place. I got there and told Badza what had happened. He said ok. After a while he said let’s go to the shops. We were supposed to meet Cde Rex Nhongo. Around 3pm we went to one of the bars at the nearby shops. Nobody came. We returned to our hiding place.
The following morning, around 9am we returned to the same bar hoping to meet Cde Nhongo.
SM: Comrade, you were now staying at this hideout, you were a veteran of the struggle – why didn’t you ask what all this was all about?
Cde Chemist: Ndakanga ndatonyura kare by this time. I know it sounds queer, but when you are a military man, especially a security man you don’t jeopardise your life unnecessarily. Shots were fired at us and I could have died. This was now a struggle within a struggle. We can make assumptions here and so on but I am not apologising for my actions. I was a military man in a situation. I had to do the best I could.
I told you Cde Gava had not received me well when I got to Chifombo despite the fact that I was injured. I stayed for days without receiving medical treatment and this pained me a lot. Clearly I wasn’t welcome at the rear.
So I am not going to apologize that I found myself in this situation.
SM: You are not apologising because you were in it unknowingly or you are not apologising because you just won’t apologize?
Cde Chemist: I am not apologising because I didn’t know the situation. But I need to emphasise the point that the need to meet the high command was there because of the situation at the war front. I was at the rear because I had been injured. I should have been at the war front and I wouldn’t have faced this situation. I had been at the war front for three years and I had executed so many battles and had produced lots of results at the front, including recruitment and the establishment of Zanu and Zanla in Mt Darwin. That shouldn’t be taken away from me. It wasn’t a joke to be at the war front.
After I got injured, I got to Chifombo and I am sent to Chipata for medication but didn’t receive proper treatment. I told you I fainted with pain. Later I asked to be taken to a better hospital and there is no urgency to get me treated. Cde Gava ignored me and it took Cde Cephas to assist me. Earlier on, Cde Cephas had said I should persuade Cde Gava to transfer me to Lusaka, but was I supposed to persuade him?
SM: Clearly, this is a situation that made you very, very angry. What would you say if someone say because of this anger you decided to join the Badza-Nhari rebellion?
Cde Chemist: These comrades were not trying to help me. They were talking about the situation at the front. Up to now I am hundred percent and absolutely sure that there was the need to meet the High Command over the situation at the war front. Whoever was at the rear had to respond to the demands at the war front.
SM: Let me take you back a bit comrade. When Cdes Badza and others came to where you were in Lusaka, you said your injuries had not yet healed. Now how come instead of taking you to hospital, these comrades thought of taking you to their meetings?
Cde Chemist: When they asked me to join them, the thinking was that after the meeting I would go back to Number 93 and receive treatment. But then the biggest misnomer is that I had stayed at Number 93 for days without receiving any treatment. Why was it supposed to be Cde Badza and his team who were supposed to take me to hospital? There were people who had that responsibility in Lusaka. Why were they not doing their job?
SM: We wouldn’t know. Now let’s go back to the day you were trying to meet Cde Nhongo?
Cde Chemist: We waited for him at the bar and he didn’t come. We went to this hiding place and came back the next morning. We found Cde Nhongo with some comrades at the bar. We sent someone to go and call Cde Nhongo. He came out of the bar but just as we were about to meet, he produced his pistol. We dashed for cover and disappeared. We went to Lusaka and went to I think its called George township where Cde Felix Santana and Cde George were staying. Badza, Santana and George had a meeting. That evening we were taken to Madekurozva’s home. Other comrades later joined us. There was Cde Dumbujena and Cde Mutambanengwe.
At Madekurozva’s house arrangements were made for us to go to Chifombo. The news was out now that a group of Zanla commanders had been arrested by the Zambian government. When we went to Chifombo, we knew that some comrades had been arrested. Cdes Nhari, Cephas, Ceaser and many field commanders had been arrested by the Zambian police after the shooting at Cde Tongo’s house.
So we went to Chifombo. There we found Cde Cuthbert Chimedza, Cde Ndanga and another Cde we called Shebba Gava, not Fox. We sat down with them and agreed that there should be dialogue with the High Command despite these developments. It was agreed that we were to use Frelimo as mediators. Cdes Badza, Chimedza, Ndanga and Shebba went to meet with Frelimo at Kaswende. The comrades returned saying Frelimo had promised to get back to us soon after conveying the message to the High Command.
We then went to Kaswende all of us for the second meeting. We waited a few days. Then one day, around midday, we ate our meals and were told that Cde Tongo and other members of the High Command were coming. After our meals, we were actually dozing, we found ourselves surrounded. Anyway, so we were captured at Kaswende and takatambwa bhora kuita kunge usisiri munhu.
(Next week, Cde Chemist will narrate how the gang leaders of the Nhari-Badza rebellion were dealt with after being captured. It’s stuff not for the faint-hearted. He will tell narrate how in movie-style he cheated death as he escaped from Cde Chigohwe. Make sure you get your copy of The Sunday Mail).