The Sunday Mail
OVER the last two weeks, Cde Florence Mudzengerere whose Chimurenga name was Cde Pronica Chinyandura Mabhunu has been narrating her gripping story where she joined the liberation struggle in 1973 when she was still 13 years old. In the last edition, she narrated how they captured six Rhodesian soldiers and instead of slaughtering them as many expected, they took them to the rear in Mozambique to train them into freedom fighters.
In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Pronica continues her fascinating story narrating her heroic acts during the Man-to-Man Battle in 1979 and explains what the word “comrade” exactly means. She explains how she met the love of her life in the middle of a fierce battle and how this love of her love later died in the DRC and his remains were never found.
“Unfortunately, he did not come back. Vanonzi ndege yavakatumwa nayo to go for reconnaissance haina kuzowonekwa kuti yakaenda nekupi up to this day. Saka handina guva rekuviga murume wangu. I don’t have any remains to bury. I went into a serious depression. We had come a long way with my husband and we were now in a free Zimbabwe. Wondisiya?” she narrates. Read on. . .
SM: Cde Pronica, let’s go back to this battle where you captured the six Rhodesian soldiers. We want to visualise you on this day. Take us slowly through this battle.
Cde Pronica: I had a sub-machine gun. Some of our commanders were Cde Augustine Nhiri (he is now called Cde Mapungwana), there was also Cde Kakata. The other comrades included Cde Perch Marere and others I can’t remember their names. We were a platoon. After capturing the guards, we fired some mortar bombs. We fired our bazooka to destroy the buildings and we started firing. This created confusion among the Rhodesian soldiers. We were firing tracer bullets richibaka moto. Unopusa kuti woita sei. At the same time, we were advancing. In that confusion, some of the Rhodesian forces surrendered, others died while others managed to escape. Only a few of our comrades got injured in this battle because some of the Rhodesian forces tried to fight back. We carried these comrades kumusana then after some distance takagadzira some stretcher bed. We spent about two weeks with this comrade receiving treatment musango until we crossed Gairezi river going back to the rear.
SM: When these Rhodesian soldiers surrendered, were you part of the comrades who actually went kunobata some of them?
Cde Pronica: No, I didn’t. This was done by our male colleagues. After capturing them, we quickly moved away with them from the battlefield. We took them to our GP (gathering point) where we started interrogating them kuti vanga vachizvifambisa sei pacamp apa. We wanted to know who were the Rhodesian soldiers at the camp, what ammunition they had and where the ammunition was being stored. They gave us all the information. After this, we crossed Gairezi river and took them to the rear in Mozambique.
SM: Did you have time after the battle to sit down and talk about it?
Cde Pronica: Like I told you, we quickly moved to our GP. While at the GP that’s when we evaluated what had happened and so on. There was no time yekufara because the war had to continue. We had won a battle not the war. The Rhodesian soldiers had given us information and now was the time to go for another operation using the information provided.
SM: Would you know if some of these Rhodesian soldiers you captured and were later trained as freedom fighters are still alive?
Cde Pronica: I really don’t know. Like I told you, I was later deployed to Gaza. There are thousands of kilometres between Manica and Gaza. I really don’t know whether anyone of them is still alive.
SM: So besides this battle at Kute, where you involved in any other battle in Manica?
Cde Pronica: The other battle was around Mt Cassino – the Man-to-Man Battle. This was just before Lancaster House Conference talks. This battle is also known as the Battle of Mavhonde. I was the commander of the commissariat at this base.
SM: Tell us a bit more about this Man-to-Man Battle. We hear quite a lot about it.
Cde Pronica: This battle happened at one of our bases which was strategically positioned between mountains. We were not staying at one position. There was the Command Centre, then Intelligence area, commissariat where I was, there was an area for training led by the late Cde Agnew Gondo (Cde Chimombe), there was the Percy Ntini area for the injured comrades and another area for comrades just coming back from training. We would not mix. Only the commanders from the different areas would meet. The battle started around 3:30 am. Ndege ndidzo dzakatanga and there were many jet fighters, Dakotas and helicopters. A little later, ground force was also deployed. They came with armored vehicles.
Before he left for the Lancaster House talks, Cde Tongo had addressed us at Mavhonde. He told us that “tinozviziva zvinoita enemy. We are going for talks, so they would want to go there with an upper hand. So the Rhodesians can attack us anytime. When they come, we should be ready for them because if they defeat us, many will die here.” Indeed, like Cde Tongo had predicted, the Rhodesians came armed to the teeth and this battle became known as the Man-to-Man Battle. Because we had been warned, we were also ready for this battle. We even had anti-air crafts. We fought fiercely for about three days. Day and night. The fourth day, that’s when our team under the commissariat managed to escape. The Rhodesian soldiers kept on reinforcing their army. When we escaped from our base, we went to Chaminuka where there was Cde Agnew. There was also a small camp kakanga kari kevana vadiki vataiti matoto. They were being trained in intelligence. Takabva tabatana nevana ava escaping to Chaminuka base. This was the fourth day. At Chaminuka there was Cde Nhongo, Cde Gava and Cde Mupunzarima who was killed on the seventh day by the ground force as he tried to escape from his position. Ndipo pakasarira Cde Mupunzarima. On the 9th day, we were given an order by Cde Nhongo that we should retreat to our GP. We then retreated.
SM: Did you manage to fight back?
Cde Pronica: Varungu vakarohwa zvedi. Navo vakabvuma because it was a very strategic base. Yes, we lost some comrades, but varungu takavarova. They were throwing napalm bombs but we hit them back. It was not easy for them.
SM: Did you manage to fire back yourself?
Cde Pronica: Ndakairidza pfuti. Kuridzisisa. Remember I told you I was the commander in charge of the commissariat at this base. Takadziridzisisa kwete mbichana. The Rhodesian helicopters were dropping the ground force and takazorovana navo on the ground. Takavarova kwete mbichana. I remember there was a small river between our commissariat camp and Chaminuka. So takaenda kunovagarirwa close to that river. Taivarega vofamba kupinda murwizi. Midway through the river, tovarora kwete mbichana. Vakadonha mumvura vakawanda.
SM: You were using what type of a gun?
Cde Pronica: I still had my sub-machine gun. I was the commander of the commissariat base so as commander I allocated myself the sub-machine gun.
SM: Why did you choose the sub-machine gun?
Cde Pronica: Ndicho chaiva chigwagwagwa changu. Ndiyo yandaifarira.
SM: How many comrades died during this battle?
Cde Pronica: At my camp, I lost seven comrades. Cdes Max, Tichatonga, Barbra and others vandisina kuona vachidonha. Takatozoti hondo yapera takufamba tichinhonga vataikwanisa kunhonga, ndipo pandakaziva kuti in total lost seven comrades. We were assisted by Frelimo kunhonga these comrades. Vamwe vakanga vakuvara and others were dead. We buried those who had died. Umwe aikuvara ombomhanya neronda rake ropa richibuda azodonha after some distance. (tears rolling down her eyes) So because of that waikwanisa kunhonga comrade ainge amhanya from another camp to the other.
SM: Cde Pronica, the way you are talking about kunhonga, it may seem like it was easy. Tell us what was going through your mind?
Cde Pronica: (stammering and failing to talk) It’s, it’s, ehh it’s zvinobata. It’s just too, too painful. Zvinorwadza. When many of your comrades die and you fail to bury them in time, mozovadzokera pava paya, some were already decomposing. Zvinobata. I can’t explain it. Mumwe wangu. Comrade wangu. Izwi rekuti comrade I don’t know kuti munorinzwisisa kusvika pakadii?
SM: Tell us what exactly does it mean?
Cde Pronica: It means shamwari yeropa and when we say shamwari yeropa it means exactly that. We would sing kuti “Ropa rangu rakatsidza kufira Zimbabwe.” So when I see the blood, ndiri kuona chitsidzo chacomrade wangu. (weeping uncontrollably) The blood say, “Cde ndafa, but pamberi nehondo. Ndimi masara. Pamberi nehondo!” When I look at you today, doing these interviews, I am happy. Hondo yakapera but the revolution continues. However, what hurts me is as Zimbabwe, are we still saying “Pamberi nehondo!” Tiri kuzadzisa here zvakaita macomrades asare musango? Are we forgetting about them? Tichingovasiya vachingoti “Cde Pamberi nehondo!” Tovasiya hedu vakadaro? We should think back and see those comrades dying. Vari kutaura kuti “Pamberi nehondo comrade!”
Some comrades could say; “Comrade ini ndatofa, zvese zvaparara. Pfuti yangu iyi. Pamberi nehondo!” But others would be torn into pieces zvekuti there was no time to say “Pamberi nehondo.” It all depended kuti bara rakurova sei. Munhu aibvaruka into pieces.
SM: After such a gruesome battle, how would you motivate yourself to continue fighting?
Cde Pronica: Like I told you, the war was intense for about nine days. When we went to the Gathering Point (GP) we reviewed what had happened. As commanders we were supposed to take stock. Tiri vangani, vasara ndivanani and so on. How best can we go back to bury our fellow comrades? This is no time to compose any song for motivation. We were trying to come to terms with what had happened and plan for the future. After the review, that’s when we would sing songs dzekutisimbisa.
SM: You are saying nine days, nonstop?
Cde Pronica: Yes, night and day.
SM: So as commanders would you meet sometimes during these nine days?
Cde Pronica: We would meet but not all of us. We would meet maybe one or two and ask kuti situation yakamira sei kwawabva, trying to see if there was anything we could do.
SM: For nine days? What about water and food?
Cde Pronica: Kana pfuti ichirira chaizvo chaizvo haufungi chikafu. Unoguta. Situation inokugutisa. Haunzwe nyota. Unoita nyota wava kuGathering Point, not during a battle. What you are asking is like asking mukadzi arikuzvara kuti urikuda mvura here? There is no time for that. The business is to push for the kid to come out, not to drink water.
SM: Do you have an incident that you remember from the liberation struggle that really touched you?
Cde Pronica: After this Man-to-Man Battle, we had to bury some comrades near Chaminuka base. We buried comrades at different sights depending nekuti munhu afira papi. Kana vafa vakawanda one position, taingochera zigomba and bury them. Pasina kana zvekuungana. There was no time for that. Let me also give you the situation at Nyadzonya. Nyadzonya was bombed and many people died. We could not bury the comrades in one grave. Vanhu vaiwunganidzwa voita heap, then grader rouya and push them into a mass grave.
I remember we also buried Cde Ziso. It was painful. We buried him in Gaza. I know where he is. I know where we buried him. If you want we can go there today.
SM: So as you were burying these comrades in mass graves, would you sing any song or conduct any ritual?
Cde Pronica: It really depended on the situation. After the nine days at the Man-to-Man Battle, the Rhodesian forces were watching us from a distance. They knew that we would come back to bury our comrades and so they were waiting to ambush us. There was no time for singing or conducting any ritual. We buried the comrades silently.
Smith thought after this battle we would surrender so that he could go to Lancaster and say “magandanga have surrendered.” We didn’t give him that chance. Takavarova and bhunu rakarohwa. Ndege dzakadonha. When Smith went to Lancaster, he knew that the game was over.
SM: Why was this battle called Man-to-Man?
Cde Pronica: We called it Man-to-Man Battle because Goliath was fighting with David. Mavhonde was our command centre and the Rhodesians knew about it. Even some white Rhodesian soldiers who had been captured by Cde Herbert Shungu were being kept at this base. These whites were taken to Lancaster House kuti vanopupura kuti takabatwa sei. So the Smith regime came armed to the teeth and we hit them back in ways that they never expected. Like I told you, this battle went on for about nine days, but we never gave up. Varungu vakarohwa kusvika vabvuma kuti yes.
SM: You were the commander in charge of the commissariat at this base. When you gathered at the Gathering Point, what did you tell the comrades to continue motivating them?
Cde Pronica: We spoke about how we had hit the enemy. We even showed them some of the ammunition we had captured and spoke about how we had gunned down quite a number of helicopters. This was enough to motivate the comrades. But we also informed the comrades that we had lost a member of the High Command Cde Mupunzarima and other comrades, but “tiri kuti Pamberi nehondo macomrades! Tinoramba takashinga kusvika tatora nyika.” Indeed, I think after two months, we heard news from Lancaster that an agreement had been reached. Of course at first we couldn’t believe the news. That’s why Cde Tongo was dispatched to come to our camps to inform us what had transpired in London. He was supposed to come to us and announce our victory. That’s when we lost Cde Tongo in a car accident. After Cde Tongo’s death, about 90 comrades from Zanla and 90 from Zipra were dispatched to go around bases calling for ceasefire. This was an agreement between Zanu and Zapu. My husband was among the 90 comrades from Zanla.
SM: Oohh, you had a husband?
Cde Pronica: We admired each other during the liberation struggle but we got married after the attainment of independence. His birth name was Banabas Sydney Miti but his Chimurenga name was Cde Prince Chigwirizano. We actually fell in love during the Man-to-Man Battle. He was a commander for the intelligence department at Mavhonde and like I told you I was a commander for the commissariat department. Before the battle, we would see each other as we gave reports to our commanders. Iye akangondidawo ini ndikamudawo. I could see his eyes, kuti ziso iri munhu andida but we didn’t get married. Tazotora nyika, we had an opportunity yekuonana and he started kundipfimba zvekuti arikuda kundiroora.
SM: What exactly had you admired about this comrade?
Cde Pronica: Ushingi hwake. He was a simple person but he had achieved quite a lot from his side.
SM: So after this Man-to-Man Battle, where did you go?
Cde Pronica: After the battle, we were given responsibilities to open more bases near Mavhonde. I didn’t stay there for long. Cde Gava then said, “ahh, comrade Pronica front vambozama. Chimbomuzorodzaiwo. Angatopenga ari kuno kufront. Rega timbokuendesa kuzvimbo dziri nani dzisina mabara akanyanya.” I was deployed to the rear in Beira. I think I stayed in Beira for about three months.
SM: As a commander who had spent quite a while at the war front, when you were deployed to the rear in Beira, did you go as a satisfied commander?
Cde Pronica: I had done my best. From where I started after my training until that time, I had done almost everything. I carried materiel, kufront ndakapinda, kuGuru sector ndakaoperator and kuGaza ndakaenda. Also I was part of the team comprising Cde Oppah Muchinguri, Cde Chitsotso, Cde Shebba Tavarwisa that was sent to Scandinavia to source ammunition for the party. We went and came back. When I came back ndipo pandakazopinda muMan-to-Man Battle.
SM: All the time you were at the war front, you never got injured?
Cde Pronica: Not even. From 1973 up to 1980.
SM: What do you attribute that to?
Cde Pronica: Kuna Mwari kudenga anoziva hupenyu hwedu. I am talking about this now, but during that time I didn’t think ndiMwari. You know during the liberation struggle, I would have dreams that I failed to understand. Ndaingorota and didn’t know what these dreams meant. Up to now the dreams come in my vision. There are so vivid. Ndaiti ndikarota those dreams, ndichingomuka either pfuti dzotorira or mangwana kunenge kune battle rinotyisa and ndaibuda from that battle. One of the battles in Gaza, ndakapinda munaLimpopo, that part which is close to the Indian Ocean. It’s a wide area but takapinda munaLimpopo together with other comrades. I can’t even say ndakaswimmer. Ndakangoona ndava kumhiri. I mean I found myself on the South African side. I couldn’t even swim back. That was the grace of God. But during that time I could not say inyasha dzaMwari because I didn’t know about all that. We didn’t know kuti chinonzi nyasha chii. We knew that mudzimu yedu were protecting us. We were seven – three female comrades and four male comrades. On our way back, we had to use chimwadiya. Up to now I don’t even know how I crossed Limpopo in the first place.
SM: If someone is to ask you today kuti chinonzi hondo chii, what would you say?
Cde Pronica: (long pause) Hondo rufu. Kuuraya nekuurayiwa.
SM: When you heard that Cde Tongo had died, how did you receive the news?
Cde Pronica: It was a very touching and terrible moment. You know some of us takasvika kutora nyika tisati tabvuma kuti shuwa Cde Tongo hakuchisisina.
SM: What can you say you learnt from Cde Tongo?
Cde Pronica: Bravery. Maybe if I had not listened to what he used to tell us, I would have gotten injured or died during the war. The war was tough. Up to this day, I vividly remember Cde Tongo saying; “hatisi kurwisa murungu because of his skin colour. We are fighting the system. It is the system which we want to destroy. Tinoda kugara munyika yedu, enjoying our country. Nyika yechipikirwa, yechizvarwa. Mwari vakati munhu wandasika nemufananidzo wangu, anogara apa. Tisu takanzi tinogara muZimbabwe matiri kutadza kugara nekuti pane atitorera. We want kugara munyika medu tine system inofadza isu varidzi venyika.” He always repeated this.
SM: When you look at the role that you played during the liberation struggle, are you satisfied? Are you happy?
Cde Pronica: I am happy because I am living in a country that I fought for. Ndinorwadziwa kuti vamwe vangu vakasara. These comrades havana kana kumbochemwa up to this day. Vakasara pavakasiiwa ipapo. It’s so sad and it hurts. Yes, we now have our land, but we need to work on the land to produce. I have a farm and I am happy, but what troubles me is my comrades akasara kunze. Also vabereki vakaita basa rakakura, especially kuMash Central. Ndinodzamirwa ndikafunga the assistance vabereki gave us. Hakuna any province yakaita maprotected Keeps like Mash Central. That province inevanhu vakawanda vakaenda kuhondo. Some families went the whole family. Vamwe vakaparara vese, vamwe kukadzoka two, or one. But that area is still not developed. Why? I hope the future generation will carry on the revolution. Like I told you, a revolution has stages. Ngatirambe tichingoti “Pamberi nehondo!” Let’s guard our country jealously. Let’s not be selfish. Vanhu vanozvifunga vega. Takanga tisingazvifungi. We were comrades, we were one and taiva vana veropa. Let’s continue the comradeship.
The youths should know that now it’s their turn. I am happy kuti imi who are interviewing me manzwa what we are saying. I hope what we are telling you zviri kukutorai kuenda pane chimwe chinhanho so that when we say Zimbabwe yakarwirwa, tinorevei.
SM: After the attainment of independence where did you go?
Cde Pronica: When I was demobilised, I went to become a housewife. I later went to school and joined the Ministry of Local Government. I specialised in finance and administration. My husband was in the army. He was later given a mission to go to the DRC. Unfortunately, he did not come back. Vanonzi ndege yavakatumwa nayo to go for reconnaissance haina kuzowonekwa kuti yakaenda nekupi up to this day. Saka handina guva rekuviga murume wangu. I don’t have any remains to bury. I went into a serious depression. We had come a long way with my husband and we were now in a free Zimbabwe. Wondisiya? Handina kuridza mhere pamba pangu and up to this day handina kuridza mhere. Ndakasiyiwa with four children. I continued working in the Ministry of Local Government. In 2008, life became too tough and I left my job. My children continued going to school. I was not myself. Ndanga ndakaremerwa ne this situation yababa. I am happy that vana vangu today have degrees. I am now working at a law firm doing accounting.