The Sunday Mail
LAST week, Cde Juliet Chitsungo whose Chimurenga name was Cde Dadirai Wafawanaka narrated how Rhodesian forces slaughtered defenceless comrades at Nyadzonya and how she survived the massacre by going to the toilet. She narrated how she was among the first group of trained female freedom fighters to be deployed to the war front and how she rose to become a provincial commander.
Cde Dadirai continues her story with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike narrating the famous Battle of Mavhonde and a touching address by Cde Josiah Tongogara to the first group of female recruits at Chifombo. She explains why some comrades at the war front thought the Lancaster House talks were a selling out of some sorts. Cde Dadirai weeps uncontrollably describing how some of the comrades she commandeered during the liberation struggle are living today. Read on …
Cde Dadirai: The Battle of Mavhonde, we also used to call it Man to Man Battle. This battle started early in the morning. Some of the commanders were seated waiting to have their breakfast. Like I told you I was also a commander but as a woman, I was running around to make sure we were to be served good breakfast. So I was at the kitchen talking to the female freedom fighters who were preparing the breakfast. We saw a small spotter plane flying over us. It passed over Chaminuka Base. Less than five minutes after this, we suddenly heard the explosion of a bomb. Two comrades were instantly injured by this bomb. That’s when we discovered that hondo yatotanga. Ndakatiza ndakananga kumadokero kwakanga kune anti-air machine gun. People were running in different directions. There was commotion. Ndakahwanda paiva neartillery as the bombardment intensified. The Rhodesian forces were dropping bombs each and every second. It was very difficult to even fire back.
When I got the chance, I dashed to a nearby mountain where one of the anti-airs was mounted. I took cover there as the battle raged. From my hiding position, I saw some of our comrades fighting back. They really put up a big fight. Vakatodonhedza ndenge dzemabhunu, especially the comrades who had maanti-air. This battle went on for a couple of hours. When the fighting subsided, we went to Chimoio to re-organise ourselves. However, we lost quite a number of comrades during this battle, especially around the Chaminuka Base and Takawira Base.
With the firepower that the Rhodesians came with and the way we managed to repeal them, for us this was a major victory. I think the Rhodesians never thought our comrades could fight back and when we fought back, we took them by surprise. We were so confident that we had taught the Rhodesians a lesson such that we didn’t even change our position after burying the comrades who had died and took to hospital those who were injured. The Rhodesians later attacked us again and again but our comrades managed to put up a fierce fight. By this time, one of my responsibilities was to go to Beira to bring food supplies for the comrades who were at Mavhonde. Later I was deployed to the war front around Manicaland with a group of other comrades. After the battle at Mavhonde, we were instructed to carry some ammunition from Mavhonde into Rhodesia. There was a lot of ammunition at Mavhonde and our leaders decided that we should carry the ammunition into Rhodesia in preparation for any eventuality because by this time, the Lancaster House talks had started.
While at the war front, takanga tisati tatomboita mazuva akawanda, that’s when we heard that Cde Tongogara had passed away.
SM: Tell us a bit more about this Mavhonde Camp.
Cde Dadirai: Mavhonde was our camp which had quite a number of bases. There was a training camp, security camp and headquarters. This camp was between mountains near the border with Rhodesia. At this camp, we were armed to the teeth because we knew that because the Lancaster House talks had started, Smith would try to play dirty. So we were ready for the Rhodesian forces and I think when they came, they were also thinking this was going to be a massacre. When we fought back, we took them by surprise.
SM: When you heard that Cde Tongo had passed away, how did you receive the news?
Cde Dadirai: Cde Tongo akanga ari munhu aiva nechipo. Vaiti vakakumisai paparade, talking about going to war, wainzwa kuti ndava kuda kunorwisa muvengi. He had a voice of command such that even munhu airwara aibva aita shungu kuti let me do what I can to fight this war. When we heard that Cde Tongo had died, many comrades openly cried. You could see kuti macomrades abatikana and vagumirwa. Takachema.
SM: What do you remember most about Cde Tongo, especially his words?
Cde Dadirai: (long pause) Cde Tongo vaigara vachitaura kuti ini handisi kuenda kuZimbabwe. I don’t know why because he always said this. As commanders we would sit with him and he would openly tell that kuti ini handisi kuenda nemi kunoona rusununguko rweZimbabwe.
SM: Did anyone ask him why?
Cde Dadirai: Most of us thought he was just joking. We didn’t even ask him why. You see, we were in a war situation and it was very possible kuti isuwo we would not see a free Zimbabwe. So we never took him serious. Cde Tongo vakanga vasina majokes akanyanya but he would just open up sometimes and speak his mind.
SM: You worked with Cde Tongo for how long?
Cde Dadirai: I knew Cde Tongo when I was still at Chifombo. The first overall commander of Zanla was Cde Noel Mukono while Cde Tongo was the chief of operations. Later Cde Tongo took over as the overall commander. When we arrived at Chifombo, I think it was after about two months, we were called as recruits to a parade. I think we were around 30 recruits. I remember he had his red scarf. Maziso avo akanga asinga jairike. Aityisa. There were big red eyes.
On this day he said “vasikana vamwe venyu vaenda kufarm (Zanu farm near Lusaka). Vana vadiki vaenda kuchikoro. Imi masara kuno takusiyai nekuti kune macomrades ari kufront. Tirikuda kuti timbobatsirana kutakura zvombo kuendesa kufront. Asi zvamasara pano, muri vashoma kwazvo. Pane makamaradha (Frelimo comrades) and pane our comrades. Makabva kumusha muchiti muri kuda kuuya kuno. Vamwe makanzi muri kuenda kuchikoro asi handizvo zvatava kuita. Vaenda kuchikoto tati vana vadiki. Nekuwanda kuchaita vamwe, imi muchazoendawo. Asi hatina kuti pano ndepekuuya kuzodanana nevarume kana kuuya kuzoroorana. Vabereki vazonzwa kuti vana vatakatora vava kuitwa vakadzi. Handizvo. Handizvo zvamavinga pano. Basa ramavinga pano ndere kusunungura Zimbabwe so that you enjoy this Zimbabwe. You enjoy this Zimbabwe takasununguka and vanoroorwa voroorwa vachichata zvakanaka in a free Zimbabwe.” These words really touched me. Indeed, we had left our parents back home and this was not the time and place yekuita nhumbu. But as they say “hunhu muridzi waho.” Cde Tongo was a great teacher. He gave us lots of advice. He was very clear.
SM: But we hear that later many comrades fell in love and some actually got married during the liberation struggle?
Cde Dadirai: It’s true. This was now later after 1974. Remember during the later stages of the liberation struggle vanhu vakazenge vawandisa. It became very difficult to control people, but Cde Tongo always preached this message. You know when the struggle started, we were given the message that hondo yamada iyi musaite zvekudanana kana kurarana. We were told kuti mukaita musikanzwa iyoyi muchatadza kudzoka kumusha nekuti zvinhu izvi zvine mhiko. We got this message from Mbuya Nehanda and masvikiro akawanda. But like I told you, hunhu muridzo waho. Some comrades didn’t take heed and indeed many perished. I had my first child in 1980. But I now have four children. I want to thank God for this.
SM: You said when Cde Tongo passed away you were now at the war front. Did you finally get the opportunity to engage in battle with the Rhodesian forces at the war front?
Cde Dadirai: This was now the time of ceasefire after the Lancaster House talks.
SM: We hear some comrades were skeptical about this ceasefire?
Cde Dadirai: Yes, that’s very true. We didn’t trust Ian Smith. That’s why some of our comrades didn’t go to the assembly points. We thought Smith was up to something since we had defeated him. It took us a very long time to accept that indeed Smith was to observe the ceasefire.
SM: We hear that some comrades at the war front, were against the Lancaster House talks. They were talking of the bush-to-office strategy?
Cde Dadirai: Yes, that’s very true. We wanted to march from the bush into the offices. Many freedom fighters were saying lets hit Smith such that tongonopinda in offices without talking to him. I remember Cde Joshua Musihairambwi came and said “I think kuLancaster takatengesa mbichana.” He said tiri kuenda hedu kuZimbabwe asi takatengesa mbichana. He spoke with his Ndebele accent.
SM: What did he mean?
Cde Dadirai: He meant that zvataitaurirana kuti tiri kusvika tichipinda mumaoffice it’s no longer possible. We only got to accept ceasefire because these were orders coming from our commanders. We could not go against the orders of our commanders.
SM: By the way, where there any female comrades among the comrades who went to Lancaster?
Cde Dadirai: Ummm, no.
SM: Why? How did you receive this?
Cde Dadirai: It was about seniority. We respected our leaders.
SM: We always hear about “gwara reChimurenga or gwara rehondo.” Can you explain to us what this was all about?
Cde Dadirai: This meant following zvaidiwa nemusangano in our bid to win the liberation struggle. This meant adhering to the party’s ideology. Whatever we said and whatever we did, our guiding principle was the ideology of Zanu.
SM: During ceasefire, where did you go?
Cde Dadirai: I went to Dzapasi Assembly Point. I was at this assembly point for about two months then I came to Goromonzi Farm Two which was a transit camp. I was the camp commander at this camp. One of my duties was to select comrades, both male and female who were going for different missions. When I say missions I mean courses in several countries like Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia and so on. I was the camp commander from 1980 up to March 1982 when I went for integration into the national army.
SM: When you came back from the liberation struggle, how were you received?
Cde Dadirai: I was received very well. My babamunini who used to stay in Highfield spotted me in one of the newspapers. You know when we came from the liberation struggle, there were very touching moments. I remember some parents who came all the way from Manicaland after they saw my picture in the newspaper. They came looking for me thinking that I was their daughter. There were many such cases as parents looked for their children. I remember one day when I was walking in town, one woman started calling me with a wrong name. She kept following me so I stopped and she told me that she thought I was her daughter. She was shattered when I told her my name. Such things happened many times. You see, for a person like me it was easy for my family to identify me because like I told you I was a commander. Many people knew me. Can you imagine just another comrade? Some parents had a nightmare finding their children. I can tell you some parents up to this day have had no closure after failing to find their children. As you know we had Chimurenga names and this complicated issues because the parents would come looking for their children using birth names and we didn’t know them. This created problems and in the end parents moved from one camp to the other. It was frustrating.
Up to this day, I have parents who still come to me looking for their children. They say Cde Dadirai, we we hear kuti ndimi makanga muina mwana wedu. Do you know what happened to him or her? Vandinoziva ndinotaura but others ndinenge ndisingazivi. Some parents tell me of strange things happening in their families because their sons and daughters didn’t come back from the struggle. Also the children of some of the comrades, who were born during the liberation struggle keep coming to me asking what I know about the fate of their fathers and mothers. It’s very painful, especially when I don’t have answers. I feel hopeless.
So when he saw me in the newspapers, my babamunini came to Goromonzi camp and takambundirana when I saw him. We were overwhelmed with joy. Babamunini then said we were supposed kuenda kumusha and I said I could not do that before asking for permission from my commanders. I spoke to Cde Agnew Kambeu (Chimombe) and Cde Joseph Khumalo. They agreed. So I went kumusha kuMt Darwin to see my parents. I was there for two days only due to pressure of work.
SM: When you went back to see your parents, did you conduct any ritual?
Cde Dadirai: When I went back for the first time, there was no ritual. But when I later went to my original home area, Nyamweda in Mhondoro, svikiro in our area, the famous Sekuru Mushore vakandipa mvura yekugeza nefodya. During the war, we believed in masvikiro so ndakazvitambira.
SM: You joined the liberation struggle when you were young and managed to survive all the years. What do you attribute this to?
Cde Dadirai: Zuva rako rinenge risati rasvika.
SM: You obviously had some friends during the liberation struggle. Do you have shamwari yeropa who passed away during the liberation struggle?
Cde Dadirai: Kuhondo kwakanga kusina waunoti uyu ndiye wangu chaiye chaiye. The person next to you was your friend at that particular time. I say this became kana pfuti dzarira, the person next to you is the one who can defend you. When you get injured, he or she is the one who knows what to do. So comrade wese akafa, akakuvara and akapona ndicomrade wangu. Vese ishamwari dzeropa. The visions of these comrades, especially those vakasara musango still haunts me.
SM: Some comrades say while during the liberation struggle there was a strong bond between comrades, after the attainment of independence things changed as some comrades were given preferential treatment than others. What is your comment?
Cde Dadirai: I think let’s leave this issue. Hatina zera nayo. You look at some of the things and it pains you, but that’s how things are. Let’s leave this issue hatina zera nayo.
SM: No, comrade you went through a painful struggle and we want to know …
Cde Dadirai: Even if we talk, ronda racho haripori. Hazvichagadziriki.
SM: No, comrade let’s talk.
Cde Dadirai: Zvigobatsirei? I said these things hatina zera nazvo.
SM: When you look back at the role you played during the liberation struggle, do you have any regrets?
Cde Dadirai: Sometimes you regret. Remember we didn’t enjoy humhandara. Most of the female comrades, I am talking about comrades from my era, hapana aneimba zvakanyatso naka. Matambudziko ega, ega. Most of the female comrades from my era ndivo vari kutoriritira mhuri. There are many divorces.
You say maybe if I had remained here, pamwe ndingadai ndinekamba baba vachimuka vachivhurira mbudzi. Sometimes I look at myself and I say ndiri nani when I look at my fellow comrades living in the rural areas. You can’t even recognise some of the comrades. Kumukanganwa kuti we were together. Vangova mamvemve asina kana basa. Murume wacho haana, mhuri yake haina kuenda kuchikoro. Inenge mombe yemashanga.
SM: But you said you were responsible for selecting comrades who went for missions overseas?
Cde Dadirai: Yes, I did that at Goromonzi but these comrades would have been brought from several assembly points. And in any case, we are talking of how many people here? Just a small number.
SM: We now know that the first group of female comrades who went for military training at Nachingweya under Zanu totalled 72. You said you were among the commanders. Surely, 72 is a small number. Why didn’t you make a plan for these 72 female pioneers?
Cde Dadirai: Remember we had leaders. Zvinhu zvese zvine vanotungamira. We couldn’t do that because to us we all had fought the struggle.
SM: As they say, it’s never too late. What do you think should be done?
Cde Dadirai: (tears rolling down her eyes. Long pause) I don’t know. I really don’t know.
SM: As commander you faced many situations during the liberation struggle Cde Dadirai but you prevailed.
Cde Dadirai: Yes, I did. But like I told you we had leaders. I can’t use my voice of command today because I am no longer in charge. You know if I look at how Cde Matiwonesa and Cde Tracy were buried after they passed on, my heart bleeds. Let’s not go into this please. Just go to Mt Darwin and you will understand what I am talking about.
SM: We hear that it was difficult for some female comrades to get married after the liberation struggle. Why?
Cde Dadirai: Yeah, that’s true because if you got married kupovho, people would say akaroora gandanga. Up to this day people still say this.
SM: What advice would you want to give to the youths in Zimbabwe?
Cde Dadirai: Let’s treasure our country because many people died for this country. Don’t sellout this country thinking you can fix us. Isu tavakuenda kunoguma. Ukatora mukadzi wawakamboramba uchiti ndatambura chiuya undichengete anokutambudza kudarika zvaaiita pakutanga. If you say zviri nani varungu vadzoke, itai henyu but vachakutambudzai stereki. We played our part.
Cherish and defend this country. It’s the only country you call yours. Some of us sometimes fail to sleep properly when we look back. We see visions of our comrades who perished during the liberation struggle. Ndinovhumuka sometimes ndichiita sendiri kudeedzwa nemacomrades. These comrades come to my dreams asking kuti ndizvo here zvatakabvumirana zvamava kuita? We still hear their voices saying saka isu takatosara kuno zvachose here?
SM: In some countries when people go through such a traumatic experience like the liberation struggle they go for counselling. Do you think if this had been done in Zimbabwe it would have helped?
Cde Dadirai: Maybe it would have helped. (Tears rolling down). It’s unfortunate that many don’t feel what we feel. There were not there so to them it’s just some story.
SM: Comrade you have been crying a lot during this interview. It looks like there is something deep down your heart that’s troubling you. Pour it out comrade. What is it comrade?
Cde Dadirai: (pause. More tears). I said to many people, this is just a story. We went through this. I can’t stop shedding tears when I look back. Ngatizvisiyei zvakadaro. (weeping uncontrollably) Like I told you, I was the provincial commander.
When I look at the comrades that I commandeered and the way they are living today, it hurts me. Aahhh, things were never supposed to be like that. No. Pane pamwe paunogumirwa, ndipo panotangira mwari. Mwari ndivo vanoziva zvavachaita.