The Sunday Mail
Last week, Cde John Makwasha whose Chimurenga name was Cde Bayayi Mabhunu narrated how he joined politics in Sinoa (Chinhoyi) and later became the Zanu secretary for youth in Sinoa in the early 1960s. He narrated his journey from Sinoa up to Ghana where he together with other 44 comrades became the first recruits from Zanu to receive military training.
He ended his story last week after he had been sold out by a Rhodesian spy, Simon Bhene and was arrested after being deployed into Rhodesia in 1965.
In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Makwasha continues his story, narrating the inhuman treatment under the Smith regime, how some comrades turned against the liberation struggle while in prison, his years in prison while working as a tailor together with Vice President Mnangagwa, his three months with President Mugabe and how he almost married a London lady straight from prison.
Read on . . .
SM: Let’s continue your story Cde Makwasha. After you were arrested, what happened from there?
Cde Makwasha: We were put under remand and the next day we were asked to give statements to the CID. We all had agreed that in all our statements we would say we had gone outside the country to further our education. We did that but the CID were laughing at us saying you can say all this but we have pictures of you undergoing military training. So we all gave the same statement about having gone to school.
After this our case was put before the courts. From June, July, August and September, we were going to the courts. We were known as the group of 28. Initially we were 36.
SM: So how come from 36 you were now 28? What had happened?
Cde Makwasha: Some of us were persuaded to turn against us. They became what was known then as Crown Witnesses, revealing everything that had happened from training until deployment.
SM: Who are some of these comrades who became Crown Witnesses?
Cde Makwasha: There was Mwaraza. He is still alive. The last I heard he was working for POSB. Then Sidney Mutungwazi, Emmanuel Munakamwe, I can’t remember the other comrades. These comrades stood in court and testified against us. There is another comrade who sold us out and the police pretended as if he had escaped from prison – Asani Chimutengwende – now known as Chen Chimutengwende. We later heard that he was now in Nairobi studying journalism. When we gained independence in 1980, he didn’t come back home. I remember I was the chief security officer at the Harare Airport. He came a bit late after the attainment of independence.
I actually greeted him when I saw him kuma arrivals. Akanga ava kunyara-nyara. I even went to tell vaMnangagwa who was kuState Security that he was back. He later went to vaMsika and asked kuti ndiendereiwo kuCentral Committee munondipirawo apology about what I did selling out my fellow comrades during the liberation struggle.
The party said kana takaregerera Smith, why not one of us? That’s how he was forgiven.
SM: As someone who had sold you out, how did you feel when the party decided to forgive him?
Cde Makwasha: Personally, I am a Christian, so I forgave him. But wherever we meet as comrades, we exclude him and he doesn’t question that because he knows what he did.
SM: Tell us of the situation at the courts. How did things go?
Cde Makwasha: We were not asked to defend ourselves individually. We were tried as a group. In court, the police produced pictures of us during training in Ghana. After being shown the pictures we just kept quiet. We had some white lawyers who had been given to us for free but to be honest with you, I don’t think those lawyers had our interests at heart.
We were all given a 10-year prison sentence. After this we were taken to remand prison where we were given uniform for prisoners. The 28 of us, we were staying separately from all the other prisoners who were on remand.
SM: After being sentenced to 10 years, what were you talking about? What was going through your mind?
Cde Makwasha: Among the 28 of us, we would tell each other kuti don’t worry macomrades tinobuda chete. Zvinopera izvi. There was no time to show any fear. Fortunately, many of us went out of Rhodesia as young boys so we didn’t have children or wives to cry about. We would only think of baba namai but we had been away from them for long so we had gotten used to it.
By the way, we were the first group that was arrested after receiving military training. Others were arrested after us. We were the first trained group to be deployed into Rhodesia by Zanu.
After we had been deployed by Zanu and after our arrest, that’s when Zapu followed suit because at the OAU, they were now saying Zanu is already fighting the Smith regime.
So because of this, the Smith regime was afraid of mixing our group with other prisoners. They thought we could train these prisoners and influence them to fight the government. The Smith regime was so afraid of us because they thought we had been trained by the Chinese kunyangarika.
So after three days, we were joined by Cde Mnangagwa (now Vice President) and few other murderers who had been sentenced to either death or life in prison.
SM: Why was Cde Mnangagwa in prison?
Cde Makwasha: He had blown up a train in Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) as part of sabotage activities by the party. He was supposed to be sentenced to death but he was saved by his age. When he committed that crime he was still under 20 so he could not be sentenced to death.
We were later sent with him to Khami Prison where while in prison we worked together as tailors tichisona hembe dzema prisoners. I worked closely with Cde Mnangagwa as tailors in prison for about 10 years.
Cde Mnangagwa served 10 years in prison and he together with his lawyers later discovered that there was a loophole in the law. He was now studying law while in prison. He discovered that if he claimed to be a Zambian, he would be deported.
After 10 years at Khami, he came to Harare where he was detained together with people like vaMugabe (now President). He stayed for some months waiting for his papers to be processed. After this that’s when he was deported to Zambia.
SM: Ok, now after remand prison where you said you spent three days, is that when you were now taken to Khami Prison in Bulawayo?
Cde Makwasha: Yes. We were bundled into a Dakota plane and taken to Khami Prison. This is still in 1965. At Khami we were then put in single cells that were very tiny. No blankets, no nothing. We went for about six months with no clothes, staying naked. Pure naked. Takatanga tichinyara but we later got used to staying naked. The only thing that was in this tiny cell was a chamber pot to relieve yourself. Sadza raiita rekurohwa nebhutsu nepasi pedoor. Kana rikadeukira pasi ndizvozvo.
SM: As you were put under such torturous conditions, what was going through your mind?
Cde Makwasha: One thing that I still tell my friends today is that when God wants to mould you into something, he first burns you in a furnace in order to bring the best out of you.
Do you know that had we not been arrested, we wouldn’t be alive today? Do you know it? I am saying this because many of our fellow comrades went on to die during the liberation struggle. So many things happened and from 1965, most of us would have died. There are very few who joined the liberation struggle from these early 1960s who survived to see an independent Zimbabwe.
As a Christian I say God made me a Joseph. I suffered in prison. It’s ok, but here I am. I have a family and I have a house. I must be grateful to God.
SM: So while at Khami, how were you and Cde Mnangagwa chosen to be tailors?
Cde Makwasha: Most of our clothes as prisoners were torn and tattered. We never got new clothes. After about four years of hard labour, Red Cross visited us and we told them of our living conditions.
While in prison, kasadza kataiwana kainzi spirit diet. Kasadza kekuraramisa mweya chete, just to keep you alive. It was musuva mumwe chete, womwa mvura.
We were given only 15 minutes to go and empty our chambers dzetsvina nekugeza. After cleaning these chambers ndimo mataiisa mvura yekunwa. So you really had to control yourself kuti usangoita tsvina pese pese.
Red Cross complained to the government saying they were ill-treating us as political prisoners. We complained to the Red Cross that we were not allowed time to go out of the cells. We had spent all these years without any exposure to the sun.
When people visited us, they could not tell whether we were whites or coloureds. Takanga takachena kuti mbuu. Waiti if you look closely waiona tsinga ropa richifamba. We had become just too skinny. During these days waiti if by some chance you come into contact with the sun, you would faint because our bodies were not used to exposure to the sun. It was that bad.
When Red Cross came, they found us in this pathetic condition and they went to voice their concern with the government. They told the government that as prisoners of war we had certain rights and one of the rights was access to education, exposure to sunlight and we were supposed to be allowed a certain number of visitors. For the four years, we were not allowed any visitors.
So after this, the regime started loosening up their conditions. That is when they dug this big pit in the middle of the prison yard. We went down this pit using ladders and once inside we were supposed to crush stones kusvika aita kunge jecha.
It was during this time because takanga tava kuswera tiri panze doing hard labour that they started looking for tailors. I opted to be a tailor but I had no idea how to use those big sewing machines.
Cde Mnangagwa vaigona kusona. He actually taught me how to use the sewing machines. Our job rakanga riri rekuisa zvigamba pauniform dzedu.
SM: So while at work with Cde Mnangagwa, what are some of the issues that you spoke about?
Cde Makwasha: We spoke about furthering our education. We started studying. Ukanzwa chirungu chandinotaura now, its not Standard Six English. I got my degree in commerce and accountancy while in prison.
After about two years, we were told to join the other prisoners in doing hard labour.
I remember one day while we were in that pit, the prison guards got rumours that we wanted to escape, uuummm, hey, hey, takaona chitsvuku musi uyu. Takarohwa misana kusvika yapisa. But there was no plan to escape. Someone had lied to the prison guards. They later told us.
Some of the prison guards told us how the war was going on. They would whisper saying ‘don’t worry, kunze kwaita hondo isingaite. Mabhunu ari kurohwa kwete mbichana.’
SM: In 1966, there was the famous Chinhoyi Battle where one of your relatives, Cde Guzuzu died. How did you feel when you heard about this?
Cde Makwasha: I was in prison, but I cried for days. He was my sekuru. I felt guilty because when he came to Sinoa (Chinhoyi) he was not into politics. He came looking for a job and I introduced him to politics. I felt powerless hearing this from prison.
SM: While in prison, did you meet some comrades from Zapu?
Cde Makwasha: Oohh, yes. We met quite a number of comrades from Zapu. The only problem was that we would clash very often with these comrades from Zapu. Some still regarded us as rebels who left Zapu and they were not happy with the truth that we spoke about regarding the approach to the war.
Sometimes we would have brothers from the same family one in Zanu and the other in Zapu, but still we clashed.
These clashes started when Zanu was formed in 1963 and so they continued in prison. During this time, the clashes had nothing to do with someone being Shona and Ndebele. The clashes were purely because Zapu supporters accused Zanu of being a rebel party. There was ignorance of what politics was all about.
There was a belief that if we let this party to survive, ichapinda mu power leaving us out. That fear of being left out of power caused the clashes.
SM: You are talking about studying while in prison. Tell us how you would go about it? How would you access reading materials and so on?
Cde Makwasha: We had access to a library which was in Bulawayo. A very big library. We would be told that if you are studying economics, the books that are required are this and that. We were doing what is called distance learning.
So once we got the list of the books, we would write letters requesting the books from this library and the prison officers would bring us the books.
We were allowed to keep the books for a month, but there was an option to extend the time for another month.
There were two groups in prison at that time. One group had given up on education and the other group was interested in furthering their education. The majority of those who didn’t want to further their education were those who went for training while in Standard 2,3 and 4. So vamwe vainyara to start kudzidza such low standards while others were at advanced levels.
The good thing however is that as we continued studying, we started interacting with our Zapu comrades and as time went on we got to understand each other. We would borrow books from each other. We actually became very good friends.
SM: So after 10 years, were you released?
Cde Makwasha: After 10 years, the other comrades from my group were taken away and I remained at Khami because I had been caught smuggling letters out of prison. I was sentenced to two months of solitary confinement in a dark cell.
SM: These letters you are talking about, you were smuggling them to who?
Cde Makwasha: We would write letters to some organisations outside the country asking for assistance and this was not allowed.
The prison guards would give us the addresses of the organisations and we would use them to smuggle out the letters.
Also, Red Cross had given us a list of some of these organisations that could help us. We wanted assistance in terms of college fees and clothes.
The prison guard who was caught trying to smuggle these letters that led to my solitary confinement was actually fired from his job. In this dark cell, I was given food only once per day. For those two months, I was in total darkness and you would not know what time of the day it was.
SM: Under such traumatic conditions, what kept you going? Surely, some people would break down under such conditions?
Cde Makwasha: I really don’t know how we survived this. Only God knows. But we devised a strategy which we used to call “Dzemazuvano” where we would picture ourselves outside prison. We would imagine ourselves owning companies, we would imagine ourselves getting married and talk about this imagined wife – how she looks and how she should behave. We would imagine ourselves buying cars and sending our children to schools outside the country.
Some even imagined themselves as presidents and so on.
These imaginations would keep us going, they would keep us sane. This wishful thinking became our saviour. This kept us going until we got books to further our education.
After these two months, I was sent to Harare Remand Prison. When I got there I found all my comrades there.
This is where I met Cde Mugabe (now President), Morton Malianga, Enos Nkala, Edgar Tekere, and Didymus Mutasa while Edison Zvobgo had already left after he went before a tribunal and opted to leave prison by pledging never to involve himself in politics again. This tribunal would sit every year asking political detainees kuti if we release you from prison, are you still interested in politics? So Zvobgo went before this tribunal and said he was no longer interested in politics. That’s when he was released and he was sent to America.
Also when we got to the remand prison, vaMnangagwa had already been released and deported to Zambia. I think two or three weeks earlier.
SM: There is something we don’t understand here. You had served your time at Khami, why were you now at the remand prison?
Cde Makwasha: This was not a remand prison in the correct sense. This was just a prison for detainees but it was in the remand premises. The Smith regime was saying they could not release us because we still posed a threat to the government.
You know after our arrest and after discovering that 10 years, which was the longest sentence for such crimes at that time, the Smith regime went to Parliament to amend the laws. The maximum prison sentence for all who were caught after undergoing military training was changed from 10 years to 20 years, life in prison or death.
So some of the comrades who were arrested after us were given 20 years, life in prison or death sentences. The idea was to make sure the comrades die in prison because the number of comrades who were going for military training kept increasing.
At Khami we lost Cde Chigwada. He was a family man so he died because of torture and stress. Lloyd Gundu nearly died. Akatomboita seava kupenga nestress because he had been told several times kuti mangwana uri kufa gadzirira several times. Because of this, he had given up on life.
SM: Tell us of the life at this remand prison.
Cde Makwasha: At this remand prison, the treatment was much better. In the morning, we would be allowed to exercise and I tell you that’s when I discovered that President Mugabe and Enos Nkala were like addicted to exercising. They would wake up very early, exercise, take a shower and start reading newspapers.
Leaders like vaMugabe were in the same class as coloured people where during breakfast they were given bread while the rest of us were given porridge.
SM: So there were like classes here?
Cde Makwasha: Yes there were classes. Coloured people were in a different class from Africans – I mean we the blacks. They were given bread for breakfast and they would be given rice and chicken and so on.
For us, there was no bread and rice. We had last ate rice in 1962 and the next time I ate rice was in 1979. Our breakfast at this remand prison comprised black tea, porridge and sadza sometimes in the morning.
So all our leaders were put in the same class as coloureds because of their positions. For them to receive this treatment, it was because of Red Cross International which voiced concern with the Smith regime.
So after breakfast, we would sit down like we were in classrooms. President Mugabe was our English and Literature teacher. Malianga taught us commerce together with Edgar Tekere. Didymus Mutasa taught us Maths and I tell you murume uya anogona Maths. So he taught us Maths and Agriculture.
Among us, those who were good in certain subjects would assist those in lower classes. It was like a university behind the prison walls. Everything was properly structured.
SM: How would you describe President Mugabe’s character at that time?
Cde Makwasha: He was very intelligent, kind but very resilient. You know these other comrades, like Nkala, they were tribal but President Mugabe would say no to all that. There were times when some of these leaders would say, we have broken away from Zanu and all of them would say President Mugabe remains our secretary general.
Everyone who said he had formed his party during this time in prison would want to work with President Mugabe. Of course President Mugabe would dismiss all this saying he belonged to Zanu only. He was a straightforward person who listened to our problems and gave us proper advice.
SM: Who were some of the hot-heads?
Cde Makwasha: The hot-head was Nkala and Tekere. They would not see eye-to-eye. On many occasions they almost fought.
SM: So you were at this remand prison mixing with these leaders for how long?
Cde Makwasha: After about three months, we were taken to Gweru Prison. The Smith regime feared that we would connive with these leaders and escape from prison. The regime kept making many arrests and the comrades would be brought to Gweru Prison until the place was full.
So we were later taken to Hwahwa Prison. I think around 1975, while still in prison, some of the comrades decided to join the UANC led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa which was entering into negotiations with the Smith regime. These comrades were released from prison. But I refused to join Muzorewa and remained in prison until the Lancaster House talks in 1979.
At Gweru Prison, everything else was fine except for the prison guards. They were very very cruel and they treated us very badly. At Hwahwa, its like we were home. The only thing that was lacking were women. We even had a garden and we were allowed to play games. We were allowed visitors and we had the choice of putting on prison garbs or putting on our own clothes.
The conditions were so relaxed that most of us had now found friends outside Rhodesia. Most of us bought cars two days after being released from prison.
SM: How did you do this?
Cde Makwasha: There was the Defence and Aid Fund in London where the list of political prisoners, not only in Zambia but all African countries that were at war, were put on walls. Now individuals and organisations in the UK and other countries would go there and chose the political prisoners they would want to assist.
These individuals and organisations would then write letters to the prisoners telling them that they would be assisting them with whatever they wanted. They would ask the prisoners to write a list of the things they required, including assisting the relatives of the prisoners.
I had a couple from Australia, another in Sweden, another in Norway and a lady who ended up being my girlfriend from London. One prisoner could have four or five of these friends from outside Rhodesia.
These friends would send us clothes, money, books and so on. They would send us lots of money such that some of us ended up not knowing what to do with the money.
SM: Some people are of the view that these so-called friends were another way by the colonial regime to distract you from thinking of the liberation struggle. They showered you with everything such that you became just too comfortable to think of the struggle. What is your comment?
Cde Makwasha: We didn’t think of that because at that time we knew that people like the late Sally Mugabe and Karimanzira were sourcing materials for the struggle from well-wishers. We saw these people as kind people assisting us.
SM: In your case, these friends were assisting you but you turned one of the well-wishers into a girlfriend. How did this happen?
Cde Makwasha: She would write to me saying ‘I am thinking of you. I dreamt about you. If only I could see you.’ I would write back saying ‘I am also thinking about you. I wish I could see you.’ This girlfriend of mine was saying she was a princess. She said her parents had died leaving her lots of properties and money.
SM: So why didn’t you marry her?
Cde Makwasha: (laughs) Its a long story. When I was released in 1979, I went to stay in Kadoma. So while there I met this beautiful girl. My wife is beautiful I tell you.
But still my London girlfriend kept sending money and clothes on a weekly basis. This money would be sent through lawyers. This girlfriend was now saying come over to London and she even bought me an air ticket.
I then married my local girlfriend and we held a lavish wedding yakaita mukurumbira in Kadoma. My lawyers then sent my London girlfriend pictures from my wedding. She was really, really heart-broken. She went into a depression.
She flew to Mozambique to report me to the Zanu leadership which was there, including Didymus Mutasa. She complained bitterly that I was her boyfriend and I had now dumped her. One of the comrades who was in Mozambique is the one who later told me this story.
Amai Makwasha knows this story. I told her. Some of the blankets aitumirwa those days tichiri kuafuga nanhasi. These other couples continued assisting me. They even gave me money to marry and organise the wedding.
SM: So after being released, did you rejoin politics in Kadoma?
Cde Makwasha: Yes. During the time I was released, the ban on political parties was lifted and we started campaigning for Zanu with people like Robson Manyika. After independence, vaMnangagwa called me to Harare and he told me to go join the army in Bulawayo. I refused.
The person who took that position yangu iyo was the now Commander Defence Forces, Cde Chiwenga. He was standing right behind me. VaMnangagwa just said “Dominick huya uyende where this comrade was supposed to go.” That’s how I got to know CDF Chiwenga and up to this day when we meet its “hesi Makwasha!” Even when I meet Zim One (President Mugabe) he says, “Hesi John. Are you happy where you are?”
I was then made the chief security officer at the Harare Airport under the department of Civil Aviation.
Over the past few months, we have been carrying out interviews from war veterans who joined the liberation struggle in the early 1960s. Some of these comrades were deployed into Rhodesia without receiving military training as both Zapu and Zanu rushed to give the impression to the OAU that their forces were already fighting the colonial regime in Rhodesia. The majority of these comrades were arrested as soon as they got into Rhodesia because there was no proper planning in their deployment.
We also carried interviews from some comrades who went for military training in Ghana in 1964 who were arrested soon after being deployed into Rhodesia. Due to the fact that these comrades were arrested soon after being deployed into Rhodesia, some were beginning to ask “so who fought the struggle when all these comrades were behind bars?”
Well, like we have said before, the Second Chimurenga was in phases. The majority of the interviews we have been carrying over the past few months were from this first phase of the Second Chimurenga. Of course, due to time and space we couldn’t interview all the comrades from this first phase but the few we spoke to summed up what transpired during this phase.
Starting next week, we will be carrying interviews from the second phase. After realising that most of the comrades were being arrested upon deployment, both Zapu and Zanu went back to the drawing board to re-strategise and indeed, the liberation struggle then exploded in earnest.
Just like the first phase, this second phase will re-define Zimbabwe’s history – because for the first time we will unravel what exactly happened before the guns started roaring. We will reveal how the commanders of commanders were born. These will be frank interviews so expect so many uncomfortable truths.
Don’t miss your favourite Sunday paper, The Sunday Mail as history is being put into proper context by those who were in the thick of things).