The Sunday Mail
He was part of the group of eight freedom fighters who were deployed into Rhodesia in 1966. Before this group, the famous Chinhoyi Seven freedom fighters had perished as they fought the Rhodesian forces. Two other groups were deployed and were arrested upon crossing Zambezi into Rhodesia.
Last week, Cde Joseph Musambasi (born 1942) whose Chimurenga name was Cde David Tendai (popularly known as Cde Davie) narrated how some members of his group were shot and how he stared into the barrel of the gun as Rhodesian soldiers took positions to finish him off.
This week, our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike continue the interview with Cde Davie who speaks about his unforgettable journey after being captured by the Rhodesian soldiers. He says while in prison, there came a time when he bade farewell to his parents and relatives as he was a few days away from being hanged by the Smith regime.
We pick up the narrative soon after Cde Davie, who is Sekuru to the Tongogara family, had just been captured by the Rhodesian forces along the Zambezi escapement.
SM: As they were debating to kill you or not, as a Christian did you pray?
Cde Davie: No,I didn’t. Pfungwa dzakanga dzabuda. I was no longer myself. They later carried me. Some tried to talk to me but I couldn’t open my mouth. All I could do was to point at the water container that one of the soldiers was carrying. They gave me water and I drank lots of it. We got to the road and they threw me into a land rover vehicle. I was then taken to Makuti.
At Makuti they called a doctor who came to attend to me. The doctor said apera ropa. I think I fainted again and woke up ndaiswa drip to add blood into my body. After a while my heart started beating slowly again.
I opened my eyes. The doctor had written on my card that I had been left with an hour to live when I was captured. A few minutes later one of the CID officers came and asked me to write my name.
I then wrote down that my name was Jackson Mephers. I just thought of lying but unfortunately I failed to continue lying because I told them that I was from Shurugwi and even the schools I had attended.
I don’t know how they later did it, but they later went to my rural home and met my parents.
After a while the CID guy asked me if I wanted to see the bodies of my fellow comrades ‘vatauraya.’ I said no, ndakavaona vatofa.
I was then taken to Karoi where I was given more blood. From Karoi, I got more blood in Chinhoyi and I was driven the whole night to Salisbury Central hospital. This is where I received the first proper treatment.
SM: So far they had not yet started torturing you?
Cde Davie: No torture. I was treated by a white doctor called Jackson. I think he was a dentist. As the treatment started, I think I fainted again. I only woke up about three days later. My mouth had been cleaned and operated. Seated besides my bed was a policeman. Kumakumbo ndakaiswa chain ndakasungirirwa pabed. All the time in hospital I was in leg irons. This was September 1966.
My mouth was fixed and for quite some time, all I could eat was porridge. After a while, the Rhodesian police told me that the Special Branch (SB) was now coming to interview me. SB was feared a lot because of their cruelty. At first I saw some Rhodesian commanders who came to see me wondering what kind of a person ‘this gandanga is.’
One day I was visited by a CID officer who called my name saying ‘Jackson Mephers.’ I asked him kuti zvadii, then he said ‘une hasha here iwe?’ I said no.
He then started asking me how many we were in our group? He then quickly said, ‘don’t hide anything. We have already arrested three of your guys.’
The officer then told me that ‘we caught one of your comrades and we took him to Zambezi where we asked him to dig his grave after which we shot him and buried him.’ He said this comrade had been tortured nefodya and beaten up such that they saw that they could not take him to court. I later discovered that this was Cde Benard Takawira, that comrade who had joined us a day before departure.
SM: So, so sad. After treatment they then took you for interrogation?
Cde Davie: While in hospital the interrogation started. Some CID officers started asking me where I had received my military training. I lied that I had received military training in China but I could not remember the name of the place. I came up with all sorts of lies but ndipo pandakaipisira ipapo. I thought this was the best to protect myself but I forgot that some of my comrades had also been arrested.
Remember I said three of my fellow comrades had been arrested in Kariba and there were those other two groups that were also arrested upon crossing into Rhodesia.
The following day, one of the CID officers came in the morning and said; ‘Jackson, inga takakuraramisa wani. After that you lie to us?’ Ndakabva ndapera simba. I asked him kuti ndareva nhema dzipi? Then he said just wait and see. He told me kuti isn’t it we told you we arrested your fellow comrades? He told me their names and I discovered that he wasn’t lying. He went away.
The next day the CID officers came with one of the comrades from the first group after the Chinhoyi Seven heroes. The comrade had been tortured and was looking wasted.
The officers said just look at your fellow comrade. He has told us everything. They brought the comrade (name supplied but cannot be disclosed for now to protect him) closer and he said ahh, Davie, taura hako shamwari. Isu tataura hatichamborohwi. Taura unofa. Isu tataura zvese.
Before the operation on my mouth had healed, I was taken away from hospital and taken to Central Police Station. This is where I saw the comrades from my group who had been arrested in Kariba. We just greeted each other and spoke for few minutes. They were surprised that I was still alive. They actually told me that they had sent word to Zambia that I had died.
SM: Who were some of the comrades who were at Central at this time?
Cde Davie: Cde Mugabe, who is President now was there. There were quite a number of detainees. Enos Nkala was there. He actually came and we spoke. Even President Mugabe came to see me. My whole mouth was bandaged. We stayed with these comrades kusvika tatongwa.
SM: By this time, were you still receiving treatment?
Cde Davie: The doctor was coming to treat me. I didn’t receive the best treatment because I think the CID officers wanted to fix me for lying to them.
SM: As you met other comrades, the ones you had crossed into Zimbabwe with, did you discuss about your case?
Cde Davie: Yes we did. We said, comrades we were caught with our arms, there is no reason to lie. We should say the truth kuti shuwa tanga tauya kuzokurwisai. We should be open and say we are freedom fighters.
Some lawyer came from some organisation saying he would stand for us and get paid by his organisation. I told him that we didn’t need a lawyer. We said we were going to speak on our own in court.
After the trial, we were sentenced to death — the four of us. The three comrades who were arrested in Kariba, Cde Muzorori, Cde Jokonya, Cde Tasisiyo Takawira and myself. This was now at the end of 1966. We were detained at Salisbury Central Prison.
The comrades who were arrested from the other two groups had been given life in prison. However, one of their commanders called Nhema was given a death sentence.
While in prison for two years, we were allowed kuona zuva for 15 minutes or less per day just to dash and bath. We were staying in single cells at that time.
SM: Who were some of the comrades besides your group who were sentenced to death?
Cde Davie: There was Cde Dhlamini and Cde Mlambo, from the group raNdangana — the Crocodile gang. The one that had killed a whiteman in Malssetta. These comrades had been sentenced to death. There was also Samson Manjengwa and Lloyd Gundu from Zanu who were sentenced to death. There were quite a number of comrades from Zapu who had been arrested after committing sabotage crimes like throwing petrol bombs in shops belonging to whites, burning fodya yevarungu and so on. I think in total, we were about 50 people who were on death row at the central prison.
Cde Manjengwa and Cde Gundu said to us ‘hondo yedu inotungamirirwa neve pasi and so suggested that taifanirwa kutsanya, we don’t eat the whole day till the evening.’ On this day, which was every Thursday, these two comrades would hit the walls to their cells and the next prisoner would do the same till all of us got the message to start our ritual kutaura nevadzimu. You would hear the whole hall vachiuchira.
SM: What would you say as you were conducting this ritual?
Cde Davie: We would say, ‘takauya kuzorwa, tatongerwa kufa vakuru chitichengetai Mbuya Nehanda nana Sekuru Kaguvi. Tichengetei hondo iyenderere mberi tiri vapenyu kana tafa. Tisu mapfupa enyu amakataura kuti achamuka.’
SM: Now, Cde Davie, some comrades say one of the reasons why the freedom fighters from the 1966, were captured upon entering Rhodesia was that you wanted to start fighting the colonial regime whites without asking for permission from vadzimu. What is your comment?
Cde Davie: That is very true. You see, nyika ine varidzi and Mwari anozviziva izvozvo. We were supposed to respect that but I think during these early days, vakuru vedu were not really aware of this. What I know is that people from Mt Darwin and the surrounding areas are the ones vaikoshesa chivanhu chedu.
Its really true kuti mudzimu yedu yakanga ichiri yakafuratira. Hongu tinonamata but Mwari akasika rudzi rumwe nerumwe akarupa tsika dzaro. We should never forget that. Our culture is the one that guides us, tichipihwa simba namusiki. Mwari vanozviziva ndivo vakazviita.
SM: As we were talking to Cde Mazhandu who was responsible for recruitment during the days you were deployed, he spoke about another group that was led by a Cde Horice?
Cde Davie: Oohh, yes, there was this group that was led by Horice Nyazika. I know about it but we were not trained together with comrades from this group. I only read about this group in newspapers before we were deployed into the country. We heard that these comrades had been sentenced to death or life. Am not sure now, but Cde Nyazika was actually the spokesman for this group. He was saying we want to be treated as freedom fighters. I am not really sure kuti vakapinda which time, but yes there was that group.
SM: When you look back, what would you say were some of the mistakes dzakaitwa during these early days?
Cde Davie: I think there were quite a number of mistakes. There was pressure for Zanu to be seen to be doing something by the OAU and other countries. Zanu was under pressure to show that after leaving Zapu, it was existing. This compromised the planning process. The other mistake that we saw was that the party was supposed to send people for reconnaissance and these people were supposed to spend lots of time studying the movements of the Rhodesians. After this, we were supposed to be deployed mbichana mbichana and by this time, we were supposed to have done mass mobilisation. Hondo yaida kudzidziswa. Reconnaissance and mass mobilisation had not yet been done so this created serious problems.
The strategy was very poor but I understand because kutangisa chinhu kwakaoma and there were bound to be mistakes.
We also heard that some groups, especially the Chinhoyi Seven were sold out by fellow comrades. These were some of the problems because of the poor strategy. I however, don’t think our group was sold out. I think takangosangana nema Rhodesian forces by accident because they knew kuti surviving kuZambezi escapement was not easy. The terrain was just bad.
As you know, after our arrests, hondo yakatombo mira as the party was now re-strategising.
SM: After being sentenced to death, did any of your relatives visit you in prison?
Cde Davie: Yes, my father came to see me. At first he failed to recognise me. I had lost too much weight and due to lack of the sun, ndakanga ndatsvuka kuita kunge murungu. My father cried but I told him kuti musacheme tichatonga rimwe zuva. I was putting on those red clothes to show I was on death row. Baba vakachema. Even vatete (Cde Tongogara’s mother) came and I also told her kuti musatambura henyu ndizvo zvinoita hondo.
We were very confident that we were going to liberate Zimbabwe. We were not even thinking of death. Our death didn’t matter, taiziva kuti tichatonga chete even tafa.
I didn’t show baba natete kuti ndiri kutambura. Ndaitoseka vachiona mavende mukanwa ekukuvara. Ivo vakachema but I said ndiyo hondo, musacheme.
In 1967, Cde Dhlamini, Cde Mlambo and someone ainzi Shadreck, this one had a criminal record, time yavo to be killed yakwana. We had been shifted from our cells. While in our cells, Cde Dhlamini climbed up to his window in the evening and started shouting ‘Davie, Davie, Davie!’ He then said ‘haa, shamwari nyaya dziya dzazoitika.’ He said we have been given three days to bid farewell to our parents and relatives because tava kuuraiwa. I was shattered.
That whole night, no one said a thing. There was dead silence. Some days taimbotuka maguard echirungu but on this day, there was dead silence. I got into my blankets and stared into the darkness.
I said ‘nhai Mwari, kurarama kusvika pano. Saka mati todii?’
The international media got the story and this was big news around the world.
SM: Why did this story attract the international media?
Cde Davie: You see, during this time, there was a big fight between the Queen of England and the Rhodesian government over who exactly was in charge of Rhodesia. So as the fight continued, after the three days vanaDhlamini were not killed. But Smith and his government were adamant that they were the ones in charge because of UDI.
After a few days, Dhlamini told us that the Smith government had decided to go ahead and kill them. One day, Cde Dhlamini, Cde Mlambo and this Shadreck guy were taken away from their cells and killed. I can’t explain the pain. We were told that very day by some guards kuti vamwe venyu vaurawa.
Up to this day, I still feel the pain. You see hutsinye hwakaitika ipapa hunondirwadza. Cde Dhlamini akanga ari chirema, I think his right leg aitotsika nekumberi kwetsoka achikamhina. They killed him. A brave fighter. Brave comrades. I will never ever forget.
A few days later Cde Manjengwa, Cde Lloyd Gundu and two other comrades from Zapu were taken from their cells. Their time had also come.
I think the British government protested again and these comrades vakadzoswa back to their cells. In the mean time, the four of us had written letters to our parents and relatives saying, ‘nguva yava kuda kukwana kuti tiurawe, saka mosara zvakanaka. The government has started kuuraya vanhu so its now a matter of time. Nguva yedu yakwana.’
SM: Did you cry as you were writing these letters?
Cde Davie: I didn’t cry. When they received the letters, my father came to see me. I said ‘baba musatye uye musacheme, nyika ichasununguka chete.’ We told them that some of our comrades had been killed and another group had been taken kunourawa. Baba vakachema.
I think the British government kept the pressure saying Smith had no power to sentence us to death and so after a while Cde Manjengwa’s group had their sentence changed from death sentence to life in prison.
The British government was saying all the prisoners were the subject of the Queen and that saved us. We were just called to the offices one day at the end of 1968 and we were told that our sentence had been changed to life in prison. We couldn’t believe it.
By this time, the war had stopped as the leaders were re-strategising. I think this also helped us because the Smith regime thought they has contained the struggle.
After our sentence had been changed to life in prison, that’s when we were transferred to Khami Prison. I stayed in a single cell at Khami Prison for nine years.
SM: Who are some of the prisoners you met at Khami?
Cde Davie: I remember that Cde Mohadi came with some comrades from Zapu after their Hwange battle. Many other comrades later came. I cant recall their names because most of them were not from our group and most were arrested for sabotage crimes.
What I can tell you is that life at Khami was tough. Kurarama inyasha dzaMwari. I don’t usually like talking about my time at Khami. Sometimes even kumba when someone starts asking me about my life at Khami prison, I just stand up and walk away.
We received inhuman treatment. If there is anyone who tells you kuti kuKhami you would know what was happening even panext wall, they would be lying. I stayed at Khami for nine years ndisingazivi kuti seri kwemudhuri kunei. We were staying in single cells, given very few minutes to go bath and the food was atrocious if ever it came.
Later the conditions were relaxed a bit. I think it was now becoming clear that the freedom fighters were winning the war outside. Some prison guards smuggled newspapers for us to read. We could see that the Smith regime was now facing defeat. From prison we cheered and started talking politics as we were now allowed to mix and mingle. We were allowed visitors on Christmas Day only.
SM: After your arrests in 1966, the war against the colonial regime stopped for a number of years and only resumed in earnest around 1972. Were you following the developments from prison?
Cde Davie: In the first days, we didn’t know what was happening and I think those were the years when the leadership was re-strategising. However, when the war started, at first some prison guards informed us what was happening at the war front. Later, the prison guards started smuggling newspapers into prison for us to read. Of course the newspapers supported the Smith regime but what was important to us was that the war was on.
The newspapers were obviously lying about developments at the war front but we didn’t care. All we wanted to know was that the war was now being fought non-stop. We didn’t care about the propaganda.
SM: As you followed the war from prison, what would you say were some of the developments that really touched you?
Cde Davie: First it was the death of Cde Chitepo in 1975. I tell you takarwara. We thought the war would not resume again. The newspapers in Rhodesia were claiming that the ‘terrorists were now killing each other due to power struggles’. And when the Zanu leadership was arrested in Zambia, we said, finally the enemy had managed to stop the war. Indeed, the war stopped.
We were surprised to hear that the war had resumed and that Zanu had shifted base to Mozambique. That move saved the liberation struggle.
The other incident which really affected me personally was the death of muzukuru wangu Tongo. It took me years, even after independence to accept that death.
SM: When and how did you hear about Cde Tongo’s death?
Cde Davie: I heard about his death from the radio. By this time, the prison authorities were now allowing us access to a radio so the news of his death was broadcast on radio. They said he had died in an accident what what. I couldn’t believe me ears kuti muzukuru wangu, that giant revolutionary was gone. We spent days wondering what this death meant because we thought we were winning the war.
At one time we even convinced ourselves that the Rhodesians were lying. Later we discovered it really was true. Tongo, muzukuru wangu was gone.
Many of the comrades in prison knew that Tongo was my muzukuru and they came kuzondibata maoko.
I cried for days. Tongo was not only muzukuru wangu but we had stayed together for long, he had introduced me to politics and he was a giant of our struggle. I cried a lot.
SM: Listening to what people were saying and reading what newspapers were saying, munofunga chii chakanyatsoitika kumuzukuru?
Cde Davie: Ahhh, zvinogona kungoitika zviya. An accident is an accident.
SM: After your release from Khami Prison in March 1980, did the Tongogara family really accepted that he had died in an accident?
Cde Davie: I really don’t think vakazvitambira zvakanaka. Vazukuru vangu I have to say the truth. They didn’t accept that he had died in an accident. Sasekuru I tried by all means kunyaradza vazukuru vangu. I don’t think vese accepted wholeheartedly kuti it was an accident. I am not saying there is anything that they said.
I always tell those who doubt that this was an accident. Hondo ndizvo zvainoita. Unofa wasvika. If you look even in life, unovaka imba kusvika pamusoro apo then you die. Mwari anokupa paunosvika.
SM: After your release from prison, where did you go?
Cde Davie: I was supposed to go to the assembly points but towards the days to be released, I got really sick. I suffered from serious chest pains. So when we were released we went to some house in Bulawayo where we met Canaan Banana. They were saying he was going to be made the State president.
Some of my comrades would go out to have fun but as someone who was sick, I would remain in the house. Banana and some fellow officers would come to inquire kuti comrades ko chii? I told them kuti muviri wangu ndiri kurwara.
Banana then said vamwe venyu you need to go kumusha muno gadzirisa chivanhu. He was a Reverand but he is the one who made the suggestion.
Some of my fellow comrades said muno muBulawayo muna Mbuya vanosvikirwa. Takabva taenda kuya.
Mbuya vaya said manga muri mujerika imi? Zvikanzi endai kurwizi uko tikapihwa mushonga yekugeza. Mudzimu wavo wakazosvika vakatanga kuudza some of the comrades what they were supposed to do now that the country was free.
When my turn came I was told by this svikiro kuti enda kumusha unoona pakavigwa baba vako. That’s when I went kumusha. Svikoro rakati if you go kuassembly point before going kumusha you will die. So I didn’t go to the assembly points as others were doing.
After going kunoona guva rababa ndikakanda chibwe, I later worked at the Zanu office in Chachacha assisting my family, especially my young brothers. I didn’t do any ritual to say ndadzoka as had been instructed nemasvikiro in Bulawayo.
As someone who had been in prison for all these years, takamborova pleasure. Taitozivikanwa paChachacha kuti Cde Davie vanozvifarira. I had two years of good fun. Kuita mafaro kwete zvekutamba. I later got married in 1985 tambodya pleasure. Taitamba marecords patownship kwete zvekutamba.
SM: Did you participate in any way or attend the re-burial of Cde Tongo in a free Zimbabwe?
Cde Davie: Yes, takauya kuzotorwa nebhazi I think it was in August or September in the early 1980s if I am not mistaken. We came and went to Marimba and Tongo’s wife Mai Hondo later came. We then went to bury Tongo at the National Heroes Acre. After that me and Mike (Tongo’s big brother), other young brothers and the sisters we sat down and agreed to go and thank the President who at this time was Prime Minister. We went to thank him for giving our son such an honour. Takatenda kuti makaita makativigira mushakabvu. Up to this day sasekuru I am still very close kuna Mai Hondo and the Tongogara family.
On 23 November 1977, the Rhodesian racist regime of Ian Smith massacred thousands of Zimbabweans at Chimoio Camp in Mozambique. Since then many stories have been told about what happened on this fateful day.
There have been so many misrepresentations, half-truths and outright lies about what exactly happened.
In our issue next week and as we commemorate this day, we speak to the man who was the Commander of Chimoio Camp when the attack happened. His Chimurenga name was Cde Bethune.
Did you know that the spirit mediums had told this Commander that the attacks were imminent?
The question that boggles the mind is: “Why did the Commander not move the people to a safe place?”
Don’t miss your issue next week as the Commander, without mincing his words and speaking with brutal honesty talks about Chimoio like you have never heard it before!