The Sunday Mail
“It was a horrible sight and those who later on buried the dead cadres had to pick up human pieces that had been reduced to minced meat. An estimated 3 000 people lost their lives on that sad day.” Last week, CDE BAXTON MUPOTARINGA (BM), a former ZANLA combatant, gave a spine-chilling account of how he witnessed the massacre of refugees at Nyadzonia. This week, he narrates to our Senior Reporter TENDAI CHARA (TC) his journey after escaping the bloodbath.
TC: Cde, we concluded our discussion last week with you coming out of the bunker following the attack. Take us through the rest of your traumatising ordeal.
BM: Thank you. After the massacre, the Rhodesian soldiers went on to destroy the Pungwe River Bridge.
This was done to isolate the camp so that the injured would not easily get help.
The cruel Rhodesians wanted to make sure that as many people as possible died.
When it was a bit calm, we crawled out of the bunker and ran towards Pungwe River.
We just wanted to get as far away from the scene as possible. What I saw that day will continue to haunt me for the rest of my life.
As we were running towards the river, we stumbled upon a grisly find.
We saw heaps and heaps of human flesh that had been torn to shreds.
We were later on told that some of the cadres who were at Centraliao had been rounded up and systematically and summarily executed. The cadres were executed in the most horrible of ways. The gun barrels on the armoured vehicles were lowered so that they could hit the cadres on the ground.
Volleys upon volleys of gunfire tore up the hapless captives into pieces.
It was a horrible sight and those who later on buried the dead cadres had to pick up human pieces that had been reduced to mincemeat.
An estimated 3 000 people lost their lives on that sad day.
Apart from those who died after being shot and bayoneted, some of the fleeing cadres were swept away as they tried to cross the flooded Nyadzonia River.
Blood flowed in the river.
Some of our colleagues were burnt alive when they were caught off-guard in the grass-thatched barracks.
I came across seriously injured cadres, some with missing limbs.
One wounded cadre begged me to finish him off. As I was trying to comfort him, he died in my arms. I sometimes have flashbacks of this particular incident.
Some of the dying comrades bade us farewell and encouraged us to soldier on.
After moving away from the camp, we walked towards the flooded Pungwe River.
I wanted to jump into the river and swim to safety, but one of the comrades held me back.
Had I dived into the river, I was surely going to drown.
The river was flooded and I was not going to stand a chance.
I was panicking.
I feared that the enemy was going to come after us and finish us off.
So, I wanted to move as far away from that place as soon as I possibly could.
As I was being held by the cadre who saved my life, I witnessed, in horror, some of my fleeing colleagues being swept away.
The fleeing cadres had underestimated the strength of the flooded river’s current.
Locals organised canoes for us and we were taken across the river.
After crossing the river, we went to a place called Masengere, which was near Zhunda Base.
From Zhunda, we went and started constructing the Doroi Base from scratch.
Before we came, Doroi used to be a commercial farm, where a white farmer was involved in piggery and sunflower production.
The first thing we did was to establish our poshtos.
We were drawing water from the nearby Doroi River. We spent almost a month at Doroi. During our time at this camp, we spent most of our time cutting and transporting logs we were using to make huts.
Sometimes we went hunting.
The rule at the camp was that if we go hunting and caught animals, we were supposed to surrender the meat to the commanders.
We were not happy with this arrangement. So, we skinned and roasted the meat at night while the camp commanders slept.
One day, a lorry came to the camp and on seeing it, I rushed towards it and hopped in.
My assumption was that the lorry was there to take us for military training.
I was itching to go for military training.
A stampede ensued as more cadres jumped into the lorry. After surviving the Nyadzonia massacre, we were no longer comfortable with living in refugee camps.
We wanted to be trained and armed so that we could defend ourselves. Some of my colleagues were told to get out of the lorry since it was overloaded.
I was one of the cadres who remained in the lorry and we were taken for military training.
My group was the first from Doroi to undergo military training.
In total, there were about 100 recruits in this group.
From Doroi, we were taken to Tembwe, where I was reunited with some of the cadres whom I was with at Nyadzonia.
During our stay at Nyadzonia, we had received basic military tactics.
So, at Tembwe, we were now doing the practical aspects of war.
Our trainers at Tembwe were Cdes Tito and Black Moses.
We also had Sipho, whom I gather is now in Chinhoyi.
We learned individual tactics; bayonet fighting.
What we did not do at Nyadzonia was the operation of guns and target practice.
As you might be aware, we had no guns at Nyadzonia. We were using sticks during the basic military training sessions.
TC: Tell us about living conditions at Tembwe.
BM: The living conditions were always bad during the war.
Acute food shortages were the order of the day.
In my case, I befriended a man called Chikara, who had a close relative who was a member of the general staff, and was at this camp during this time.
Chikara’s relative made our stay at the camp a bit easier.
After training, we could go to the relative and get some food.
After training I gave myself the name Valid Chisora.
It was just a name without any special meaning.
After training, I was selected to train as a medic.
A cadre, who was a trained nurse, taught us how to administer medicines, apply bandages and perform other medical duties.
We spent about three months at Tembwe.
Some of my colleagues specialised in artillery, with their major focus being the Mortar 60.
Before we were deployed, Robson Musekiwa, who was from my home village, came to Tembwe for military training.
It was a joyous moment for us as he briefed me about the situation at home.
We had been given our guns and were raring to go to the warfront.
From Tete, we were taken to Battaliao in Tete, where we were supposed to be taken to the warfront.
There were very few medics, so I was one of the very first people chosen to go to the warfront when the need for reinforcements arose.
When Cde Golden Shumba, a sectorial commander operating in the Guru sector, came for reinforcements, he selected me to accompany him to the warfront as a medic.
We were then taken to a place called Guru, and from there to the war zone.
Unfortunately, we were ambushed on the very first day that we crossed into enemy territory.
* Don’t miss next week’s instalment in which Cde Mupotaringa will recount fierce battles that left him literally permanently scarred.