The Sunday Mail
THIS is the second instalment of our discussion with Cde Nelson Ndarasika, who, at the age of 15, abandoned his studies and crossed the border into Mozambique to become a liberation war fighter.
In our previous discussion, Cde Ndarasika, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Godo Tambawega, narrated how he was inspired by the late National Hero Cde Herbert Chitepo, who was a close relative, to become a liberation war fighter.
This week, Cde Ndarasika narrates to our Senior Reporter TENDAI CHARA about the difficulties he came across at the overcrowded Nyadzonia transit camp.
He also speaks about how he, together with 39 other disgruntled youths, briefly absconded the Nyadzonia camp, only to be arrested by FRELIMO soldiers, who returned them to the holding camp.
Q: We concluded our last discussion with you narrating to us how you became part of a group of untrained and impatient youths who were planning to secretly leave Nyadzonia camp and go to Chimoio for military training without the blessings of the camp commanders. Kindly continue from where you left off.
A: Like I said, that was in July 1976 and the Détente period was over and the training of recruits had resumed. Groups were now being sent to training camps in Mozambique and Tanzania. As a group of 50, we decided that the time for us to go for training was up. We were fed up with being idle at Nyadzonia.
We wanted to be part of the action.
We feared that the war would come to an end before we had taken an active role in it.
So we took matters into our hands and decided to leave for training without the blessings of the camp commander.
Each morning, during parade, we would be briefed by the camp commanders of the battles that would have taken place in the war zones.
We were often excited and desperately wanted to go for training and subsequently to the battlefront.
Unfortunately, the camp commanders were thinking otherwise.
Q: Tell us more about this craving you had for training and how you executed your escape plan.
A: Up to this day, I do not know where we got the guts to plan such a daring act.
It was as if we were possessed.
An unseen force was pushing us to leave.
So the day that we had agreed to leave came and we got our supper.
After getting the food, those tiny meal portions, we then went for what we then called Bhizhu, meaning going for a second portion.
This was not allowed at all and if caught it would earn one a thorough beating.
It was inhumane and grossly unfair for one to take a second portion when others were starving since we were facing acute food shortages at Nyadzonia.
Surprisingly, we managed to have the second portions and did not get caught.
We wanted to have extra food, which we would consume on our way to Chimoio.
When we finally left Nyadzonia, there were 40 of us after others chickened out.
At around 7pm, we met at the gathering point that we had earlier on agreed on.
Chimoio was not very far from Nyadzonia.
However, our biggest obstacle was the crocodile-infested Nyadzonia River.
It was impossible for us to cross the river and go directly to Chimoio, which would have been the shorter route.
Instead, we were forced to take a 30 kilometre alternative route via the Tembwe-Tete highway.
As we were some 600 metres from the camp on our way out, we heard the emergency whistle and we knew that something was wrong.
However, we could not return to camp because doing so would have gotten us into serious trouble.
Q: Earlier on, you said training had resumed. Why were you so impatient to the extent of risking your lives by absconding?
A: There were so many people at Nyadzonia, maybe 15 000.
A number of factors were considered before one was chosen to go for training.
One of these factors was the time that one would have arrived at the camp.
Being sent for training was, to an extent, determined on a first come, first serve basis.
Age was also considered.
I was very young then and the commanders would naturally send those that were older than me first.
After walking for about 10 kilometres, we heard an approaching vehicle and we took cover.
We later discovered that the vehicle that had passed was coming from the Nyadzonia camp and was headed for Vanduzi, a FRELIMO military camp.
Our camp commanders were alerting the FRELIMO fighters that our group was coming their way.
Q: Why were the commanders concerned about 40 people when they had thousands in the camp?
A: The camp commanders wanted to know what we were up to.
However, they had already gathered that we had not rebelled and that were not going back to Rhodesia.
They understood that we were just impatient.
Immediately after crossing the Pungwe bridge, we were ambushed by the FRELIMO fighters.
Shots were fired in the air and we were easily rounded up and arrested.
We were taken to the Vanduzi military camp where we were fed and given a place to sleep.
We were later taken to Chimoio military camp the following day and were detained.
It was, however, not a harsh detention.
We were put under armed guard and spent most of our time singing revolutionary songs.
We then heard that those we had left behind at Nyadzonia had also deserted the camp and had gone into the bushes.
We heard that only the young, the disabled and the elderly remained at the camp.
Q: Why were people deserting Nyadzonia?
A: A lot of strange things happened during the war.
Remember this was the same camp that was then attacked by the Rhodesian forces barely a few weeks after we had been forcibly returned.
In my view, there was a spirit which was influencing us to abandon the ill-fated camp.
Before the Nyadzonia attack, spirit mediums had warned the camp commanders of the impending attack.
Somehow, the warnings were ignored.
Q: Let us go back to your narration. What then happened at the Chimoio military camp?
A: As we were in detention, Cde Rex Nhongo visited us and ordered us to return to Nyadzonia.
The military leaders, through the High Command, also ordered those that had also left Nyadzonia to return.
Those that had deserted the camp and were living in the bush were rounded up and returned to Nyadzonia.
The military commanders were not aware of the fact that plans by the Rhodesians to attack Nyadzonia were at an advanced stage.
So in essence, the commanders were driving the untrained refugees into a Rhodesian killing field.
Q: So it was a miscalculation on the part of the High Command?
A: No, it was not a misjudgement as such.
No one knew what was happening.
I do not know why, but the camp commanders were warned several times that Nyadzonia was going to be attacked.
There was a strange feeling that something bad was going to happen but somehow, nothing was done to avert disaster.
From detention at the Chimoio military camp, we were herded back to Nyadzonia.
Our group was the last one to return to Nyadzonia.
Upon our return to Nyadzonia, we were given a heroes’ welcome.
Q: Why would deserters be treated as heroes?
A: We were brave. We had the courage to leave camp.
Almost everyone wanted to go for military training but they did not have the guts to do so.
Sadly, a few days after our forced return to Nyadzonia, disaster struck.
In our next instalment, Cde Ndarasika will narrate to us the events that took place during the build-up to the Nyadzonia Massacre. He will also tell us how he survived the brutal Rhodesian onslaught on innocent children, the elderly and the disabled.