The Sunday Mail
On August 11, 2015, Zimbabwe commemorates Heroes’ Day to pay homage to the hundreds of thousands of brave women and men who sacrificed their lives to liberate the country from British settler colonial rule. In the run-up to this day, The Sunday Mail will publish riveting articles about these heroes, capturing their narratives from different angles. This week, we present to you 88-year-old Cde Edson Sithole Muzite (nom de guerre Cde Thuli), one of Zimbabwe’s early nationalists who was detained by the colonialist regime at Sikombela in Gokwe. At Sikombela, he was with nationalists like President Mugabe and Cdes Simon Muzenda, Leopold Takawira, Ndabaningi Sithole, Enos Nkala, Morton Malianga, Eddison Zvobgo and Edson Sithole. Our Chief Reporter Kuda Bwititi spoke to Cde Thuli.
* * *
I was under surveillance by the settler regime ever since our group killed a district commissioner in Chimanimani, Manicaland.
We were part of the Crocodile Group, which terrorised the settlers in the early 1960s, and killing the DC was one of our many missions.
Ducking and diving, I constantly switched from one residence to another to avoid being arrested and executed.
But the Rhodesian soldiers remained on my trail, eventually capturing me.
A chill ran down my spine as I learnt that two of my colleagues – James and Victor (who worked under William Ndangana) – had been arrested earlier and most probably killed.
We had planned to join other comrades who were training in Tanzania, but failed to leave.
So, I was taken to Sikombela Detention Centre from 1964 to 1965.
There were about 200 of us, picked at different points and transported in a big truck, which we referred to as “magumete” as it had no windows.
Because of this lack of ventilation, we inhaled a lot of dust and could hardly breathe. The Rhodesians took us through unfamiliar routes to ensure we would not be able to retrace the course we had taken to the detention centre.
It felt as though we were in a maze.
Guards manned our cage in the back of the truck, with the journey seeming like an eternity.
On arrival, a number of people vomited profusely. Most of them were unwell and Leopold Takawira was among the worst affected.
We only adjusted to conditions at the camp several days later.
Our leaders had their own apartments in which they lived while the rest stayed in four barracks, each accommodating 40 detainees.
Soon, we were to feel the camp’s harsh conditions. The area was infested with all sorts of bugs and flying insects – tsetse flies and mosquitoes, you name it.
People like Mark Clattenburg and Joseph Culverwell would bring us liniments. However, these only lasted a few days and the bugs would return with a vengeance!
Sikombela was hot and dry with agonising heat, even in winter.
Further, our movements were limited; we were confined to a certain radius and separated from the villages.
This was in the middle of a bush and wild animals roamed.
Though we never came across predators like the lion, we encountered snakes regularly and devised ways of staying out of harm’s way.
Conditions at the camp worsened after Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence was passed in 1965.
Sikombela was converted into a full-fledged detention centre.
As such, our living conditions became unbearable. We lost many privileges and more Rhodesian officers were brought in to monitor us.
Our leaders were moved from their private apartments to the barracks where the rest of the detainees were.
This was designed to deprive them of time to plan resistance privately.
The Rhodesians also stepped up their harassment and this, in turn, strengthened our resolve to fight their diabolical system. We always found ways of meeting with our leaders to plan the struggle. It was at one such meeting that we came up with the Sikombela Declaration.
It was an idea that had been deliberated upon during our numerous caucuses. As the Secretary-General of Zanu, President Mugabe played a crucial role in drafting this document, which was founded on escalating our confrontation against Smith’s regime even if it meant all-out war.
The Declaration laid out the war strategy: mobilising the masses.
It communicated the message that we were not afraid and the masses should be aware of our readiness to fight to the bitter end.
It also detailed the framework for setting up our military wing – Zanla.
We were aware that the Rhodesian propaganda machinery had managed to achieve its goal of spreading the message that we had been “contained”.
We were, however, determined more than ever to pull out all the stops to fight the regime.
I was entrusted with the duty of carrying this document to Kwekwe and mailing it to Zambia where Cde Herbert Chitepo would receive it.
The task was arduous as there was a great distance of well over 100km from Sikombela to Kwekwe.
Our leaders delegated this duty to me because I was known for being fearless. My other nickname was Cde Dangerous as I was “immune” to danger.
So, I took the duty of delivering the document as a special one that had no room for failure. I planned the assignment meticulously.
The major hurdle was overcoming the long distance. It would be difficult to walk, so I devised a plan with a shop-owner in the area who we called Jewel.
Once I crept out of the camp, I would wait for his delivery truck to transport me to Zhombe. He was the best person to assist me with transport because he would attract little suspicion.
After all, his vehicle transported goods for his shop regularly.
From Zhombe, I would proceed to Kwekwe on foot. I outlined the plan to Jewel and fortunately, he agreed, and saw me off without being detected by the Rhodesians.
I kept praying to my ancestors to guide me and ensure I would not fail. And, indeed, I pulled off the mission with Jewel’s assistance.
It was only when I had returned to the camp that the enormity of the task I had just undertaken sunk in. The leaders were very proud of me and everyone in the camp was jubilant.
What is clear is that if I had been captured with the Sikombela Declaration in hand, the consequences would have been dire, with everyone in the camp being murdered.
The document contained details of the war and our efforts to form Zanla could have been scuppered.
This information amounted to terrorism and treason, according to the Rhodesians. They would have indeed sentenced us all to death if they had got wind of our plans to intensify the liberation struggle.
However, it was not long before the Rhodesians sensed that something was going on. They had noticed that the mood among the detainees had changed.
They then conducted searches, starting at 4am, as they suspected that something was brewing. But the Sikombela Declaration had long reached its destination.
I will forever be proud that I managed to pull off this mission.