The Sunday Mail
LAST week, Cde RICHARD CHIRONGWE (RC), who is also Secretary for Administration of the ZANU PF War Veterans League, told us about heroic battles he fought in the Midlands Province in 1979. This week, he recounts to our Political Editor KUDA BWITITI (KB) about other battles he was involved in that same year. He also talks about some of the well-thought-out strategies used by combatants to defeat the enemy.
KB: What strategies enabled you to win battles, especially when the odds were stacked against you?
RC : Our signal system was shrewd. We used flags to detect the enemy’s approach. A red flag meant the enemy, a yellow one indicated an enemy vehicle and a white one meant a civilian. But we could still alter the meaning of these codes, where there was need. We also had secret passwords, which we would change daily, just in case one of us would be captured and reveal the secret code under duress. There were also clandestine gathering points where we used to map out the next strategy after battle. We constantly modified our strategies, and this made it difficult for the enemy to anticipate our attacks.
KB: Describe an incident when flag signals helped you.
RC: There were many such occasions. For example, soon after the battle I mentioned last time, we continued the journey in Midlands province. Our signals team alerted us that the enemy was on our trail. We decided it was best to wait at the Ngezi shopping centre, where it would be difficult for them to see all of us.
We divided ourselves into two groups: one on top and the other at the bottom of the mountain. They failed to see us but we were able to use our signals to tell where they were. When they reached the point where our last man was stationed, we made signals that indicated it was the perfect time to strike. Each one of our men knew the exact targets to aim, because our enemies had just put themselves in the perfect slots for us to shoot at them.
There were about 20 fighters from the enemy side and we were 17 — nine at the ground and eight on the mountain. We hit them from two different positions and they suffered multiple casualties, whilst we lost no one from our side.
KB: Where did you go next after that battle?
RC: We proceeded to a bridge. Again, we used our signals systems to detect that the enemy had laid an ambush there. They anticipated we would cross the bridge from the top.
However, we decided to cross under the bridge.
This made it difficult for them to attack us and we safely proceeded to Mashamba, under Chief Nhema, in Shurugwi.
As we approached the Mashamba area, we heard gunshots. We realised we had just been caught up in the middle of an ongoing battle between Rhodesia security forces and our fellow comrades. I knew it was time to assist our colleagues and fired my M90 at the enemies, and they scattered in different directions.
They were devastated by the noise of the M90, which sounded like five bolts of lightning.
So, we joined forces, became two groups and started moving, making our way to Chiundura, near Gweru.
Along the way, we fought a number of other battles and prevailed.
When I got to Gweru, I managed to get a fake identify card.
This fake ID card enabled me to get into Thornhill Air Base to pursue my reconnaissance mission.
A man who was employed as a general worker at the base was my host.
KB: Where was your ammunition when you gained access to Thornhill Air Base?
RC: We had concealed the main ammunition in the bush, on nearby farms.
KB: Where you not sold out during your forays from the bush into Thornhill Air Base?
RC: Someone did sell us out. One day, whilst in the bush, our hideout was suddenly bombed by Rhodesian aircraft. Three planes hovered above us, bombarding relentlessly. We were lucky that they mainly targeted the mountain, where they assumed we were hiding but we were actually at the bottom. Some casualties were recorded, including innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. We decided not to fire back to protect civilians and also not to create tension that would jeopardise our reconnaissance mission.
After surviving this attack, I wanted to return to Mozambique.
However, our mujibhas alerted us that most roads had been surrounded by Rhodesian forces.
We decided to go to the Silobela/Zhombe area.
KB: Did you not encounter the enemy on your way to this area?
RC: The advantage of using that route was that some ZIPRA cadres operated there. We stayed in that area as we wanted to return to Gweru. After two weeks, we decided to go back to Gweru but along the way, we also fought in a number of gruelling battles. We also hijacked a bus. Cde Trevor Gwaradzimba, who had been sent by Gen Tongogara to get an update from me, drove that bus.
KB: Why did you hijack the bus?
RC: That was what the situation demanded and it was also raining, so we needed quick transport to get to the next point, instead of walking.
After leaving the bus, we travelled to Chirumanzu, Siyahukwe. In that area, we heard there was a troublesome white man who went around burning black people’s homes, accusing them of having stolen his cattle.
We decided to waylay him near Chirumanzu Dam but somehow he outwitted us and combined forces with Rhodesian soldiers to capture some of our comrades.
KB: How were the comrades caught?
RC: We used to sleep in maize fields, after getting blankets from the povo. On that particular day, comrades were nabbed as they returned blankets to the people. We decided we had to go back to Mangoma township and fight, because this was also the area where I had hidden my M90.
We fought another battle at Mangoma township and rescued some of the comrades.
We then proceeded to some shops owned by a man named Musiiwa. His family offered to cook a meal for us.
A vehicle suddenly appeared and started firing at us. Three civilians who had been preparing the meat for us in the butchery were killed. Cde Gwaradzimba returned fire but the Rhodesian soldiers shot back. Cde Gwaradzimba was hit on the hand.
KB: Did Cde Gwaradzimba survive?
RC: He was badly injured and bled profusely. He made it to the back of the building. When I saw him, I ran towards him. To this day, I do not know where I summoned such strength, because I carried him on my back and ran for about a kilometre until I saw one of our mujibhas and asked for a wheelbarrow. I tore my shirt to stop the bleeding on Trevor’s arm. For many years, Cde Gwaradzimba would thank me for this, as he was certain that I saved his life. We managed to get him to safety, and he was ferried to Mozambique for treatment. I was happy that Gwaradzimba survived because when he went to Mozambique, he was able to meet Gen Tongo and update him on my mission.
Next week, Cde Chirongwe narrates the final stages of the liberation war, as the country headed for independence.