The Sunday Mail
This week, Cde BAXTON MUPOTARINGA (BM) continues to narrate his exploits during the liberation struggle. In the last instalment, the former ZANLA combatant recounted how his group was cornered by Rhodesian forces during a well-planned surprise attack. Without ammunition, he was forced to hide in a granary before finding refuge under a thorny bush. This week, he describes in detail to our Senior Reporter TENDAI CHARA (TC)his escape during the fierce battle.
TC : Cde, we ended our discussion with you narrating how you retreated into a thicket as the enemy advanced and closed in on you. Kindly take us through the rest of your ordeal.
BM : After noticing that the only escape route had been sealed off, I ran back to the base where bombs were being dropped.
I had no choice.
I sprinted towards a granary, where I temporarily sought shelter. My chances of survival in the granary were next to none. The Rhodesians were advancing and sooner or later, they were going to find me. Chances were also very high that a bomb would be dropped on my hideout. The Rhodesians were bombing anything and everything in sight. I abandoned the granary and dashed towards a nearby thorny bush. There was tall grass near the bush. I slipped under the bush, ignoring the painful pricks from the thorns. As I was hiding, the Rhodesians were focused on bombing the rocky part of the base. Trees were consumed by fire.
The Red Indian mercenaries were dropped into the battle zone for the final kill. I think the mercenaries failed to communicate effectively with those who were operating the bomber jet. The mercenaries advanced towards the base that was being bombed and a number of them were hit and killed by shrapnel from the raining bombs.
TC: Are you saying the mercenaries were foolish and incompetent soldiers?
BM : No! They were far from being stupid. Instead, they were very brave and strong men.
Their biggest let-down was their determination to capture us alive. They never retreated and sometimes came straight at us, even when we were firing at them.
Their biggest disadvantage was that they were not well-versed in guerrilla warfare.
In my view, they were trained and experienced in conventional warfare.
Their determination to capture as many freedom fighters as they possibly could, so that they could get more money, worked to their disadvantage.
As I was hiding under the bush, a helicopter landed a few metres away.
The wind from the helicopter lifted a lot of the grass that was covering me. Some of the bush’s thorny branches broke off, scratching me all over.
My heart missed a beat as I watched the enemy being dropped off a few metres from where I was.
Luckily for me, the soldiers’ focus was on the hillock, and I heaved a sigh of relief as I watched the soldiers swiftly move to the hillock, leaving me behind. As I said, I had run out of bullets.
I only had a grenade, which I intended to detonate and kill myself should the enemy advance towards me.
After the onslaught, the Rhodesians retreated and started collecting bodies of my dead colleagues, which they loaded into an open truck. The Rhodesians also suffered significant casualties during the onslaught.
We lost 11 comrades that day, with Cde Bruce and myself being the only survivors.
Bruce survived because he, like me, did not use the sealed route through the wetland. He somehow hid at the base and then escaped via the school grounds.
Sadly, for us, our commander, Cde Mhanda, was captured alive, tortured and then bayoneted to death. From my hideout, I could hear and see the merciless mercenaries torture and kill my commander.
I remained under the bush for the better part of the day. As it got dark, I crawled out of my hiding place. I did not know where to go from there. As I was pondering what to do, a bird flew past me.
I ran and followed the bird, which was flying in the direction of the nearby Mapako Village.
During the war, it was common for birds to fly into the battleground and lead us out of danger.
The local spirit mediums had advised us that when under attack, birds would fly into the battleground.
And, if you follow them, you would find a safe way out of danger. When I arrived in Mapako Village, I looked for the mujibhas, the majority of whom I knew.
After I found them, I instructed them to go in search of my fellow freedom fighters. For two days, the mujibhas could not locate any freedom fighters in the area. I was getting increasingly desperate by the day.
At last, the mujibhas located a section that was operating in this area. This section was led by Cde Matapiri.
General Wolf and Cde Nyamande were also in this section. Before I met Cde Matapiri’s team, a Rhodesian army spotter plane had dropped off flyers that sought to persuade us to join them.
The Rhodesians knew that two of us had escaped and they wanted to turn us into sell-outs.
The flyers promised us a good salary and other appetising perks.
The flyers also said we were being used by the ZANU leaders. We laughed off this brazen propaganda, which sought to turn us into sell-outs.
Along with Cde Matapiri’s group, we moved to a place called Zimbiti and I became the section’s medic.
After fighting several other battles in the area, we briefly returned to the rear in Guru, Mozambique.
I was dismayed when I got to know that I was going to stay at the rear a bit longer. I didn’t want to stay at the rear. I was itching to go back to the war zone and fight.
The death of my comrades at Nyatate made me very bitter. I encountered serious problems during my stay at Guru.
There was this senior medic called Cde Sibanda, who often beat and harassed me.
I was saved on many occasions from Cde Sibanda’s beatings by Cde Yvonne.
When she noticed that I was being harassed, Cde Yvonne took up my case and reported Cde Sibanda to Cde Cooper Clapperton, who was the camp commander.
TC: Why was Cde Sibanda harassing you?
BM: When we were compiling our report for the Nyatate battle, I mentioned that I witnessed Cde Mhanda being stabbed and bayoneted.
This did not go down well with Cde Sibanda.
From that day, Cde Sibanda was blaming me for Cde Mhanda’s death.He would accuse me of letting Cde Mhanda down.
Cde Sibanda accused me of being a coward. He said I should have come out of my hiding place and saved Cde Mhanda.
I could not do that because I had run out of bullets.
I stood no chance against the Rhodesian soldiers.
Trying to save Cde Mhanda was akin to committing suicide.
After staying at Guru for a while, a section led by Cde Black September, came to our camp for reinforcements.
I was selected to go back to the war zone as a medic.
Along with this group, we were operating in areas such as Chiendambuya, Nyadowa, Nyatate, Zimbiti and Tanda, among others.
I was then selected to undergo further training in Yugoslavia.
In our next instalment, Cde Mupotaringa will give an account of his military training in Yugoslavia. He will also narrate other battles he was involved in.