The Sunday Mail
The Sunday Mail’s Deputy News Editor Levi Mukarati continues his conversation with Cde Clark Ngiyo Mpofu, one of the pioneers of the liberation struggle, and who orchestrated a jailbreak at Grey Street Prison — now Bulawayo Prison — in 1965. This week, Cde Mpofu explains events leading to his arrest, escape from prison and his subsequent re-arrest.
Q: How did then did this infiltrator get to you?
A: I was in the Jambesi area under Chief Mvutu Mlotshwa when the black Rhodesian CID operative got to me.
He said our comrades in Livingstone wanted to see me and we were supposed to travel back together. Like I said before, I had become suspicious of him as he was too inquisitive.
There was a time I caught him writing some notes. But I didn’t get ahead of myself because he seemed to know a lot about us.
We put up for the night and during that evening, I asked him how we were to travel to Livingstone and he said we were supposed to travel by bus.
But during that time, there was no bus service – the bus had broken down.
This infiltrator maintained he had come by bus. In the morning, we packed our clothes to start the journey to Livingstone.
As we passed through the chief’s homestead, the CID operative suggested that the chief’s homestead had to be bombed.
However, I simply dismissed his remark as someone who wanted to see my reaction.
When we got to the road, I saw one of the chief’s sisters and asked her what time we could expect the bus.
She said there was no bus service since it had broken down.
After learning that we couldn’t get a bus, I contacted Daniel Ngwenya in Bulawayo and he organised transport for us to travel to Bulawayo instead of going to Livingstone.
In Bulawayo, I went to my aunt Mafazi Moyo’s house in Mzilikazi and discovered that the CID had also planted some girls who were renting a house next to hers.
After meeting Ngwenya and other comrades who were also waiting for guns to start the war, it was decided I leave for Livingstone the following morning and try to help organise the weapons.
The CID operative was, however, barred from this crucial meeting. Besides, he was too junior to be involved in such strategic meetings, if really he was on our side.
My aunt later told me the police had been looking for me and could have been tipped that I was back in Bulawayo; that is why I had to leave the following morning by train.
But the following morning, police conducted a search at Mpompoma Railway Station, and although I didn’t know what they were looking for, I suspected they could have been looking for me.
All the while, the CID operative was seated beside me.
We managed to leave Mpopoma without any incident, but we alighted in Hwange after I heard the police were waiting in Victoria Falls to search and vet suspicious males who were on the train.
In Hwange, there was a CID operative, Ajude Banda, who knew me from Bulawayo.
I am not sure how, but Smith’s men knew I had alighted in Hwange. They tracked us as we were trying to find alternative transport to Victoria Falls enroute to Livingstone. That is how I was arrested.
The undercover CID was also arrested as a disguise, but I later learnt at the police camp that he was an infiltrator.
Q: What happened next, where were you taken?
A: To make the story clear, let me first explain events that had happened elsewhere.
Around the time I was being pursued, we had Moffat Hadebe, Keyi Nkala, Elliot Ngwabi and Israel Mnduma who had attacked Dube Ranch in the Matobo area in 1964.
The place belonged to the then Bulawayo chief magistrate, Roberts. When we visit the annals of the war, we find out that the war started in 1964 with the Hadebe group. This is because their attack was the first to be carried out using machine guns. It was the first time guns were used or fired.
This group was supposed to be sentenced to death, but the prosecution failed to prove its case against them.
First of all, the Law and Order Maintenance Act (team) was weak in that it failed to prove that the attack or the bullets were aimed directly at an object or person.
So the defence said these comrades had fired into the air to frighten the whites.
In the end, they each received a 10-year jail sentence. Otherwise, the Act prescribed for a mandatory death sentence if it had been proved that the accused aimed directly at a person with the intention to kill.
That is why the likes of John Maluzo and Lloyd Gundu were sentenced to death because they fired at a train that was carrying passengers. They were, however, spared the hangman’s noose by the Queen of England.
Back to the Hadebe group, they had been arrested and sent to Grey Street Prison. When I was arrested, I was also sent to Grey Street Prison as processes to ensure I stand trial at the High Court were underway.
I had committed various acts of sabotage that attracted a death sentence.
Q: Before you go further, which were some of the notable acts of sabotage that you committed?
A: The most effective one was the bombing on Wilkie’s Circus at the Trade Fair grounds. I planted a bomb there and its effect was devastating. Cars were reduced to shells and some of the animals, including elephants, escaped, but no life was lost.
Then there was the Tredgold Building attack. I also masterminded the Bulawayo Main Post Office bomb attack and booby traps in Matobo area.
These activities were between August and September 1964.
But let me not talk of something that involves the death of human beings, it no longer augurs well with me.
I choose not to speak about those incidences because they haunt me, the images were bad. It is these experiences that make us say we did not get Independence on a silver platter.
Imagine, if I can’t talk of the deaths or casualties of the people we were fighting, then how does it feel to think of my comrades who failed to see Independence?
It was terrible and that is why I insist we not talk about the incidences that involved death or loss of human life.
Back to Grey Street Prison. I was to be placed in the same cell where Hadebe, Nkala and Ngwabi were held. There was another cell mate, but I don’t remember his name. So we ended up having five inmates in that cell.
It is from that cell that we planned a jailbreak before being captured in Bechuanaland.
But after we were arrested, I did not admit masterminding the jailbreak because the act carried a mandatory death sentence.
Q: If you could explain how the jailbreak actually happened…
A: Many people thought or still think that we were assisted by black prison wardens. Yes, there were many black wardens who supported our cause; that is why we talk of smuggling of information or communication into the jails.
But in this case, they were not involved. In prison, we had regular visitors from comrades such as Thenjiwe Lesabe and Joshua Mpofu.
I had studied the prison cell and noticed that it had a corrugated metal roof above the ceiling. We were held in Cell 22 to be precise.
One day I asked Joshua Mpofu to smuggle a small tin snip for us. I asked him to put the metal sheet cutter inside a loaf of bread.
He managed to smuggle it and I remember very well it was on the night of Tuesday, January 5, 1965 that we began our jailbreak.
We had cut open a hole in both the ceiling and the corrugated iron roof. Most of the sound from our activity was drowned in singing as we often sang revolutionary songs in prison.
After escaping from the cell through the roof, we jumped into the prison superintendent’s yard before we made good our escape. The other occupant of the cell, who I no longer remember by name, refused to follow us. He was afraid.
It was around 1am on Wednesday, January 6, 1965 when we escaped. Daniel Ngwenya knew of our plan. After the escape, we went to Hillside and then Tshabalala, where we met Ngwenya and Philip Mabhena.
We were still dressed in white prison garb. It was Ngwenya and Mabhena who provided us civilian clothing. Mabhena then drove us to Figtree where he dropped us at dawn.
That morning, the prison wardens discovered we had escaped and a special gazette was made and distributed to every police station in the country.
By 8am, police had mounted several checkpoints around Bulawayo, including areas such as Gwelo, Figtree, Plumtree and Shabani.
Tracking dogs were brought in whilst police officers who knew us were airlifted to strategic border posts.
A bounty of 250 pounds was put on every one of the escapees and we were labelled extremely dangerous criminals.
The Police Reserve Air Wing joined the hunt, with a helicopter patrolling the Matobo area.
But as they were doing this, we had already left the country and were in Ramokgwebana, Bechuanaland.
By the time we arrived at Ramokgwebana, Kayi Nkala had improvised a protective wooden cast under his foot as he had been cut by a piece of glass while running.
Although we hard sworn that we would not talk to anyone before we got to Francistown, our plans changed when Nkala got injured.
When we got to Ramokgwebana Shopping Centre, we saw an Indian who was driving a truck, but we didn’t know where he was headed.
So I tasked Ngwabi and Hadebe to find out where it was going since there were other people at the back.
The truck was going to Francistown for Seretse Khama’s political rally.
But there was also a coloured guy in the company of a woman at the shopping centre who looked at us suspiciously.
He is the one, as we were later told, who reported us to the police.
When we were about to reach Tsessebe, a police vehicle drove up to us and hooted for the driver to pull over.
Hadebe immediately jumped out and I followed as we ran in the same direction. Ngwabi and Nkala didn’t manage to jump out so they were arrested on the spot.
The area did not have much vegetative cover and I tried to hide behind a shrub, but in no time, I was surrounded.
The police ordered me to surrender or they would shoot. That is how I was arrested. Hadebe managed to escape and found his way to Zambia.
Myself, Nkala and Ngwabi were arrested by the Rhodesian police inside Bechuanaland, which is against international law. The Rhodesians lied that we were arrested within a few miles of the Bechuanaland border. I suspect the Bechuanaland authorities had given the Rhodesians the green light to pursue us.
We were brought back to Rhodesia and charged with escaping from protective custody. For that crime, we were each sentenced to one year in prison.
We all had pending cases which had led us to Grey Street Prison.
But upon my re-arrest on Wednesday January 6, 1965, I never tasted freedom again until the end of 1979.
◆ To be continued