The Sunday Mail
We continue narrating the political life of Cde Fani Chikomba whose nom de guerre was Cde Sorry Zivanayi. This week, the liberation fighter chronicles to our Deputy News Editor Levi Mukarati, the events leading to his military training in Mozambique and subsequent deployment to the front in Rhodesia.
Question: After gunning down the small plane, how did the Rhodesia security services react?
Answer: That incident was to be followed by a series of surprise attacks from the Rhodesians.
They had intensified their operations in the area, Zindi Detachment.
So, after gunning down the small plane, we moved to Chaza area. We had to be mobile, which was a characteristic of the guerrilla war. By the time we got to Chaza area, it was already dark and we were served food by our war collaborators. We had a quarter master, who first ate the food and we would wait for some minutes to be sure it is not poisoned, before we start eating.
But our arrival in the area became known by Ian Smith’s soldiers. I had secured my posto with another comrade and as we began to eat, a bright light suddenly illuminated the area.
The Rhodesian soldiers had lit a search light and immediately started firing at us.
It was a surprise attack, but we managed to fire back and later got out of the area without any casualties. That was my first time to be fired at. To be honest, I couldn’t sleep that night.
Ndainzwa kunge pfuti dzichiri kurira. Any sound in the forest yaindivhundutsa ndichifunga kuti masoja aSmith adzoka.
Ndaiti ndikatsinzinya maziso, ndaiwona moto wemabara. I was scared, but I kept on motivating myself deep inside ndichiti ndapotswa nemasoja, saka varikutitadza. We kept on operating within the Zindi Detachment and after about three months, that was November 1976, we had a team coming from Mozambique to reinforce us.
At that time I was selected leader of security in our section which was headed by Cde Tororo or Gorerino Hapana Chakanaka.
Our political commissar was Cde Chaka, we also had comrades Day Chibhakira, Lance Muchabaiwa, Rugare, Jean and Powerman.
Together with Cde Jean and other comrades, we were tasked to cross into Mozambique to collect a machine gun, the one mounted on wheels. We did that with ease since we were in control of the Mozambican side.
When we returned with the gun to Honde Valley, Cde Chaka had left our group to lead another section.
He had chosen Cde Jean to his section as leader of security. But that was after myself and Jean had buried the machine gun in headman Chikomba’s area. The purpose of the gun was to attack Ruda Base Camp, which was the biggest base for Rhodesian soldiers in Honde valley. I also became close to Cde Hammer the Crusher, who was in our section and had specialised in making explosive. He taught me how to make the devices and at one time I blew up electricity lines to Katiyo Tea Estates. I felt proud of myself.
A sad sight of Cde Jean
Question: I want to go back to the machine gun, did it achieve its mission to destroy Ruda Base Camp?
Answer: No, the machine gun was to be deployed elsewhere after I had gone for training in Mozambique.
But I should mention that when we returned with it, Cde Chaka and the guys in his section went to see one of the spirit mediums in the area, Sekuru Mabota. We were planning a big attack at Ruda, so we used to consult spirit mediums. But the consultation did not take place because when the Cdes got to Sekuru Mabota’s homestead, he was quick to tell them that the whites were in the area.
In the midst of the warning, the Rhodesian soldiers arrived and opened fire.
Cde Chifafa Chibwe who was leaning against the wall of one of Sekuru Mabota’s huts was the first to be shot at and died. An exchange of gunfire ensued and Cde Jean was shot in the stomach. There was a girl, a chimbwido called Florence, who then helped Cde Jean and tried to hide him in an area where there were some gardens. But the whites followed and captured Cde Jean after Florence had ran away.
I knew the capture of Cde Jean would result in his torture and probably him divulging information on our operations particularly the machine gun.
I was tasked to lead a team to extract the machine gun. We managed to retrieve and hid it in the bush. We remained in the area certain that the Rhodesian soldiers would come looking for the gun and we would ambush them.
In less than an hour, the white soldiers arrived at the location we had initially buried the gun.
They were too many and it was impossible for us to launch an attack.
The Rhodesian security forces were carrying Cde Jean on a stretcher and it was sad there was no help we could give him. That was the last time I saw Cde Jean. I should mention that the war at Sekuru Mabota’s homestead had occurred after we had tried to bomb Machiri Bridge along Pungwe River, but it was just damaged and did not collapse.
There were some District Development Fund (DDF) guys who were tasked by the Smith government to rehabilitate the damaged bridge. We were not happy about Cde Jean and we wanted to revenge. The DDF guys became our target.
Taiziva kuti, after work, vakomana ve DDF vainwira hwahwa paRambanayi bottle store. So we went and captured them.
In that process, we heard the sound of a vehicle, a landrover, driving towards the bottle store and we knew it was the DDF area supervisor. He was white. We ordered everyone out of the store and hid in the nearby bushes.
The white supervisor then got to the store, disembarked and went straight inside.
He did not see anyone; as he came out and before getting to his vehicle we opened fire at him. He died on the spot. It was around six in the evening.
We released the DDF black workers and immediately moved out of the area.
Horrors of Gunyana battle
Then in December 1976, our commanders got instructions from the leaders in Mozambique that we need to intensify our operations. We had to increase sabotage acts in tea estates and force workers back home.
We moved in to loot the shops at the tea estates and workers feared to go to work.
This happened up to March 1977. Because of the volatile situation, the Rhodesian government then decided to establish more Keeps in the area. In March 1977, we met as three sections at Gunyanja to strategise our operations in the wake of the Keeps. It was our section, led by Cde Tororo, then the other led by Dzokerai Mabunu and the another headed by Cde Powerman.
We agreed, at detachment level, that we now had so many youths moving with us who were waiting to go for training. The youths were now over 100 in the detachment.
At Gunyanja there was an elderly man called Dongo, he had come from Masvingo and managed to get a rural home there.
The senior comrades asked Dongo to go and buy them some tobacco at the nearest shops.
I suspect Dongo sold us out to the white soldiers because he did not return. I don’t know why we didn’t question Dongo’s failure to return as we dispersed to find places to sleep.
Our section moved out about three kilometres and set base in the next village, kwa Chaza.
The other two sections remained in Gunyanja and secured places for the youths to sleep with the villagers. I remember it was raining and I was sleeping at my posto when I heard gun shots around 4am.
The unfortunate thing was that the Rhodesian soldiers had come from an opposite direction from the comrades and the villagers were caught in between. After the opening of fire, the youths who were in the houses panicked and got out running in different directions. It was a sad situation because they were caught in crossfire.
Others tried to escape to come to us, but we lost 13 youth and two comrades.
About 18 youths reached us with various degrees of gunshot wounds while others were unhurt. But there was something that happened during the exchange of fire which I failed to understand.
It had been raining the whole night, but when the confrontation started, the rains increased and I think this is what reduced the intensity of the attack. Again the rains hindered the soldiers from pursuing us as we led the youths into Mozambique, Tangwena base.
From there, we then organised transport for the wounded to be taken to hospitals in Vila de Manica,Mozambique. After ensuring the youths had left for treatment, we returned to Rhodesia through Chavhanga area.
The Rhodesians had created many Keeps and it was now difficult to get into villages to get food. As such, we helped ourselves to bananas and madhumbe from the villagers’ gardens. We even caught stray chicken for relish.
When we got to Chavhanga, Chimbo area, we camped and addressed the villagers.
But again, the white soldiers somehow got information we were in the area and, like the Gunyanja war, they launched a surprise attack early in the morning
In our posto, I was with Cde Powerman who had a bazooka RPG7 and I had an AK47 assault rifle. I remember hearing a voice saying; “bloody terrorists! Stand up and surrender or I will shoot you.” I had not seen where this person was and what came to my mind was maybe the person or persons had already taken aim at me.
As I was on the ground, I tried to roll and immediately heard gun shots. Powerman had been targeted, but the bullet that got to him went on to hit a magazine that was strapped to his stomach. The magazine exploded and injured his stomach, but it wasn’t serious.
He managed to launch his bazooka in the direction the shots were coming from.
The explosion seemed to have taken the Rhodesian soldiers aback as they stopped firing.
But I had been hit by a bullet on my left foot.
I had fired back, but soon ran out of bullets.
I managed to crawl out of the firing line with blood oozing from the foot. As I crawled, my gun was caught by some shrubs and had to leave it because I could see the enemy was drawing closer.
I was unarmed and feared for my life because I no longer had any weapon to defend myself.
But like I said earlier, we were operating near the border with Mozambique. So each time there was a surprise attack on us, we would retreat and regroup on the other side of the border, where there were reinforcement.
Military training in Mozambique
I managed to cross Rwera River and got to the other comrades. My foot was bandaged and it was arranged that I be taken to a hospital in Manica, Mozambique. That was April 1977.
I didn’t stay in hospital for long because the wound healed quickly.
Upon discharge, I went to Chimoio, New Takawira Camp. There, I met Mukoma Japhet, there was also Paul Santana who was a musician, Pepsi Kombo and Zanla Mbada Chirenje. That was also the time I saw Cde Josiah Tongogara after he had been released from Jail in Zambia.
He came to New Takawira and I saw him once.
Then there was a group of manoeuvres that came to New Takawira from Dondo. They were destined for Tembue. I stayed at the camp for a month after which the team from Dondo was given clearance to proceed to Tembue.
I was told to join them and that was now May 1977 when I went for training at Tembue.
My training was interesting because I had already been in the front and had waged some wars, so it was more of military drills.
During training I was in Battalion H and our Battalion Commander was Cde Handei Pamwe.
I was political commissar of our company.
There was also Battalion I, led by Cde Johnny Walker and Battalion G commandeered by Cde Ronny. We went through a six month training and towards the end of the exercise I specialised with the M90 rocket launcher, anti-personal and anti-tank launchers.
I also did field engineering with the likes of Cde Cuba and at that time our trainer was Cde Chapewa. As for individual tactics, we used to go to a place we called kamunda kaTito named after Cde Tito who was responsible for training comrades there.
We were taken through survival tactics by Cde Tito, that is when to advance, craw, retreat and fire our weapons during a war. When I finished training in November 1977 there was an attack at Tembue and Chimoio.
I am not sure if it targeted us who had finished training so that we fail to go to the front or it was just a coincidence.
When Chimio was bombed from 23 to 25 November, we had left about four days earlier taenda kwainzi kwa Chari, where we awaited deployment. After attack we had to move further up tikaenda kwainzi kwaZuze near Malawi where a new camp had been established.
That new camp was in a marshy area and vehicles would get stuck in the mud.
Near Zuze was Maroro base where the comrades stayed.
So I was tasked to be company commander of more than 100 comrades at Maroro base.
Our task became that of making roads passable. We would cut trees and place them in areas that were muddy for passage of vehicles transporting various supplies to the camp.
Ndapedza ipapo ndakanzi ndiende kwa Ben kwaive naCde Mvenge nanaMike Hip Level Karakadzai. When I got there, I was selected together with 49 other comrades on an advance mission to Rhodesia near Salisbury.
Continued next week
But the leaders there, ana Cde Hip Level and Mvenge vaitya kuti tinogona kupanduka tapedyo ne Salisbury tikabatana nemadzakutsaku.
As such, we went through an intensive two week programme called special classes in politics.
We were oriented with in-depth lectures on why we were in the war, why we were special, the benefits that awaited blacks if we won the war and how we would be regarded by the future generation for bringing independence.
After the course, I felt complete, motivated and destined to free my country.
Dai ari nhasi, ndingati ndaizviona kunge Rambo, kunzwa manyukunyuku kuti nyika iyi yakamirira ini kuti ndiyisunungure.
That is how serious the political doctrine was.
That is why when we speak, those who did not go through the war furnace, think we are mad. We are not, we are a determined lot.
Anyway, after the course we were briefed that some comrades in Musana, Chikwaka area near Salisbury had revolted.
They were led by James Mapurani Swerakuyenda Mukwasha we Zuva and they were working nemadzakutsaku (Auxiliary Forces).
We were tasked to go and capture them and wait further instructions.
With that mission at hand, the 50 of us, armed with our AK47’s and myself with an additional rocket launcher trooped back to Rhodesia.
Little did I know our mission would witness so many deaths.