The Sunday Mail
IN this third and final instalment, Cde Gidza, born Gilbert Mutyambizi, relives the Mavonde Battle, which was a decisive phase of the liberation war as Ian Smith sought to leverage the Lancaster House negotiations on the battle. Had Mavonde gone to Smith, the negotiations in particular and the war in general could have taken another trajectory. Cde Gidza, the first base defence commander of Mavonde, walks down memory lane, to the six-day battle from 40 years ago. Read on . . .
Q: You are quite a smoker, huh? (Cde Gidza had lit probably his last of the 20-pack cigarettes).
A: I am. Since the 70s, up to now. (laughing). I haven’t stopped smoking, and I am almost 68 now. The war forced us into all these things. It is not out of will. Now, we had been instructed, and the vehicles came — the double-diff vehicles, Scanias, quite versatile vehicles and quite dependable and it was the rainy season as we moved from Marizhondo to Mavonde. It was a battle moving overnight, it was really a battle.
The soils were loose, the soils were soggy and the vehicles would get stuck, and they are loaded with heavy artillery and ammunition. But the spirit of togetherness, of oneness, if that unity could return to Zimbabwe definitely this country would enjoy itself. We travelled the whole night until we got to Mavonde. There was a group of comrades who had gone to Mavonde to do the reconnaissance of the base area. Where we would deploy our weapons, disposition of bases, who would be positioned where. But upon arrival, when we looked at the map, we had some reservations about some of the positions.
We deliberated on these positions with the late General.
Q: You mean Tongogara?
A: No, no, Zvinavashe. I said let’s re-do some of these positions and we did them. I remember on return, it was around 1400hrs and we were being fed. Two helicopters came, and no weapons were mounted. Oh my God, all weapons are down except our personal weapons. I had a bazooka with me, an RPG2. I said, “Chief, let me hit them.” He said no, these people are going to Gorongoza, remember the Matsanga insurgency had already started in Gorongoza. They were going with supplies to Matsanga, remember they were a baby of the Rhodesian forces. And they passed, and they were laughing. They were at tree-top level, how they didn’t see us I don’t know, we were so many. It was quite a surprise. We breathed a sigh of relief when they passed. But the General said, “don’t think they haven’t seen us, they have seen us but their mission is Gorongoza”.
Then we started deploying. I sent my requisition to the General. I am the first base defence commander of Mavonde. The type of weapons, heavy weapons we wanted for the defence of Mavonde. We had weapons. We had come from Romania, we had weapons. Every group which came from Romania had weapons. Every group that came from training, came with weapons of sorts.
Q: Coming from Romania with weapons, were you using commercial flights or what?
A: There were designated planes for that. Remember, intel had to work. The enemy would be at work all the time, don’t forget the CIA, those guys of overt operations. Their ears would be open, eavesdropping on all communications.
Q: So these were like charter flights? To understand, how you would get weapons in, would you smuggle the weapons in or what?
A: Sort of. I wouldn’t know, all what we knew was to get onto the planes. It was not smuggling. The planes would come in with the weapons and off load as normal cargo. Remember it would be credited. There was no smuggling. It was a known cause which we were fighting for. Remember the United Nations knew there was a war in Rhodesia, the British knew, the Americans knew — everybody knew there was a war in Rhodesia. Ours was a justified war, anyway.
Q: The requisition?
A: The requisition was taken up by the General, who took it where I don’t know. The only thing I knew was vehicles were coming with the requirements — armaments, ammunition, you name it. Some of the weapons we had were about five tonnes and we would push them up a steep mountain. Push, push, up, push, push. Some of the weapons were wheeled, some of them had to be carried. The four-barrelled guns, the 14.5, were wheeled, the 67mm was wheeled, less the mortars which sat on the base plate. We moved all our weapons until a time when we said we are ready for them. I remember vividly one night, it was around 2100hrs when we received our first 67mm gun, quite a long-barrelled gun, it shoots a bullet of 67mm cylindrically at its widest.
The General said let’s fire the weapon towards Ruda. A whole magazine was fired.
Q: So you were practising or?
A: Yes, we were practising but also sending a message. That we were ready for them. I remember we put tracer bullets and fired towards Ruda. We ended up with the 12.7 on the ground, infantry, for the ground attacks. It was at Mavonde where we established the Zanla military communications wing, which was commanded by Cde Everisto Nhamo who I had at Pungwe. He had been trained in East Africa for communications and I was his deputy, Mannex Madanhi was the political commissar and the late Mudari, who passed on last month, was logistics, Levis Ngoro was the security man, we were quite a number, the signals platoon. We had developed a codification which was not standard, it was so unique because it was so figurative. Or should I say numerical. Yes numerical. I remember the battle, they intercepted our radios and we exchanged insults. They would ask, which code is that? And we would reply, this is our code and where is yours? War at times is interesting, exciting. (laughing).
The signals unit was situated next to the High Command, just under Mount Cassino. We were in a secure area, no-one would just come in, unless you were on a special errand from the bosses. I remember one morning when we were having breakfast, and an emissary was sent by Cde Rex Nhongo. When I got to him, he asked me, “Cde Gidza, there are people who left in the morning, have they reported to you? There have been gunshots in the mountains, did you hear them?” Then word came down, that Rhodesians had been spotted in the mountain. Which triggered my memory, one evening at feeding time, people were asking, who is this, who is this? And that person disappeared.
We realised these people could have stayed next to the HQ, for two or three days, this we could tell from the tell-tale signs they left behind like excretion, tinned food, which they would bury.
Q: So this was like infiltration?
A: Yes, it was infiltration. They were on a reconnaissance mission. The Selous Scouts, they were dangerous people. Like years ago, we used to have someone who used to stay in a place like Norton, by the time people got to know a lot about them, they would have disappeared. We don’t know where he went.
We had to assemble troops of 100 men to follow the spoors. As we went, these people had gone. Whether they had known, we don’t know but our vehicles had left for Chimoio and as we followed them, we heard firing. Only to find out that there was an anthill where they had mounted their HNGs and were firing. I had three bazookas, LNG and LPG — us commanding those troops. They fired, exposing their positions. We started crawling towards where they were and in the meantime, they had radioed for support. Soon helicopters came and rescued them. We would not manoeuvre further as the helicopters came with aerial support.
We retreated and reported back to HQ and a decision was made to up the vigilance. By that time Mavonde had grown, if I am not mistaken, the base was covering some 60 square kilometres.
The base was made up of seven sections. We had Base 1, where the HQ was; Base 2, 3 (where people who had completed training would prepare to move into Zimbabwe or those who had returned from war, would be resting); Base 4 (training), Base 5 (Chaminuka, for security, where we had prisoners of war or those who had been delinquent at the front and waiting to go for re-orientation), 6 and 7 (logistics, kwaSamora).
The defence of Mavonde was quite strong for the enemy. The enemy had made reconnaissance, I don’t know how many times such that on the day of the attack, if I am not mistaken, it was on September 27 1979. Before the leaders left for Lancaster, I remember Cde Tongogara assembled us, at Chaminuka Base and told us the intel he had and what to expect in their absence. He said, “Cde Gidza, Muzorewa and Smith are coming for this base and if they over-run this base, make sure you also go with them”. I assured him that Mavonde was in safe hands.
That was the last I saw Tongogara alive. (sobs). That man, Mwari vari kudenga. Anyway, he left and he went. When the enemy finally came to attack, they had been overtaken by events because there had been a lot of alterations to the base. We had zig-zagged trenches, dug rooms underground, I checked my watch, it was 0730hrs, they had a routine those idiots. Those were their timings. I had been called by the late Mujuru.
Q: Mujuru didn’t travel to Lancaster?
A: No, Mujuru didn’t travel. Zvinavashe, Tungamirai, Mupanzawarima, all these didn’t travel. Mujuru called me. He said there were arms that had come from Korea, and we should give everyone a gun. Even those under training should get a gun. So I assembled all the comrades, both male and female, to go to Base 3 where there were two Scanias full of arms. As we were going to Base 3, we suddenly heard the sound of LP, and we knew we were under attack. You see what they were doing, they were coming in from Chicamba Dam. They would fly into Mozambique, and towards Chimoio they would turn back and attack us from the Mozambican internal side.
I remember counting up to about 15, these jets. I was still trying to ingest that, then came the Canberras, Canberras are these slow-moving ones which drop multiple bombs, coming from the west. Those were fodder for the cattle, those were hit, they are too slow. I remember counting about to eight, saying this has been hit, that has been hit. I had to run after the comrades who had gone to Base 3, they reacted quickly and followed a river, there was a river between HQ and Base 3. I advised them to return to Base 1 camps (HQ) and enter trenches for defensive purposes.
The bombing went on, up to about 0900hrs. Tarumbwa, I don’t know where he is now, one of the signals guys who was at a checkpoint about seven kilometres away, came on radio and said they were under attack from people wearing camarada uniforms. I advised that if they have armoured vehicles, they should withdraw and get to Mount Cassino. I went to where Mujuru and Zvinavashe were. They said besides those on training, even all prisoners should be released and get the arms from Base 3. Everyone got a gun that day, to fight the enemy.
Now with everyone equipped, we were strategising in Base 1. The armoured cars which had overrun our control were spotted by Mount Cassino, approaching Base 3. See Mount Cassino was the highest point, you could see the whole area, up to Chimoio. Then Zvinavashe said, take RPG7 and M90, then go and ambush those armoured vehicles. I went with Everisto Nhamo and other guys, but what we saw, we could not fire, not because we were cowards but because they were going to overrun us. So we withdrew and advised likewise.
Then an order was given to Mount Cassino, that the armoured cars had to be destroyed. And they were hit from there. You could see the radio men and these were the first to be hit, to break their communication. Peter Walls was there that day, he was in the plane that was the highest. The armoured vehicles were hit. And remember they would have armour inside, which means they killed themselves, because they blew like nobody’s business. We fought the whole day, till sun set.
Sadza harirege kudyiwa nekuti hondo iri kutsva, we ate our sadza. They came again in the morning in the same fashion. This time the planes were hit and they must have felt it. They went away for some time, think to re-strategise. They started bringing paratroopers, dropping them to the north, following the river. Helicopters would come, at tree-top level, dropping them. An instruction was given to hit the parachute, and not the person. You would expend bullets trying to hit the person. Once you hit the chute, the person would drop to the ground and die. Those who managed to land, they found what they didn’t expect because they found ground defences which they had not seen when they did reconnaissance. We had 12.7, HMG, LMG, lancers, I mean at Mavonde we had a lot of artillery and ammunition. Then they swung from north to east, where those wearing Israel uniforms came through. It must have been the third day when Cde Mupanzarima came and said he wanted to go to Chimoio and look for reinforcements. We told him it was not safe to go to the east as there were adverse reports coming from there. He was insistent and we gave him the help he wanted. That was the last I saw of him. He was our chief of security in the High Command.
Fourth day, now we were running low on ammo, now we were firing sparingly. Even the Rhodesians, their firepower was less. They had dropped paratroopers, commandos and SAS as well, and they didn’t know who was where, so there were times they would bomb each other. So the planes were not coming as frequently as when they started the attack. Only Peter Walls’ and the Vampire, their reconnaissance plane, would come here and there.
Then came the Phantom jets, must have been from the north-east. Then an instruction was given: “north-east”. Those two Phantom jets were hit in my eyes. And the comrades were clapping hands. That’s why I was saying war is funny at times, especially if you are on the winning side. When they were like waning off, they were actually re-organising. They were seeking for reinforcements from South Africa. Then they came with the Impala planes, those are dangerous things because it comes perpendicularly, bombs and takes off perpendicularly. They bombed once and when they came for the second time, the comrades had studied the pattern. There is this comrade, what was his name, he was Ethiopian-trained, he was operating the 14.5 four-barrelled gun — he hit those Impala planes.
When the Rhodesians came, the gun that they feared was at Chimbuyamwana, it was at the centre of the base. They hit it on the first wave. So, fifth day, we had the Impalas. On the sixth day, we were running very low on ammunition and we were asked to withdraw firing pins on our weapons by Cde Zvinavashe. Then we withdrew towards Chicamba, the citrus plantation. Little did we know Cde Tonderai Nyika had sneaked out to Chimoio to ask for reinforcements from Frelimo. They brought the katyusha weapons, 48-barrelled weapons. It destroys an area of three hectares, you cannot get into an area for 72 hours after it has hit because some of the bombs are toxic. They deployed two katyushas, one to the north and one to the south, supported by gradas, 102mm mortar-bombing guns. That weapon, the katyusha, lightning does not even compare. You rarely fire all the 48 at one time. You might just need to fire 20 at a time.
When we withdrew from the base, the Rhodesians thought we had surrendered, not knowing it was a tactical withdrawal and they ran to enter the base. I remember vividly well Carolyn Thornycraft, reading the news, saying “security forces have over-run the terrorists’ base 20km east of Mutare and they have now camped there”.
Little did they know what was waiting for them. I think they started hitting them around 2200hrs. They were hit the whole night by the 48-barrell guns and gradas. Then in the morning (that War Communique was read in the morning), by the same Carolyn Thorncraft.
“It seems the terrorists had the assistance of the Russians and Cubans” but there were no Russians, no Cubans because we now knew the craft of war.
After three days, we went to check the aftermath. To wrap up Mavonde, some Rhodesians left the base on their toes. Some were finished off by the Mozambican nationals as they tried to flee from Mavonde.
Then Mavonde was disbanded and we went to Nyamhinga. Remember this was during the Lancaster House talks and when the ceasefire was announced, some of us stayed behind, in case something happened. We were quite a big force, ready to come in should the need arise. Even tanks we now had. We were prepared for an even more heavier war.
Q: Mavonde, geographical location to Chimoio, where are we?
A: Quite a distance from Chimoio. Chimoio is to the east and Mutare is to the west, 20 kilometres as the crow flies, close to Chicamba Dam.
Q: Was Mavonde a replacement for Chimoio base?
A: It was a tactical base, because there had been a lot of casualties of Mozambican civilians and the aim was to move more into Zimbabwe than to remain in Mozambican territory. Moving to Mavonde was a step towards moving into Zimbabwe and establishing headquarters. The aim was to end up camping in Mutare and making it our HQ.
Q: Casualties at Mavonde, on our part?
A: Numerically I cannot say, the base was too vast. But at HQ I don’t remember counting anything more than five.
Q: How many people were approximately at the base?
A: We are talking thousands. Training base had over 3 000 comrades. What about Base 3, which had trained personnel, Chaminuka or HQ? HQ was composed of administration, logistics, security and communications personnel.
Q: Second Chimurenga, we cannot discuss it without talking about the role of spirit mediums, your personal experiences?
A: Truly so. When you entered a new area, I remember when I operated in the Zimunya area, you had to pay homage to the spirit mediums in the area, telling them you had entered their area to fight a just war and they should help and guide you.
Q: At what point did you come back?
A: August 1980. Went to Luangwa assembly point, that is in Nyanga. From there I was integrated into the army, where I served until retirement in 1993, June 30. When I retired I was Warrant Officer Class 1, in charge of signals, which was always my speciality during the war.
I am a founder member of the 3.2 Infantry Battalion in Tsanzaguru, Rusape. Then army headquarters looked for me and posted me to One Mechanised Battalion on formation, which is now a Brigade, that is your Inkomo unit.