The Sunday Mail
Remembering thousands of freedom fighters who perished in Zambia
As the country celebrates 35 years of independence, it is important that Zimbabweans always remember the gallant sons and daughters who perished in foreign lands in their quest to free this beloved country.
From Emilia Zindi in Lusaka, Zambia
The two liberation forces, Zanla which confronted the enemy from Mozambique and Zipra from Zambia, became forces to reckon with as they won the battle against the Rhodesian Forces who, despite using sophisticated weapons that included aircraft, surrendered to the freedom fighters.
Zipra forces scored big against the Rhodesians when they downed two Air Rhodesian planes which killed a total of 102 people in 1978 and 1979.
These two aircrafts were – flight 825 which was shot down on September 3 1978 using an SA-7 surface to air missile and flight 827 flight which was shot down five months later. Soon after this major victory, the Rhodesian forces resorted to brutal and barbaric attacks in Zambia targeting even defenceless refugees.
It is against this background that The Sunday Mail visited some of the mass graves scattered in Zambia, one of the countries that helped Zimbabwe attain its independence by housing freedom fighters during the armed struggle.
A drive to some of these mass graves in Zambia last week showed the brutality of the Rhodesian forces.
The first point of call was at Freedom Camp, situated about 30km north of Lusaka, which was bombed by the Rhodesian forces on October 19 1978 in the early hours when the freedom fighters were just preparing to go for their parade.
Accompanying this crew was the Zimbabwe’s defence attaché to Zambia, Col Cornwell Jiyane, who passed through Freedom Camp during the protracted armed struggle.
In one of the recorded videos showing the brutal attack on that day, the Rhodesian forces can be heard shouting from the cockpit, celebrating the bombing of the camp, which was carried out by some Canberra bombers, then followed by paratroopers who were dropped to finish off the survivors.
The Rhodesian forces could be heard shouting that they had, indeed, achieved their mission as thousands of the “terrorists” had been killed during the raid.
“Lusaka Tower, this is Green Leader. How do you read. This is a message from the Rhodesian Air Force to Mumbwa Airbase commander. We are about to attack terrorists bases . . . this attack is against the Rhodesian dissidents. Rhodesia has no problem with Zambia, and I repeat, Rhodesia has no problem with Zambia, we, therefore, ask you not to intervene or oppose our attack . . . ”
Before the bombs are dropped the Zambian commander is heard asking the Rhodesian forces if a civilian aircraft could be allowed to take off with the Rhodesians replying, “not for now”.
Then scores of bombs can be seen being dropped from five Canberras, followed by paratroopers.
In the background Green Leader and his team can be heard, “Jesus, look at those beautiful bombs. Look at the bombs getting to these dissidents . . . oh beautiful,’’ he went on rumbling as the bombing went on for about an hour.
On the ground it was a sorry state of affairs as the freedom fighters were caught unaware.
They perished in their hundreds with some getting killed along the river as they were taking a bath while others died in the trenches that were dug in the camp for protection.
Narrating the attack, Col Jiyane said the brutality carried out by the Rhodesian forces would forever remain in the minds of those who participated in the armed struggle as they witnessed these atrocities.
Col Jiyane said Freedom Camp which was mainly for women cadres, was the first to be attacked. And the sad part was that most of the cadres had not yet received training as this was mainly a transit camp.
The camp was bombed for the second time on June 11 1979 but there were fewer casualties as the freedom fighters were now aware of the enemy’s tactics.
Although the name Freedom Camp was used by the Zipra forces, the original name of the camp was Chikumbi, meaning a small cloud, under Headman Chikumbi.
“This camp was a transit one where cadres passed through before being posted for training to different places including outside Zambia. All those who came to Freedom Camp would have come from Nampundwe Camp, located about 45 kms west of Lusaka. At Nampundwe this is where the screening exercise was done as people arrived from Zimbabwe to join the liberation struggle,’’ Col Jiyane narrated.
He said the screening involved separating boys from girls, the elderly, professionals, the young who were all sent to Freedom Camp after being put in their categories. At Freedom Camp cadres were sent to different places either for training or to furtheir their education. The young ones were sent to Jason Ziyapapa Moyo (JZ) School for to further their education as they could not go for military training.
As such there were thousands of cadres at any given time since it was a transit camp.
Even those who would have come back from training ready for deployment would pass through Freedom Camp awaiting deployment.
Hundreds of Zambians also perished in the bombing as they came to help fight the alongside Zimbabwean freedom fighters. Freedom Camp was also used by Frelimo soldiers during Mozambique’s struggle against the Portuguese. Its proximity to Lusaka made it easier for freedom fighters to be sent for training to foreign countries by air as well as for treatment of the critically wounded comrades, who were sent for treatment in Lusaka.
After the Freedom Camp attack, the Rhodesian Forces proceeded on the same day to Old Mkushi Camp which is about 150km North of Lusaka where, again, they callously killed hundreds of freedom fighters.
Once again, the freedom fighters were taken by surprise.
Some died while in the kitchen while others were bathing in the Mkushi River. The bombing took about one hour. After the bombing, the Rhodesian forces camped at Mkushi for about five days since it was in the midst of the bush.
“The number of casualties was huge with most of them having been trained and ammunition was also at the camp. It was a sorry site when we went to bury the dead after the enemy had left. Some were buried with only their limbs or heads as they had been dismembered by the bombs,’’ he said.
He said this was the first bombing of the Zipra camps followed by a second one carried out in June 1979 where there were a few casualties.
At Mkushi, there are about 15 mass graves that gives visitors a clear idea of how freedom fighters lived in the bush during the struggle.
Narrating how Mkushi Camp was as late as 1999, Mr Charles Mpawanga who is the caretaker, said he saw human bones scattered all over the place before the mass graves had been built.
Mr Mpawanga remembers hearing the sound of the bombing in 1978 when he was still nine years old as he was born in Zambia after the migration of his parents, and only visited the shrines in 1999 after being invited by a friend who was doing gardening near the shrines.
He said when he saw what happened at Mkushi he really felt for his parents. Although the site keeps reminding him of the Rhodesian brutality, this has given him the spirit to work as a caretaker of the shrines from 2003 to date, all in memory of his kith and kin.
The words inscribed at the shrines sums it all: “This monument is dedicated in memory and glory of the gallant sons and daughters of Zimbabwe who fell in Zambia to unshackle the chains of bondage. These heroes our eyes are on you and brothers and sisters the fallen heroes of Zimbabwe and Zambia. We bleed for you yet we must not grieve for in you is our rebirth and you are all that we shall ever be.”
Other camps that became a target of the enemy where thousands of the freedom fighters were bombed include Mulungushi Camp situated 60km east of Kabwe, where all those who lived there were trained fighters. There was heavy fighting at this camp with the Rhodesian forces losing quite a number of their soldiers.
Another notable camp is Kavalamanja where there are two mass graves after a fierce battle was fought in 1978. One of the mass graves is for Zambians who fought alongside the Zipra forces.