The Sunday Mail
The attack on Altena Farm in Mashonaland Central province on December 21, 1972 marked the beginning of the second and sustained phase of the liberation struggle. In recognition of the province’s significance to the Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence, and in line with the Second Republic’s signature devolution and decentralisation policy, this year’s main Independence Day commemorations will be hosted in Mt Darwin. Below we reproduce excerpts of The Sunday Mail’s 2016 (SM) interview with Cde Lovemore Rugora (LR), whose Chimurenga name was Cde John Pedzisa, commander of the group of freedom fighters that attacked Altena Farm.
SM: The story about the attack at Altena Farm fascinates many people because it signalled the real start of the Second Chimurenga after the mishap in 1966 at the famous Chinhoyi Battle. Take us through the reconnaissance and the attack. We want to know exactly how you did it.
LR: Remember, we were not going to raid an army here.
This was just a farm, where we wanted to announce to the regime that, as freedom fighters, we were now ready for war.
So, when we got to the farm, the first thing we did was to try and cut the phone line to the house but we failed because we couldn’t climb up the pole.
We went to the road leading to the house and planted three landmines along the road.
After this, we took our positions and I instructed the comrade who was responsible for the bazooka to hit the house.
As we were pointing the bazooka at the house, we actually saw the white farmer walking inside the house.
He must have suspected that we were close by.
He was walking up and down the house, showing panic.
As he was doing that, we hit the house.
We didn’t even know his name because that was not our concern.
We didn’t even have the time to ask the povo whether this white man and his family died during the attack.
There was no time for all that.
As leader of the group, I discovered on this day that munhu anokwanisa kuita chivindi asati asvika panzvimbo.
The comrades who were responsible for the bazooka and landmines were quivering so much that I actually had to assist them to do their duties.
As I was assisting the comrade to fire the bazooka, I forgot to close my ears and when we fired, I think my eardrums were affected.
Up to now, I still have hearing problems from that incident.
After attacking the house, we moved to the nearby shops and hit the shops again.
Then we went to the workers’ compound and said, “come on, tauya kuhondo, hendei mese.”
We then burnt down the compound.
We took the workers by surprise and they started running all over the place and in that confusion, we disappeared.
Tisati taenda, takatora hwai from this farm and we went back with it to our base to celebrate this attack.
This was just the beginning of the war and there was this excitement.
We didn’t know at the warfront, things don’t happen that way.
In no time, the Rhodesian Forces sent their helicopters to look for us and I tell you, we had a torrid time.
SM: Take us through this torrid time.
LR: I think from the helicopters, the Rhodesian soldiers could see us.
I am not exactly sure, but it appeared the helicopters were pushing us in a certain direction.
We kept dodging and running, not knowing that this was some trap.
We got to Hoya River and we almost walked into an ambush.
I was walking at the back of the group when this surprise attack took place.
My bazooka man was captured during this battle.
He was called Chourombo.
The other comrade called Hopedzichirira escaped and I don’t know how but he found his way to the rear in Zambia.
Of those three comrades we had trained at the front, two died during this battle.
I was with another comrade, I can’t remember his name, we managed to take cover, crawl and escaped.
The third recruit, I don’t know what happened to him but after independence, I met him in Harare.
I had forgotten him, but he stopped me and identified himself.
He told me that he survived by hiding on the river bank until the next day.
SM: Now, you had come face-to-face with death. What went through your mind as you saw this reality?
LR: To be honest, there was no time to think of other things.
The game at that time was survival and escaping.
The Rhodesian Forces wanted to make a statement kuti zvehondo hazviitwi to us and they were determined to kill all of us.
After regrouping, we would talk about how we survived.
We didn’t even have time yekuchema those comrades vanga vafa.
Ndizvo zvaitika; ndiyo hondo, famba zvakanaka comrade.
We didn’t even bury these dead comrades because the Rhodesian Forces were in hot pursuit.
SM: How exactly did you survive this battle?
LR: Like I said, I was walking at the back of the group.
When the attack started, I had not yet arrived at this fire place, which, in military terms, is sometimes called the killing bag.
So, when the firing started, I quickly took cover and remained in that position for a while, studying the area.
The Rhodesian soldiers were also not sure of themselves, so they quickly retreated and after a while, I stood up and continued walking.
I actually saw the dead comrades as I was walking past.
I think the Rhodesian Forces were also excited that they had captured Cde Chourombo and that’s why they left hastily.
This other comrade I was left with had been injured, so I helped him as we walked.
We were in the Mt Darwin area and I started using tree leaves and herbs to treat the wound.
After treating him for days tiri musango as we were walking, one of the days, we met the group led by Masamba, which was responsible for materials.
These comrades are the ones who told me that there were some reinforcements from Zambia and there were more comrades coming to the warfront.
For three days, we were walking to the base where we had been told that these comrades were.
One of the days, takasvibirwa, then we decided to sleep pane umwe musha.
Very early the next day, we saw some old man at a nearby river and we went to inquire from him how the situation was in the area.
He told us that there were no Rhodesian Forces in the area.
Mdara uyu aiva nehuchi and I started eating.
My fellow comrade was given some dried fish and as he stood up to put the fish in his bag, he discovered that there were some Rhodesian Forces walking towards us.
This comrade started running and they started firing in his direction.
I fired back, trying to stop them from firing at this comrade.
In no time, I felt my knee going cold.
I fell down and discovered that I had been hit by a bullet.
I quickly started crawling and went into the river and started swimming.
I could see the bullets hitting the water. I got under some tree that was leaning over the river and remained still.
The shooting stopped and I remained in that position the whole day because I could see that the Rhodesian Forces were still roaming the area.
In the evening, I came out of the river and crawled to a nearby thick bush and took cover there.
My knee cap was gone and I was in excruciating pain.
SM: So, what happened after you took cover in this bushy area?
LR: The next morning, the Rhodesian Forces came back to the area with helicopters.
I saw them loading something into one of the helicopters and I think, when I returned fire, I killed one or two of them.
They had come to collect the bodies.
I saw it all from this position.
They then made an extended line to comb the area and they started walking in my direction.
One of the soldiers had a sniffer dog but fortunately he was a bit far away from where I was hiding.
I crawled further into the thick bush and they walked past.
My heart was pounding.
I still had my gun and was ready to fire if they had found me.
Ndakanga ndakakoka kuti ndofa nevangu.
I remained in this position the whole day.
In the evening, I started walking along the river.
I was in excruciating pain.
In the morning, I took cover and rested.
I would only walk during the evening.
On the third day, that’s when I saw some cattle and knew that there must be some villages nearby.
I walked to the village and the villagers first prepared porridge for me.
I managed to eat three teaspoons of porridge.
They started treating my wound and later gave me sadza.
These villagers said they were going to look for my other comrades in the area, and when they made this suggestion, I said, yes, you should do so, but as you do that, I will find somewhere nearby in the bush to go and hide.
These villagers were afraid to keep me for long because they feared someone could sell them out, and the Rhodesian Forces were ruthless to anyone who assisted us.
I remember the Rhodesian Forces at one time vakasungirira munhu mupenyu pahelicopter and they flew the aircraft with this villager hanging.
By the time the helicopter landed, the villager was dead.
So, this instilled fear in the villagers.
After a day, the villagers took me to my fellow comrades on a bicycle.