The Sunday Mail
ABOUT two months ago, the Deputy Chief Secretary in Charge of Presidential Communications in the Office of the President, Cde George Charamba, called me to his office and showed me pictures that he had taken while he was at Cde Vhuu’s homestead in Centenary. He told me that Cde Vhuu was not well, but he was happy that he had managed to get some assistance for “Mudhara wedu Vhuu.” We spoke about “visiting Mudhara Vhuu again when our time permits” after which he showed me what he had posted on Twitter following the visit to Cde Vhuu’s homestead.
He had written that: “Courtesy call on Cde Mabhunu Kaondera, war name Cde Vhuu: While in Centenary. I took time off to spend some time with Cde Vhuu and his family. The Zvimba-born veteran of the liberation struggle, Cde Vhuu joined the struggle in the late 60s and trained under ZPRA before joining ZANLA alongside the late General Solomon Mujuru and many others.
“A fierce fighter well-famed in Mashonaland Central, he limps from wartime wounds which he sustained when fragments from a Rhodesian plane he downed landed on him. He walks with the aid of a stick and is a successful A2 farmer.
“Alongside Cdes Huni and Tsododo, I last met him in 2016 when we were doing comprehensive interviews with key veterans of our war of liberation.
“What was striking about both Cde Vhuu and Cde Herbert Shungu is that they were not interested in the larger political question of the struggle. ‘Chedu kwaingova kurova varungu kupera! Zvepolitics zvaive zvevakuru izvo!’ He belongs to a handful of surviving heroes of the late 1960s who trained both in Tanzania and Russia. He was recruited in Zambia.”
It is possible that many people don’t know this Cde Vhuu. He belongs to that generation of former freedom fighters who have either been silenced or “othered” by Zimbabwean historiography in preference to what is commonly referred to as “big history”.
This big history focuses mainly on the role that former nationalists played during the liberation struggle.
I first met Cde Dingani Masuku, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Vhuu (others called him Cde Mabhunu Kaondera) way back in 2012 when I was conducting interviews with former freedom fighters under The Sunday Mail column, Chronicles from the Second Chimurenga. With Cde Charamba leading us, we were in Centenary and later drove to Mt Darwin to interview forgotten veteran freedom fighters that included Cde Nelson Changata popularly known as Cde Herbert Shungu; Cde Max Kaseke whose Chimurenga name was Cde Chinodakufa; Cde Onias Garikai Bhosha, known as Cde Gabarinocheka; Cde Stephanie Ndlovu Mukusha, known as Cde Tendie Ndlovu and Cde Esther Munyaradzi known as Cde Steria Dube among others.
To capture the interviews on video camera, there was Forget Tsododo from ZTV and his crew.
I vividly remember that after a long, tiresome day, we arrived at Cde Vhuu’s homestead around 5pm and it was already getting dark. That was way back in 2012 and Cde Vhuu was still energetic and lively.
As he welcomed us, it was clear that he was in high spirits.
“Yaaa, ndini Vhuu wacho. Kuti nzveee wobva wandishaya ndiyo yaiva staera yangu iyoyo. Mabhunu akatambura neni,” he said as we sat down for the interview.
Cde Vhuu joined the liberation struggle in 1965 after being recruited by ZPRA commander Nikita Mangena. After training in Bulgaria which he pronounced as “Bhugharia,” he came back and joined ZANLA. Almost all the former freedom fighters I have interviewed, spoke highly of Cde Vhuu.
They described him as a fearless fighter who terrorised Rhodesian forces to the extent that the Smith regime put a bounty on his head as a reward for anyone who would capture or kill this “Gandanga” that seemed to disappear every time it was cornered.
Allow me to permit “Mudhara wedu Vhuu” to speak from beyond his grave. Below are excerpts from the interview that was published by The Sunday Mail in 2014 under the headline “Face- to-face with the real Gandangas.”
Munyaradzi Huni: How did you get the name Cde Vhuu?
Cde Vhuu: Mafambiro andaiita. Ndaingofamba so, wobva wandishaya. Handaida kuwonekwa nemunhu. Kana masikati chaiwo negroup rangu waitishaya pasina nguva. Taikunzvenga then ndotevera mumashure makoo ndobva ndakubata.
Ndipo pamainzwa varungu vakanga vandipa mazita akawanda vachidonhedza mapaper. Vaiti mukabata Vhuu hondo inopera. Mukabvunza mamwe macomrades ese vanokuudzai what I am talking about. Hanzi pane munhu asina kudzidza anetsa nehondo. Ndini ndiri one ndakakandirwa mapepa nendege varungu vachinditsvaga. Even povho yese yaindiziva. Handitozivi kuti zvaimbofamba sei?
I recruited comrades like George Rutanhire, Mushore and Rex Tichafa. Vese ndakavatora together with Teurai Nhongo. It’s me who recruited them. My main task was to go and open new zones. I would open a zone and leave other comrades to camp there while I moved to other areas. I would go and take recruits and go and leave them with the comrades in the camps.
MH: What do you mean by opening a zone?
Cde Vhuu: Teaching people kuti tauya pano nezvematongerwo enyika negwara chairo chairo. Taking time to explain to the people about the struggle.
MH: So this is how you recruited people during the early years of the struggle?
Cde Vhuu: Yes. Vese vana Mai Mujuru takatoita vekupindira muchikoro chaimo kunovatora. I think on the day that we took her and others, I think they were in the dining room eating tingangosvika nekuvatora. Then takanovasiya kune mamwe macomrades who later crossed with them into Zambia. Those early days we had to abduct and kidnap people because we needed more comrades but at that time people were afraid to join the liberation struggle. Many could not believe that we could fight and defeat the Smith regime and so we had to force them. But of course, some during those early days volunteered on their own.
MH: Can you briefly tell us about some of your exploits at the war front?
Cde Vhuu: I fought many battles. Too many battles and varungu vanga vakuziva kuti kana pana Vhuu, vanotopatiza chete. At one time, I brought down a helicopter using my gun. The helicopters would come in large numbers and we would open fire in such a way that they would retreat most of the times. In our group we were about 22, a deadly group of true fighters. Taingoti tikatanga masaramusi edu iwayo, hapana chakanaka pfuti dzaitsva and we would not lose any battle. I was the commander of this group. This group was together until around 1976-1977.
I operated for a long time in Xai-Xai district near Limpopo River. What happened was that the commander in that area, Makasha and his group had been bombed by the Rhodesian forces. The leadership at that time then said Vhuu go where Makasha was and deal with the Rhodesians there. I had been injured and so I asked the leadership how I was supposed to go and operate in that area but they said ‘Vhuu, izvi ndizvo zvako. Go and show the Rhodesians that we really want to win this war.’ I was limping because of the injury on my leg but when the bosses insisted, I later went to Xai-Xai. I went there and in no time the Rhodesians felt my presence there. In no time I was all over in radios and newspapers kuti kwaita gandanga ranetsa Vhuu.
MH: Can you briefly tell us of one of the tough battles that you vividly remember?
Cde Vhuu: I vividly remember the battle at Majabvu. That battle was really tough because some of our own comrades like Badza had sold out. We were at Mahutwe Mission near Chesa. Badza had promised the Rhodesian forces that he would capture me for them.
I arrived in the area and I was told that Badza was looking for me. When we finally met, Badza ordered me to surrender my gun to him and I asked him why I was supposed to do that. I told him point blank “iwe haurwe hondo unogara nevakadzi chete, so why should I give you my gun?” He insisted but I told him that I wasn’t going to give him my gun. I told him “handina time yekuti ubate pfuti yangu iwewe.”
At that time, I realised that he was trying to trick me. I scanned the area and I discovered that there were some white Rhodesian soldiers waiting in ambush. The other comrades I had come with also saw this and I just shouted kuti “pedu papera” and we quickly took cover. We started firing at the Rhodesian soldiers. Like a true guerilla, I jumped into action and in no time, we were on top of the situation. That is when we captured mumwe murungu aiva mudhumeni ipapo. Murungu uyu ndiye aipega minda.
We captured three white soldiers who confessed to us that Badza had promised to capture me and surrender me to the Smith regime. They told me that Badza had been promised money because the Smith regime was really looking for me. After capturing these white soldiers, we took then to the rear.
MH: What happened to Badza?
Cde Vhuu: I really don’t know what happened to him on this day because that battle took me by surprise. The exchange of fire was too sudden. This battle started around 3pm, helicopters came and the exchange of fire was fierce. It was clear that the Rhodesians were waiting close by hoping that Badza would easily capture me.
They thought this was their chance to capture me. After discovering that we were fighting back, the Rhodesian forces later retreated and we stayed under cover until the next morning. We later captured Badza, Sipho and others and zvatakazoita, I think lets go to the next question.
MH: Tell us how you took these three white soldiers to the rear.
Cde Vhuu: These whites were really scared. They thought we were going to kill them. They pleaded with us not to kill them. We told them that we were not going to kill them but we were going to surrender them to our bosses. We had been told during training that we were never supposed to kill prisoners of war. We were supposed to capture them and take them to the rear. That was our policy.
As we walked to the rear, these whites would sometimes refuse to eat and I told them that they would die of hunger. We then forced them to eat Sadza nederere. They ended up enjoying it and eating quite a lot. Vakasvuuka makumbo tichifamba navo. We got kuna Zambezi River and surrendered them to some comrades who later took them to Zambia.
MH: You spoke about Badza selling out to the Rhodesian forces. How big was this problem of sell-outs during the war?
Cde Vhuu: These were the early stages of the war and yes, there were many sellouts among the comrades and among the Povo. It was a very big challenge. You see some people thought whites were superior to blacks, and they would do anything to please these whites. When we were deployed to the war front, we were about 60 but we ended up around 45. Some of the comrades sold out as we were fighting. Even among the 45 we later had problems where some of the party leaders were arrested by some of our comrades who had sold out the struggle.
I remember at Chifombo Base. Some of these sellouts led by Badza and Nhari had arrested some of the party leaders like Shebba Gava, Kumbirai Kangai, Cde Joseph Chimurenga and others. These leaders had been arrested and tied to trees by these sellouts in what was known as the Nhari-Badza Rebellion. I was one of the commanders who was assigned to go and free these leaders at Chifombo. We later captured these sellouts and they were dealt with by the leaders.
MH: We often hear stories that magandanga would disappear. Did this actually happen?
Cde Vhuu: Not exactly, but the way we would dash for cover when under attack you would think we had powers to disappear. We were very good at crawling and rolling such that in no time we would be away from danger. That was part of the training and because of that povo thought we had powers to disappear. The moment I saw danger coming, I would just fall on the ground, crawl and roll in such a way that in no time the enemy would fail to locate me.
MH: We also hear that as freedom fighters, you had specific food that you ate at the war front?
Cde Vhuu: We would not eat nyama yakafa yega, nemuramba nederere. When we went to the struggle, we were led by spirit mediums and they told us what to do and what not to do. Inonzi mhiko in Shona. When we started the war, we took Mbuya Nehanda (the spirit medium) to Zambia and the spirit medium guided us on how to fight the war. We were told that we should not eat muramba, nyama yakafa yega and derere. We were told musaite choupombwe and musachive zvinhu zvevanhu. If you followed these instructions, you would not face any problems. Those who failed to follow these instructions faced lots of problems and many died during the war.
This interview with Cde Vhuu went well into the night and it was from that day that he became “Mudhara wedu Vhuu.” A very funny, jovial and jocular character.
Go well veteran freedom fighter! Even ikoko mabhunu akanetsa, mawonesei moto! Go well Mudhara wedu Vhuu! Rest in peace gandanga guru!