The Sunday Mail
COMRADE Kenny Constantine Mabuya whose Chimurenga name was Cde Kenny Ridzai (born 1952 in Filabusi) two weeks ago narrated how despite the fact that he could not speak Shona, he joined Zanu from Lusaka, Zambia. He spoke about his training at Intumbi in Tanzania and how he was deployed to the war front at the beginning of 1972.
In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Kenny narrates how after a battle in the Chunya area, he got separated from fellow comrades. Two of his comrades lost their lives during this battle and immediately after the attack, Rhodesian helicopters came to finish them off.
He narrates how he became a “son” of some family around Chief Makuni area in Mt Darwin for about two months as he tried to evade the Rhodesian forces. While staying with this family, one day Rhodesian soldiers surrounded this homestead armed to the teeth, but Cde Kenny survived. How exactly did he survive?
Read on …
SM: Cde Kenny, let’s continue with your fascinating story. After being deployed to the war front in 1972, when exactly did you start the war?
Cde Kenny: We got to a stage where we said we had mobilised povho enough and we have enough ammunition to start the war. You know I actually think some of the ammunition is still in Mavhuradonha Mountain. Zvombo zvakanga zvakawanda izvozvo and panovigwa zvombo sometimes paizivikanwa nemunhu one. In 1972 after about two to three months in Rhodesia, we were ready for war. We started with ambushes nekuteya zvimbambaira. Some of the comrades in our group included Cdes James Bond 007, Kid Marong’orong’o, Mabhonzo, George Rutanhire, Vhuu and others. During this time we would move around in groups of seven people only. My commander at this time was James Bond. But before this on our way to Rhodesia, my commander was Cde Gwitira. At one point I was a commander of my section. We were the first comrades to open Chaminuka Sector. In fact hondo isati yarwiwa, pakatanga kutakurwa homwe yaMbuya Nehanda. The leaders said Mbuya Nehanda should be taken from Mt Darwin to Chifombo for her safety. So she was taken to Chifombo before the war started. You may want to know that hondo yakarwiwa nemasvikiro who included Chaminuka, Mbuya Nehanda, Kaguvi, Mbire and others.
SM: Tell us about your first battle.
Cde Kenny: Our first battle was around the Chunya area in Mtoko. When we got to Chunya, we mobilised povho first and then planted landmines along several roads. We then ambushed Rhodesian soldiers near a bridge. We first blew our landmine then attacked mabhunu iwayo. After the attack we retreated to our Gathering Point. I think this was around August 1972.When we got to the Gathering Point, we discovered that some of the comrades had run out of bullets. We then walked to a nearby mountain where we had hidden some of our bullets. This mountain was near Kotwa. I think mabhunu anenge akanga awona zvombo zvedu and they were waiting for us hiding. I think we were around five and we were not aware that mabhunu were waiting for us. We got near this mountain around 5am. We saw footprints showing njombo dzevarungu and we knew mabhunu ari mugomo. I told my fellow comrades kuti mugomo hamusisiri right. These comrades thought I was saying this because of fear. Takaitirana nharo ipapo. I was with Cde Charakupa, Zeki, Adam Nziramasanga and another comrade to make us five. The comrades insisted that we should go up the mountain. We then decided to go up the mountain moving in battle formation. Just a few metres from where we had hidden the bullets takaona makudo akati zii, akaita seakabata shaya looking at us. We knew that we were in danger. I actually told the comrades that we were walking into a trap but they still insisted that we move ahead. I just saw a tree branch moving to one side and I instantly knew that someone was about to fire at us. Before I could say anything, bullets started flying all over the place. I quickly took cover lying down. Before I could see where the bullets were coming from exactly I just started firing back. After a while I discovered that pano pashata. I then retreated. You know only two of us came out of that mountain. Two comrades vakarohwa vakasara ipapo. I think Cde Charakupa was captured. Takabva tarasana nacomrade vamwe vakapona ipapo.
In no time, helicopters came in full force looking for us. After running for a while I decided to take cover ndakatarisa kwandaibva nako in case someone was following me. I was still holding my gun. The helicopters kept on hovering above so it became very difficult to move during the day. I devised a strategy kumhanya ndichihwanda nemiti.
SM: You said two of your comrades were shot dead while the other was captured. How did you know this?
Cde Kenny: We were later told nepovho. You know povho actually knew that after a battle, they were supposed to go and check for any casualties from our side. During these days we had proper uniform for soldiers. So I walked, I decided to go to another nearby mountain where I knew we had hidden some ammunition. As I was walking there was dead silence. I instantly suspected that pakanga pane mabhunu. First I could feel that there was someone smoking. I could smell it. Then I heard mabhunu laughing. Ndakabva ndatanga walking back slowly. After a while I ran for my dear life. I didn’t know where I was and where I was going. I was not familiar with this area. I decided to walk going to the North because that was the direction to Mozambique. I spent about three weeks walking. I found myself around Nyadhire River and it was overflowing. I met some villagers who instructed me how to cross the river. I crossed the river and continued with my journey. Whenever I met povho, I would hide my gun because I didn’t want them to know who I was. I then slept and the next morning I went up a small hill and saw some women vari patsime.
I remained under cover until around 3pm when some women came kutsime kuya again. Ndakaviga pfuti yangu then went to these women kuno kumbira mvura. I asked for directions and they gave me. I continued my journey until I got to Chief Makuni area. This was very close to the Mozambican border. I knew about this Chief and that he supported the struggle. So I went to see him. I explained to him kuti ndakarasana nevamwe vangu and I was on the way to Mozambique. This Chief akandipa one of his aides, but he didn’t want to sell me out so he told this aide that uyu ndiye mwana wandakaita kuBulawayo nemukadzi muNdebele. The Chief then said so I want you to look after my son. So I stayed at this homestead semwana weipapo.
SM: You stayed at this homestead for how long?
Cde Kenny: I stayed at this homestead for about two months. After a few weeks, it was discovered that ndakanga ndiri gandanga because I was now mobilising people to join the struggle. Most of the people in area were political conscious but like anywhere else hakushaikwi masellouts. So I knew that any day I could be sold out. I prepared for this day by going to Makuni Primary School where I was given a pass that showed that I was a pupil at the school.
Ndakanga ndava kutobatsira this family kurima and doing everything that is expected from a child. Kutoenda kunovhima, kufudza mombe and so on. Sometimes ndaitosangana nemabhunu but ndaiva nekapass kangu kechikoro.
One day someone went to Mt Darwin and informed the Rhodesian soldiers that Chegorerino (the aide) was staying with a gandanga. One day tiri kudanga tichikama mombe around 2pm tiri kudanga, we saw musha wese wazara mabhunu. Handina kana kufunga zvekutiza. I just asked vakomana vandaiva navo kuti chitsamba changu chekuchikoro chiya chiri kupi. The Rhodesian soldiers started searching the whole homestead. I remained calm at the kraal with these two boys. After searching the homestead, one of the soldiers said “call those boys here.” I think there were about 15 soldiers. When we were called, I went in front and started walking towards these soldiers. Chakandiponesa ndechekuti I had stayed for about two months at Chegorerino homestead. Today if you go to that area, those who were old enough will tell you about this story.
So I was in front as we walked to the Rhodesian soldiers. The white Rhodesian soldier then said take off your shirts. Handina kubvisa mabutton properly. I just pulled my shirt mabutton ese achibva. Kuita kubvarura shirt. I threw the shirt away. Like I told you I had stayed at this homestead for about two months. This white Rhodesian soldier wanted kuona kuti kumusana kwangu hakuna sign yekutakura pfuti here. After staying at this homestead for two months, those marks were no longer visible. The whiteman didn’t see anything. He repeated the same with the two other boys. After this, we went back to the kraal and sat down. We watched everything from a distance.
It was only when the Rhodesian soldiers were leaving that we discovered that there were about 100 soldiers surrounding the homestead. Vamwe vaibuda neapa vamwe neapo. They walked to Makuni Primary School where they had parked their vehicles. As some of them were walking past us, takatsvaga bhora and started playing bhora rechikweshe tichitevera mumashure mavo. That is when we discovered that they had parked their vehicles at the school.
SM: Where did you gather this courage to actually follow behind the Rhodesian soldiers? Some people would think this was an opportunity to run away?
Cde Kenny: I can say chaiva chivindi. Like I told you zvaiva zvemudzimu. I am told of the two boys, one of them passed away. The other one is still alive tikamutsvaga tomuwana because after the war, I once contacted him. After this incident, I started thinking kuti if they come back for the second time, they would capture me. As I was thinking about leaving, Mambo Makuni called for a meeting and asked who had told the Rhodesian soldiers that tiri kuchengeta gandanga. He was very furious. On my part, after a week ndakaunganidza povho and told them the truth. I told them that indeed I was a freedom fighter and told them that as you have always heard, macomrades anonyangarika. So pauya mabhunu ndanga ndisitoripo, vanga vachitoona muvhuri wangu. You know povho believed what I was saying. After two weeks, Mambo Makuni assigned some elders to accompany me to the border. We left in the evening going to the Mozambican border. I later crossed into Mozambique and met some Frelimo comrades. While with these Frelimo comrades, ndipo pandakaoneswa nhamo. These Frelimo comrades were not yet aware that there were some Zanla comrades who had already crossed into Rhodesia. So when I met these comrades, vakandishungurudza. These Frelimo comrades tortured me. Kupfuura mabhunu. Ndakarwadziwa (pause, tears rolling down his cheeks). Ummmm, I will never forget the treatment. (long pause, weeping uncontrollably). So what went on to. . .(overcome by emotions). I explained to these Frelimo comrades that I was a Zanla freedom fighter. I told them that we were fighting our own war in Rhodesia. They said I was lying. They took my gun and was made a political prisoner. I was beaten up (weeping). At one point they took me to some secluded place in the bush and said we are going to shoot you. Gara apa! Paaa! Shouting pamaside pangu. I then said if you want to kill me, just go ahead. That is how bad things were.
I was under captivity for about two to three months. The treatment was bad. Ndakarwadziwa (tears falling down). Ndiyo hondo yakandirwadza chete (overcome by emotions. Weeping uncontrollably). Story yacho I don’t want to think about it a lot. This treatment went on and on. Then one day, one of the commanders of that area came. He was aware that we were fighting in Rhodesia and even knew of Cde Mupunzarima and others. He was going around the Frelimo camps to assess the situation. That’s when he came to this base. He was told my story and was told that ndiri mutengesi.
This commander then called me and I went to see him. He interrogated me and I told him my story. He then ordered the Frelimo comrades to give me back my gun. He then said he would go around with me until he came across other Zanla comrades. I went around with this commander until we met some comrades. I was told that some comrades went kumasvikiro asking about me and they were told that I was alive somewhere.
SM: When this Frelimo commander came, did you say anything to these comrades who were ill-treating you?
Cde Kenny: I didn’t say anything. The Frelimo soldiers didn’t even say sorry to me.
SM: Who are the Zanla comrades you met after this ordeal?
Cde Kenny: I met Cde Mupunzarima, Cde Zvinotapira and others. I think James Bond was also there and Cde Mabhonzo. Cde Zvinotapira had come with some reinforcements. I was then ordered to go back to the rear. I refused to go to the rear. I said going to the rear to do what? They said hauna kusimba and it was true ndakanga ndakawonda zvisingaite. I refused to go to the rear. I was then told to join the group that was being deployed to the war front. We were deployed around the Centenary area. This was around 1973.
SM: Why didn’t you want to go to the rear?
Cde Kenny: Going to the rear to do what? I wasn’t injured. I also knew that kurear kwainetsa, even food chaiyo. I had gone for training to fight and not to stay at the rear. I was deployed with Cdes James Bond, Mabhonzo and others. Tisu takazovhura nzvimbo like kwana Bakasa and so on.
Cde Kenny will continue narrating his intriguing story next week. After being deployed to the war front, the battles continue. Make sure you get your copy of The Sunday Mail next week.