The commander who coined Chimurenga names

06 Nov, 2016 - 00:11 0 Views
The commander who coined Chimurenga names Cde Elias Hondo speaks to Sunday Mail Deputy Editor Munyaradzi Huni during the interview recently - Picture by Kudakwashe Hunda

The Sunday Mail

In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Hondo speaks about how he came up with Chimurenga names for some of the country’s leading politicians. Read on…

SM: Some of the comrades who had been deployed into Rhodesia around the early 1960s up to 1966 were either killed or captured. As you went through training, were you not afraid that on deployment you would meet the same fate?

Cde Hondo: It was natural that we always thought about what was going to happen to us. We would look back at what had befallen the comrades who had been deployed earlier on. Sometimes we would criticise these comrades. During our training the instructors would talk about what had happened to these comrades.

The Chinese instructors told us about what they called flytism — that reaction yekuti ukangovhundutsirwa you run all over the place without checking where you are going. They told us about alarmists, vaya vana zvinhu zvakaoma vakomana, zvinhu zvakaoma. We were told that you should never solve a problem with a problem. Don’t cut the feet in order to fit the shoes. Kana watenga bhutsu isingakwane dzosera kwete kuti zvaisingakwane nditeme chigunwe ikwane.

Then there were pleasure seekers in the party. These constituted the majority. They join the party kuti vaonererwe nevasikana and so on. These are the people who after a party meeting, you hear them saying “haaa, tadya chaizvo.” You ask them “kwanzi chii kumeeting” they can’t even remember. These people prefer the easy tasks. Vakangoita something, they say “wandiona?” We were taught about the lumpen proletariats — such people would join the liberation struggle vari mbavha but vochenjera kukunda vamwe in such a way that you can even promote them to become commanders.

Such people if you deploy them to the war front, they use their positions or the gun to terrorise the masses, kutora vakadzi vevanhu nekuba zvinhu zvevanhu. The instructors told us to be on the lookout for all these people. Its unfortunate that there are now so many of these weak characters in Zanu-PF these days.

SM: Quite some political orientation there. Now tell us, after training where did you go?

Cde Hondo: I think it was now towards the end of 1969. Our training took a very long time. Almost one year and half. I understand our leaders at that time were negotiating with Frelimo how they were going to assist us to be deployed into Rhodesia. While still at the camp, 10 comrades were taken — I can’t remember all their names but I remember Vitalis Zvinavashe, Mayor Urimbo, Earnest Kadungure, Zindoga, Patrick Mupunzarima and Kuzvipa. These comrades were tasked to go for reconnaissance. We were then taken to Mbeya and to Kongwa which was a transit camp in Dodoma.

This was towards Christmas in 1969. When we got to Kongwa, we met comrades from Frelimo and MPLA from Angola. We were put in our own barack. Our leaders were Cde Mataure and Cde Godfrey Savanhu. Cde Benjamin Gandamuseve and Cde Tumai were our commanders. Martin Rauya was put in charge of the commissariat. I was the deputy in the commissariat department. Before joining the liberation struggle, Martin Rauya was I think a temporary teacher. He was then given the responsibility to start teaching some of the comrades who had no formal education. I then took over as the commissar being deputised by Gordon Mlambo.

SM: Cde Hondo you said it was in 1969, towards Christmas. Did Christmas mean anything to you as comrades? Did you celebrate?

Cde Hondo: We didn’t care about Christmas. This is what we called idealism. Kuti Christmas yei? Zvakanga zvisina kana basa izvo. Idealists are those people who focus too much on things that are not material. Remember we were now Marxists. We would celebrate days like the day Zanu was formed, August 8, 1963 and so on. We used to be given about 50 cents as allowance per month. So those who wanted to drink they would go drinking. While at Kongwa, we said mari iyi ishoma, so we started a gardening project. We made good money and per month we would give each other about 2 dollars.

SM: You said you took over as the political commissar. What was the role of the political commissar?

Cde Hondo: The PC’s main role is to see kuti musangano uri kufamba zvakanaka here. People’s behaviour, including that of even the commander. The PC has to make sure people are behaving well in the party. Even if it means talking to people one by one so that people understand gwara remusangano. PC ndimai kana tete vemusangano. You don’t show any favouritism.

While at Kongwa some days we would go to the shooting range to make sure that we perfected our shooting skills. We would do this after every two weeks or so. The Tanzania army would give us some of their leaders to assist us.

SM: What was the attitude of the people of Tanzania towards you as freedom fighters?

Cde Hondo: The people of Tanzania were very, very good to us. Those people are blessed. Vane pfungwa kwadzo. You can imagine after undergoing military training for so long. Some of our comrades were now so rough and they would rough up some of these Tanzania people, but they would remain calm. They continued to support us. Some Zambians were totally different. We were at Kongwa for nearly two years. We left Kongwa on November 6 1971.

SM: After receiving military training, you went on to stay at Kongwa for such a long time. Were you not frustrated?

Cde Hondo: That was natural and that’s why I told you that some of our comrades would rough up Tanzanians. Those were the frustrations. While at Kongwa, that’s when the Group of 45 was taken and deployed to the war front. I think that group of 10 that had gone for reconnaissance had given the go ahead for the comrades to come. I however remained at Kongwa. About six of us — Elisa Hondo, Martin Rauya, Sarudzai Chinamaropa, Nyika, Tafirenyika and Godwin Mlambo were taken to Dar es Salaam. When we got to Dar es Salaam, that’s when we discovered that Mayor Urimbo akanga atova Shef together with Noel Mukono. We stayed in Dar es Salaam for about three days. We were then taken to Iringa.

In Iringa we left four of our comrades and we were taken to Mgagao. At Mgagao we discovered that Earnest Kadungure was already there as an instructor. At Mgagao that’s when I met Cde Bethune. There were a group of 45 I think and Kenneth Gwindingwi was their leader. Their PC was I think Abel Sibanda. These comrades were almost finishing their training and they were now at the specialisation stage. When these comrades finished their training, they were taken to Kongwa.

While at Mgagao that’s when a group of six comrades who had escaped from the University of Rhodesia joined us. There was Dzinashe Machingura, Shumba and Gordon Shiri. I can’t remember the names of the other three. These are the comrades who came and interpreted to all the comrades Marxism and so on. But they were under training.

SM: These comrades from the university, didn’t they look down upon some of the comrades because they considered themselves educated?

Cde Hondo: There was no room for that. They used to respect us as their leaders. Gordon Shiri later took over my post as PC but I remember vakamutsana naTongogara and he came kuwar front and we heard that he had died. This is when Dzinashe Machingura became camp PC at Mgagao.

From Iringa I was taken back to Dar es Salaam to work as a liaison officer in the Zanu office. My job was to receive the party’s military weapons, including even the clothes. I was answerable to Tongogara. My other task was to go around embassies updating them about the war situation in Rhodesia. The Zanu representative then was Webster Gwauya. He would talk about diplomacy and so on and my job was to talk about the military aspect of the war. Cde Soul Sadza was the deputy representative. Bowas Matarutse was like the receptionist. As the military person, I used to liaise a lot with General Hashim Mbita the secretary at the OAU Liberation Committee.

SM: Some comrades we have spoken to say during the first days, OAU was not willing to work with Zanu because the party didn’t have many fighters.

Cde Hondo: Like I told you the Group of 45 had been deployed and hondo yakanga yava kutsva kuMt Darwin. Our numbers kept increasing and OAU discovered that we were actually a force to reckon with. I think we now had around 300 recruits who were coming from the war front. Zapu had their own camp in Dar es Salaam and I was the first person together with Gwauya from Zanu to go into a Zapu camp. We went with some Libyans who wanted to give both Zapu and Zanu some money.

From Zapu there was Jason Moyo and Ackim Ndlovu. We went to the Zapu camps and later to the Zanu camps. The idea was to show the Libyans that Zanu now had more recruits and so we could not share the money that the Libyans wanted to give us equally. As Zanu we were saying we now have more recruits so we wanted more money. By this time I think Zapu had less than 100 recruits and we now had about 300.

When we got to one of the Zanu camps, ummm, takadada. There was Cde Agnew Kambeu (Chimombe) akaforesa our recruits zvekuti the Libyans were impressed. After the parade some of the recruits were taken to the shooting range and hey, they were on top of the situation. The Libyans shook their heads in disbelief. I remember when the Chinese instructors asked the leaders to demonstrate, Agnew Kambeu akabata sub-machine gun with one hand achirova matargets. By the time we left, the Libyans were thoroughly convinced. From this time, whenever we received resources either finally or materially, Zanu would be allocated more. The Tanzanian government fell in love with Zanu and people like Mbita were proud of us.

You also need to remember Chitepo had also worked in Tanzania as an Attorney General for I think five years. So Chitepo was very close to Julius Nyerere. So this really cemented our relationship. The other advantage we had was that Zapu wanted to talk to the Smith regime and we had taken a decision not to talk until we had shown Smith that we could remove him from office by force. As Zanu we would say “We are our own liberators.” Nyerere liked our stance.

SM: Some people don’t really know the role that Cde Mbita played in the liberation of Zimbabwe and other countries. Can you explain the role he played?

Cde Hondo: That man was gifted. He helped us a lot. He went around sourcing resources for the liberation of many countries. When the liberation movements clashed he came in to solve the problems. I will talk about his assistance as we go but that man’s assistance should never, ever be forgotten.

SM: You said one of your responsibilities was to source military weapons for Zanu. How would you go about doing this?

Cde Hondo: Like I said, we would go around embassies. We had friendly countries like Yugoslavia, Romania and others. Some embassies would not even want to talk to us. Some of the embassies would say, we want to talk to your leaders and we would ring the phone to Lusaka and tell Cde Tongo. Sometimes Chitepo or Noel Mukono would come. Military weapons most of the times would come straight to the Liberation Committee and Mbita is the one who would distribute the weapons to the different political parties.

SM: How did you know what was exactly required at the war front?

Cde Hondo: The commanders at the war front would send reports to Lusaka. These reports would update the leadership about the war situation and the requirements. The leaders in Lusaka would then inform us so that when we went looking for assistance, we would state exactly what was required.

By the way, while in Dar es Salaam, one of my duties was to give recruits Chimurenga names. We would be told kuti so many recruits are on their way, so we would come up with names before they arrived. All these people like vanaChiwenga, I am the one who gave them their Chimurenga names. Chihuri was Stephen Chocha, vaZimondi was Tonderai Nyika. I remember Perence Shiri continued using zita rake rekumusha. These days the recruits were not coming in large numbers as what later happened when we moved to Mozambique.

SM: How would you come up with the names?

Cde Hondo: The leaders would just say to me, write about 50 names. It was not easy kunyora mazita enhema. Creating names wasn’t easy so you find some comrades had names that were almost similar. We would give some of the recruits surnames of our leaders. Like I remember I gave someone the name Yonzi Mugabe. I think that comrade is still alive.

Some of the comrades later gave themselves nicknames like James Bond. His real Chimurenga name was Murwira but after going to the war front, he gave himself the name James Bond because he enjoyed the war like that James Bond character in films. This James Bond was from Seke, ummm munhu aiva nemusikanzwa iyeye. Akanetsa paDarwin. We actually trained together with James Bond. He used to be a driver before he joined the liberation struggle. There was also Kid Marong’orong’o. These were all nicknames. This Kid Marong’orong’o ended up as a roving rebel. He would isolate himself at the war front and travel alone. He would not go and attack the enemy but would go around politicising the people. Akawona macomrades aihwanda.

I had grown up as a Christian so most of my first names would be Christian names then surname we would look for a Shona one. Sometimes we would give a Ndebele surname.

Next week, Cde Hondo continues with his narration. He speaks frankly about how Cde Tongogara failed to handle the Badza-Nhari rebellion. Don’t miss your copy of The Sunday Mail.













SM: As someone who was responsible for sourcing war material, one of your responsibilities was to make sure that the weapons got to the war front. This was quite a sensitive issue that needed careful handling. How did you do it?

Cde Hondo: The OAU Liberation Committee would pack the weapons and load them into trucks. In Zambia, this Committee had an office that was manned by Simumba. So after loading the weapons into trucks, the committee had drivers and security personnel to guard the trucks. I would be part of this team. We would drive around the camps dropping what was allocated to each and every camp. We would spend about two to three days from Dar es Salaam to Lusaka. In Zambia, we would drive straight to their office. After arriving, I would go and report to Tongo that we have arrived. Tongogara would go and see Simumba to be handed over the weapons. After this, that’s when we were able to transport the weapons to Chifombo. We would take the weapons to Chifombo. The weapons would be handed over to the logistics personnel at Chifombo.

SM: Tell us which countries would give us what?

Cde Hondo: Most of the weapons came from China. Romania joined later. Countries like Sweden would give us medicine and clothes. People like Chitepo, Noel Mukono and Tongogara would travel to China to source the weapons.

SM: We hear stories about comrades being given poised clothes and so on. Did you vet some of the clothes and medicine you were given?

Cde Hondo: Those issues happened much later and it was orchestrated by the Rhodesians at the war front. Of course we would not vet the clothes and medicine because these countries at that time were very friendly to us.

My other duty was to go around the training camps to assess the situation. I remember one incident when Robson Manyika and other comrades were involved in an accident. Those who knew Robson Manyika will tell you that after this accident he started behaving weirdly. In that accident one of the comrades, Titus Mugwagwa died. We buried this comrade in Dar es Salaam. Manyika did not attend this burial because aitoita seava kupenga. These were some of my duties. We also buried Cde Kurauwone in Mbeya.

SM: You said one of your duties was to go around the training camps to solve problems that fellow comrades were facing. Which were some of the most prevalent problems?

Cde Hondo: The biggest problem was that most comrades got injured during training. I would go there to establish the cause of the injuries and make reports to Cde Tongo. I would try to establish whether the injuries were because of deliberate moves by the instructors and so on. Sometimes the comrades would call us saying vabata spy. We would go there to interrogate this alleged spy. I remember one day we went to Mgagao with Patrick Mupunzarima. This comrade later died at Mavhonde. When we got to Mgagao we found mukomana ainzi Levy Dzamatsama and some other comrades vakasungwa. The other comrades were saying tabata maspy. Vakanga vasungwa nanaDzinashe Machingura. I remember it was very cold on this day. I gave an instruction that these comrades should be given a cup of tea because they were shivering. I then asked them what had really happened and it turned out these comrades were not spies. I gave the instruction that the comrades should be released. There were instructors who were cruel so we had to make sure people were treated fairly. Some comrades would actually die and we would bury them after making investigations.

Most of the times when we got to a camp, we would meet with the top five leaders at each camp. We would talk about all the issues, including sensitive issues. Sometimes we would make changes to the command at the camps. We would take some of the commanders and send them to the war front. We would not say it openly that watadza basa here so we are sending you to the war front. We would say ahh, comrade you see mabasa emusangano anoda kupota vanhu muchichinjana so, its now your turn to go to the war front. I remember takabvisa Cde Pfumo tichiisa Cde Zimondi, mukuru kuPrisons now. Cde Pfumo came with records claiming lots of things. He would say takaita ambush takaita this and that and we killed many Rhodesians. We knew how the Rhodesians travelled and we knew kuti mota dzemuvengi dzaifamba dziri 25 metres apart. So we would ask Cde Pfumo kuti mota dzamakapfura dzaive ngani? Cde Pfumo would say dzaive four. Ivo vaive section ine vanhu about 10. So we would make our calculations and see kuti comrade vari kunyepa. We would then ask, kana makauraya vese, pfuti dzacho dzamakabata dziripi? Otanga kudzamba-dzamba.

So we removed Cde Pfumo tikaisa VaZimondi, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Tonderai Nyika. We told Pfumo kuti chimbogara kuno kurear. Those were some of my duties.

SM: So you would demote some of the comrades?

Cde Hondo: Yes, there and then. Even members of the High Command or General Staff, I would demote them. I would say, ipo pano hauchisisiri. Or I would promote some of the comrades.

SM: Didn’t this cause problems?

Cde Hondo: We were the leaders and remember we were the ones who would have appointed them. Remember hapana anyone who would apply. We are the ones who made the appointments. We would say, from today Huni ndiye ava commander. Mototanga kumusaluter ipapo. There was no room to ask why. I will explain this more during the time when we formed ZIPA nanaVice President varipo ava.

SM: Weren’t there some commanders who kept grudges?

Cde Hondo: We maintained discipline. Those who got proper political orientation were never a problem. They would not carry grudges. The other thing was that before alerting us to some problems, some camp commanders would solve their issues. It was only kana zvaoma that we were called in. Most of the comrades during the early days were very disciplined. You know some camps we had about five thousand comrades and ndaiti ndikati nyararai, within a minute panenge pati zii.

SM: Were other comrades afraid of Cde Hondo? You sound like you were a no nonsense person?

Cde Hondo: Kuripo kutyiwa kune chiremerera. Umwe aityiwa kuti kwauyiwa. Umwe aityiwa zvekuremekedzwa. I can’t really say ndaidiwa or ndaityiwa. Those who worked with me are the ones who are qualified to speak about that. What I know is that I was a very jocular person. Some comrades would say mudhara wenyambo. You know Tongogara aityisa. I will also talk about this later so that you understand the full story.

SM: You also spoke about burying some comrades in Tanzania. These people vaiva vatorwa to you. Did you perform any rituals or what?

Cde Hondo: Look, munhu afa taingochera toviga munhu. Hapana kunamata or kureverera. Some comrades vaiitirwa magun salute. That was it. Remember we were never supposed to know kuti munhu ndewekupi so taidetembera sei? You know up to this day, I didn’t know kuti Cde Bethune vanobva kupi but I worked with him for many years during the liberation struggle?

SM: You also spoke about coming up with Chimurenga names for many comrades and you said sometimes you would come up with Ndebele names to balance the equation?

Cde Hondo: Yes, after coming up with too many Shona names we would say, ummm, let’s come up with Ndebele names so that hainzi Zanu yemaShona. So we came up with names like Khumalo, Ndlovu, Ncube and so on.

SM: So you were the liaison officer for how long?

Cde Hondo: From 1972 to 1974. I had been appointed as Zanu representative in Botswana. The representative who was there, Dick Chikara, was moving to London. When I got to Lusaka, while waiting for Richard Hove to change my passport from the Tanzanian passport to Zambian, the first group of women recruits arrived in Lusaka. That was 1974.

The commanders said, we can’t just handover these female recruits to anyone otherwise they will be abused. These women were put under my leadership together with Cde Joseph Khumalo (Cde Mazhamba). I was the head and Khumalo was my deputy. So these 74 women were handed over to us. We were instructed to go with them to a Frelimo camp in Tanzania which was called Nachingweya. This is where Samora Machel used to stay.

So we went to Nachingweya with these women. Before training, women recruits were examined first to check whether they were not pregnant.

SM: Was this the first group of female recruits?

Cde Hondo. Yes and hakunazve another group. There was vana Cde Dadirai, Cde Georgina and so on. This was the first female group to go for military training. And this was the only group of female comrades that received proper military training. If you check these female comrades up to this day havadadi. Its because of the training they received which others later failed to receive. We, meaning me and Khumalo, took them through political orientation. Some other comrades taught them the drills and so on.

During examination, musikana ainzi Tichahwina was found to be pregnant. Akanga ane pamuviri paRex Nhongo (Mujuru). They had met in 1973. Tichahwina akabva adzoswa. So we were left with 73 female comrades. After going for a few weeks, another female comrade, Concilea, akaita chirwere chemoyo. She was taken back to Lusaka and we were left with 72 female comrades.

You know as the leader of these women, I felt very proud as they went through their drills. They acted like men. Every morning we would go to inspect their parade and their commitment was just something else. Like I told you, this is where Samora Machel was staying. He was impressed. We were at Nachingweya for four and half months.

SM: You said Cde Tichahwina was found to be pregnant. What action did you take against her?

Cde Hondo: We didn’t take any action. We just instructed that she goes back to Lusaka. We didn’t even punish her. And the other thing, at that time we didn’t even know kuti nhumbu ndeyani. I think she was taken to Lusaka by Cde Gwitira.

SM: But this was not allowed to make someone pregnant?

Cde Hondo: We actually said “usaite cheupombwe.” Asi munhu wenyama anozviita. It was not allowed but this happened. There was a system in some instances were some commanders would just say to some of the female comrades, “iwe huya kuno, watova wangu.” Zvino ini kusaziva ndakaita zvekunyora tsamba ndikarambwa. Some commanders abused their positions but this was later as the war unfolded, especially at the war front. Many commanders later did this. Anoti haana kuita those are blue lies.

SM: These were the first female comrades to receive military training. Tell us a bit more about their training. Was it different from the training that men received?

Cde Hondo: They were trained mainly by Frelimo instructors. Their training was the same with that which their male counterparts were going through. Like I said, these female comrades vakadadisa. Vaiti kana vofora vachiimba ivo vana Suzan Rutanhire ava, iweka iwe. Even the politics that we taught them was the same that male comrades were going through at Mgagao.

Like I said, this was the first group of female comrades to go for military training under Zanu. On their passout parade, chairman Chitepo came together with Cde Tongogara. I remember Samora Machel spoke highly about me and Cde Khumalo.

After the passout parade, Cde Tongo asked me to identify 12 female comrades that he said were supposed to be members of General Staff and were to become instructors. (Laughs) I had proposed to one of the girls netsamba akandiramba. She is the one I recommended first. She was called Andy Garikai. She told me kuti ndine wangu ari kuwar front (laughs).

SM: Do you remember the names of these 12 female comrades?

Cde Hondo: I cant remember all of them. There was Andy Garikai, Suzan Rutanhire, Revai, Vimbai (this one was later killed nguva yana Badza), Apronica Chinyandura, Loveness Chidhakwa, Cathrine Garanewako. Please forgive me I can’t remember the other names but there were 12. These 12 were the first female comrades to become members of General Staff in Zanu and they were the first female instructors. These 12 instructors are the ones who later trained other female comrades who included Joice Mujuru. Joice and these other female comrades received training for three weeks only. We used to call it chimbi-chimbi. People like Rugare Gumbo, Henry Hamadziripi, Kumbirai Kangai, Richard Hove and others went through this chimbi-chimbi training but the male comrades received training for male instructors. This camp was 25 miles out of Lusaka.

This chimbi-chimbi was meant to just introduce these comrades to some of the basic war tactics. Like I told you, the only female comrades who relieved proper training are these 72 who trained at Nachingweya. They were at training for four and half months. Ndivo vakadzi vakanyatsobikwa. From then on, most female comrades received short training. Just to know the basics.

SM: You said the character of these 72 female comrades was different from other female comrades. Briefly explain what you mean?

Cde Hondo: When some of these female comrades were deployed to the war front, vakanga vasinga paparike. Up to this day, those who are still alive vakadzikama zvikuru.

SM: Would you attribute this to the political orientation you gave them?

Cde Hondo: I wouldn’t want to say that because it will appear like ndava kuzvirova dundundu. I think takataura vakanzwa. Hameno. You said you spoke to them. Hope they told you why they are what they are.

When these female instructors finished training other female comrades like Joice Mujuru, they were later taken to Chifombo, then to Mozambique. Their role was to train other women.

SM: After training these women, where did you go?

Cde Hondo: Like I said, I was supposed to go to Botswana. So after training these female comrades, in 1974, that’s when Tongogara mishandled situation yanaBadza and Nhari. This comrade you spoke to, Cde Chemist akapona padiki-diki. Akapona neburi retsono.

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