The Sunday Mail
—‘There was nothing wrong with Vashandi group’
— ‘I don’t regret anything’
— ‘I saved Zanu in Mozambique
Cde Elias Hondo Part 6
WE could spend the whole year serialising Cde Elias Hondo’s journey during the liberation struggle. This is the last instalment from Cde Hondo and as usual, he spits venom without blinking. In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Hondo speaks about the Vashandi rebel group.
He says he doesn’t regret being the ring leader of the first group of Vashandi that was arrested in Mozambique. He goes further alleging that “the liberation struggle was hijacked” towards 1980. Read on to find out who exactly hijacked the liberation struggle. These are shocking revelations…
SM: Cde Hondo, lets continue with your fascinating journey during the liberation struggle. Last time you said you were sent to Europe after the Geneva conference. Take us through what happened from that time.
Cde Hondo: After the trip to Europe I came back home together with VaMugabe and Mukudzei Mudzi and others. On our way from Europe, when we got to Dar es Salaam we heard that kumusha some comrades were now saying pasi nesu. This had been organised nanaTongogara to remove us as leaders of the freedom fighters.
However, President Mugabe was excluded. This plot was against us the soldiers, not the politicians. When we got to Maputo, it was again confirmed to us that yava pasi nemi. I then said let’s go to the camps but Crispen Mandizvidza and Tekere were against the idea. A few of us then drove to Chibavava and we addressed a meeting there.
The next day we drove to Chimoio and on arrival we were told that there were now divisions among the soldiers. I was said to be the leader of the rebel group which was called Vashandi.
I told you earlier on that our group yakanga isina kufunda maningi. We were now taking vapfana vaibva kumusha who knew Marxism and Leninism. We were accused kuti tava kuda vanhu vakabva kuchikoro tichisiya vanhu vekuDarwin vakatanga hondo. This created lots of problems. This is when we brought in people like Gula Ndebele and so on.
On arrival at Chimoio camp, some comrades welcomed us chanting our names. I remember Rex Nhongo rushed to Chimoio town to inform Tongogara about our movements. I then called for a meeting where I asked Cde Manyika to identify kuti munhu apanduka pano ndiani. Manyika failed to say anything.
I then explained that ndini ndichiri nematomu imimi makanga muri mujeri maifanirwa kuuya ndokupayi matomu. I then ordered that the next day, over 300 fighters would cross into Rhodesia. Indeed the fighters crossed into Rhodesia. I wanted to show vana Tongogara kuti ane power ndiyani.
SM: How did Cde Tongo react to all this?
Cde Hondo: After discovering that I was adamant, vana Tongogara arranged for the meeting in Beira. I wasn’t aware that they were actually planning to arrest me. When we got to Beira, the next day before we went for the meeting, Frelimo started searching us. This was very unusual. We were ordered to surrender all our belongings including our pistols.
VaMuzenda was the first to speak. He said “vana Elias hondo munoti munoziva. Patai foma Zanu maivepo here imi? Muri vana vadoko.” This was 1976. I then said, what I want to tell you macomrades is that handisi mwana mudoko. Ini handina chikwereti nemunhu. Smith akakusungai achifunga kuti hondo haitangi.
Takakusunungurai imi vanaMuzenda. Imi vana Tongogara, when Kaunda arrested you, I was among those who engineered your release. Imi ndimi munechikwereti neni. Handisi mwana mudoko.
The meeting degenerated into chaos tichitukana kwete mbichana. VaMugabe was there in this meeting but he never said a word. He remained silent listening. After the chaos, it was announced that the meeting was over but they had compiled a list. They said vanhu vatichadeedzera pano, tichanoita another meeting in town.
They started calling out the names. About 25 of us were called including Rex Nhongo, but we later discovered that Rex was just a decoy. We were accompanied by Rugare Gumbo, Tekere and Tongogara. Among the 25, there was only one female comrade. I think this female comrade is now Happison Muchechetere’s wife. We got to some hotel and we got into the meeting.
I said pamusoroi Cde Tongo, we left our belongings like tooth brushes and so on. So can you help us? He said no problem. Later Rex was ordered out of the meeting. Joseph Chimurenga was also ordered out.
I was just wondered what was going on. We were then rounded up and were arrested by Frelimo. Another 20 comrades were brought in and so about 45 of us were arrested. While under arrest, we came up with a plan that some of us were supposed to escape and go to the war front to inform the fighters about our situation.
Pfepferere and Morden Mutsetse were among those who escaped but they were later arrested. We were later flown to Nampula. We were called group reVashandi. This was the first group. We were arrested on 19 January 1977.
However, after engineering our arrest vanaTongo vakasara vachinetsana futi leading to the arrest of the second group of Vashandi. People like Rugare Gumbo and Cde Chocha (Commissioner Chihuri) and others started questioning some of Tongo’s moves when they got to the camps.
SM: As this was happening, especially your arrest, what was going through your mind?
Cde Hondo: The struggle had been hijacked. I understood it all.
SM: From your point of view, this issue about Vashandi was also not handled well?
Cde Hondo: Of course. We knew that the revolution in Zimbabwe comprised vanhu vakafunda nevasina. We wanted to have proper and educated political commissars because taingonzi magandanga haana kudzidza. We wanted these educated boys to show the masses back home kuti kune vamwe vakadzidza.
SM: Don’t you think in trying to do this you showed disrespect to the party leaders and disregarded those who had pioneered the struggle?
Cde Hondo: We knew that an independent Zimbabwe ichada vanhu vakafunda. This was the reality and so we had to start preparing for it. Our revolution had gotten to that stage where we had to recruit educated people. Ini chaiye I became very popular during the struggle because ndaifamba nevanhu vakadzidza. They were the ones who wrote some things for me.
You see, when we formed ZIPA that is when we discovered that as Zanu we had serious challenges. Most comrades from Zapu were educated and we didn’t have many people to match them. That is when I decided that we should recruit educated comrades.
SM: Don’t you think this was a good idea which you presented too early?
Cde Hondo: There was no other better time. Remember the war was on. Remember this problem was not about politicians. Vana Mugabe and others were very educated. This was about the fighters. That’s why we clashed with Tongo and not vana Mugabe.
I actually don’t know why Tongo had a problem with us. While they were in prison in Zambia, we never formed another High Command or anything. We just co-opted some comrades like Chipoyera, Bernard Manyadza, Soul Sadza, Gwauya and others. I don’t see anything wrong that we did. We were just preparing for the future. Our slogan was “Pamberi nevashandi, pasi nezvigananda!”
SM: Are you saying because the liberation struggle was nearing the end, those who were uneducated who had started the liberation struggle were supposed to give way to these educated boys?
Cde Hondo: I had my Standard Five but still I led the struggle. I am not saying those who were uneducated were supposed to be sidelined. No. But we now had to strike a balance.
SM: In striking a balance don’t you think you created the impression that once Zimbabwe got its independence those who started the struggle would be sidelined?
Cde Hondo: I know there were some comrades who used to say “isu regai tiende kuchikoro. Imi kana mapedza kurwa hondo tichazowuya kuzokutongai. Now these educated comrades we were recruiting and training were supposed to show these ones who ran away from the struggle and went to further their education that the war could be fought by educated people.
We wanted those who were rushing to London to further their education to know that kune vakadzidza who are fighting for the country.
SM: Ok, but these educated comrades you were now bringing made it appear as if it was you wanting to take over power?
Cde Hondo: Well, people could say whatever they wanted to say. We were thinking that Zimbabwe was to become a socialist state. So we wanted people who understood socialism and Leninism.
This angered people like Tongo. Kana takaita zviri wrong, well tough luck. Look now what happened after independence, those vasina kudzidza were indeed sidelined or they had to quickly further their education.
SM: Do you think this group reVashandi was correct?
Cde Hondo: I accept we made mistakes.
SM: What do you think were some of the mistakes you made?
Cde Hondo: Personally, I think takataura nyaya iyi kuvanhu vasati vakuziva what it actually meant. Maybe we rushed the idea. But we didn’t promote ourselves to show that this was not about taking over power.
We took young boys and girls who were educated. They were not our relatives. There was no regionalism. We would just say ane Form Four ndeupi, then we would train these comrades.
SM: You said your slogan was “Pamberi neVashandi, pasi nezvigananda!” Can you explain what this slogan meant?
Cde Hondo: We took this from Marxism. Remember the Communist Manifesto which said “Workers of the World Unite!” So we were also saying “Pasi nema bourgeoisie!” We were not targeting anyone but those with bourgeoisie mentality felt offended. We were just saying “Pamberi nevashandi! Pasi nezvigananda meant pasi naSmith or mabourgeoisie.
SM: Some people think that Vashandi were those comrades who had gone to the war front. The freedom fighters and not the nationalists who were at the rear in Mozambique?
Cde Hondo: (laughs) Well, we didn’t mean that. Like I said we just took this from Marxism and Leninism. We were not targeting anyone but like I said some people got offended. That’s why we were arrested.
SM: The slogan earlier on was “Pamberi neZanu!” Now you had brought another slogan. Do you think this was proper?
Cde Hondo: There was nothing wrong because we were not saying Pasi neZanu. The party remained. So there was no problem really.
You know during those days, it was “Pamberi neZanu! Pamberi naComrade Robert Mugabe!” That was it. Hakuna mumwe munhu ainzi pamberi naye. Now you hear people making all sorts of slogans kuda kufadza vamwe vanhu.
SM: When you look back at the roles you played during the liberation struggle and the arrest, how do you feel?
Cde Hondo: Zvinhu zvakandibata stereki. Ndine BP iri serious and it started that time. Now ndiri chiseko chenyika. Some people actually say “uyu haasi comrade.” I am happy that most of my comrades still respect me. If I meet vaChiwenga today, he greets me saying shef and in return I respect him. He is now our commander and I respect that.
SM: You spoke about nationalists and revolutionaries. What is the difference?
Cde Hondo: One can say Morgan Tsvangirai is a nationalist. This is someone who just loves his or her country but doesn’t have people at heart. A nationalist anoda kusevenzesa vanhu to get power and money.
President Mugabe is a revolutionary. This is someone who is prepared to die for other people. Many people in Zimbabwe today, even in the Politburo are not revolutionaries. Vanongoita chindoendawo.
SM: Now, let’s go back to your journey. After you were arrested, what happened?
Cde Hondo: When we were arrested, ndipo patakamboomerwa nehupenyu. Things were tough. Very, very tough. When we got to Nampula, we were really ill-treated. We were treated like dogs. Takarumwa neinda zvekuti we thought this was the end. The food was horrible. From Nampula, we were driven to another province and the ill-treatment continued.
Divisions started between us. Some comrades were accusing me of agreeing to go to Beira where we were arrested. This group was led by Dzino, David Tondlana and others. On my side there was Dr Mudzingwa, Happison Muchechetere and others. Dzino and his group decided to escape from prison.
I tried to discourage them saying we were too far from Maputo but they refused to listen. One day when we went to eat, Dzino and his group escaped. David Tondlana, Tendai Pfepferere, Mabhunu, Morden Mutsetse and few others were part of this group. In no time, most of them were arrested except Pfepferere. He was however arrested after about four days.
The next day, the prison guards were infuriated. They tortured us like they wanted to kill us. I thought I was going to die. After a few days, the conditions were relaxed a bit. This was after the then Minister of Defence, Mabote visited our prison.
I had worked with him in Maputo so he knew me very well. When he saw me, he felt pity for me. He actually said he regretted the way we were being treated. From then on, we started living well. We were given books to read.
After a few weeks we were taken to the North West of Mozambique to Mundepwezhe. Later we were taken to Nyasa Province at Mpalama. Here we were now cooking on our own. We actually had a garden and we could walk even 10 km away from the place where we were staying.
While we were under arrest, some comrades in Maputo started having problems with Tongogara. They slowly started supporting us led by Rugare Gumbo. I heard that in a bid to have us released, Stephen Chocha (Commissioner Chihuri) and some other comrade took Cde Tekere and Cde Ushewokunze hostage.
They wanted to use these comrades to pressurise Tongo to release us, but Rex Nhongo came up with a counter plan and arrested Chocha and this other comrade. After this that’s when people like Rugare Gumbo were also arrested. This was now 1978 and these comrades who were arrested after us vakauyiswa where we were staying. We ended up around 72 comrades under arrest.
When these comrades joined us, we decided to come up with a plan to alert the world to our plight. Hamadziripi’s wife was a lawyer in Zambia. We would smuggle letters to her informing the world where we were being kept, why we were arrested, our concerns and so on. We would write to the OAU and many people.
It was when the Lancaster Talks started that we smuggled a letter through some white expatriate and he took it to London. That’s when I discovered that most of these expatriates are spies.
We used Crispen Mandizvidza and Pfepferere to smuggle the letter. Rugare Gumbo and Wilfred Mhanda were actually at the forefront drafting the letter. The letter was delivered and it was read at the conference.
That letter caused problems amongst us as some of the comrades accused us of going to bed with the British. Taigara tichitukana.
In 1979, we were taken to Beira. We found Kangai, Vitalis Zvinavashe and Mayor Urimbo in Beira. These comrades greeted us but we could see things had changed. Pakanga pasisina rudo. The next day Kumbirai Kangai chaired a meeting. He said zvatakaitirana zvakapera. Some of the comrades in our group said “zvaimbova zviyi zvatakaitirana?” There was a harsh exchange of words.
Kangai then continued saying “munhu wese ari pano anofanirwa to join Zanu patsva.” We said what? To join Zanu-PF patsva? Isusu? We said no. A few comrades, I think about four, who were very junior decided to join Zanu, but we said we were not going to do that.
I was a member of the High Command and I was not going to join Zanu again. Kwaiva kundishora. Handiti they were saying zvakaitika zvakapera saka they were supposed to just give me back my job and my office. These comrades had spent about 18 months in prison in Zambia but when they came out we never told them to rejoin Zanu. Why us?
We later discovered that the big problem they were facing was that chinzvimbo chemunhu wese akanga asungwa vakanga vatoisa vamwe vanhu. They didn’t know how to handle this situation. Takanga tatsiviwa.
SM: From what you are saying, would you say the liberation struggle was hijacked?
Cde Hondo: Yes, it was. Dai takapinda in Zimbabwe tirisu tiri pamberi some of the things happening now wouldn’t be happening. The struggle was hijacked.
SM: By who?
Cde Hondo: By Tongogara, Robson Manyika, Rex Nhongo, Kangai and others. I remember some of the comrades from Wampua singing songs saying “tinoona vakuru vedu vachipedza nguva vachirwisana.” It was bad. I am not bragging here, but I was more popular kumauto kudarika Rex Nhongo. Ask any comrade. They will tell you. All this that was happening was meant to eliminate us.
SM: Do you have any regrets about what you did?
Cde Hondo: I don’t regret anything. Why should I regret? I did nothing wrong. I freed these comrades from prisons in Zambia, only for them to turn against me. Why should I regret? I had power when Tongo was in prison and if I was power hungry I could have imposed myself. I can safely say 85 percent of what I did was correct.
If I was not in Mozambique when these comrades were under arrest in Zambia, ingadai struggle yakafa and inga dai Zanu yakafa. I was the most senior commander in Mozambique at that time. Why should I regret? Dai zvaipihwa pension, Zanu-PF yaifanirwa kundipa pension. I have nothing to regret.
SM: Let me ask you again, all the things you have been saying against Cde Tongo, is it not because you are bitter?
Cde Hondo: I repeat. Tongo was my commander. He contributed a lot to the liberation of this country and no one can take away that from him. But Tongo was human. Tongo had his weaknesses.
People have to know that. He was not superhuman. I am not bitter. I am happy I did what I did and Zimbabwe is free today. To me this is what is important.
I am the one who opened several bases in Mozambique. I am the one who appointed most of the commanders to these bases. Without me the Zanu operations in Mozambique would have failed to kick off. I have no reasons to be bitter and no reasons to regret anything. History will judge me.