The Sunday Mail
We continue chronicling the political life of Cde Fani Chikomba, whose nom de guerre was Cde Sorry Zivanayi. This week, the liberation fighter narrates to our Deputy News Editor Levi Mukarati how his trip to Mozambique for military training was cut short after the Nyadzonia bombing. This resulted in him being taught how to use a riffle and within a few hours assigned to return to Rhodesia and fight the white settler government.
Question: With all the admiration you had for the comrades as you went back to your rural home, it is clear you obviously wanted to meet them; was this possible?
Answer: Since mukoma Japhet had told me about them and was known to the comrades as a mujibha, I asked him to organise that I also lend a hand to the comrades.
Japhet organised that I go and see the liberation fighters. The first comrades I saw at the base were Dzokerai Mabhunu, Rugare, Hammer the Crusher, Jean and Chaka.
The comrades asked me a lot of questions.
The questions were meant to vet if I was genuine. After being asked why I had come to them, I said I also wanted to train and fight in the war against whites. Cde Hummer the Crusher then said to me; “Do you know that you might die.”
I told him I felt there was something inside me that was pushing me to join them and I had decided to leave my job to be with them. After a while, Cde Hammer the Crusher then began giving me political orientation; explaining why they were waging the war.
He is the one who explained that contrary to the assertion held by ordinary villagers that comrades would vanish into thin air, it was untrue, but they had just devised tactics to evade the enemy in the guerrilla warfare. One thing I noticed was that Cde Hammer the Crusher was Ndebele and seemed to have an urban background. Akanga akachangamuka-changamuka. Back then it was easy to separate the town boys and rural boys because of speech and dressing.
As such, because we shared an urban background, we clicked and began talking about many things in the city, especially the films that we used to watch which include James Bond, FX18, The Three Musketeers and Captain Marvel.
As I mentioned earlier, this was June 1976.
After that, I became one of the comrades’ courier or war collaborator. Together with mukoma Japhet, we would be sent with letters to other comrades in the area.
We used to sew the letters in the collars of our shirts because the white soldiers were in the area and frequently conducted body searches.
Question: Can you explain where these other comrades you were dispatching letters to where stationed?
Answer: These letters were for communication. During that time, a group had an area and boundaries to operate within.
There was a detachment with a detachment commander or detachment leadership.
Our area was Zindi Detachment. Zindi detachment operated in the area of headmen Chikomba and Zindi.
On the other side of the mountain and across Pungwe River, there was Mandeya detachment. There were sections also operating under these detachments.
We were using mountains and rivers as our boundaries and the letters were for communication; be it messages from Mozambique or other information which would be relayed through a mujibha.
When we talk about guerrilla warfare, it has some characteristics such as that of a dispersed nature. There is need for communication to say we are planning to hit a certain area and can your section come as reinforcement. After that, the comrades would disperse.
I became part and parcel of these comrades, joining in pungwe meetings, relaying messages and being on the general lookout for white soldiers in our area.
Then in August, there was the Nyadzonia Mozambique camp attack. At first we didn’t know about the attack. What we heard was an explosion and we were later told it was Pungwe Bridge in Mozambique.
But the explosion was followed by helicopters flying along Pungwe River going towards Rwera River where a makeshift bridge had been erected. Rwera River is at the boundary between Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
When the comrades saw the helicopters, they thought it was a normal military drill by the Rhodesian Forces or they were testing some weapons. We didn’t know that Pungwe Bridge had been bombed and Nyadzonia was under attack.
To explain what was to happen, I need to highlight that the Mandeya Detachment operated deep into Nyakauru Mountain which was in Mozambique. It was in this mountain that weapons were hidden. So the Mandeya Detachment was the one supplying the comrades on the front in Rhodesia with reinforcements of weapons.
As such, the Mandeya detachment became an important link for comrades crossing for training into Mozambique.
Back to the bombing of Nyadzonia. We were now about 15 recruits moving with the comrades and I remember there was one Chapungu who used to work at the township at Zindi. There was also Steven Mugayi, he is now late, but after independence he joined the Zimbabwe National Army.
The others, I cannot remember their names.
At that time, my uncle Mikairi and another young man called Mabvunza had been sold out by a young man from the Bvute area in Honde Valley. The young man had gone to tell the Rhodesian soldiers camped at Ruda that my uncle was accommodating comrades.
The two were taken and tortured by the Rhodesian Forces. Uncle Mikairi bled from both ears. He is now late, but the ears were damaged and later he lost his hearing ability.
After the torture, we helped the comrades to track down the sellout. It was around 4pm when we got to the Bvute area and the fighters went to the homestead and took the young man. We were left hiding in the bushes.
I didn’t know this young man’s name. You see, I had been born in the rural areas, but was quick to migrate to the urban areas. As a result, I didn’t know most of the characters in our rural area by name.
We were to take the young man who had exposed my uncle and Mabvunza as we headed to Mandeya; where we were to sleep over before crossing into Mozambique and subsequently handed over for military training. But as we were crossing Pungwe River, I was asked to cross whilst holding the young man.
He must have been aged between 17 or 18.
After crossing to the other side of the river. We waited for the others.
When we were all safe on the other side of the river, Cde Chaka, who was section commander then turned to the young man and asked; “Why do you sellout young man. Don’t you know that there are people who are fighting for this country?”
Cde Chaka then asked the young man to cross the river and return home.
As he was almost halfway crossing the river, Cde Chaka called to the young man and said; “young man say good bye to the country.”
Cde Chaka then opened fire at the young man and that was it. The next thing there was blood in the water and the body of the young man floating.
That was my first experience seeing a person being killed. It was also a time I realised the war was real and such incidences were to be expected.
The death of the boy did not touch me because when my uncle came back after being beaten by soldiers, I could see that he was in pain.
However, I never thought that a person could be shot dead just like that.
The comrades didn’t even spend more time at the scene. We then proceeded with our journey and arrived in Mandeya.
Mandeya area is where my mother comes from. Interestingly some of the comrades were to go straight to my grandfather’s homestead.
As for the rest of us, we were left in the bush. My grandmother came out and we could hear the comrades asking her when she last saw or heard of the white soldiers in the area.
Having ascertained the area was safe, the comrades ordered that we set base. The villagers brought us blankets and food before we climbed a nearby mountain.
Then Cde Chaka quickly organised a radio and that night we danced to the music.
We were playing records and the music was rhumba including songs from Monica Akeche, Roslina Soda and Lunchtime.
I discovered later that this was necessary during the war to try and release war stress.
In the morning we had tea and I don’t know how the whites got to know that we were in the area.
Maybe they had been in the vicinity or heard the loud music at the pungwe meeting with the povo the last night.
At round 11am we saw one helicopter hover past us. We were only about only a kilometre from the Mozambican border.
Then another helicopter passed, followed by a small plane we used to call an Almana.
The comrades then told us they suspected the white soldiers could have been given information we were in the area.
What came into my mind was the stories which I had heard that war collaborators were being killed in crossfire. I thought this was going to happen to me.
I had no gun and was just carrying food supplies for the comrades and one stick grenade. It was a spine chilling experience. I thought that was the end of me. I felt my stomach cringe.
I had a strong sense the Rhodesian Forces in the helicopters had seen us and their return would be accompanied by gunfire.
Since we were now being prepared to cross into Mozambique for training, the comrades had trusted us and given each one of us stick grenades and explained how to use them in case of danger.
We were lucky because the comrades, who were on the Mozambican border, led by Cde Chachu, had seen the helicopters.
The Rhodesian forces were stubborn and would encroach one or two kilometres into the Mozambican territory with their planes.
So Cde Chachu and his gang then started firing at the helicopters. The Rhodesian Forces then retreated and that is when we were commandeered to leave our base to cross into Mozambique.
Cde Chachu and his gang were expecting us. When we got there, the commanders went for a briefing and left us since we were still recruits.
That is when those in Mozambique informed our commanders that your journey to Mozambique for training could not proceed as Nyadzonia had been attacked.
That is when we were told Pungwe Bridge had been destroyed and the helicopters we had seen the previous two days were escorting Rhodesian ground forces that were coming from Nyadzonia to cross Rwera River at the makeshift bridge.
Cde Chaka then told the 15 of us; the recruits, that we could not proceed to Nyadzonia as many comrades had fled the camp.
My thought was in Nyadzonya. I had not been to the camp, but I started having images of what the place looked like after the bombing.
I had unease feeling in my stomach and seriously introspected on what the war could do.
I also began to think about whether the war was ever going to end and what was to become of me.
I wanted to go for training, but I had been told it was no longer possible at that time. I asked myself so what was next?
After a few hours rest, the commanders told us they were going to give us guns, train us how to use them and we were to return to Zimbabwe.
They also seemed confused on the next move following reports of Nyadzonia bombing because it was from there that they were getting orders and missions.
It was like they were alone and desperate. As such they had to engage us.
The comrades had fire arms and ammunition hidden in the mountain for reinforcements to the war front.
What came into my mind was; are these people serious to just give me a gun here and tell me to go back and fight. But again to refuse the weapon was too late.
I was given a rifle whose magazine carried 10 rounds at a time and a short tutorial on how to operate it. That was it and I never even fired the weapon to test if it worked.
It was mid-August 1976 when I got my first war riffle.
We were each given boxes which contained bullets. We used to call them makasha.
It was heavy and we had to secure them with some belts or ropes in a manner that you would be able to carry it on your back like a satchel.
After getting the guns and ammunition, we retuned back to Rhodesia after crossing Pungwe River.
Our first port of call was our area in Mugwede, Chikomba.
We arrived there at night and we used to call the areas we operated in with code names.
For instance sub-headman Mugwede kept a lot of ducks at his homestead so we nicknamed the base madhaks. Other bases would get names like Highfield or Kambuzuma.
I found my poshto (a place to sleep). We usually slept as a pairs, dispersed, but within the same locality.
This was meant to ensure that when there is an attack, we will be scattered and not caught up crowded in one place.
My cousin brother Japhet, who was now a senior mujibha came to see me with a rifle at the base.
Most people who knew me were surprised that I had returned armed.
We spent a day at the camp before moving on to another area known as Mubure to politicise the villagers.
When we got there, the next afternoon a small plane flew past at a low level dropping leaflets announcing a 6pm curfew.
We were with Cde Dzokerai Mabhunu who was our detachment political commissar and when the plane returned, he opened fire at it.
We all joined in from our different positions and managed to gun it down. It fell in Mandeya area.
The feeling that I had fired at a plane and we had managed to bring it down was enough motivation to give me the bravery I needed in the journey I had embarked upon to free my country. That was the start of my direct armed confrontation with white settlers
Continued next week