The Sunday Mail
Last week, Comrade Kenny Constantine Mabuya whose Chimurenga name was Cde Kenny Ridzai spoke about his time at the war front and his time with Cdes Nhari and Badza who later became leaders of the famous Nhari-Badza rebellion.
This week, Cde Kenny narrates a chilling experience of how Zambian soldiers gunned down 23 Zanla comrades at Mboroma and the attempts by the government to hide this heinous act. He also speaks about the real story behind the Vashandi rebel group and without mincing his words insists that “whatever people may say, those comrades vakanga vapanduka.”
As someone who at that time was working under the security department under Zanla, he surely should know better. His story will unsettle quite a number of people, especially those who were part of the Vashandi group.
Read on. . .
Cde Kenny: After arresting some of the party leaders, they took them to Chifombo and put them at different places under arrest. The other leaders who had not been arrested then organized reinforcement from Tanzania. The reinforcement went to Chifombo and captured the leaders of the rebellion led by Badza, Nhari and Chimedza. After being captured, they were dealt with. At the beginning of 1975, that’s when we heard news that leaders like President Mugabe, Tekere, Nkomo, Sithole and others had been released in prison in Rhodesia. A meeting was actually held in Lusaka calling for ceasefire where there was talk that Muzorewa of the UANC should be the leader and so on. That meeting didn’t go well because most of our leaders didn’t agree with what was going on. These talks were, it was suggested that we should be under Muzorewa led to the death of Chitepo because ipapo ndipo paaipisa musoro. He was saying we can’t be under Muzorewa because we are leading our own party and fighting the struggle imi makuuya muchiti hondo ngaimire? He said that was not possible. These talks included quite a number of countries and the aim was to stop the war. Even Smith was also involved in the talks but he didn’t come to Lusaka.
So Chitepo and other commanders refused that Zanu should be under Muzorewa and the enemies of the struggle saw Chitepo as a stumbling block. They then said better kumuuraya. They spent quite some time trailing him to the Liberation Centre, where there were offices of quite a number of liberation movements. They followed him to his house in Chilenje plotting to kill him secretly. Later they managed to kill him. After killing Chitepo, they went ahead with their move to stop the war by arresting our commanders under the guise that they were the ones that had killed Chitepo. The idea was to stop the war and indeed after the arrest of the leaders, the war stopped. I remember it was on 18 March 1975. The Zanu farm was not very far from Lusaka and early in the morning we actually heard a very long bang. We were surprised but didn’t suspect anything. Around past 9 am, we got word that Cde Chitepo had died after the explosion of a car bomb at his house. We were told that the bomb had exploded as Cde Chitepo was reversing the car from his garage. He was with some comrade called Silas who died on the spot while Cde Saddat survived. After I think about three days, we went and buried Cde Chitepo. From then on things suddenly changed. That evening there was chaos in Lusaka. After the burial, we went back to the Zanu farm but some of our leaders went back to Chitepo’s house as is the tradition. These leaders were rounded up that evening and were taken to different prisons by the Zambian government.
It was around 9pm that we heard that our leaders had been arrested. Some Zambian soldiers came saying no one should leave the camp. They said the enemy had infiltrated us in Lusaka and so they didn’t want anyone of us to leave the camp. We just said to ourselves, which enemy? Takabva tatoziva kuti zvinhu zvatoshata pano. The following day, a helicopter came flying over our camp. It was announced that “ibvai ipapo pamuri, you are supposed to move.” There was nothing we could do. Some of our comrades were moved away from the farm, but we remained behind together with Cde Mupunzarima and others. Later we were ordered to go to Mboroma which was about 70-80 km from Kabwe. We didn’t know that the plan was to crush the revolution. When we got to Mboroma, we discovered that water bowsers and several tents had already been erected. We were around 300 to 400 comrades.
SM: What happened when you got to Mboroma?
Cde Kenny: We were put in different bases. While at Mboroma that’s when we met some comrades who were said to belong to Muzorewa. We were told kuti masoja aMuzorewa and tikati Muzorewa anga aita masoja nguvai? After about two to three days, some commander from the Zambian government called Chimnkuli came to address us. He then said, mese pano hapachisina chinonzi Zanu or Zanla. You are all now under UANC. Tikati ahh, kutaurira ani? Isisu manje? Takabva tapenga zvekupenga zviya. We then said kana muchida kuti tinzwisisane, tangai matora our leaders who are in prison vouya vega to tell us that. Haikona imimi. Munotiziva here imi? Munotizivira kupi? Takapenga kwete mbichana and the commander discovered that the situation haina kunaka. We had left all our weapons at the Zanu farm, but takavava zvakadaro. The commander left. We stayed at Mboroma for a while and at one point, Muzorewa came to the camp together with Chimnkuli. Muzorewa then said; “eehh, macomrades ese ari kumusha ava pasi pangu. So nemi munofanirwa kuenda pasi pangu. You are supposed to be under UANC.” We told him point blank kuti hazviiti. He tried to reason but we stood our ground. He then left.
At Mboroma there were also some comrades from Zapu who were staying at their base. We then came up with cooking duties. One week, the Zapu comrades would cook meals and then the next week Zanu comrades would cook, but there was always tension between Zanla and Zipra comrades. The Zipra comrades were trying to force us into joining UANC but we refused. So taigara takarovana. Kurovana netsvimbo nematombo. Soldiers from the Zambian government would come and voridza pfuti mudenga to stop the fights. That’s how the fights would stop. Separating Zanla and Zipra bases was a road. One day, when the Zipra comrades were on duty to cook they then put some poison in the food. We had a system that vana vadiki ndivo vanotanga kudya. So when they put poison in the food, vana vadiki ndivo who were affected by the poison. They vomited and we took them to a nearby clinic that was run by Zambian soldiers. Mwana one akashaya but others vomited and were treated. From that day, hatina kuzogara zvakanaka. We were fighting almost every day.
After a while, there was talk about ZIPA (Zimbabwe People’s Army). Tikati toita ZIPA nani, zvikanzi neava meaning Zipra. We said, that’s not possible because hativazivi. We could see that all these were efforts to destroy Zanu.
SM: You seem to be indicating that the Zambian government had taken sides?
Cde Kenny: Yeah, zvakanga zvagara zviripo. From the onset, the Zambian government was against Zanu. Even the days when I decided to joined the struggle, Zanu had to recruit people secretly in Lusaka. Kaunda was close to the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo. Kaunda akanga asingadi Zanu. Kana, kana zvachose.
SM: OK, let’s go back to Mboroma.
Cde Kenny: We then said macomrades, ngatibvei pano tiende kunogara kwedu tega. We can’t stay close to the Zipra comrades because we are fighting every day. The next day takati munhu wese nekatundu kake simudza handei tinotsvaga pekugara away from the Zipra comrades. Before we could go any far, some Zambian soldiers blocked us. They ordered us to go back to our base and we refused. These soldiers vakaridza pfuti trying to scare us and we told them hatina basa nazvo. We walked past them. We walked some kilometres and chose another place to stay musango. We were about 7 km from our Mboroma base. The Zambian soldiers later followed with our tents nemabhodho ekubikira. Takabva tavaka dzimba dzedu dzekugara dzeuswa. Takabvarura matents tikaaita magumbeze. While we were at the Zanu farm, we had two maBedford, kombi which was the ambulance and two Land Rovers. We took these five vehicles from Mboroma and to this new camp. The Zambia soldiers tried to stop us from taking these vehicles tikati hatisiyi mota dzedu this is Zanu property.
While at this new base, the Zambian soldiers then said you should come every day to Mboroma to get your food. So we would drive from our base to Mboroma to get food. We did this for a while. Then one day, our driver and two other comrades went to collect our food. These comrades were then captured by the Zipra comrades. We waited for these comrades to come back from morning until around 12 pm and they didn’t come back. One of the comrades, our driver called Cde Murehwa, akaimba chimbo chekuti Sendekera Mukoma, was the driver. He was sent back to come and tell us that these other comrades had been captured. Murehwa came and informed us. We then came up with a plan to go and free our fellow comrades.
SM: Who exactly had captured your fellow comrades?
Cde Kenny: It was actually a mix. There were comrades from FLORIZI, UANC and Zipra. What really surprised me is that the Zipra comrades had received military training and we expected them to know better but they joined these untrained comrades from FLORIZI and UANC. All of them wanted us to join forces under UANC and we refused. They wanted us to say “Pasi neZanu” and we refused saying tiri vana vadiki hatisisu takatanga Zanu. We said only vakuru vedu can tell us what to do with Zanu not Muzorewa. Dai takabvuma tingadai takatengesa struggle.
SM: Ok, so you came up with a plan. Tell us about this plan?
Cde Kenny: We gathered about 100 comrades. We got into our Bedford saying handei tinosunungura our comrades vabatwa nemadzakutsaku. When we arrived at Mboromo, it was now around 3pm. There was dead silence as if there was no one at that camp. The Zambian soldiers then came and ordered us to leave our car some distance away. We left the car there and walked to the camp. We were walking in a battle formation. As we were walking, the Zambian soldiers came also walking in a battle formation towards us. We then tried to engage them saying why are you coming after us as if we are the ones who are wrong? The soldiers said tokuzivai you got military training you may injure these Zipra comrades. We told them to go and free our comrades so that we could withdraw and leave. As we were talking, the Zambian soldiers opened fire. It was unexpected. At first we thought they were firing blanks just to scare us but we discovered that they were actually killing our comrades. They were firing live bullets. Ahh, some of us we had war experience. We quickly took cover, but hey pakaita nyaya ipapo. Pakaita chamupupuri chakasimba zvekuti munhu ari padhuze haumuoni. Some of our comrades tried to wrestle guns from the Zambian soldiers and they ran to the Zipra base.
After a while, we discovered that aikazve our comrades had been shot dead while others were injured. About 23 comrades died on the spot. We have to speak out about this because these comrades were buried at Kabwe. The Zambian government didn’t want people to know about this. We carried all our comrades, those who had been shot dead and the injured. We took them in our Bedford back to our base. When we got to our base, masvikiro akuti ko imi maenda ikoko hamuna kuudzwa here kuti musaende ikoko? Those who were injured were treated. We then decided to take back to the Zambian soldiers all the dead comrades. We said let’s go with them and ask the Zambians kuti vanhu vamauraya tovaisa kupi? We went back with the dead bodies and the Zambians said they were supposed to be buried in Kabwe. There is a cemetery in Kabwe. These bodies were taken to Kabwe and were buried there.
The Zambians didn’t want us to know where exactly they were going to bury these comrades but as they were putting the bodies in the vehicle, one of our comrades sneaked in and pretended to be a dead person. We had told this comrade to go and see where they were burying our comrades. We wanted to know all this so that we could report to Cde Muzenda who was among the few leaders who had not been arrested. This comrade went and saw everything. He came back and told us. While the Zambians thought this was a secret, the following day they were shocked to hear the BBC reporting about where the comrades had been buried. The Zambian government denied that such a thing had happened. After this, there was now bad blood between us and the Zambian soldiers. We actually were prepared for war with them. We tried to organise some of our female comrades kuti vadanane nemaZambian soldiers so that vovabira pfuti. The situation was now very bad.
SM: Do you think these Zambian soldiers who shot and killed some of your comrades were working on instructions from someone?
Cde Kenny: I remember one of my commanders ipapo was Tondlana. There was also Cde Pedzisai, a female comrade. Tondlana was among the commanders who were trying to reason with the Zambian commanders when the shooting started. Cde Pedzisai was actually shot and I don’t know how Tondlana survived. Some of the Zambian commanders were also shot as the soldiers tried to target Tondlana. Remember I had stayed in Zambia and I could understand some of their words. As our commanders were busy trying to talk to the Zambian commanders I could hear their soldiers saying nhasi vanhu ava toda kuvarova. I warned some of my fellow comrades kuti vanhu ava are up to no good. I could see even their mood. This was clearly planned. From this day, we never trusted these Zambian soldiers. You know we spent about a week without eating.
We then sat down, myself, Tondlana, Gwauya, Dzino and others and wrote a document that we sent to Mgagao. In the document we outlined what had happened at Mboroma. We sent about three comrades with this document and they managed to get to Mgagao. The comrades at Mgagao then threatened to come and free us because the Zambian government was stopping us from leaving their country. That is how they later agreed to let us leave. The situation was so bad at Mboroma that only the late Vice-President Muzenda came to Mboroma. At first we wanted Sithole to come, but he surprised us saying he wanted to go to America because his child was not feeling well. We said how could a leader leave 23 dead comrades to rush and see his child who was only sick? We then said; “Pasi newe! Pasi naSithole!”
SM: From Mboroma where did you go?
Cde Kenny: Cde Muzenda vakauya vakatinyengetera nyengetera saying toyenda kuMozambique. We asked him kuti tinoenda nei? He said toenda nendege, tikati zviri nani kuenda kuRhodesia. We said hamusikuona Cde Muzenda kuti mava kutengesa futi? He said aiwa macomrades. He persuaded us and explained things to us until we agreed to leave. We then went to Lusaka and were taken by plane to Mozambique. We were taken to Tete province. This plane landed at Chingodzi airstip. After a while, the Front Lines States put us under pressure saying batanai neZipra mutange hondo. That is when Zanla and Zipra came together at Chingodzi to form ZIPA. There was Nikita Mangena from Zapu and Rex Nhongo from Zanu. These were the commanders and they came with commanders from their sides. Under ZIPA, war fronts such as Gaza were opened in Rhodesia. However, this didn’t last for long because vakapedzisira vava kurovana kufield ikoko.
SM: Did you play any role under ZIPA?
Cde Kenny: When I came back from the war front and went to Lusaka, I was a bit clever and was put under security. I was working with Cde Chigohwe as his deputy. So even when we went to Chingodzi, I was still under security. Jimmy Nyikadzinashe ndiye aiva shef wangu at Chingodzi. My duty was to see how reinforcements could be deployed to the war front. Sometimes I would take the reinforcements to the war front. From Chingodzi, I went to Chimoio. There were so many bases at Chimoio. This is where I met Cde Bethune. At that time he was the deputy commander at Chimoio. The commander was Cde Kubaya. I became the commander at Chaminuka base which was responsible for security at Chimoio. The Zanu leaders like Tongo and so on were still in Zambian prisons. One of the bases at Chimoio was Chitepo College ndiko kwakazobuda politics dzana Mhanda known by many as Dzino. That group became to be known as Vashandi. They were behaving in the same way as Nhari and Badza. They were saying vanhu ava kana vabuda mumajeri in Zambia they can’t come and lead us because we have been leading the struggle. They said kana vachiwuya they should come and join semaprivate. They should become just ordinary members of the party. This was not possible. Just imagine vanaTongo becoming ordinary members? These were members of the High Command and others were in Dare reChimurenga.
Later, these leader were released from Zambian prisons and they came to Chimoio. They were staying at a Frelimo base and were stopped from coming to our Zanla bases at Chimoio by Dzino and other comrades.
SM: As the person in charge of security what did you do?
Cde Kenny: I went and informed the leaders kuti vanhu vapanduka. After this, Frelimo then organised that there be talks between the leaders and Dzino and his group. These talks were held in Beira. Frelimo had seen that these comrades were rebelling against their leaders. And so when they went to Beira, all members of Vashandi were captured. The leaders then came and continued with their duties. This was now in 1976.
SM: We have spoken to Cde Tondlana who was part of this Vashandi group who says they were not rebelling against the leaders. He said they were just misunderstood but the ideology was still the same.
Cde Kenny: Umm, aiwa. That’s not true. Kana uchiti vakuru should re-join the party unenge wapanduka. Hapana same ideology apa. You say just because I was in jail I am no longer your senior, that’s being a rebel. Ndiko kupanduka ikoko.
SM: Cde Tondlana insisted that they were just misunderstood? Just disagreements?
Cde Kenny: What misunderstanding? Disagreement yerudzii? Isusu we went to Mboroma knowing that our leaders had been arrested so as to derail the war. I was there. They stopped the leaders from getting into Chimoio camp and ordered that the leaders should re-join the party as ordinary members. What was that? I was under security and I saw what was happening. Ndiko kupanduka ikoko.
SM: Cde Tondlana also said when they went to Beira, they were put in a trap. Is this what happened?
Cde Kenny: You see kana vanhu vapanduka vanokwanisa kuiswa in a trap kuti vasungwe. So many discussions took place before that meeting in Beira.
SM: But they were saying tisu takaenda kufront, tisu Vashandi?
Cde Kenny: What front? I was at the war front. Some of them had never been at the war front kusara kwaTondlana. Vamwe vese had never been at the war front. They can’t tell me about zvekufront. I was there and there is no one who can lie to me about what happened. We disarmed some of the comrades at Takawira base at Chimoio. Why were they armed? For what? I was working with Rex Nhongo. He is the one who was giving us information. If they were thinking that Rex Nhongo was on their side, they were fooled. You see, the idea of Chitepo College which was originally known as Wampua College was not a bad thing but they went on to poison themselves with wrong politics. They took politics dzisiri dzekuhondo dzavaiwudzwa nanaMakumbe muno and tried to apply that. Izvozvo hazvipindirane.
Like I told you I had access to these comrades at Chimoio and I heard a lot of what they were saying. I would go and tell the leaders at the Frelimo base what they were saying. I know everything that was going on. Rex Nhongo assisted me.
SM: After the arrest of Vashandi, take us through your journey.
Cde Kenny: I told you this was around 1976. I was now working with Cde Mupunzarima who was a member of the High Command. He was under human resources. I was still under security with the responsibility to receive recruits from Rhodesia. I would vet the recruits to establish kuti munhu haasi mutengesi here. I also recommended people to go for military training. I later worked with Cde Zvinavashe still under security. I was his deputy. We would receive reinforcements from Tanzania. I also worked closely with Cde Rex Nhongo as he was in charge of operations. I was also responsible for establishing how, when and where reinforcements were to cross into Rhodesia. Sometimes I would cross into Rhodesia with the reinforcements. Cde Tongo would give me instructions to say enda unopa these reinforcements kuna nhingi.
SM: You said one of your responsibilities was to interview recruits. What exactly would you ask them and why?
Cde Kenny: We conducted the interviews to establish exactly why one had decided to join the struggle. Remember by this time, many people were joining the liberation struggle and the Smith regime sent quite a number of spies. We actually identified quite a number of spies. We would ask the recruits why they wanted to join the liberation struggle, how they had left Rhodesia and their background. We would search the recruits and takabata vakawanda who came hiding all sorts of devices used by spies.
SM: What would you do to these spies?
Cde Kenny: It really depended on individuals. There were die-hards. Such people, vaiwuraiwa. Mutengesi anowuraiwa. Some we would give them political orientation. I remember one spie yatakabata aine matablets mumupendero wetrousers. We wanted to take him from Tete to Tembwe for questioning. He knew that vatengesi vanowuraiwa sometimes because kuhondo kunofiwa. I never killed anyone myself. I only killed the enemy at the war front. As we were crossing a bridge, this spy was seated in lorry. He jumped and plunged into Zambezi River. He preferred to die than to give us information.
Even us the comrades from the early years, takanga takabikwa zvekuti we would also not give any information. Zvaiva nani kufa that’s why most comrades who were captured during the early years of the struggle were killed. They refused to give any information.
SM: After interviewing the recruits what was the next stage?
Cde Kenny: We would get their names and places of origin. Then we would give them pseudo names. Most of these records were there. That’s why it’s known that so many people died at this and this place.