The Sunday Mail
Comrade Parker Chipoyera continues to narrate events following their arrest after escape from lawful custody. He tells our Deputy News Editor Levi Mukarati the technicalities that saw them being discharged of any wrongdoing by the Botswana court and subsequent travel to Lusaka where he stayed with Zanu PF Chairman Cde Herbert Chitepo.
Question: How did the Botswana authorities deal with you when you were arrested?
Answer: Let me clarify one issue here. A week after we got into Botswana and while we were at the holding prison in Francistown, Cde Jason Moyo also arrived. His mission was to establish the number of people who had skipped Rhodesia intending to go for training in Zambia. JZ Moyo had assured us that upon his return to Zambia, he would immediately book airplane tickets for us to fly from Gaborone to Lusaka. But JZ Moyo delayed coming back and that is when we broke out of the prison. There was a coincidence in that Cde Vitalis Zvinavashe or Shebba Gava, at the time of our arrest, was already in Botswana.
He had arrived with the same mission as that of JZ Moyo. When we were arrested, we were separated and I was taken together with five other attempted escapees and kept in police cells for two days. After that, we were all taken to court and charged with unlawful escape from custody. The magistrate sought to understand our actions.
I had been chosen by my colleagues to speak on behalf of everyone. I told the court that we wanted to go to Zambia. I further said when we initially surrendered ourselves to the police, we were told we would be held for 21 days. But on the day we broke out of the prison, we had been detained for 31 days. The court adjourned and we were instructed to return in the afternoon. We were all discharged at around 2pm. I later learnt that there was a Presidential Decree in Botswana provided for all people from Rhodesia intending to go to Zambia to join the war, should be held for 21 days.
After the 21 days such persons would be allowed to exit to Zambia. The 21 day detention was meant to give the Botswana security agents time to clear us of any criminal records back home and also do some intelligence gathering on who we were. As such, we had been held for more than 21 days. There were reports of some Batswana police officers being given money by the Rhodesia Special Branch to detain people intending to go for training.
The Special Branch wanted to buy time with an intention it would cause our deportation back home so that we would be arrested. It was not just us who had been detained, there were many more people who suffered the same problem as ours. That is the same predicament that the Kunonga group found itself in and they were eventually deported.
We were afraid the same thing could happen to us, hence the plan to escape from the prison. After the court had cleared us, we found Cde Zvinavashe standing outside the courtroom with Cde Masangomayi. Cde Zvinavashe introduced himself and after exchanging greetings he vetted us.
He then took us and in the evening we were given plane tickets, which he had booked us to fly from Gaborone to Lusaka. We travelled to Gaborone that night by train and the following day at around 3pm we got on a plane to Lusaka. This was January 1973.
Question: Let me take you back. Can you enlighten us on your living conditions in prison in Botswana?
Answer: We would wake up, bath and eat porridge. We had decent meals and looked after well. But the situation of being locked up is naturally not good. It was quite interesting because we used to sing Ishe komborera Africa most of the times. At that time we had no idea of any Chimurenga songs, but when we sang Ishe komborera Africa, there was a deep sense of emotion. Batswana prison wardens were used to our singing. We would spend the rest of the day sitting and getting to know each other as well as share what we knew about politics. The stories centred on how Zapu was formed and we tried to come up with our theories on the split that led to the formation of Zanu. But during that time, the conclusion was that the split was necessary to allow more channels of resistance to Ian Smith regime.
Question: Since you mention Zapu and Zanu, when you were in Botswana which side were you on
Answer: I should say ikoko we were all neutral. Yaiva nyaya yeatanga atanga.
When JZ Moyo came, if he had already processed our papers, then we would have been kuZapu. That is why when Zvinavashe came, he organised tickets for us and we found ourselves in Zanu. People going to the war could have had a political affiliation back home, but at the holding facility, they would end up going either to Zanu or Zapu, depending on whose party representative arrived first. I had a school friend, Savania Mawire who was later called Sam Madondo and become third in command to Dumiso Dabengwa in Zipra. When he followed us after we had left Botswana he was taken by Zapu despite having started political activities under Zanu.
Question: Back to your arrival in Lusaka, who received you and where were you taken?
Answer: I was lucky when I got to Lusaka. We found a Zanu cadre waiting for us at the airport. Together with Nyarambi, we were taken to Herbert Chitepo’s place. I knew the man from stories. I could not believe that l was going to stay with Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo.
His name was very popular and respected. Even in our political discussions, it was impossible not to mention his name or that of Cde John Nkomo. As such Chitepo was a revered man. He was a towering figure in nationalist politics. When we arrived at Chitepo’s place at around 5pm, we found he had already arrived from the Liberation Centre where he conducted party business.
We were introduced to him.
Ipapo mupfungwa dzangu ndakabva ndadzora ndangariro dzekarwiyo katayiimba tirivadiki kumusha:
“Nyaya yako ihuru, inotoda Chitepo
Nyaya yako ihuru, inotoda ma lawyer”
When we arrived, Cde Chitepo was already preparing supper. Being young, together with Nyarambi we asked if we could lend a hand with the cooking. But he refused and said we were visitors tired form travelling.
I remember Nyarambi saying: “Tauya nendege uye saka hatina kuneta.”
Chitepo’s reply was that our travel was not just from Gaborone, but it was from kumusha kuti tizosvika Zambia. That statement meant a lot to me. I had embarked on a long journey whose accomplishment was difficult to predict. Chairman Chitepo then continued with his cooking and in between, he took a pen and notebook. He then said he wanted full detail on what motivated us to join the liberation struggle and why we chose not to pursue our academic studies. He said he could facilitate education opportunities for us abroad.
But I said to him: “Isu tauya takanangana nezvekuhondo. Takabva kunyora bvunzo dzeForm four uye hatizive ma results. Kana tichazodzidza, tichadzidza nyika yasununguka. Kana tichaita ma lawyer semi, nyika ipapo tinenge taisunungura.”
We stayed with Chitepo for five days and during our interactions he would emphasise that we should have a vision for Zimbabwe and it was us, during that time, the young who should work for the development of the country.
Question: You were coming from a background of having known Zapu and Nkomo, who once came to your home area. You also knew Zanu through your brother-in-law. Did you take the opportunity you had with Cde Chitepo to get an appreciation of the politics of the parties?
Answer: I knew there were problems that had led to the split in Zapu resulting in the formation of Zanu. It was something that I wanted to understand, but I failed to gather the courage to ask Chairman Chitepo what had happened. As such, I remained only with the information I had received from my brother-in-law – Cde Choga. But what was clear about Cde Chitepo was that he was highly critical of the colonial laws which he described as discriminatory. He showed his anger with the Law and Order Maintenance Act that saw blacks being arrested and detained for long periods for trying to speak against injustices in Rhodesia. From staying with Cde Chitepo, we went to Chimbichimbi. I was not to see Chairman Chitepo again and unfortunately he was to be killed before seeing the Zimbabwe he dreamt of. At Chimbichimbi, I met people who had been trained earlier. We were welcomed by piles of books.
These books included The Red Book, Volumes 1 to 4, by Mao Zedong. These books highlighted how the Communist Party of China organised its activities, how to wage a guerrilla warfare and its strategy. At Chimbichimbi we met a lot of people from diverse backgrounds; former teachers, factory workers, cattle herders, students and office orderlies. The striking thing at Chimbichimbi was that the place had thriving mbanje gardens along the nearby river.
Maleader vaidziputa zvisina akamboona.
The cannabis would be harvested, dried and bundled into cobs using banana bucks and transported. We didn’t know where it was going, but there was a big mbanje deal remashefu that was going on. Through reading books by Mao at Chimbichimbi that is when I got a glimpse that the guerrilla warfare was not a two-month struggle, but it is a protracted warfare. It was a war that needed the general masses to embrace our ideology and support the cause. At Chimbichimbi I was with the likes of Cde Knox, Mark Rusere, Elias Svirukayi, Lovemore Chikadaya, all these were Chimurenga names and that is when I took the name Parker Chipoyera. I was there from February to May 1973 before I was selected to be part of a group to get further training at Mgagao.
To be continued next week