The Sunday Mail
When we started the series of interviews with Cde David Todhlana (born Chrispen Tapfuma Mataire) a few weeks ago, we warned about his brutal honesty. This week, he tells Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike how liberation fighters killed two sell-outs by throwing them into a fire and blowing them up with explosives.
Q: Cde Todhlana, as we continue, can you talk briefly about your training?
A: After our training we were taken to Kongwa Camp in Tanzania. This was a transit camp for comrades awaiting deployment. While at Kongwa, we spoke a lot about politics.
One day during discussions I said I saw no reason for disunity between Zanu and Zapu. I said this was happening because of the ambitions of the leaders. I was labelled a Zapu agent but I wasn’t beaten up. Ndakangovharirwa muka karibotso, a small room. I was there alone for eight days. I was released after Chitepo passed through Kongwa and was told about my issue. On hearing my story, Chitepo said “call him”.
I was brought to Chitepo who asked me to tell him my story. I told him that I didn’t see the reason why Zanu and Zapu were planning to fight the struggle separately. I said my thinking was that we should fight the war as a united force. Chitepo then ordered my release. He said munhuwese anekodzero to speak his mind.
At the end of 1971, that’s when the deployment to the war front started. I was part of the Group of 45. We went into action tiri 45. The first task was to carry materiel from Chifombo into Rhodesia in preparation for war. The journey from Chifombo to Zambezi River would take us days takatakura heavy material. Up until the end of 1971, we were carrying material.
On one or two occasions, we had to join Frelimo to go ku combat because we were passing through Mozambique. So we had to assist Frelimo to fight the Portuguese.
The Frelimo commanders said macomrades, we want you to join us mumboona kuti kurova varungu kunonakidzasei. It’s enjoyable.
A: Yes. You see Frelimo was now on top of the situation. Maputukezi akanga avakutotadza kubuda muma camp. Their supplies akanga achitouya nendege and they would be dropped. So Frelimo was now on top of the situation and one day they decided to go and hit a certain camp. They asked us to join them.
This became our baptism of fire. First time kuridzapfuti uchiridzirwawo. We actually managed to overrun the camp. There was a young man called Cde Sonono. During this battle, his light machine gun jammed. He was crying kuti ndirikusarira in this enjoyment to fire at the Portuguese soldiers. Akachema wena (laughs).
Q: When were you deployed to the war front?
A: Around June 1972. Members of the High Command, including Ndangana, Tongogara, Mayor Urimbo and others, came to Chifombo and said, “Machinda, we think you have carried sufficient ammunition home. We think you should now go home and start the war.”
I raised my hand. I said, “Cde Tongo, why would you want to sacrifice us?”
He said what do you mean? I told him that the terrain up to December kunenge kusina cover. Miti yese, they are shedding their leaves. Secondly, I told him kuDande kwese hakuna mvura. The little sources of water were dams and I knew Rhodesian soldiers would wait for us there. I suggested that we should be deployed after the first rains. Thank heavens, he agreed.
Q: We hear Cde Tongo was a tough commander. How did you manage to convince him?
A: Yes, very tough, but it was common sense. Any military person would appreciate and understand. This was my first personal contribution to the liberation struggle; to convince the High Command kuti iyezvino hakuiti kuti tipinde kumusha, otherwise hondo hayaizova sustainable.
It was not easy to talk to Cde Tongo just like that. And in my case remember I was coming from Zipra, but I spoke my mind. I had received lots of training and I knew my rights. I had no problems talking to anyone. Remember I told you that I told Robson Manyika as he was beating me kuti iwe uri shef just because wakatanga kuuya kuhondo. Very few people could speak like that.
So thank heavens Cde Tongo and the High Command agreed to my suggestion. So we continued carrying material into Rhodesia. On 11 November 1972, we came into Rhodesia. We wanted that day to coincide with the day that UDI was declared by Ian Smith.
We divided ourselves into two major groups. The first group went to Mutoko. Cde Kenneth Gwindingwi, KG, was the commander of this first group. He went with comrades like Kenny Ridzai and others.
This division of comrades was done at Chamboko Base. Also at the base paiva na Sekuru Chidyamauyu, Sekuru Chiodza Mamera and Sekuru Chipfeni. While at the base vana sekuru ava vakapa ma comrades twumishonga twaipfekerwa muvhudzi.
The second group went to Dande, Spolilo and so on with the commander as Rex Nhongo. I was in this second group. This group was subdivided into two groups. There was one group led by Cde John Pedzisa. I was the leader of the other group.
Rex Nhongo took two of our junior comrades as his aides. He didn’t join my group or John Pedzisa’s group. He remained as the liaison between us and the comrades at the border. He was also in charge in case more reinforcements came. John Pedzisa was ordered to look for a target and fire at that target on 25 December to coincide with Christmas Day. I was ordered that two days later, on the 27th of December, I should find a target to hit.
So John Pedzisa identified Alterna Farm as his target. On 25 December, he fired. Poor Davie, I (was) still looking for my target. I got my target on the 29th. This was a farm that had a farm shop. Before hitting this farm, we laid landmines because we knew Rhodesian soldiers would come after the attack. We were nine in my group and I was the Section Commander. My deputy was Cde Tsanangura. In logistics there was David Mukuyi, the Commissar was Cde Nyika.
Q: You spoke about vana sekuru. What exactly was their role?
A: (Long pause) I am an atheist; inini Davie. I don’t believe in creation. I don’t believe in religion. I don’t believe in mashavi. So zvemushonga wana sekuru zvaiitwa nevanozvinzwisisa uye vanozvitenda. I didn’t participate but I didn’t oppose anyone.
Vanhu vaiita zvavaita but ini I said no. There was a small pool kaiiswa mushonga nana sekuru kuti macomrades atuhwine, not me. Handituhwine. Of course other fighters believed in vana sekuru but not me. To me it didn’t make sense.
Q: Do you believe spirit mediums played a role in the liberation of Zimbabwe?
A: Yes, in a way. But what way? In terms of uniting the people and in terms of encouraging the fighters. In terms of giving them hope. Not kuti shiri would guide us kuti endai neuko. It didn’t make sense to me. I never showed anyone that I was opposed to all this. Ndaingonyarara.
Q: Some comrades say they survived because of spirit mediums. What do you attribute your survival to?
A: Luck. It’s luck. Some people would die, others would survive. I am one of those who were lucky to survive.
Q: So you are an atheist …?
A: It’s my teaching – Marxism and Leninism. That’s my bible. That’s what I believe in. Marxism and Leninism focuses on people and focuses on the being. You are either good or bad. I don’t believe mune zvemaminimini.
You know, my young brother died in 1989. He was a taxi driver. I said to him, “Nyasha, ndanga ndiri kuhondo all along, now I am back, go to school. I will assist you to go to school.”
He refused to take my advice saying he was already married and so couldn’t leave his wife. He then asked me to assist him to become a taxi driver. I advised him against being a taxi driver but he remained adamant. One day he was involved in a road accident and he died on the spot. He was driving from Chitungwiza towards Harare.
Akarohwa ne Puma yemasoja. Takaenda kumusha to bury him and everything went well. After the burial, my big brothers said, “Mangwana tiri kuenda kun’anga kunobvunzira kuti chauraya mwana chii?”
I said, “Ahh, mukoma. Mwana awuraiwa ne Puma (laughs).”
I am trying to emphasise that I don’t believe in some of these things but I don’t discourage anybody. Even my wife, she goes to church. Each time she says, “Nhasi daddy murikuda kuenda kupi? Ndirikuda kuenda nemota kuchurch.” I say take, nhasi handina kwandiri kuenda.
“Ndirikudawo some money kunobvisa chipo ku church.” I give her. I encourage her to go to church because I know ku church anofundiswa tsika dzakanaka to take care of me and our children.
That’s good. Mai vakanaka, mai veChita, vanofanirwa kuchengeta murume zvakanaka. For me that’s good and its ends there. Zvokuzoti kana ndafa what what, that’s something else.
Q: Anyway, let’s go back to your journey during the liberation struggle. We had gotten to that stage were you have laid landmines with your group after Cde Pedzisa had hit Alterna Farm…
A: Yes, after laying the landmines, we moved away from the area and went to Centenary around Chiweshe area. In Chiweshe, I emphasised to my comrades that we need to mobilise people. I would always tell the comrades that we were the nucleus of the war.
I would tell them, “Look, we are only 45, going to fight a whole army ya Smith. We can’t win (alone). Let’s mobilise our people kuti vatambire hondo so that we get support and get more recruits.”
I said we should not do what we had done in Zapu at Wankie in 1968 . . .Then Zanu in 1966, paChinhoyi. . .
I was saying as much as possible, let’s avoid confrontation nevarungu. Avoid them, don’t hit them unless you are cornered. As the nucleus, our main task was to mobilise the masses and recruit more comrades. Replenish our numbers. At one time I was challenged by James Bond. He said, “Cde Davie, tavane two weeks takauya, hatisati tarova murungu. Did we come to talk to people?”
He challenged me as his commander. He said two weeks tisina kurovavarungu, what the hell is this? You see, understanding inosiyana. I had read a lot about revolutions. I had read about the Chinese revolution, the Cuban revolution, the Vietnamese revolution. He had not read all this and so he had nowhere to make any reference.
I refused to succumb to pressure yana James Bond. I told them we want a sustainable liberation struggle; hondo iyenderere mberi. Because of my beliefs, some people regarded me as a coward. Kwanzi Cde Davie vanotya varungu.
Q: Your ideas led to mapungwe?
A: Yes. At our stage during the early 1970s, we had to hold mapungwe privately. We would go to villages totaura nevabereki, telling them of their role in the struggle and we would tell them today vana marecruits vauye tiwande.
Q: How difficult was it to explain this to the masses considering these were the early days of the struggle?
A: In the areas where we started operating around Mt Darwin and so on, it was easy going due to the influence yehondo yeku Mozambique. These people were close to the border with Mozambique. They knew what was happening in Mozambique so we told them tazowuyawo isu vana venyu. They quickly understood.
The other issue I was also teaching my colleagues was that for us to survive, we must deal with sell-outs.
This was more important than kurova varungu. Kurova sellout zviri more important than kurova varungu. Ukarova sell-out, the whole area ya free and we can operate. I would tell the comrades that kana tichirova or kill ma sell-outs, don’t do it in private. No.
Assemble the people, kuwunganidza vanhu and tell them, “Baba nhingi ava vanodai, vanodai. Isusu magandanga enyu, vana venyu, hatina majeri, we don’t have any prisons. Unlike varungu vanosunga and put you in prisons, isu ukatengesa hatina majeri – tinoponda. Tino kupondai, manzwa vabereki? We kill!”
Q: You were teaching your comrades to kill sell-outs in front of povo but this is the same povo you want to support you. How did this work? Was this a well-thought strategy? The fish and water philosophy, how does it work here?
A: It works perfectly well in this strategy. There is no contradiction at all. We are talking about a sell-out, not the generality of povo. And I was emphasising, don’t destroy sell-outs in private. Do it in public. Gather the people and explain to them kuti baba vaChipo vakaita one, two, three things. Isusu vana venyu hatina majeri. These sell-outs vano dzosera hondo kumashure. So hatinamajeri, we kill.
Q: Some comrades have told us that sometimes the comrades would be used by povo to settle personal issues. Some people would lie that this and that person is a sell-out just to settle scores. . .
A: That’s very true. It’s possible pane vakapinda in that crossfire. It’s possible that their disagreements, their feuds in the villages aizowuya kwatiri munhu akunzi sell-out.
I can’t defend what we did in that regard. Sometimes taingoti zvataudzwa, we work with that.
Q: Tell us of your personal experience with some of the sell-outs. What exactly did you do yourself?
A: I remember some sell-out, mupfana who was mid-age. He came to Mukumbura. That was 1973. Awuya aifamba musango and isu taigara musango. Takamubata tikati, “Muchinda, kwakanaka, urikuitei?” He said, “Haa, ndiri kutsvaga mushonga werukawo.” “Wabvakupi?” “Ndabva ku Harare.” “Kuno unoziva ani?” “Hapana wandino ziva asi ndakarairwa kuti area ino ndiyo inowanikwa mushonga werukawo.”
So we assembled the local people. “Pane anomuziva here munhuuyu?” Hapana. “Inzwaiwo story yake yaari kutaura.” He is saying ari kutsvaga mushonga werukawo kubva kuHarare but isusu we suspect this must be a spy. Atumwa to come and spy on our activities here. So we want to deal with him.
Q: Which area was this?
A: KuDande. Ndakati isai moto, matanda, huni and so on. Kwakusunga makumbo nemawoko like we do on a goat. Kwakukanda. Hapana pata mubaya nebanga, hapana patarova. Vanhu vakatenderedza mavivi emoto. Takatora mutumbi uya watasunga kwakukanda mumoto. Everybody is watching. Everybody is watching. That’s enough cruelty to teach you kuti hazviitwe izvi.
Q: Had you interrogated him enough to be sure?
A: His language kuti akabva kuHarare kuzotsvaga mushonga werukawo. Ahh, one plus one equals two. This was a spy. Some people get caught in crossfire. That’s war.
Q: Cde, you are taking someone who is alive and throwing him into a fire. As the commander, as you were doing this, what was going through your mind? No guilty conscience, no nothing?
A: No, not at all.
Q: Even up to today?
A: No. I am convinced I did the right thing. For my comrades to be safe, we must remove such people.
Q: No one among your comrades protested against doing this?
A: No one.
Q: And the reaction from the povo?
A: Of course vanhu vakachema. Uyu ndiye wataka kanda mumoto. The other one taka musungirira ma explosives kubva kuma kumbo tichi monerera monerera. When we were satisfied that every part yasvika ma explosives, then vanhu vakawunga, seberai uko, seberai uko. Press button to detonate the explosives.
Hapana chinowonekwa chasara ipapo. You are reducing the body into thin air.
Young man, don’t behave like a church man, kuita kunge fata anobva anzwa tsitsi maningi. This is war. Ine vanhu vanofira mucrossfire but tichizowana the main goal. W
e were supposed to avoid such incidents as much as possible, but these are some of the things that happened.
My teaching was instil fear into the people. Over time, transform that fear into support. It will be strong support. Munhu wese anenge ava kuziva kuti ukangova on the wrong side, magandanga, they kill. We don’t just kill, we kill mercilessly. Mercilessly.
Q: When you have blown someone into thin air, as commander do you sleep soundly?
A: Sleeping? No, problem. No problem (laughs). These were my two experiences but others were doing it in many other ways. Vamwe vaiti isa gumbo padanda and chop it off. Hapana mushonga, hapana bandage. Nothing. Chop it off.