The Sunday Mail
Last week, Cde Dennis Mlambo, whose Chimurenga name was Freeman Makoko gave us a chilling account of how members of the Crocodile Gang murdered some white man, while his wife was watching. Some comrades have come forward questioning and correcting what they said were anomalies in last week’s interview. We welcome such interventions because it has taken too long to record the country’s history and the narrations now need verification.
Some say history is nothing but the story of the victors and on our part we want to ensure that history is not the story of those with access to the media. Which is why we welcome such interventions. Our history has to be recorded accurately for future generations.
This week as promised, Cde Mlambo talks to our Deputy Editor Munyaradzi Huni about how in 1976 he survived an attack in Maranda where nine of his comrades perished.
We pick up the story, as Cde Mlambo was leaving the country to join the liberation struggle.
Read on. . .
MH: How did you go to Botswana?
Cde Mlambo: I went on my own. From Kwekwe, I travelled by train. I left around 11pm and I had a passport. I got to Francistown where I was interrogated. I openly said I wanted to join the liberation struggle but didn’t know which side exactly between Zipra and Zanla. I together with other recruits were taken to Mulungushi camp, then to Mboroma where I later met Cde Herbert Chitepo. So I joined Zanla mainly because of Chitepo. From Mboroma we were taken to Mgagao camp in Tanzania. During this time, Mgagao was still just a camp with no training going on there. In December that’s when I went to China with other comrades.
MH: How where you chosen to go to China?
Cde Mlambo: There was a choice of going to Ghana or to China and I chose to go to China together with about 25 other comrades. Some of the comrades I met on this journey include Cde John Mataure. In China I received training in guerrilla welfare and regular. We were also taught politics.
Mayor Urimbo, Cde Tungamirai were part of this group. Mayor Urimbo was the leader of this group. In China we also got lessons from William Ndangana. When we met with Ndangana I joked about the incident back home and I briefed him all that had happened.
MH: Tell us more about your training in China?
Cde Mlambo: First in China, we were taught politics. How whites colonised Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular. The death of Mbuya Nehanda and Kaguvi. The arrest of people like Mapondera. After being taught politics, the next stage was training in guerrilla welfare. Tough training I tell you. So it was politics three months, guerrilla welfare three months and another three months of infantry — where we were taught how to use different guns and regular tactics. We did full training of nine months in China. It was very difficult because taimhanyiswa and tichirohwa kwete zvekutamba. MaChina aitirova achiti kana wasangana nebhunu pfuti yarasika you fight using your own hands. Tairohwa vamwe vachizhamba kuti yowee, mai, hweee! Tichizvamburwa.
MH: As you were receiving training, were you convinced during those early years that you could come back and win the liberation struggle against the heavily armed Rhodesian forces?
Cde Mlambo: Some had gone much earlier in 1962 under ZAPU. Comrades like Rex Nhongo. He later joined us in Zanu. We were very convinced that we were to come back home and win the war. Kwame Nkrumah had taught us that victory was certain and even OAU gave us the courage to continue the fight.
MH: After the training in China, take us on your journey back home.
Cde Mlambo: When I came back I went to Mgagao I think this was in 1970 now. We were later sent to Mboroma in Zambia. At Mgagao there were leaders like Cde Ndoda Hondo who was the base commander because they were getting ready to make the camp a training base. After Mboroma we then crossed Zambezi River coming to the war front in 1971.
We were 24 as we crossed into Rhodesia. Our section commander was Mayor Urimbo. Tungamirai was also there.
MH: When you crossed into Rhodesia, where did you go?
Cde Mlambo: We were to a farm in Centenary that belonged to a white man called Chigodho. That white man was ruthless. We called this white man’s gardener and told him who we were. We told him that we wanted to cross and go to Chiweshe. This gardener who was from Malawi ran straight to tell his boss. His boss wanted to really see who we were because whites had been brainwashed by Smith that we were mere terrorists with no arms. They were even told kuti taive nemuswe. So as he approached where we were hiding we shot him. After this we killed six more Rhodesian soldiers at the Centenary shops.
MH: Comrade, the way you are talking, its as if you were killing some wild animals?
Cde Mlambo: In our group, only one comrade died. Cde Mukauro. He was killed on Dingane’s day as we tried to ambush some Rhodesian forces. It was a group of hardened fighters who meant business.
MH: During this time, many people were not really aware of the liberation struggle. How were you received?
Cde Mlambo: In Centenary there was no problem. People there understood what the war was about and the majority were very supportive. I remember Mambo Makope was among those who were selling out the struggle during those days. We later killed him. I think it was around 1974. I was later ordered to go back to Mgagao.
MH: Tell us exactly how you killed those six Rhodesian soldiers.
Cde Mlambo: These Rhodesian soldiers were going to the Centenary shops. We had AK47s so we could shoot from a distance. We had gone to the shops earlier and had taken food from one of the shops. The shopkeeper who was also from Malawi was not happy and he sent his young brother to alert these white soldiers that we were in the area. We knew this and retreated taking positions along the road to the shops. As the convoy of cars carrying white soldiers were driving past, we shot them. They did not even offer any resistance. We killed all of them. Mayor Urimbo was our leader. After this that’s when Mambo Makope started selling out. He would even go and speak on the radio discouraging his people from supporting the struggle. He called us magandanga. So we heard him speaking on the radio and decided to go after him. He had four wives. We killed him and one of his wives.
MH: Why were you killing the wife?
Cde Mlambo: She was fully supporting her husband and the people in the village told us what she was doing. The other wives supported us but this one was trouble. We shot Mambo Mukope in his bedroom together with his wife.
MH: But where you not worried that you were now killing some of your own?
Cde Mlambo: Ahhh, vatema vatengesi taiuraya. We killed many spies because they led the Rhodesian forces to kill many innocent people especially vana mujibha. The Rhodesian forces would kill povho and lie that they have killed magandanga. It was all propaganda.
MH: Before you were sent back to Mgagao, did you fight in any battles that you still remember us to this day?
Cde Mlambo: Yeah, quite a number. I remember the battle where Cde Mukauro was shot during Dingane’s day. This was at one of the farms in Centenary and the white soldiers were celebrating Dingane’s day. As the Rhodesian soldiers were enjoying themselves, they had positioned some of their soldiers on hilltops and Cde Makauro was shot by one of these soldiers, a female white soldier. We were trying to ambush the Rhodesian soldiers not knowing that there had planted soldiers on hilltops to monitor us. It was around 7pm. We later shot dead this female soldier that’s how we got to know that she was a female soldier. After this, all hell broke loose. There was a fierce exchange of fire. We overpowered the Rhodesian forces and killed most of them. We only sparred the children who were now crying and running all over the place. We said to them stop crying about your mummy, cry about yourself. We said go and tell Smith that we are here.
MH: How many white soldiers do you think you killed on this day?
Cde Mlambo: Uuhhh, there were many of them. I don’t know the exact number. Paiva nezvichembere zvevarungu and we killed them also. Taiva tisingasiyi. We also killed six black Rhodesian soldiers. They were crying kuti bassa wangu afa, bassa wangu kani! We gunned them down because they kept on crying for their bassa. This battle lasted almost the whole night.
MH: How many where you?
Cde Mlambo: In this group we were 24. We only separated when we left the farming areas in Centenary. We were now six per group. After this battle, we buried our fellow comrade. I think around this time, that’s when our border with Zambia was closed. After this battle the Smith regime discovered that we were well trained and heavily armed and that’s when they decided to close the border.
MH: How exactly did you bury this fellow comrade?
Cde Mlambo: As we were burying him taingoti tichasangana kuZimbabwe mweya wako wakatsidza kufira Zimbabwe. It was a sombre moment and we didn’t say much. After this that’s when I was saying I was instructed to go back to Mgagao to assist in training. This was now around 1974, there were comrades such as Rex Nhongo and Robson Manyika. I trained quite a number of comrades during this time. Tungamirai was also there as an instructor. Today if you ask Perence Shiri about me, he knows me. I trained Perence Shiri at Mgagao. He knows me. It was in 1974. Perence Shiri once came here around 2007 akandipa shiri and akandisimudza pano. He was happy to see me. He came with Ruwodo.
So I was at Mgagao for about three months then it was announced that detainees were to be released from prison. I was sent to Mboroma in Zambia to wait for leaders such as Cde Mugabe, Nkomo, Enos Nkala and others. However, I remember Cde Mugabe returned back to detention and came back in 1975. I can’t remember the circumstances exactly.
MH: Is this the time when there was that White Train meeting between Smith and the leaders of the liberation struggle?
Cde Mlambo: Yes. During the Detente. I was part of the delegation that went to meet Smith on the bridge along Zambezi where the White Train was stationed. I was now a detachment commander and we were with Tongogara. You see Smith had said he wanted to talk with leaders of the liberation struggle. Cde Nyerere and Kaunda forced Smith to release the liberation leaders. This is the first time that Smith infiltrated the leaders through Ndabaningi Sithole and Muzorewa. Things did not go down well as the liberation leaders discovered that Smith was trying to deceive them.
MH: We hear that during the liberation struggle despite the same ideology, there were clashes between Zanla and Zipra cadres.
Cde Mlambo: Yes, that happened but this happened at the lower ranks. The clashes happened at Mgagao and at Nachingweya in Tanzania. These were junior people not those with higher ranks. We were later separated Zanla cadres and Zipra cadres staying separately. At the leadership level, there were no clashes. That’s why Jason Moyo the commander from Zipra was very close to Zanla commander Tongogara. Noel Mukono was the first to be the commander in Zanla before Tongogara. He later chose to follow Sithole. That’s how Tongogara came in.
MH: So after the failure of this meeting on the bridge, what happened next?
Cde Mlambo: So much happened but what I remember most is that we suddenly heard that Herbert Chitepo had died. I was in Zambia at that time. I was among the people who were given the responsibility to bury Chitepo. That’s when all the commanders in Zanla were rounded up and arrested. I was arrested together with the likes of Tongogara, Tungamirai, Mayor Urimbo and many others were arrested. We were put in prison at a farm near Lusaka for about six months.You see, Kaunda aimborasikawoka so he was saying among the leaders someone planted the bomb that had killed Chitepo. From detachment commander, section commander and up we were arrested. That arrest of the leaders derailed the liberation struggle a lot. While in prison, Tongogara used to say don’t worry, this will be over and we will continue the struggle. Tongogara was a strong leader — a giant. Aipfeka bhutsu size 11 and airova zvibhakera kwete zvekutamba.
After this detention, I went to Mozambique. Mozambique had just attained its independence so as Zanu, we were to open refugee camps there.
MH: Cde you said the massacre at Nyadzonya Refugee camp haunts you up to this day, tell us briefly about this massacre.
Cde Mlambo: This was a refugee camp of people who were not trained at all. Over 4 000 unarmed people. All this was caused by Nyathi akanga apanduka. I knew Nyathi very well because he was one of the commanders. He never looked like a sell-out and up to this day I wonder what got into him. He came around 7pm with some vehicles and we thought he had come to take some comrades for training in Tanzania. Suddenly we heard gunshots. I was with Cde Ruwodo and as trained comrades, we discovered that the firepower was too much and so we ran away. We crossed a river that was near by and ran for dear life. As we ran, we could hear vana vachichema. There were only about 50 people who were trained. After running for a while we joined some of the trained comrades and decided to go back and fight. The cries of the children were haunting us. We went back and started fighting back. There were so many Rhodesian soldiers because there were so many trucks.
These Rhodesian soldiers were killing our children like flies and so when we fought back, we wanted to make sure we killed the maximum number of them. We killed many Rhodesian soldiers who included some blacks. We fought until around 4am. This was if I am not mistaken on 9 August 1976.
MH: Tell us of the aftermath of this massacre.
Cde Mlambo: It was painful and up to this day, that day haunts me. Takafutsira vana semhuka. In one mass grave we would bury about 800 people. It was something else I tell you. I think there were about seven mass graves. What pains me is that we failed to kill Nyathi on this day. However, I am happy some comrades later did justice to that sell-out. We counted about 3 400 children who were killed on this day. This was the biggest number of refugees who were slaughtered by Smith. Zimbabwe should never forget. Never, ever.
MH: Now, let’s talk about your time in Gaza province.
Cde Mlambo: In 1976 at the end I was at Mudzingadzi. In January, that’s when I went to Gaza province where I got injured when we were bombed.
MH: What exactly happened?
Cde Mlambo: It looks like some comrades killed a chief who was selling out. I think he was called Mambo Maranda. After this, I dreamt the chief saying imi macomrades mandiuraya, I will revenge. He said ndoda kuti imi mundivige. I called the comrades and we went to bury this chief in Maranda. After the burial, we saw Rhodesian planes coming. We were 11. The planes threw bombs like you have never seen. Only two of us survived. The other comrade was called Muchapera Mabhunu. He is the only one who managed to escape. I was injured in this attack and what served me was that I quickly jumped into a nearby river.
I was bleeding so heavily and I think they thought I was dead. I stayed in hiding on the banks of this river for two days because the Rhodesian forces were combing the area. I remember it was on a Tuesday and ndakazonongwa neimwe chembere ndafenda on a Thursday. This old woman was called Mbuya Jomu. She then took me to her house. Vakandiisa mutsapi. As I speak to you gumbo rangu up to now rine simbi yakaiswa after operation and I still have a bullet somewhere near my knee.
Doctors said they could not remove the bullet without amputating me. This old lady later went and alerted other comrades who came and took me. I will forever be grateful to this old woman. These comrades took me to Maputo and I was in hospital for seven months. In 1978, I was sent to Mgagao to train other cadres. The struggle had to continue. Zimbabwe had to be freed.