CDE Jack Mpofu is one of the country’s veterans of the armed struggle who now walks with a limp, a scar earned in combat.
The outspoken 75-year-old former guerilla was born Makhethi Ndebele in Matabeleland South’s Mangwe District but after the war of liberation chose to continue using his pseudo name Jack Mpofu as his official name. During the war Cde Mpofu went through many traumatic experiences like any guerilla fighter but probably he can claim that he saw more.
That could probably stem from the fact that Cde Mpofu was one of the senior Zipra commanders who witnessed the death of their commander Rogers Mangena (Alfred Nikita) and it was during that incident that he was injured, resulting in the permanent limp that is now his trademark. What makes the story intriguing for the diminutive Cde Mpofu is the injury was a result of the friendly fire as in the confusion that followed the landmine blast that claimed Mangena’s life some guerillas hit him while trying to locate enemy positions. In our this week’s Lest We Forget Column our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) spoke to Cde Mpofu about his life in the armed struggle. The coversation continues.
MS: Your name has been mentioned in many circles as one of the senior instructors during the armed struggle. You are also said to be one of the senior commanders who witnessed the death of Zipra commander Cde Nikita Mangena in 1978. So who is Jack Mpofu?
Cde Mpofu: I was born Makhethi Mpofu on 6 June 1942 under Chief Tshitshi’s area in Mangwe District in Matabeleland South Province. I did my schooling up to Standard Three at the local Tshitshi Primary School. I then went to Embakwe Mission, a Roman Catholic institution which is also in Mangwe District. That is where I completed my Standard Six.
MS: How was Embakwe then?
Cde Mpofu: There was a school for the blacks which I attended while the boarding institution which is still in existence was for the coloureds. For us the blacks there was no secondary education at Embakwe.
MS: After school where did you go?
Cde Mpofu: I got a job working with the local agricultural extension workers, Moses Lusinga and Joseph Macebo where we were pegging fields and also supervising the digging of contours. I did not stay long as I then left for South Africa. In South Africa I did menial jobs in different parts of that country until I decided to return home. At one point I worked at a chicken rearing farm and life was tough. When I returned home I tried to join the army but was rejected because of my short height. That was in the 1960s and Zapu was coming into the political picture then. However, I was not all that active in politics.
MS: So how did you get into politics that resulted in you joining the armed struggle?
Cde Mpofu: I got a job at a Bulawayo company that was tarring the roads. After working in Bulawayo for some time the company got a tender in Zambia to work on a road at a site where the Zambian parliament was being constructed. The company also got a tender at Ndola Airport. However, when the time came for us to travel to Zambia I did not have a passport but still I went. When we got to the border in Victoria Falls I avoided the border post and instead jumped the border. We were being driven by Ngozi, a close friend of mine who came from Mashonaland.
MS: Then how did you join the liberation struggle?
Cde Mpofu: After we completed our work in Zambia I decided to join the armed struggle after meeting people who were involved in Zapu activities such as Cde Khupe.
MS: I guess during that time there were few people who had joined the armed struggle.
Cde Mpofu: Very true. At first Zapu failed to raise the 200 recruits as required by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). So the party resorted to forcing people to join the armed struggle.
MS: How was that done?
Cde Mpofu: An operation was launched to identify Zimbabweans living in Zambia and then capture them to join the armed struggle. It was not easy as some people would hide even under the beds to avoid joining the armed struggle. People were dragged from their places screaming and kicking but the war had to be fought, so such measures were necessary at that time. However, there were others who joined the armed struggle on their own volition.
MS: Which year was that when you joined armed struggle?
Cde Mpofu: It was towards the end of 1966 and the following year we moved to Tanzania. Before being moved to Tanzania we stayed at a camp of the ANC comrades who were involved in the Hwange Battle alongside our Zapu comrades. Then in 1967 the 200 of us were moved to Morogoro Camp in Tanzania for military training. At Morogoro our camp commander was Albert Nxele while the chief of staff was Ambrose Mutinhiri. During our training among the instructors was Gordon Munyanyi who was our company commander.
Nikita Mangena was also one of the instructors and was our platoon commander while instructors such as Elliot Masengo and Jordan Gampu were section commanders. We completed our training after nine months and returned to Zambia where we were based at Mwembeshi where our camp was also close to that of the ANC.
MS: Then tell us about your operations.
Cde Mpofu: Operations were being carried out but there were things that comrades were not happy about. You know during that time James Chikerema was the leader on the political side. Other leaders on the political side were Samuel Munodawafa and Jason Ziyapapa Moyo.
However, fighters were not happy at times with the conduct of Chikerema who before deployment would bring an inyanga into the camp to conduct some rituals. The rituals involved a guerilla being made to jump over a log and then sprinkled with some herbs. Some fighters did not like such things as they believed in their training.
-We will continue the interview with Cde Mpofu next week where he will talk about the Zapu internal problems and operations. Cde Mpofu will also speak extensively on the death of Nikita Mangena.