IN last week’s article we spoke to Cde Jeffrey Ndlovu pseudonym Kenny Murwiri who is a former Zipra chief of technical engineering and adjutant-general.
Cde Ndlovu lost his sight when he was injured in a landmine blast during operations along the Zambezi River on the Zambian side in 1979.
Last week Cde Ndlovu gave a detailed account of his training and problems that affected the Zapu leadership in Zambia that resulted in the derailment of the party’s military operations. The conversation ended when Cde Ndlovu was talking about the resumption of the war in March 1972. Today he picks up from there in another interview with Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS). Below are excerpts of the interview:
MS: Cde Ndlovu, last week we were still talking about the resumption of military operations, can we pick our conversation from there. What were some of the major operations that were carried out?
Cde Ndlovu: I think what we should consider is that because of the defections and desertions that the party, Zapu and Zipra suffered there were few people in our ranks. There was also a need to send those who had just finished training for specialised training abroad while others were made instructors. Among those who were absorbed as military instructors and we had trained together were the likes of Cdes Ben Mathe (Rtd Brig-Gen Tshile Nleya), Stanley Gagisa, Eddie Sigoge and Enoch Tshangane (late Major-General Jevan Maseko). That meant the fighting force was thin on the ground but the war had to go on and indeed it went on.
MS: So how many comrades were on the ground doing the fighting?
Cde Ndlovu: We just had 14 soldiers and that resulted in myself and Black Swine (Mnyamana Sibanda) who was also at the headquarters leaving our duties there going for operations. That is how critical the situation was.
MS: So the burden of fighting fell just on the 16 of you. How did you manage?
Cde Ndlovu: Last week I touched on the importance of mine warfare and that is what we relied on. We will cross the Zambezi River which on its own was a battle as well. After crossing in small groups of between three and five we will plant land-mines, the TM46 anti-tank mines which are mainly for troop carriers and motorised units. After laying the mines we will go back to Zambia and this was because our mission was to avoid contacts at all costs with the enemy because we were disadvantaged in terms of numbers. However, there were situations where we were forced to fight when the enemy had seen us first. So we continued using this strategy and the mine warfare which we carried out was done along the Zambian-Rhodesian border stretching from Kazungula to the east of Kariba.
MS: Were the operations effective?
Cde Ndlovu: They were very effective as the enemy ended up changing its ways and also that we were very mobile, quickly moving from one place to another and confused the enemy into thinking that we were many. They started deploying mine clearing vehicles before doing their patrols, which in a big way slowed their movement. When you deploy a mine detector the movement becomes slower in that after locating the mine, there is a need to find someone to disarm it. That on its own is very cumbersome and slows down the movement of troops, so for us we were scoring big against the enemy forces. Some of the enemy forces were also dying and others injured after being hit by the land-mines. When the operations were launched the routes that were being targeted were closer to the border but as the enemy was suffering losses, it moved further inland and that cleared the way for us to penetrate deeper.
MS: As someone who kept the Zipra records may you please tell us about some of the operations which you feel had a big bearing on the armed struggle?
Cde Ndlovu: There was the shelling of the Elephant Hills Hotel in Victoria Falls by a platoon that was under the command of Cde Todd Mpisi (Peter Ndebele), who is still alive and lives in his home province of Midlands. The attack was part of the economic sabotage on the Rhodesian tourism industry and was also meant to instill fear among the white community that it was no longer business as usual. Mpisi and his troops shelled the Elephant Hills using mortar bombs from the Zambian side. However, Mpisi had also deployed some of his boys on the Rhodesian side. During the attack there were skirmishes which saw one of our comrades Henry Scotch injured and he unfortunately lost his eye in that battle. Then there was another successful operation, I am talking about earlier operations when the now late Cde David Thodlana (Tshaka Moyo) led a group of guerillas who overran Kanyambidzi Camp and the enemy suffered heavy losses. Thodlana was to later on distinguish himself as a capable intelligence operative when he served in the National Security Organisation (NSO) which was headed by Dumiso Dabengwa.
MS: These operations you are talking about were carried out when numbers started increasing I suppose.
Cde Ndlovu: The 16 of us were all over, moving from one place to another laying mines until the numbers improved as more people were now pouring into Zambia while those who had gone for further training had also returned. On the issue of operations another success story was the capture and subsequent killing of South African troops near the Zambezi River but on the Rhodesian side. Our guerilla group led by Chibhoyi captured Sergeant Kuhn, a South African and executed him. From Sgt Kuhn’s section there were no survivors. That was a big and successful operation I tell you as it shook the Rhodesians and South Africans. Then we also had successful operations on the eastern part of Kariba, the attack on the Kariba Airport which was carried out in 1974. The attack was meant to harass the regime. The unit that attacked the Kariba Airport was led by Cde Skin Madziba and it was made up of between 15 and 20 guerillas. It was the same unit that resumed Zipra operations in areas such Nyawodza, Hurungwe and Gachegache in Mashonaland West Province. Then there was also another unit commanded by Cde Joshua Moyo that opened up operational areas in areas like Karoi, Kazangarara, Vuti, Chundu, Mutorashanga and Nakasanga also in Mashonaland West. That unit first infested all enemy routes with mines and attacked its Ops (observation points) along the Zambezi. They were preparing the ground for bigger groups.
MS: You are talking about the laying of the ground work, so in future the results of these early operations were realised.
Cde Ndlovu: Of course, there were attacks on Mana Pools by a unit that was led by now Retired Brigadier-General Rodwell Nyika (Collin Moyo). As for operations in Mashonaland there is one aspect I want to mention. Our units had majority Ndebele speakers although there were many Shona speakers as well but the villagers treated us well. They related very well with our units, they gave their all, from food, clothes to information. The ordinary people deserve special mention. There were also other deployments going on in other parts of the country as well with our units infiltrating through the border, heading towards Lukosi in Hwange, Mapfungautsi, Gokwe, Nkayi, Lupane, Siabuwa and Chizarira in Binga. The war was in full swing.
MS: You have spoken about the operations from the military side, what about the intelligence units? You should know because you filed everything from war reports to individual information.
Cde Ndlovu: It’s true that as the adjutant-general who is the army’s chief clerk I had access to all the files as I did the recording and filing but I would be lying to say I was privy to the operations of the intelligence unit, which at first was led by Ethan Dube and then Dumiso (Dabengwa) took over after the capture of Dube in Botswana. However, I should quickly point out that it is unfortunate that their role in the armed struggle is being down played and unfortunately in some cases it is being done by people from our side.
MS: So you are saying the intelligence unit which was later transformed into the NSO was in the thick of things as well.
Cde Ndlovu: How could they not be when they were part of the armed struggle? What I can vouch for them is that the intelligence officers carried far more dangerous operations, which is consistent with any intelligence unit all over the world. When Zipra deployed its guerillas they found contacts on the ground among villagers and a majority of those people were recruited by intelligence officers. Some of the intelligence officers also played a crucial role in the recruitment exercise, some of them in a one man operation. We had the likes of Tommy Ndebele who embarked on dangerous missions and Abel Vela. They opened up operational areas, prepared the people for the incoming guerillas. Those were dangerous operations, look at the situation of the current Minister of State Security, Cde Kembo Mohadi, he was captured on a one mission as an intelligence officer and so was Cde Mhandu. At times the intelligence officers were embedded on the military units and they also gave cover to party officials and everyone’s well being. So there is no one who honestly can claim to have done more than the other, if we are being fair to ourselves.
MS: Then let us go back to your duties as the adjutant-general. You went for operations and left it hanging, when did you go back?
Cde Ndlovu: I left the operations when our numbers started growing as some of the comrades were returning from their further training programmes while others especially the group of 10 that had comrades like Situlo Matiwaza were ready for deployment.
MS: Then take us through your role or duties as the adjutant-general.
Cde Ndlovu: When that office was set up I was the only one but as the struggle grew and the numbers started swelling I was joined by other comrades.
At the later stages I worked closely with now Retired Brigadier-General Mpandasekwa Muzheri who at one time was the commander of One Infantry Brigade here in Bulawayo, Brighton, Gorden Rusike, Ben Josaya Ncube and some girls who were our typists such as Nobesuthu, Prisca Nleya, Jane Tshabangu and Grace Mafu. As for our duties we kept a file of each person who was inducted into Zipra. The first forms that we started with were made in Cairo, Egypt but later on we were able to run our own. As for our filing, we kept forms of each and every person who had been vetted on their arrival in Zambia for training. On the first page of the form there was information such as details of the cadre, name, age, place and date of birth, next of kin, village of origin, level of education and home address. It was also mandatory in giving the description of the complexion and eyes. All what I have said were contained in the first page.
MS: What was in the second page?
Cde Ndlovu: In the second page there was a short biography of the cadre and a place for the oath which was taken after training and administered by the chairperson of the Revolutionary Council who initially was Jason Ziyapapa Moyo. So as a force we had files with a photograph of each and every individual who was part of Zipra. We were very organised.
MS: You also kept records of the army that involved operations and so on as well.
Cde Ndlovu: All reports of the army coming through all departments such as operations, personnel, intelligence, logistics went through my hands. What I can say is that all the information about Zipra were kept by us. At first we had three cabinets but as numbers grew and also the war intensified we had more than 36 cabinets which had four doors each.
MS: NSO files.
Cde Ndlovu: I never had sight of them. Their reports were kept by themselves somewhere, so as for the information on them it is a big NO. However, the top leadership of the party obviously had information on their operations but as you might be aware all of us were monitored by them. They kept intelligence on everybody, which is how any intelligence unit operates.
-We round up the interview with Cde Ndlovu when he speaks about how he was sent back to operations, the turning point, the re-organisation of the Zipra command structure, how he was injured and also how he has managed to survive considering that he is now permanently disabled having lost his sight in combat.