LEST WE FORGET: How Zipra built its conventional forces

by Sunday News Online | Sunday, Feb 18, 2018 | 1133 views
Cdes Oliver Tambo and Joshua Nkomo at the UNIP conference in Mulungushi Rock (Picture by the late Zenzo Nkobi)

Cdes Oliver Tambo and Joshua Nkomo at the UNIP conference in Mulungushi Rock (Picture by the late Zenzo Nkobi)

Feature, Enock Dube

I was one of the cadres who had trained as a regular soldier at the famous Mlungushi Camp in Zambia. I did my training the whole of 1977 as a conventional soldier.

We spent the whole of 1977 undergoing training. Our training was a mixed bag as we started off with conventional warfare before embarking onto guerilla warfare; it was an intensive military schooling exercise.

At the end of 1977 more than 100 comrades who had distinguished themselves were chosen to go to the Soviet Union for further training in platoon and company commander courses as well as in artillery and reconnaissance.

I was one of the people who were chosen and I specialised in the company commanders’ course. We spent six months in the Kremlin and returned to Zambia in July 1978.

We went back to Mlungushi where conventional battalions were being formed. Our further training in the Soviet Union was also part of the build-up of our regular forces.

However, the build-up for an onslaught on the Rhodesians intensified and four battalions were formed under the command of Madliwa (Retired Major-General Stanford Khumalo), Matiwaza, the late Soneni and Zuba. There was also an artillery unit, which was under the command of Cde Wine.

The Rhodesians on picking up intelligence of the impending military offensive then started launching aerial raids on Mlungushi as part of their pre-emptive attacks.

I remember we were bombed 21 times at Mlungushi but lost about four men although quite a number were injured. The four comrades were killed during the first assault as we never envisaged a situation where the Rhodesians could bomb us there.

It should have been in August when that raid was carried out. They found comrades either in their barracks or some just around the camp. However, because we were well trained we managed to survive.

When they carried follow-up raids it was difficult for the enemy to break our fortification. That camp was heavily fortified. We had dug trenches especially on spots where there were ant-hills and covered the pits with huge logs and grass planted on top to conceal the trenches.

When I look back I wonder how we managed to carry-out that heavy work, which was swiftly done by the comrades.

So even when the Rhodesians bombed us their missiles could not penetrate our heavily fortified trenches. While all this was happening our reconnaissance units were deployed to the front as preparations for the deployment of battalions started.

The units at Mlungushi also kept growing as there were comrades who had trained in Angola who joined us. Others were guerillas who had been in the front were blended with the regular forces. Those were important as they had seen action and were battle hardened. The guerillas who had been in the command were given units to take care of. Then in between the troops were doing rehearsals for the actual storming of Rhodesia.

Then we heard that the Smith regime had agreed to engage the nationalist leaders at Lancaster House for talks and that made us inch for battle because it was now clear that the Rhodesian government was showing signs of defeat.

Then in October 1979 three of our battalions moved from Mlungushi Camp and were deployed along the Zambezi River on the Zambian side ready to launch the attacks. A support battalion headed by Cde Clive was left on standby while other units were also waiting for deployment.

The battalions that were deployed along the Zambezi River were under the command of Madliwa, Matiwaza and the late former military attaché to Malawi Colonel Soneni Moyo.

However, of the three the Rtd Maj-Gen Khumalo unit engaged the Rhodesian army comprising the Light Infantry troops, Special Air Services (SAS) for almost a week near Kariba just across in Zambia.

It was one of the fiercest battles in the history of the country’s armed struggle. The Rhodesians have written books on that battle begrudgingly admitting that they were creamed in that operation.

I was part of Madliwa’s battalion, commanding the second company while Cde Jesus was in charge of the first company and Lovemore the third.

The companies had 95 infantry men each and in addition to that each had attachments, a commissar and his deputy, seven intelligence officers, two signals men, medics and an artillery unit. The smallest unit of the company was a section of nine soldiers. Each section had one RPK machine gun, one RPD machine gun and an RPG7 (bazooka) while the rest had AK-47s, so we were armed to the teeth.

Each soldier was also armed with offensive and defensive grenades. As for the commanders we were armed with an AK-47 folded butt type.

The artillery units had 82mm and 60mm mortars, amaB10, amaZegue, the double barrels. Other weapons at hand were SAM7s, a heating seeking anti-aircraft weapon (the weapon used to down the Viscounts) but we did not use them in that battle and iGrad P which we used on the last day when we made a tactical withdrawal. I must also add that the battalion also had a Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) for the purposes of discipline.

As for the battles along the Zambezi River I had spoken about them during interviews on this column, but when I look back I feel the Lancaster House talks robbed us of a clear military victory against the enemy forces.

-On our Lest We Forget Column next week we carry an article with ex-detainee Mr Johnson Mkandla. Mr Mkandla appeared in court charged together with Vice-President Cde Kembo Mohadi. Don’t miss your favourite copy for that riveting trial.

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  • Bobby Ebagum

    Re: “It was one of the fiercest battles in the history of the country’s armed struggle. The Rhodesians have written books on that battle begrudgingly admitting that they were creamed in that operation.” Please provide titles of these books.

    • Mangena

      google one called; Winds of destruction, memories of rhodesian combat by Petter bowler

      • Bobby Ebagum

        The statement is simply not true. If it was, why was no land ever (EVER) taken from, or EVER held by either ZANLA or ZIPRA? A simple question to answer, and the answer is not convenient to either ZANLA or ZIPRA, that prefer to push their propaganda of their members as being heroes.
        The reality is that the ZANLA and ZIPRA heroes only fought the Rhodesians when they were cornered, they preferred to attack remote farm houses or families traveling in isolation from military protection.

        Rhodesian forces were never once defeated on the battle field. In the political realm though, world pressure forced Rhodesia into submission.

        Another point to consider, is the one that the Rhodesian bush war was in order to fight racial oppression by whites. That is another leftie lie that has been told so as to justify the intent of Russia and China to dominate African resources. If the war was really about skin colour, would it be possible for the vast majority of the Rhodesian security forces, greater than 80% in fact, to not be white?