IN our Lest We Forget column today we continue our interview with former Zipra instructor, camp commander and a member of the High Command Cde Jack Mpofu.
Cde Mpofu is one of the guerillas who witnessed the death of the Zipra commander Cde Rogers Mangena (Alfred Nikita).
Today Cde Mpofu speaks about the resumption of the military operations following the internal problems faced by Zapu. In fact Cde Mpofu together with now Retired Brigadier-General Abel Mazinyane and the late Cde Roger Matshimini carried out an operation near Victoria Falls which marked the resumption of Zipra’s military operations. Below are excerpts of the interview with our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS). Read on . . .
MS: Last week you were about to speak about the internal problems that Zapu faced. May you please take us through that period.
Cde Mpofu: During that period Zipra was left with a few people as some joined Froliz which was led by James Chikerema and George Nyandoro. A number of trained cadres also left. At that time the commander of the army was Ackim Ndlovu. However, after the internal problems the army was reconstituted, resulting in the formation of Zipra.
MS: I’m told after the reconstitution of Zipra you were one of the guerillas who re-launched the armed struggle by carrying out an operation near the Victoria Falls. Tell us more about that operation.
Cde Mpofu: It was around April 1972 when the now Retired Brigadier-General Abel Mazinyane, the late Roger Matshimini and I were sent out for that operation. The operation was meant to announce the resumption of our military operations. Before that I had been involved in carrying out reconnaissance missions. After the Chikerema saga Zapu had to re-align itself for the armed struggle. Chikerema had been the Vice-President of Zapu charged with the execution of the armed struggle from outside the country. He cancelled and betrayed the trust given to him by the party by forming another party, Froliz contrary to Zapu’s constitution. He thus expelled himself from the party. On forming Froliz he wanted to sell to the progressive world that he was unifying the Zimbabwean liberation movements.
The world was hoodwinked. Zapu on the other side had to prove to the world that Froliz was a mere political hoax and Zapu was alive and still leading the people’s struggle. “Kueleza siku hanguka” (slipping is not falling — Swahili). Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo who had assumed the Zapu leadership after Chikerema’s departure instructed his newly formed Zipra High Command under Nikita Mangena to without delay re-launch military operations. But Zipra forces had been depleted by the political crisis that had befallen Zapu. Most experienced cadres had deserted the armed struggle.
MS: So under such conditions what happened?
Cde Mpofu: Mangena’s command element which had Tapson Sibanda, Phelekezela Mphoko, Cephas Cele, Sotsha Ngwenya quickly assembled a team to kick start Zipra operations. The operation was to strike fear to the Rhodesian forces, it had to leave no doubt who was responsible, it had to earn Zipra the image of being stealth, it had to send a message to the world that Zapu was intact and uncompromising and Zipra was to demonstrate that it was as its name suggest a people’s army. This was a strategic operation, its impact had to leave a mark. A unit of three soldiers was selected to execute the mission.
MS: Who were the three?
Cde Mpofu: The unit was composed of myself, Jack Mpofu, Roger (Matshimini) Ncube and a then young Abel Mazinyane. Matshimini a veteran of many battles before was to command the unit. He was a man of extra-ordinary courage. Then there was Mazinyane, a young man who had just completed his military training in Morogoro, Tanzania. He was one of the nine smuggled out of Tanzania to Zambia to kick start the Zipra operations.
In this operation he was the youngest and our military engineer. Rehearsals of the operation were done at a base called DK. Cde Matshimini and I moved to DK where we teamed up with Mazinyane who had been deployed there earlier. To oversee the operation was the entire Zebra command except Cele. There was Mangena himself, Mphoko, Tapson Sibanda (Munyanyi), and Charles Ngwenya (John Dube). Lookout Masuku had not yet joined the Zipra High Command. From DK the unit was moved to CH (Country House), a Zipra base outside Livingstone. The unit was now under JD and Munyanyi. We were joined by Cde Vundla who was good in handling canoes. The final preparations were done at CH. At CH we were given our final operational orders, kitted and armed.
MS: Why was Livingstone chosen?
Cde Mpofu: The choice of Livingstone as a launch pad for the operation was a wise move. The choice of DK for preparations for the operation was also an excellent diversion and deception. This was because during preparations for the operation a Rhodesian spy was intercepted at DK. He was a white man in his 50s farming in Zambia for cover. This Rhodesian spy spent most of his time in Salisbury (now Harare) doing debriefs. He mostly used undesignated crossing points for his activities. Sometimes, early in 1972 if my memory serves me right, his luck ran out, he was intercepted by Zipra forces and handed over to the Zambia authorities. He was dragged to the courts and slapped with a 12-year jail sentence. However, before being handed over to the Zambia authorities he volunteered valuable information that helped Zipra understand the intentions of the Rhodesian intelligence.
The intelligence provided an interesting picture of the Rhodesian intelligence culture.
MS: How was the operation?
Cde Mpofu: The operation code named “Xhoxhoza” was to be conducted under the cover of darkness to achieve invisibility and was to be carried out by three of us, Matshimini, myself (Daki) and Mazinyane. We were to be as stealthy as possible and also carry out the operation with lightning speed to achieve this crucial operation. The operation as earlier on alluded was to announce the return of Zipra with a big bang. Blowing up a goods train close to the resort town of Victoria Falls was most appropriate. Victoria Falls is a worldwide known resort town. The Zipra High Command had chosen the goods train from Bulawayo which travelled ahead of the passenger train for strategic reasons. The goods train was to arrive in Victoria Falls at 6am.
The attack from the Zipra point of view was to give the locals a big bang spectacle (which it did), also give the tourists news to take to their respective countries in the process contributing to our liberation effort. The Rhodesians could not conceal the operation as it was carried out about three metres from the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls highway. Motorists had a free show, well, those who were not caught up in it. The operation was planned in such a way that the blowing up of the locomotive would cause the rear wagons, unfortunately including the guard’s coach, to jerk knife and damage the road bridge, which the train had just passed under.
-We continue the interview with Cde Mpofu in our next issue where he gives a blow by blow account of the operation.