LEST WE FORGET: Zipra training was hell on earth: top commander

by Sunday News Online | Sunday, Nov 5, 2017 | 544 views
Cde Peter Ndebele aka Todd Mpisi

Cde Peter Ndebele aka Todd Mpisi

WHEN Zipra forces intensified their war efforts against the white colonial settlers following the resumption of their operations in April 1973 one of the cadres who was deep in the thick of things is Cde Peter Ndebele pseudo name Todd Mpisi.

Cde Mpisi (Hyena) was a household name among the guerilla fighters and the masses especially in areas surrounding Victoria Falls. Cde Ndebele or Mpisi operated when the Zipra forces were depleted following the internal strife that affected Zapu in the early 1970s.

Cde Ndebele was therefore among the few brave youngsters then who managed to wear down the enemy forces through the use of basic guerilla tactics of surprise attacks, mine the enemy routes and ambush.

Through such tactics the enemy was left confused and made to believe that areas around Hwange, Jambezi and Tsholotsho where Cde Mpisi led the guerialls were crawling with large numbers of guerilla fighters.

Cde Ndebele was later to rise to the rank of Deputy Chief of Reconnaissance deputising now army commander Lieutenant-General Philip Valerio Sibanda. In our this week’s Lest We Forget column our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) managed to trace Cde Ndebele to his plot, just about 25km outside the City of Gweru for an interview. Following are excerpts of the interview:

MS: Cde Ndebele, the name Todd Mpisi is very common among the former freedom fighters. But who is Todd Mpisi?

Cde Ndebele: I was born Peter Ndebele in the Lupanda area of Lupane District, Matabeleland North on 25 February 1948. I did my early education at the local Tshamathole Primary School, then Mkhonto and back to Tshamathole. I then later on enrolled at Regina Mundi Mission which is across the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls railway line in Gwayi. At Regina Mundi where I was a boarder I went up to Standard Six and that was around 1965. However, after the war I went back to school and wrote my Ordinary Levels at Lerato Mission here in Midlands where I was running my business. I started Form One in 1984 and wrote my O-levels in 1987. I did well especially in History and English Language. This was despite the fact that I and some elderly people only attended lessons after coming from work. It was an adult literacy class. I had digressed a bit and then turning to the pre-Independence period I went to Bulawayo after Regina Mundi in search of employment and I got a job at the then Rhodesia Railways.

MS: While employed at the railways and living in Bulawayo were you politically active?

Cde Ndebele: I appreciated the political situation but I was not active in party politics. I was hurt by the racism like everyone else which was affecting all the blacks in the country. Although not politically active I felt the urge to leave Rhodesia and go and join the armed struggle outside the country. I was working at the railways as a boiler maker assistant and there was a lot discrimination against the blacks.

MS: Did anyone influence you to join the armed struggle?

Cde Ndebele: After the formation of Froliz following the internal problems that afflicted Zapu there were a lot of young people who were released into the hands of the Rhodesian forces. One of them was Joel Dube and he is the person who recounted to us how the situation had been like in Zambia. I and some friends then felt the urge to go and join the armed struggle. At that time we were staying at the Number One Flats. One of the people who also got interested was my younger brother, Elliot Moyo who now lives here in Gweru. So in August 1973 I left Bulawayo with a colleague of mine from the railways who came from Tokwana area in Bulilima. At first he did not know that I was going to Zambia via Botswana to join the armed struggle.

However, he is the person who showed me directions to the Botswana border. After crossing the border on my own I got a lift to Francistown and on arrival there I went to a police station where I was held in custody as a security measure. I found another Zimbabwean who was also on his way to join the war and that comrade was on his way to join Zanla. There were only two of us and from the Zapu side the man who received me was Cde Silver and he is the one who gave me the name Todd Mpisi. After a few days to the two of us, my Zanla colleague and I were flown to Lusaka. On arrival there we went our separate ways.

MS: Then tell us about what happened when you arrived in Zambia. How was the situation?

Cde Ndebele: We were taken to Mwembeshi where the camp commander was Cde Busobenyoka and all in all I think there were 26 of us, the recruits.

That was still August 1973 and we did not stay long as we were immediately moved to Morogoro Training Camp in Tanzania. From Zambia to Morogoro we spent at least a week on the road.

There were other recruits who were already there and there was a group which was rounding up its training programme. Those who were rounding up their training programme were just 11 and that those were the first recruits to be trained after the Zapu internal problems. So you can see how dire the situation was. It was a rebuilding process, the party was sort of starting afresh.

MS: As for you how big was the number?

Cde Ndebele: The 26 of us found others already in Morogoro and the number rose to 48. Among those that I was trained with were comrades like Gilbert Khumalo (Nicholas Nkomo), who went on to become deputy frontal commander for the Northern Front and camp commander for St Paul’s and Entumbane camps after Independence, Magwaza, Marshal Mpofu who now works at Mhlahlandlela Government Complex in the war vets department, Artwell Gumbo, Godfrey Ncube and my brother Mike.

MS: How was the transition from an ordinary person to military life?

Cde Ndebele: It was terrible. When I first went all the people in our group who had gone ahead of us were limping. They had blood-shot eyes. I could not even recognise my younger brother, Mike. I could only recognise my him after he came close to me. That shows how tough the training programme was. I can assure you if we were training here many people would have run away, but since it was in foreign land there was no chance. We had to persevere. We were trained at a time of emergency so no one was being treated nicely.

MS: Who were the instructors?

Cde Ndebele: Among the instructors were the late national hero, Major-General Jevan Maseko, Retired Brigadier-General Tshile Nleya, Stanley Gagisa and the late Eddie Sigoge Mlotshwa. But I can tell you the toughest among those people were Sigoge and Gagisa. In fact Sigoge was the toughest but Gagisa was there as well. Those two people were very physically fit and very agile. They could do anything and they gave us a lot of hell as they also took us for physical drills. We were made to cross big obstacles and run with a bag of 25kg on the back besides carrying weapons. During our training we covered areas like military engineering, mining warfare, topography, trenching, armament, and politics. We officially finished our training after six months but they said we would just be continuing. However, there was no difference, it was still very difficult because we did not sleep and no one cared about that. It was during that period that we were doing manoeuvring. Then came the time when we were taken back to Zambia for deployment.

We were driven to the Zambezi River area and deployed on the Zambian side together with Edward Vambe and Hudson Hungwe and Lucky Munyanyi.

I was deployed on the right flank alongside Kalomo River and the area stretched to Kazungula. We found five other guerillas there and we were now seven. We were commanded by Chibhoyi who was the regional commander. However, there were other bases in Chibhoyi’s region. Our base commander was Cde Maguswini deputided by Cde Shacky.

-Next week we continue the interview with Cde Ndebele telling us how his base commanders were killed by the enemy forces. He will also relate to us how they managed to regroup and open up routes that allowed them to make incursions to the Rhodesian side.

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