‘A military engineer makes a mistake once in life’

07 Apr, 2024 - 00:04 0 Views
‘A military engineer makes a mistake once in life’ Lieutenant-Colonel (Rtd) Binoni Benjamin Dube instructs recruits on the use of explosives at CGT in Zambia during the armed struggle. (Picture courtesy of late the Zenzo Nkobi)

The Sunday News

Lieutenant-Colonel (Rtd) Binoni Benjamin Dube had a delicate task during the war, that of training other comrades in military engineering, something which he says needs careful handling as mistakes in that field can lead to fatalities. This is because one will be dealing mainly with explosives and as they say “a military engineer makes a mistake once in life.”

As the country this year celebrates 44 years of Independence, Lt-Col (Rtd) Dube pseudonym Cde Velaphi Nyoni still remembers the road he and other Zimbabweans travelled in the fight against the colonial and racist Ian Smith regime. On Thursday last week he opened up to our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) how he kicked off his political career as a Zapu youth activist in his rural area in Gwanda District, Matabeleland South Province.

He then crossed the border into Botswana and later on moved to Zambia to join the armed struggle. In December 1974 he was in a group that was sent to the then Soviet Union via Tanzania for training where he specialised in military engineering. 

Lt-Col (Rtd) Dube then rose through the ranks, starting off as an instructor to become one of the two ZPRA Deputy Chiefs of Engineering together with Cde Jones Savanhu. They were deputising Cde Jeffery Ndlovu (Kenneth Murwira) who currently lives in Bulawayo. On a personal note Lt-Col (Rtd) Dube is a lucky one as he features in several ZPRA photographs captured during the war to back up his liberation war story. Below are excerpts from the interview. Read on . . .   

MS: May we begin the interview by giving us your brief background?

Lt-Col (Rtd) Dube: I was born on 7 March 1955 in a family of 10 children in an area called John Dip under Headman Maphala in Chief Marupi’s area in Gwanda District, Matabeleland South Province. In my family, we had five boys and the same number of girls. I started my schooling at the local Zenya Primary School where I did Sub-A up to Standard Three. For Standard Four to Six, I went to Nhwali School, which then was an upper primary school. Then between 1971 and 1974 I was living in my rural home, making a living from using a scotch cart to ferry people’s goods and property for a fee. In between those years, I briefly came to Bulawayo to look for a job like everyone else, but could not secure one, so I went back to my rural home. I had a brother who was working here in Bulawayo.  In the period leading to 1974 when I left the country to join the armed struggle, I was already very active in politics as a Zapu youth. I was the youth chair for areas such as John Dip, Ngoma and Matshaya. We were mobilising for Zapu.

Lieutenant-Colonel (Rtd) Binoni Benjamin Dube

MS: Then take us through how you joined the armed struggle.

Lt-Col (Rtd) Dube: In August 1974 there was another Zapu member, Dangeni from Shanyaugwe also in Gwanda who took me to Beitbridge to recruit for Zapu. We were targeting those who could cross the border to go and train as guerillas. We managed to get four guys. Those guys then later on, that is after some days came to our area to travel to Botswana. On the day we left, we took our livestock to the dip tank as it was a dipping day and after that, we drove the cattle to the grazing area and left them there. From my village, I was in the company of two guys, Lazarus and Committee. We boarded a Shu Shine bus where we met the four guys from Beitbridge. The bus drove up to Ntepe where we disembarked and got into a Pelandaba bus. Pelandaba took us to Takaliyawa from where we went to a local dip tank and while there we pretended as if we were looking for our lost cattle. We had been told by the party leaders that when we get to Takaliyawa we had to look for a Zapu man by the name of Vela. We were supposed to put up for the night at Vela’s homestead, but because of some developments, we were forced to change our programme. 

MS: What had come up?

Lt-Col (Rtd) Dube: We had been spotted by a police officer who also knew some of us. He was surprised to see us in that area, so we realised that we were now in trouble. We decided not to sleep at Vela’s homestead. However, we went to Vela’s homestead and left during the night for Botswana. Vela who was older than us as he was in his 50s while we were in our 20s also decided to join us. We left with him for the war as it was obvious he was going to be arrested for either harbouring or recruiting people to join the armed struggle. So when we crossed the border into Botswana we were eight. After crossing the border we got to a place called Mithabeli. From Mithabeli we were picked up by a car that took us to Bobonong where we put up for the night. The following day we were taken to Selibe-Phikwe before being moved again to Francistown. In Francistown, we were taken to a police station where we were vetted and then kept in cells as part of security measures against the Rhodesian forces. We stayed there for five days before being flown to Lusaka International Airport on a 100 percent commercial flight. I should mention that the person who organised all that for us while in Botswana was a comrade called Poso, who was representing Zapu. At Lusaka International Airport we were received by the now late national hero, Cde Cephas Cele, who was the ZPRA Chief of Personnel. From the airport, we were taken to a Zapu house in a township called Mutendere.

MS: How was the situation there?

Lt-Col (Rtd) Dube: We were vetted there by Cdes Billy Mzamo, now the late national hero, Poso who had followed us from Botswana and another comrade whom I can’t remember. We were still the eight of us including Mdala Vela. The other recruits arrived and that raised our number to 28. We were then taken to Mwembeshi where we met a group of comrades who had just arrived from specialised training in the Soviet Union. Among that Soviet group was now current Vice-President, Cde Kembo Mohadi and Enock Sebele. There were also senior guerillas there such as now Brigadier-General (Rtd) Abel Mazinyane and Busobenyoka. That’s where we were taken through political orientation and in the morning we would do road runs to keep fit and also prepare us for military life. During that time that was in 1974, Mwembeshi was not yet a training  camp, but a transitional one. So at Mwembeshi we were waiting to be taken to Tanzania for military training at Morogoro.

MS: Then when did you finally leave for Tanzania for military training?

Lt-Col (Rtd) Dube: The 28 of us left Zambia for Tanzania in November 1974. When we got to Morogoro we found a group that was rounding up its training. That is the group that had the current commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), General Philip Valerio Sibanda who was known as Annanias Gwenzi, the now late Assaf Ndinda, Goronga, Dry Phetsheya, the now former Provincial Medical Officer for the Midlands Province, Dr Milton Chemhuru (Cde Mbeya) among others. While we thought we would undergo training at Morogoro, then in mid-December that is in 1974 we were told that our group was going straight to the Soviet Union for specialised training. When I say our group I mean the 28 of us who had left Mwembeshi together. Also in that 28 were the guys we had left Rhodesia with to join the armed struggle including Vela, our mdala. When we got to the Soviet Union I specialised in military engineering.

MS: What of Vela whom you said was already in his 50s, how did he handle the demands of the military training?

Lt-Col (Rtd) Dube: He was coping well, but the Soviets sent him to do political commissariat and even when we came back to Zambia, he was immediately deployed to the party headquarters, not in the military. We were in the Soviet for six months and when we returned to Tanzania and anticipating to be deployed to the front, to our surprise we were ordered to go for re-training for another six months. The feeling was that we had jumped a step, we were supposed to re-train and cover the ZPRA syllabus in guerilla warfare at Morogoro.



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