The Sunday News
ON Thursday the country commemorated 46 years after the brutal attack on Chimoio Camp, Mozambique which was the military headquarters of Zanla. An early morning raid by Rhodesian security forces on 23 November 1977, saw thousands of innocent men, women and children killed.
On Thursday last week, President Mnangagwa was in Mozambique and spoke about the brutal attack by the Rhodesian forces.
“May I also say today is a historic day in that we, Zimbabwe and our brothers in Mozambique, we commemorate the Chimoio massacre day, where the brutal regime of Ian Smith killed thousands of our people, including women and children at Chimoio,” said President Mnangagwa in his remarks at the official commissioning of the US$200 million Beira-Machipanda railway line in Manica.
It is against this background that we reproduce an eyewitness account of one of the senior Zanla fighters, Brigadier-General (Rtd) Edgar Dube pseudonym Cde Lot Sibanda who survived that attack. Brig-Gen (Rtd) Dube who hails from Tokwana Village in Bulilima District in Matabeleland South Province was one of the senior instructors at Chimoio and a member of the Zanla General Staff. Below is his account of an interview with our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) which was first published on 7 February in 2021. Below are excerpts from that interview. Read on . . .
MS: Brig-Gen (Rtd) Dube you were in Chimoio when the camp came under fierce attack from the Rhodesians in 1977.
Brig-Gen (Rtd) Dube: Yes, I was there and it was 23 November 1977. The attack was on 23 and 24 November, then they moved to Tembwe on 25 November.
The Rhodesians code named that operation Dingo Zulu One. It was a ground and air attack. Firstly, there was an ordinary civilian plane that used to fly past the camp in the morning and little did we know that it was part of the reconnaissance mission by the enemy.
They were taking photos of our activities and the set-up of the camp. On the day of the attack that plane also flew past and soon after it was followed by jet fighters. So that plane was part of the enemy’s deception plan.
MS: What time was that?
Brig-Gen (Rtd) Dube: It was around 7.45am.
MS: So may you please take us through what happened on that unfortunate day in the history of our armed struggle.
Brig-Gen (Rtd) Dube: Like I said the attack on Chimoio started at around 7.45am in an operation code named Dingo Zulu 1. We were to learn later that the surprise attack was conducted using the Rhodesia All Arms Fire Force Concept.
The Rhodesian security forces comprised about 97 Special Air Service (SAS) and 48 Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) paratroopers, 10x K-cars, 10x Rhodesian G~cars, 10xSouth African Polo G~cars, 1xCommand Alloutte, a total of 31 helicopters, 6xDakotas, 7xHunters, 4xCanberras and 4xVimpers.
The attack at 7.45am coincided with a routine parade. Air power was used to initiate the attack. The first sorties of the enemy aircraft were meant to destroy the four pieces of anti-air guns which were deployed to defend the base. It should be noted that with the “H hour” having been set at 7.45am, at H~4 a DC8 aircraft was flown over the base to mask the sound of approaching jets at the same time confirming certain details about the assorted ammunition including golf bombs.
At H plus 2 Dakota’s dropped paratroopers before the K~cars joined action at H plus 5. The whole operation was conducted with maximum ruthlessness. There was little intention to capture prisoners of war, since the unarmed women, children and the sick were also butchered, the campaign lasted 48 hours. It is estimated that of the 8 000 to 8 500 people that were housed in the 13 bases that made up the Chimoio Camp, almost a thousand plus perished in the horrific attack.
It should not be lost that from the Rhodesian side, a number of paratroopers were killed and more than five helicopters downed by guerrillas during the attack.
MS: While all this was happening where were you, I mean where was the man we now call Brigadier-General (Rtd) Edgar Dube?
Brig-Gen (Rtd) Dube: I was at Takawira Base Two and we fought very hard and that is where we had our armouries. We had to avoid them falling into the hands of the enemy. At Takawira Base Two that is where we had people who were armed, remember it was the training base where you could give each soldier his weapon so they could start fighting.
Those jets would come in a diamond formation and would be quickly followed by the helicopters, which were used to contain people from running away from the bases. Then there were Dakotas which were dropping paratroopers to make sure that the comrades return to the camp where the bombing was taking place.
It was a very tense and delicate situation. We lost many lives but like in any situation there are survivors and some of us survived. It was a tricky situation. I should mention that Chimoio was organised in different bases, there was Takawira One, Chitepo College, a hospital or medical facility, Chaminuka Base, Nehanda Base, Pasichigare Base, National stores, Takawira Two, a base where we kept our arms called Tamba Wakachenjera, I might be forgetting one or two bases, it’s a long time ago.
MS: In its attack did the enemy target any particular base?
Brig-Gen (Rtd) Dube: Initially their target were the headquarters which whenever bosses came from Maputo will be accommodated and Takawira Base Two where during the attack there was a lot fire power coming from there.
However, that does not mean that the enemy ignored other bases, they were also attacked with devastating effect. In those bases there were also security personnel which were deployed there.
MS: What about casualties?
Brig-Gen (Rtd) Dube: At Takawira Two base where I was, we had 10 or less casualties and this was because we were well dug in and better armed. The high casualty rate was at the bases where there were defenceless women and children whom the Rhodesians mercilessly killed. The headquarters were also affected where we had our cooks and those working in the offices.
MS: On the first day how long was the attack?
Brig-Gen (Rtd) Dube: They were there from around 7.45am to around 6pm and the following day they came again at the same time.
MS: I think on the second day you were better prepared for them.
Brig-Gen (Rtd) Dube: The second day we had moved some of our casualties, we moved them through places where we had made a break through against the enemy’s stop groups. They were taken to Chimoio Town.
MS: Then Brig-General Dube let’s come to the period of the ceasefire, where did you go?
Rtd Brig-Gen Dube: I was in the group of 42 Zanla officers, which was flown from Maputo to then Salisbury Airport. First and foremost before we flew from Maputo we were addressed by the late Josiah Magama Tongogara in the morning. It was in December 1979.
The plane that we used had in the morning been tasked to pick a ZPRA command element contingent in Lusaka that comprised their commander Lookout Masuku, intelligence boss, Dumiso Dabengwa, Brigadier Tjile Nleya, former commander of One Brigade, Brigadier Muzheri, Colonel Tshinga Dube, now Major-General William Dube and others.
The same plane was then tasked to go to Maputo to pick Zanla and we had among our bosses, Rex Nhongo (late General Solomon Mujuru), now late Air Marshal Josiah Tungamirai, Joshua Misihairambwi (late Mark Dube) who like myself came from Matabeleland South Province, Lt-Col Ridzai.
When we arrived at the airport it was around 6.30pm or so. At the airport that is where I met Enos Nkala who was there for us. Then the Monitoring Force officers took us to the University of Zimbabwe. Early in the morning we went for a briefing at the police district headquarters near the railways in Harare where we were addressed by Brigadier J H Lemont of the Monitoring Force.
We were being prepared for deployment as liaison officers. We were to go to 23 RVS (rendezvous) and 16 APs (Assembly Points) throughout the country. The Monitoring Force was scattered all over the country. The name of the operation was code named Agila.
NB: Brig-Gen (Rtd) Dube is now a farmer and spends most of his time in his home town of Plumtree or at his homestead in Tokwana.