The Sunday News
Colonel (Rtd) Ernest Mganda Dube
The Second Kapiri Hill Enemy Fire Force Attack; the killing and inhuman helicopter slinging of Mlauzi
KAPIRI Hill is located in the district of Karoi between Kazangarare and Mwami chieftaincies of Mashonaland West Province.
My background history has it that the name “Mwami” is Tonga and as such the name place is also found in Chipinge District today. Save for 1966 when the David Guzuzu-led Zanla guerillas destined for Chinhoyi, the Hurungwe area had been a ZPRA operational foothold.
Our deployment as the Angolan-trained first group in March 1978 benefited from the groundwork laid for us by the earlier groups. To mention just but a few are the likes of the Pyramid Detachment which was the combined ANC’s MK and Zapu’s Special Affairs Department guerrillas commanded by Cde Moffat Hadebe who is famous for his 1968 battles along Angwa River (Chewore Game Reserve), the 1976 skirmishes by the Richard Ngwenya (Mataure) later Ananias Gwenzi (General PV Sibanda) to Big Joe led squads of 1977 respectively.
As for Chiporiro now Guruve of Mashonaland Central or “Sipolilo” as we used to call it was no more a ZPRA foothold following the operational disaster of Cde Luka whom we found long disappeared into oblivion, a scenario no senior commanders ever liked to share with us of what happened to him.
Probably he was a Selous Scout operative or man on a mission to destroy ZPRA from within.
When we deployed, however, both Kazangarare and Mwami had a section each under Cde Xabanisa and Cde Zuma as Sector Commanders. The two sectors, to the Rhodesian Security Forces were no easy-going area as it lay on the fringes of Lomagundi farms hub. After the loss of our platoon commander Cde Reggie and having returned from the rear base at Nkume, Feira, we were now very active in the areas of Kapiri Hill while having this rumour of changing the theatre by moving into Zvimba and Chirau chieftaincies.
The western fringes of Kapiri Hill were fairly bush covered allowing easy manoeuvring. Beyond these villages to the south stretched the settlements of Headman Shumbayawonda where the likes of Toitoi the Godlwayo Dlodlo man and four others got attacked and killed.
My group would visit for replenishment such homes like kwaFirip “for Philip/Shelton, that great farmer who had a tractor” and enjoying the waters of the ever-flowing Mampofu River, and the other village of the two elderly “Guta-Ra-Mwari” couple.
I still revere this couple for buying 11 round-neck yellow T-shirts for Christmas of 1978, applauding my exceptional good behaviour and thus prophesied that I was to see an independent Zimbabwe as long I kept the behaviour they had commented on.
I think it was around August or September when we had adopted this place as our home albeit sometimes moving North-West approximately four kilometres across the river visiting another friendly Zapu couple kwaMdara Hotera.
There, we had a close shave with death. We had as usual our radio strapped to a tree branch enjoying Bhutsu Mutandarika hit song by Thomas Mapfumo.
I can’t recall how we came out one early morning from the enemy attack but well, the God of the Revolution saved everyone. Once back kwaFirip we had this time around Cde Mlauzi nicknamed SaThoko as our Platoon Commissar (PC).
One morning we saw him at the morning gathering point (GP) putting on a hair braid done over, probably at night. That implied that “indoda yayijola”.
What must be known is that the ZPRA code on fraternisation was so restrictive that most of us started thinking about what the PC was up to.
During midday, the PC group went their way to look for meals while we moved to another distant home. While there, we heard a volley of fire towards kwaFirip and immediately the helicopters started orbiting over our area.
However, we were not being directly fired at except for the stray bullets which were coming to our side. Off we went, disappearing towards the fringes of the farms.
After an hour or so around 3pm we saw two helicopters landing and taking off towards the villages in the vicinity, landed at some points, with Cde Mlauzi’s body slinging.
These helicopters moved around and the enemy forces called on villagers to come and see a dead terrorist. The move was nothing but an aberration of human dignity to which we had to revenge in some way or another.
Of course, the death of Cde SaThoko and another comrade whom I cannot remember now was a heavy blow to our psyche. Nevertheless, the target was not very far to plan for revenge.
After picking the leads where the enemy had come from, we decided that the farmer Mr Brown, a neighbour to Jim Bark was to be punished.
While I cannot remember the date, I still recall leaving KwaFirip area immediately after sun-set going towards the farm.
As usual, I was armed with a bazooka for one reason. As a trained Gun 75mm recoilless operator I liked boom-boom sounds a lot.
We arrived after a good four to five hours walk and disturbed 360 degrees beaming of the lights.
We deployed on the north-eastern open space facing the tall perimeter fence. Before Commander Nyere Zinyere had visited each individual adjusting fire positions his movement was picked by dogs which started barking from the yard.
With no choice, I let go of the bazooka shell. All other fire systems from mortars, and machine gun to rifle-grenade joined the firefight. With tracer bullets raising towards the sky as they hit an obstruction, distant enemy forces picked up the direction of the fight.
From the farm, the return fire was masked under our hail of bullets.
As we withdrew, we noticed vehicle lights from the general direction of Karoi coming our way. We had to move fast knowing that we had dealt with Mr Brown.
On pulling out to a far area to go and lie low, we decided to send a logistics replenishment detachment and thus agreed to take recruits like Phiri, the Hotera boys and some from Chikowa settlements.
At Chikowa those of us who were not going back to Zambia bid farewell to the group led by Cde Ruredzo. In fact, as we woke up and found our different ways, there was enemy fire which was fired from the mountain but ineffective to return.
I gather the march was not pleasing for the Ruredzo group. On crossing Bhinya Road, the gravel road that runs along the border of the whole of Rhodesia the enemy patrols were intense.
It is said Cde Ruredzo called off the move but provisionally moved towards the derelict Shamrock Mine near Angwa River and Guruve to hide with approximately 10 recruits.
On the situation becoming normal, the group continued the march to the Zambezi River following stream bush covers also patrolled by buffaloes, black rhinoceros (rhino), and the Rhodesians as well.
As they were near the river, I am told bad luck struck when a rhino charged at them. For those not used to how rhinos attack, once it picks a sound, it drops its nose to almost ground level to allow its eyes to see below the trees. By this time, two or so comrades in single file would have gone past it. As it charges, the victims are those in the centre.
Where there are recruits, the centre in the majority of cases will be unarmed.
In the case of the afore-mentioned attack, the rhino target was a one young male recruit whose abdomen was pierced through by a horn. With comrades having panicked, a hail of bullets could have as well inflicted more injuries to the boy. Any battle fight, whether with elephants, rhinos or the enemy, the reaction of the enemy helicopters was the same.
In that case, carrying the seriously wounded boy with his intestines out, the group had to run for their lives to evade enemy helicopters picking them up. We gather after a good march, the boy asked for a rest in that “ndokumbira kuzorora ma comrades”. This was a Shona idiom which many Ndebele speaking comrades could not discern.
Thinking that he meant a marching rest, I am told the group obliged by taking an all-round defence position.
To their surprise the boy called out for their attention and remarked, “Ini ndakundikana macomrades, pamberi neChimurenga, tozowonana pamberi”
in English (I am subdued comrades, forward with the war and we shall meet again) and he gasped his last breath. To date, the young man is still lying in the bush where he was left alone to rest. Aluta continua to him, May his soul rest in peace until we locate and re-unite him with his Kazangarare clan.
The above account probably teaches us how we erred in some critical ritual discernment; ukujola was not only taboo but mitigated by ZPRA Code on fraternisation while Shona idioms are and have always been loaded with messages which most of us never understood or made attempts to learn.
No ritual farewell was communicated to the dead recruit.