The Sunday News
CLARK Ngiyo Mpofu who passed away on 21 March 2020 was born on 8 April 1938 at eZinyangeni in Nkayi District. He attended Zinyangeni Mission and in 1957 their teacher told them that the Gold Coast (now Ghana) had attained political independence.
That brought some political awakening into his mind. So, after all, blacks could rule themselves! Additional political influences came from his maternal uncle, one Alfred Mathendele Sibanda who was a member of the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SRANC) which had been established under the leadership of Joshua Nkomo at the Mai Musodzi Hall in Harare Township (now Mbare) on 12 September 1957.
The next political party, in which Mpofu became active, was the National Democratic Party (NDP) which was formed on 1 January 1960 under the interim leadership of Michael Mawema who was in the railways trade union. Nkomo had, after the SRANC was proscribed, gone to live in London and only took over the reins of power later in the year. It was during the days of the NDP that there was recourse to violence.
The year 1960 marked the watershed when pacific methods of demanding adult suffrage and independence were abandoned. Zhi-i, a Ndebele war cry was chanted and symbolically marked the embracing of violent methods of political campaigning.
Mpofu’s uncle was among those arrested and sent to prison at Marandellas (now Marondera) following the proscription of the SRANC in February 1959. Emergency Regulations, imposed by Prime Minister Edgar Whitehead’s government, were in force. Mpofu, who was close to his uncle Alfred, was pained by the repressive move and was, as a result, turned into a political animal.
The youth started engaging in sabotage activities. However, these were initially low key and ineffectual. They intensified later when the likes of Clark Mpofu began linking up with other youth in Salisbury (now Harare). In 1962 Jason Ziyapapa Moyo approached Mpofu who, like him, lived in Makokoba to lead a small delegation of youths to Salisbury. In the group were Elias Ngugama (from Mpopoma) John Mondiya Ndlovu (from Mabutweni) and Amen Chikwakwata (from Mpopoma). There, they met liberal whites from the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now the University of Zimbabwe). Dr Terence Ranger was the man who met them. They worked under the leadership of Enos Chikowore, chairman of the Salisbury District. Phebion Shoniwa was among the youth from Harare who joined them.
Their training involved the use of benzene to make petrol bombs for use in bombing white properties and committing arson. In December of the same year, they were sent to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) where they were going to be taken through their paces by John Makiwane of the South African ANC’s Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). The ANC had arrived there much earlier. Other liberation movements from southern Africa were also present, notably SWAPO and MPLA. The group was led there by Kenius Mlalazi, nicknamed iNyoniyezulu, the man who, together with Abraham Nkiwane and Misheck Velaphi, brought the first consignment of weapons into Southern Rhodesia in 1962.
This time the group included John Mondiya Ndlovu and Amen Chikwakwata, with Elias Ngugama following later. Sikhwili Moyo received and handed them over to Makiwane. By Christmas of 1962 they were undergoing rudimentary sabotage training in the bush outside Lusaka.
After completing training, they went back home. Mpofu was given a trunk load of grenades and bombs to take to Southern Rhodesia. At the Mpopoma Railway Station they were met by Ethan Dube and Gordon Butshe. The trunk with contraband was taken to No 7 “R” Square in Mzilikazi Township where Mpofu’s aunt, Mafazi Moyo lived. The following morning Ethan Dube and Gordon Butshe, in the company of Mpofu, placed the trunk in a car that Ethan drove to the Matobo Hills where weapons were cached. The group, which had taken the Old Gwanda Road, went to Mtshabezi, Dube’s home area and, on the return trip, used the Bulawayo-Beitbridge road.
The Sabotage Campaign was racheted. However, the Campaign spiked only upon the return of the Group of Thirteen following their military training in China in 1963. There were more people that had been trained militarily. Others were trained locally. More weapons had been smuggled into the country. At the same time, a wide network of contacts had been established and linked both urban and rural areas.
Further, the Zapu had Party Representatives in a larger number of countries such as Zambia, Tanganyika, Egypt and Ghana. Party organisers at home were active on the ground. Scooters and Land Rovers were availed them for the purpose of organising the party, an exercise which included politicisation. The youth, in particular, became more active and were responsible for the transformation from pacific to confrontational methods.
Following a series of petrol bombings, incidents of arson, violent riots and infrastructure sabotage, Shadrek Nkomo, one of the activists, was arrested, tried and sentenced to seven years in prison. The situation became untenable for the three of them still at large: Gordon Butshe, Elias Ngugama and Mpofu. We convened with the chairpersons of Makokoba (Ethan Dube), Mpopoma (Dumiso Dabengwa) and Mabutweni (Akim Ndlovu). It was resolved that the trio escape instead of moving from house to house to avoid arrest.
They spent the night before their escape at the Dabengwa family house in Mpopoma Township. On the following day they boarded the train bound for Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) at the Mpopoma Railway Station. They travelled through Victoria Falls without incident. It was during the Federation days and the three territories of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland were readily accessible. They headed for Chilenje where John Bhebhe lived. He operated a dry-cleaning business in Materu. Arrangements had been made for the group to proceed to China for military training.
While in Lusaka, they were joined by Mbhejelwa Moyo. A week later, James Chatagwe, in the company of David Mpongo Khumalo who had already received military training, arrived. Mpongo led the group through Tunduma on the border with Tanganyika (now Tanzania). They then proceeded to Mbeya where the group was met by Abraham Nkiwane who had been in Northern Rhodesia much earlier and worked closely with UNIP. Then he manned the Zapu office in Mbeya which was an important transit point for those going to Dar-es-Salaam for onward military training in friendly countries and those bound for Northern Rhodesia en route to Southern Rhodesia after undergoing military training. Both Zapu leader Joshua Nkomo and his deputy James Robert Dambaza Chikerema arrived at Mbeya and conferred with the four.
What emerged from the meeting was that Nkomo and nationalist colleagues were not clear about the course the struggle was taking. It was the military initiative of the youths which they did not fully appreciate or condone at that time in the struggle for independence. They were in favour of the Algerian model of sabotage. The group faced food shortages. However, they survived and travelled by bus to Iringa from where they boarded a train to Dar-es-Salaam. While there, they met nationalists such as Eddison Zvobgo, Clement Mchachi and Advocate Herbert Chitepo. While in Dar-es-Salaam they were joined by Felix Rice, Lloyd Gundu and Charles Dauramanzi.
The enlarged group flew to Moscow in the USSR en route to Beijing (then known as Peking). Upon arrival in China the group was appraised on the role of technological development, in particular with regard to agriculture. While in Beijing, they were joined by more cadres under the command of Luke Mhlanga. These were John Maluzo Ndlovu, Johnson Ndebele, Benson Maphosa, Stone Phillip Nkomazana and John Mondiya Ndlovu. The year was 1963 in the month of April. Now there were thirteen of them in the group destined to undergo military training in China. The Thoughts of Chairman Mao Tse Tung (later known as Mao Ze Dung) were a daily food.
Ndabaningi Sithole, the Zapu Chairman, visited the group while it was in China, so did Chikerema. It was then that there were hushed whispers of a new party in the offing. Sithole had come from the United States of America where he had been educated and after meeting with the Group of Thirteen, proceeded to Israel. When they landed in Cairo on the return trip, they learnt there had been a split in the nationalist body. Ndabaningi Sithole and others had formed the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) on 8 August 1963. Lloyd Gundu, Charles Dauramanzi and Felix Rice defected to the new party, Zanu represented in Cairo by Tranos Makombe. Those who remained with Zapu, then known as the People’s Caretaker Council (PCC), proceeded to Dar-es-Salaam en route to Lusaka.
Mpofu, who was being hunted for the sabotage crimes he committed before leaving for training, did not immediately proceed to Southern Rhodesia. He manned a house he named Doze House after Adolf Hitler’s residence. There he was in charge of receiving and infiltrating trained cadres. At the time, Joel Mahlangu was in charge of intelligence. He however, abandoned the struggle and went back to Rhodesia where he joined the Centre Party.
Clark crossed at the Chirundu Bridge border post and made contact with operatives in the Northern Region where Maluzo was field commander. He subsequently proceeded to the Southern Region where he made contact with the likes of Vote Moyo, Amen Chikwakwata, Mbhejelwa Moyo, Elias Dube and others who had already initiated the Sabotage Campaign in that region.
Keen to get more weapons, Clark moved to Victoria Falls in 1964 where a Special Branch (SB) man, who had been to Zambia masquerading as one of the cadres betrayed him, leading to his arrest at Jambezi, in Chief Mvuthu’s area. He was taken to Grey Prison where he found himself in the company of Moffat Hadebe, Elliot Ngwabi, Keyi Nkala and another man. There were five of them in the same cell.
Moffat Hadebe, Elliot Ngwabi and Keyi Nkala had been part of a six-man group that fired the first shots of the armed liberation struggle at Zidube Ranch, south of Maphisa, which was owned by one Roberts who had been a Chief Magistrate. The other members of the group were Rhodes Malaba, Israel Maduma and Roger Matshimini Ncube.
Mpofu joined the captured three at the Grey Prison. A plan was hatched to effect their escape and was crafted in collaboration with Thenjiwe Lesabe, Joshua Mahlathini Mpofu and prison guard Hleza. A pair of scissors was hidden in a loaf of bread and found its way into the cell, Cell No 22. On the night of Tuesday, 5 January 1965, the jailbreak was executed. The prisoners stood above each other’s shoulders till the last man, Hadebe got out last. They ran away in white prison garb. The car that had been arranged to pick them up missed the appointment.
On Wednesday, 6 January 1965, the group escaped, went through Hillside suburb till they got to Tshabalala Township where they got to Dan Ngwenya’s home. Ngwenya and Phillip Mabhena gave them clothes to wear and abandoned the prison garb. A car was availed to them. It took them to the border at Ramokwebana. In the morning, there was a vigorous search for them everywhere after the escape was discovered.
A prize was offered to anyone who assisted in their recapture.
Once at Ramokwebana, they got to a store and noticed there was a Coloured man who seemed to be taking a keen interest in them. From there they got a lift to Francistown. At Tshesebe, they suddenly saw a car behind them. It was the police in hot pursuit. Keyi Nkala, Elliot Ngwabi and Clark Mpofu were captured. Only Moffat Hadebe made good his bid to escape and proceeded to Lusaka.
“But, upon my re-arrest on Wednesday January 6, 1965, I never tasted freedom again until the end of 1979,” said Mpofu in an interview with Levi Mukarati, of the Sunday Mail (21 October, 2018).
May his very dear soul rest in eternal peace. Hamba kuhle qhawe loMzabalazo. You fought a good fight against colonialism, at a time when many never thought independence could be attained.