The Sunday News
Col (Rtd) Ernest Mganda Dube
Battle of Chikowa River 1978
The battle took place around the end of March 1978 approximately two or so kilometres to the east of Chief Kazangarare’s homestead along Chikowa River, Mashonaland West province.
Chikowa River runs from Karoi farms general area to Angwa River. We were then a platoon under the Somalia-trained cadre, Comrade Reggie. The other two platoon commanders, Mqwayi (late Vincent Nleya) and Chidakwa had gone their way towards Magunje following the Table Mountain [code name] infighting briefing where the company commander, Cde Mlobisi was accused of having juju.
The juju myth had started during our crossing (fording) of the River Zambezi whereby the hippos charged at our dinghy until one Navy Crew [dinghy operatives] guy ordered that whoever had juju should throw it away or else the hippos were never to let us go free without charging. At this brief, the three platoon commanders took heed of our concern and suggestions to part ways with Cde Mlobisi.
After evading contact with the enemy as we moved towards the operational areas we came head-on after coming out of Chewore Game Park towards Chundu-Karoro. We agreed to split the platoon into two, one under Commander Reggie while the other was under the Platoon second in command Nyere Zinyere (late Robert Ndlovu of Brunapeg). So, we reached the first villages of Chikowa being a half platoon, myself carrying an 88mm Recoiless self-propelled grenade launcher.
The launcher is light but bothering to carry as I was carrying my own AK-47 rifle as well. After assessing the geographic scenery from an advantage hill from around 3pm to 6pm, we decided to cross the linear village towards its eastern hilly country.
We thus, maneuvered from 9pm towards the hilly country, meandering around homesteads as we had no local guides since no contact efforts with the villagers had been made.
We finally reached River Chikowa at late midnight which had sweet-smelling running water. During the rest on a medium hill, a cooking team was then nominated to go down and prepare our meals. We were used to cooking into early morning while others took a nap. While we were having our meal, someone noticed a fire across the river but not visible since it was under tree cover. Cde Reggie assigned four guys to move close and check what it was. We were happy to see the four bringing with them the other comrades led by the platoon second in command Cde Nyere.
We were overjoyed since we had separated three days earlier. They shared the information on the enemy with us.
They told us that they had spent the whole noon monitoring an enemy deployed to the west of the chief’s homestead.
While there, someone noticed some distant movement of people in battle formation moving towards us.
To that effect, Commander Reggie ordered us to quickly go down the hill and deploy. Likewise, I was deployed at an advantageous killing zone as I was having the American 88mm RPG.
The right hook/ flank of the enemy as they were attempting to siege the hill, came straight into the killing zone. My assistant had prepared and made ready three rockets. Off, the rocket went on the third release while the AK-47 rifle cracks and another RPG 7 (Russian type) were whistling as well as that of the enemy.
Commander Reggie shouted “Gwelo” for withdrawal. I dashed under whistling of enemy bullets trying to locate the bush I had placed my kitbag but missed it. I ran around from bush to bush until I located it, lucky me all the enemy bullets missed me.
The rest of the comrades had disappeared. Nevertheless, I followed the general direction only to hear five to 10 shots in the direction where Cde Reggie had gone.
I dived into the river on hearing the sound of helicopters over our heads. Moving under cover of reeds along the river was my only way out of the Stop Group watchful eyes.
Late night, when I located other comrades, the sad report was that Cde Reggie had been killed, Cde Katusha had his patrol boot (sibakhulule) heel ripped off while Cde Julius had his two buttocks pierced by a bullet such that he could no longer sit. To my joy, I managed to come out of contact with my American 88mm RPG. Rest in peace Cde Reggie wherever you were buried or thrown into.
This was our second deployment after the first which was short-lived because of our reckless eagerness to attack or harass Mhangura Mine including the surrounding farms like that of Mr White close to Angwa Bridge on the Karoi-Mhangura Mine Road.
With Cde Reggie gone, Cde Nyere Zinyere took over and the challenge of escorting the wounded back to Zambia, another hectic eight days in the Chewore Game Park.
What happened to Cde Reggie up to now I cannot imagine where he was buried or thrown into.
The Helibone attack on Kapiri Mountain 1978
This time around August or September, we had just welcomed into the Sector newly specially trained comrades; reconnaissance section, 82mm mortars and SAM 7 shoulder-held heat seeking missiles.
Kapiri Mountain is the highest in the area between Kazangarare, Mwami and Mhangura Mine hence dominates the 360 degree 5km landmass.
It also separates Kazangarare and Mwami settlements. Besides the open, cultivated fields and undulating area that stretches north-easterly towards Mampofu River, both the east and western foot fringes of the hill provided good cover to the guerrillas’ movement. As usual, during mid-day, we would cross-cut move to either ugogo Mapuranga along the river or Kapiri Hill in search of meals. But this time around we were forgetful that some three days ago, at night while moving from the villages along the road to umdala Hotera towards Kazangarare Police Garrison, we heard a sound that had suddenly died in the fields.
“Ndiyani?” we called out to no reply. As usual “‘munopenga” we called out as we marched away. We again had forgotten that two or so days ago some of our comrades to the South of the Hill, Shumbayawonda Sector, had been attacked and six killed during lunch-time. Whether the Hill was an enemy anchor observation post, who cared, nobody in our youthfulness. This day during lunch, I was still walking towards the river, when we suddenly saw helicopters appearing over the hill and balls of missile fire coming down the usual gathering point. Hell had broken loose.
As the sound of rifle fire started crackling, the die was cast, and the enemy attacked. We disappeared into the bush as we ran out came helicopter orbit circle. Oh, my God, our comrades were in serious trouble. By midnight, we gathered that four comrades had been killed and two captured and airlifted by a helicopter. Nevertheless, we continued with our operations after moving out of the area for a week or so “kurasisa vavengi” as we had gotten used to the Chikorekore lingua.
Col (Rtd) Ernest Mganda Dube is a political scientist and former ZPRA guerilla who operated in Mashonaland West Province and later on in Matabeleland South. His pseudonym was called Cde Bookless Chizororo. He can be contacted on 077 230 0567.