The Sunday News
WE continue our interview with former ZPRA commander for the Southern Front (SF) Cde Irvine Khulekani Sibhona pseudonym Cde Barberton Muzwambila.
In the past three weeks Cde Sibhona has taken us through how he joined the armed struggle, his stint in the Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa) in Mozambique and his views on the late ZPRA commander, Rogers Mangena aka Alfred Nikita who he says was not the darling of everyone within ZPRA and Zapu. Cde Sibhona resumes the conversation with our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) by talking about the post-Mangena period. Below are excerpts of the interview.
MS: We were still talking about Mangena and you said Lookout Masuku was not ready to assume that rank.
So who do you think should have succeeded Mangena?
Cde Sibhona: From what I am told initially the party President and Commander-in Chief of ZPRA, Joshua Nkomo had two people in mind.
These being Ambrose Mutinhiri who was then Chief of Staff and Phelekezela Report Mphoko who was the party representative in Mozambique.
To me anyone of the two could have fitted the bill.
Those were equally accomplished military people, proper disciplinarians.
However, reports from the party intelligence unit, NSO (National Security and Order) were passed on to Dr Nkomo and the same reports influenced him to appoint Mafela (Masuku).
The NSO that is Dabengwa (Dumiso) and his operatives fed Dr Nkomo with their own preferences.
MS: Why do you think they did prefer Mutinhiri and Mphoko?
Cde Sibhona: They simply wanted someone whom they could control.
During Mangena’s time they found it difficult to do as they pleased especially in the military sphere.
In fact, after Mangena died, Mutinhiri served as acting commander but was overlooked when the NSO gave Dr Nkomo those reports.
As for Mphoko he was an equally tough military person, so NSO did not want such people.
You know those people (NSO) were something else. Even at operational fronts they had their own people.
When I moved to the Southern Front taking over from Cde Carlos Mudzingwa they had Mcleod Tshawe (former Zanu-PF chairman for Bulawayo Province) who was deputised by Jimmy Moyo.
I refused to entertain them and said ‘comrades myself I have my own front intelligence officer’.
My front intelligence officer was Cde Casper Dube whose real name was Ngoni Dutsa, he is late and served in the Zimbabwe National Army with the rank of a Colonel. Dutsa who came from Zvimba in Mashonaland West Province had before his redeployment to the Southern Front operated in Mashonaland covering Mash Central and West.
He had specialised in military intelligence.
MS: What were the other developments witnessed in the post-Mangena period?
Cde Sibhona: The High Command was re-shaped with senior commanders re-assigned.
We witnessed the re-deployment of those senior commanders to be party representatives, diplomats in friendly countries for instance Mazinyane (Abel) was removed from the Military Intelligence Department (MID) and re-assigned to Yugoslavia.
Godwin Munyanyi was in Libya, some were left floating with nothing to do.
A lot happened with the reconstitution of the command element with Masuku being deputised by Dubhu (Tjile Nleya) who lives in Bulawayo.
Tshangane (Jevan Maseko) became Chief of Staff.
The MID was then incorporated into NSO.
MS: We need to go back a little and talk about your return to Zambia after Zipa in Mozambique.
Earlier on you were talking about leaving Botswana for Zambia.
Cde Sibhona: The situation was tricky as when we returned to Zambia, Dr Kenneth Kaunda could not understand.
This was because Kaunda had completely ceded us to Mozambique.
It was also during the time of the Détente.
It took an effort for the Zambians to understand why we had left Mozambique.
At first the Zambian authorities were taking comrades back to Mozambique, they would make sure that they had crossed.
The Zambians would say to our comrades ‘go and don’t come back.’
Comrades survived because of a report that was written by Mazinyane detailing the problems we had faced in Mozambique.
MS: What were the commanders saying in such a situation?
Cde Sibhona: Mangena created some secret camps and his words were to the troops were ‘don’t make yourself visible.’
Myself I was put in a camp where I found the now Retired Colonel Marshal Mpofu where a number of guerillas who had not been deployed to Mozambique were.
From that camp Mangena would pick guerillas and deploy them.
The first operation to resume fighting coming from Zambia was in August 1976.
I was then deployed in a unit that was assigned to attack Kariba Airport and that was September 1976. We were eight with Norman Chauke as our commander while myself I was the second-in-charge.
We attacked the airport with small arms, the bazookas, PKs and AK-47s.
The idea was to harass. Sensing that the Rhodesians would make a follow-up on us we mined the roads and the first mine near the Zambezi River hit one of their vehicles.
From that time I was involved in a series of operations within the Kariba area and we attacked one of the biggest camps there, Nyakasaka.
We also attacked Makuti and we had been reinforced by comrades such as Kelly Malaba and Jonas Savimbi.
The unit had grown to 30 guerillas.
I worked in Kariba and other parts of Mashonaland West Province for a year plus.
MS: Which other areas did you cover in your operations?
Cde Sibhona: I was there in Hurungwe, Magunje and so on.
However, moving from the Zambezi River to the villages was a daunting task.
From the Zambezi we will cover the game area where there was literally no human being.
When we got to Hurungwe that time the population was very hostile and that was because the Rhodesians had been very clever. They had moved people from Masvingo and settled them there.
A majority of those people were working for the Rhodesian government with some under the Rhodesia African Rifles (RAR).
I remember you could not organise for food without inviting the wrath of the regime.
The villagers would immediately get in touch with the enemy forces who would then launch their attacks.
MS: Then how did you survive under such conditions?
Cde Sibhona: Among the guerillas in our unit was Cde Magarasadza who came from Mashonaland.
It was Magarasadza who came up with the idea that if in need of food we should avoid the villagers because they would obviously sell us out.
He said we should go to schools and talk to teachers because they understood the revolution.
His argument was that teachers were politically conscious and they would relate with us better.
You know the Rhodesians had also come up with very dangerous propaganda where they were distributing flyers with messages such as ‘Ndebeles have come to capture you, force you to kill your goat’ such hogwash.
They tried by all means to use the tribal card, projecting ZPRA as a Ndebele army, which was not true.
I take my hat out for comrades like Magarasadza who remained in that operational area until the ceasefire.
By that time things had completely changed on the ground.
Some of the top commanders there were Rodwell Nyika, late Brigadier-General (Rtd) Collin Moyo, Richard Mataure (Colonel Richard Ngwenya).
Rodwell later on became front commander deputised by Gilbert Khumalo (Nicholas Nkomo). Magarasadza as the localized commander was very effective.
Myself I was later recalled to the rear and at first I was not sure why that was happening.
This was because it came following complaints from the Zambians after one of my sections deployed near the Zambezi River killed around seven elephants coming from Rhodesia which had got into their ambush.
That incident became an issue because many Zambian civilians woke up and helped themselves to the meat, but what became of particular concern was the disappearance of the ivory from those elephant carcasses.
The Zambian intelligence officers were on our case, they wanted to know what became of that ivory.
On my part, my commander, Richard Mataure was very critical of me.
So when I was recalled to Lusaka I was not sure what was in store for me.
There was also this issue of Mangena who will occasionally say to me that I was silly, that’s why I allowed other boys to strip me naked while in Zipa in Mozambique.
It was a bit strange when I returned to the rear because I had been in the bush for too long.
However, when I got there I was told that I was being sent to do some course.
MS: You were being sent for further training abroad?
Cde Sibhona: No. Not overseas in countries like the Soviet Union.
I never went to the Soviet or any of those friendly countries where ZPRA was sending its soldiers for further training.
I was a guerilla who spent most of the time on the battlefield.
However, that time I was being sent to the Zambia Military Academy at Kohima in Kabwe to do an officer’s course.
Kohima was just like our own here in Zimbabwe situated in Gweru.
To be concluded next week