The Sunday News
WE continue our interview with pioneer freedom fighter Cde Moffat Hadebe, pseudo name Cde Morris Dhlomo who in January 1965 escaped from Bulawayo’s Grey Prison in the company of three other combatants, Cdes Keyi Nkala, Elliot Ngwabi and the now late Clark Ngiyo Mpofu.
In the last two instalments Cde Hadebe has spoken about his early political activities in the then Salisbury (Harare), his defiance campaign against the colonial government by resisting some of the regime’s policies at his rural home at Mawaza in Gwanda District. He also spoke about his escape to Zambia via Botswana and receiving military training there.
Cde Hadebe further told our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) about his deployment to Rhodesia with their first target being the Zidube Ranch in Kezi, which was owned by a Rhodesian magistrate, Mr Francis Fairwell Roberts, who was part of the judiciary that oppressed black people and sought to derail the work of liberation fighters by sending them to prison in an unjust manner. Below Cde Hadebe continues the narration. Read on . . .
MS: You were talking about being split into two groups of three each on your way to Rhodesia for deployment, take us through that process.
Cde Hadebe: Like I said Cdes Israel Maduma who had received his military training in China by that time, Keyi Nkala and Roger Matshimini Ncube were ferried by a Johnson and Fletcher truck, which took them across the Zambezi River into Rhodesia. We had contacts in the Johnson and Fletcher Company and they are the ones who were involved in the smuggling of our people as well as equipment. Then myself with Elliot Ngwabi and Rhodes Malaba used the train the same evening. We got our last orders from Dumiso Dabengwa and Abraham Nkiwane. That was at Livingstone in Zambia.
MS: You were a unit of six, so who was given the command?
Cde Hadebe: I am the one who was given the command. One can ask where our weapons were. You know during the 1960s it was fashionable for one to be seen carrying a briefcase, so our weapons such as pistols were hidden in the briefcases, no one could suspect that we were guerillas. We looked like any other ordinary traveller.
As for the armament as the commander I also had a pistol, Keyi Nkala was armed with the Thomson sub-machine gun and others had opepesha and pistols. We managed to cross into Rhodesia and go to Victoria Falls and it was at night and more people boarded the train.
It had been arranged that the other three comrades would board the train at the Thomson sub-station and indeed that is where they boarded. In the train we did not sit together, we were on separate seats but we were within range.
We could see each other but pretended as if we did not know each other. When the train arrived in Bulawayo the following morning, I dropped off at the Luveve Station. I was picked by a Naik who took me to a house along 15th Avenue. That is where I spent about two days there. The other five were also accommodated elsewhere and it was kept a secret.
The reason for such was simple, if caught and tortured you will not lead the Rhodesians to where the other comrades were. However, Taffi Zibuya Moyo was involved in our logistics in a big way, but he was doing this with other business people.
MS: Then tell us about the Zidube Ranch operation.
Cde Hadebe: After two days a van came to pick me but there was another truck that belonged to Taffi Moyo, which was used to transport our weapons to Kezi where our target was. However, all along I was armed with a pistol.
MS: Then where did you meet as a unit?
Cde Hadebe: We met koBeula in Kezi near the Zidube Ranch, our target. Our gathering point was ezintabeni zakoBeula khonale. We met near a river called Luthakame and from that spot our target that is the ranch was on the eastern side. We could hear the engines from the farm.
MS: Don’t you think there was too much involvement of civilians which might have compromised your mission?
Cde Hadebe: We didn’t involve many civilians; they could just have been four or five. In fact, they assisted us a lot. Their role in our movement was crucial.
MS: Then tell us how you executed your operation?
Cde Hadebe: I first sent Cdes Israel Maduma and Roger Matshimini Ncube to carry out a reconnaissance mission on the target. I chose Israel Maduma because he had done a lot of military engineering in China. They went and came back, but their information which they brought was not very accurate, they missed one element. They had missed something and that something was that there were vicious dogs on that property.
That turned out to be very crucial in compromising our operation. What happened was that when they went to carry out the reconnaissance mission, Roberts’ son called Leonard had taken the dogs with him to another part of the farm. So, when they told us what they had seen they left out the presence of the dogs because they had not seen them.
They gave us the layout of the premise and our planning was done according to what they had seen. Then we went for the attack at night and by 9pm we were there. That was on a Friday and the date could have been 22 September 1964 if my memory still serves me right.
When we got there Israel Maduma cut off the telephone wires to disable the communication system. We then took positions and I had deployed Keyi Nkala who was armed with the Thomson sub-machine gun on the left flank. While Keyi was approaching the farm house from the left, the dogs went for him.
He had no choice but to open fire and he gunned down the three of them. Now our plan was in disarray, instead of getting into the house to kill that white man, we had to fight the dogs first. It also became difficult to sustain the attack in fear of hitting each other, so the best plan was to withdraw and indeed we withdrew. While all that was happening, that magistrate came out and started firing with his 303 rifle. That is how our mission to kill the magistrate failed.
MS: Why had Roberts been identified as the attack by the command element from Lusaka?
Cde Hadebe: He was the chief magistrate for Bulawayo and he is the one who was issuing out detention orders to the nationalists. Roberts was the one who was sending our people to the detention centres such as Gonakudzingwa, Wha Wha and so on. So, he was a legitimate target for any military operation. We wanted to eliminate him; our mission was to kill him. Simple. We were disappointed that we could not accomplish our mission.
MS: After the failure of the mission, what did you say to your troops?
Cde Hadebe: We withdrew and returned to the mountains. When we got back to base, I immediately ordered Rhodes Malaba, Israel Maduma and Matshimini to catch the earliest bus to Bulawayo en route to Zambia. We had to get out of the area as soon as possible. I said they should walk and catch buses that were using the Kafusi route. They duly did that and managed to make their way back to Zambia.
We did not want to move together as that could have resulted in all of us being caught at the same time. I then said to Keyi Nkala he should return to his home area and lie low there, this was because we had assessed that nobody knew that he had crossed into Zambia to receive military training.
To Ngwabi I said he should accompany me to my rural area of Mawaza where we would recharge our batteries before going back to Zambia. We were doing this because we wanted to be where we could be sheltered by people who were now politically conscious and were part of the struggle. Nkala went to his home area of Matshetsheni under Chief Mzimuni while I took Ngwabi to Mawaza. When we got to Mawaza I chose Nanda Mountain as our base because it offered us good cover.
MS: Was it wise to go to your village?
Cde Hadebe: In my calculations and appreciation of the situation at hand it was, wothi ngikutshele. I had a good political support base there. I counted on political activists like Lindani Ndlovu, Shorty Moyo and Max Ndlovu. When we got there we presented ourselves to them although very discreetly.
Shorty Moyo in particular was very active as he took care of our food provisions daily and at times we would go under the cover of darkness to his homestead. However, little did we know that the net was closing in on us. Elliot Ngwabi’s shoe had a unique footprint, sasibhala okungajayelekanga.
The Rhodesians picked it at Zidube and looked for it everywhere. They then went on a propaganda overdrive, telling villagers that they should look out for obhinya who were stealing cattle and raping women. People especially men are very sensitive on issues to do with people who go about raping their wives and daughters. Then unfortunately a local, Mlaga Ncube from Mawaza might have seen us going up the mountain. I am not sure what really happened but he is the one who sold us out. He blew our cover and reported to the police.
The police then summoned all the manpower at their disposal, told villagers that they had located obhinya labana. Aircrafts were deployed to the scene. It was a massive operation.
MS: While all this was happening, what was going through your minds?
Cde Hadebe: We knew that our world was crumbling. The mountain was surrounded, aircrafts hovering above and Land Rovers bringing in the police. We were only armed with pistols. Both the police and villagers started moving up the mountain and bit by bit they were closing in on us. They finally located us. When the people realised that I was the one who was referred to as ubhinya they were shocked. Disappointment and shock was written all over their faces.
They never thought I was around as they believed I was in Zambia. As for Shorty Moyo who was in the picture about our presence literally dragged himself to where all the drama was.
MS: It looks like you did not offer any resistance.
Cde Hadebe: It was going to be a futile exercise, we had to live to fight another day. We were also not properly armed as we only had pistols with us, which by that time we had hidden in that thicket.
MS: From there what happened?
Cde Hadebe: We were taken to Gwanda and locked up. We were later joined in by Keyi Nkala who had also been arrested in his home area. How they knew that he had trained as a guerilla, one wonders.
MS: How were you treated after your arrest or is it capture?
Cde Hadebe: I want to be honest with you, we were never tortured during that time. We were later taken to court where charges were read to us but not asked to plead. We were, as expected, remanded in custody. We were later transferred to Grey Prison in Bulawayo and it could have been motivated by the fact that we were planning to stage a mutiny at Gwanda Prison and break free.
I think our plans that we had managed to recruit quite a number of prisoners to mutiny might have fallen onto the ears of the authorities. However, that was to turn to be a blessing in disguise as it was at the Grey Prison where we managed to escape.
To be continued next week with Cde Hadebe giving us a blow by blow of their prison break at Grey Prison.