The Sunday News
IN the past two weeks we have been carrying interviews about the war exploits of former Zanla detachment commander, Retired Major Simoni Muyambo pseudonym Cde Mambo Mlambo.
Last week Rtd Maj Muyambo spoke about how he survived the poisoning incident in Zvishavane District in the Midlands Province where 23 of his comrades died. In fact he was the only survivor of that unfortunate incident.
Today Rtd Maj Muyambo continues the interview with our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) giving an account of his operations. Below are excerpts of the interview:
MS: After your recovery you continued with the operations. Could you please tells us more about the operations?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: Before I get into details about our operations, firstly I want to congratulate the First Secretary of Zanu-PF, President of Zimbabwe and the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces Cde Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa for the resounding win in the just ended elections.
Then turning to our operations, it is important that I give a brief rundown of how we were trained and then deployed. We had external guerrilla training bases, some found in countries like China and later Yugoslavia and Romania.
In Africa we were trained and assisted by Ghana, Ethiopia, Egypt, Tanzania, Zambia and later on Mozambique. The training was very difficult but very good and enjoyable. At first you could go for political orientation every morning after a rigorous road run and breakfast if available.
Food was scarce but we survived. Then as for Zanla operations, before the death of our Chairman, Comrade Herbert Chitepo we used to launch our operations from Zambia. Comrades who executed the famous Chinhoyi Battle and the Crocodile Group were coming from Zambian bases. As early as 1966 Tanzania had already opened the camps for the guerrilla training of various countries which were under the yoke of colonialism.
The camps were Morogoro, Mgagao and Nachingwena. The death of Comrade Chitepo caused Zambian authorities to enforce the dialogue and detente to all freedom fighters launching operations from its soil. Some of the Zanla commanders were arrested and detained.
Some left the country for Tanzania and there in Tanzania the Mgagao Declaration was made to spearhead and speed the revolution in Rhodesia. It was then agreed that the Zanla forces should join Frelimo forces in Mozambique so that we fight side by side to dislodge the Portuguese. Comrade Mayor Urimbo was one of the commanders who joined Frelimo.
Comrade Samora Machel was fighting side by side with his first wife Kamarada Zhoizhina Machel who was later killed in the war zone with her child. After the liberation of Mozambique the Zanla commanders came up with the Mozambique-Zimbabwe Operational zone.
MS: Last time you told us that you were deployed in the Gaza Province after completing your training at Tembwe in Mozambique. Who were the senior commanders in Gaza then?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: When I was deployed to Gaza in November 1975 the senior commanders were Cdes Makasha and Ziso.
We tried to penetrate Rhodesia through Malivenia but the heavy presence of the enemy made things difficult but by early 1976 we had managed to penetrate Rhodesia through Chitanga area at least 20km east of Malivenia now known as Chikwalakwala.
By then members of the High Command were in Zambia, Tanzania and some in Mozambique but at a later stage they were later released and regrouped in Chimoio.
The High Command was overseeing the operations of the provincial commanders whereas the provincial commanders who were by then deployed along the Mozambican border were overseeing the operations in their three provinces which were Tete, which was from the Zambezi to Inyanga North facing westwards and Manica Province which was stretching from Inyanga North down to Chipinge down to Tokwe River in Fort Victoria now Masvingo.
Then Gaza Province was from Tokwe River up to Limpopo River, all provinces were facing westwards with each having its provincial commanders structured like this, the provincial commander being in charge of course, followed by the provincial commissar, third on the hierarchy being the security and intelligence officer, then came the logistics and supplies guy and number five was the medical officer.
Mostly the provincial commanders were based at the borders of Rhodesia and Mozambique where they were getting first-hand information from the war zones. Each provincial commander was responsible for his subordinate from the sectorial commanders who were usually stationed at the forefront and moving with a platoon of fighters to safeguard them in case of a contact.
MS: What about sectorial commanders, how were they operating?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: The sectorial commanders were not moving together in a single platoon but the commander to medical officer each had his own platoon of 21 comrades or fighters.
MS: How many sectors were in a province?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: A province had three to four sectors or even more depending on the ground being covered. There the sector could also have three to four detachments for example at the Gaza Province, Mwenezi District was under Detachment One.
Belingwe (Mberengwa), Chivi, Shabanie (Zvishavane) and Selukwe (Shurugwi) were under Detachment 2 where I was also a commander. The detachment was the biggest. The platoons in each district could be made up of to six sections. A section could have its commander, political commissar, security and intelligence, logistics and medical officer plus between three or four general fighters. That is how our units were structured.
MS: So as the war progressed how were the units constituted?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: As the war progressed and the situation got tense we were now moving mostly in platoons with an assortment of fighting machinery that was to counter the development on the ground where Ndabaningi Sithole and Abel Muzorewa had joined the Rhodesian forces to counter the revolutionary forces.
Sithole and Muzorewa later went out to places like Uganda which had Amin as the president of Uganda to open up camps to train counter-revolutionary terrorists known as Selous Scouts having guns like ours, clothing like ours, and organising masses like us saying they were also comrades.
They brought horrible losses on guerrillas’ side because they could approach our bases saying forward with the revolution whilst raising their guns in their right hand which was the sign of friendly forces.
By the time we welcomed them they then started firing, returning fire in such situations was dangerous because you could end up killing your own forces, so we usually withdrew, reorganised and counter attacked the enemy. So Smith on the other hand was also moving with civilian clothing and that alone drew the armed struggle backwards since we had to sit down and come up with new strategies on how we could counter such developments.
Again the Selous Scouts introduced new clothing, radios and shoes laced with poison and that alone killed a number of fighters. Another development at the end of 1976 was that the enemy was operating on horse backs and that group was terrible as they could advance no matter how much fire we produced.
To be safe you were supposed to kill both the soldier and the horse because if you killed the soldier only the horse could advance to bite and kill you.
Then as for movements from rear to the fighting zones we usually moved in a column with reinforcements and a column could stretch up to a kilometre. The security and intelligence guys will be leading the group.
MS: Was it easy moving from Mozambique to the operational areas inland?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: Crossing anti-personnel areas like Binya Road bordering Mozambique and Rhodesia, we used to come up with ways of driving some animals including elephants in front of us so that they could detonate the mines along our crossing points. Of course, we lost a number of comrades at these crossing points due to the mines.
MS: As the war intensified the Rhodesians came up with desperate measures such as keeps, how did that affect operations?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: At the end of 1978 in Gaza Province the Rhodesian district administrators introduced the keeps whereby a majority of the villagers were forcibly put in protective camps so that they could stop supplying us with food and other materials.
Nevertheless the masses devised means of continuing with their support as women were putting food on their backs and also put their babies on top of the food and move out of the camps to feed us while men would dig holes along the fence in order to sneak food to the freedom fighters.
Where there were no keeps the men would assist in gathering intelligence by moving around as if they were looking for cattle or timber to build their homes yet their main aim was to locate where the enemy forces were.
At the later stages we could organise even women numbering to bring food to the base where they would wash our clothes and take the plates back home and those were called chimbwidos and on the boys side we organised between one to five boys to go around with their cattle or goats where ever they thought the enemy could be, count the number of enemies if they came across them, look at the type of weapons and bring that intelligence to us, those were the mujibhas.
The younger boys and younger girls could be allowed in the base during at night so that they could learn about politics. The mujibhas and chimbwidos at the moment could be aged 55 and above.
MS: There is talk of some villagers running away from the keeps.
Rtd Maj Muyambo: Yes, it’s true. In Gaza Province where there was Detachment One in Mwenezi District, people fled from the keeps and went on the bushes to live with the fighters together with their animals, you could see Chief Mupapa, Chief Gezani, Chief Mative staying with their subjects in thick forests with the guerrillas. That is how people were prepared to sacrifice their lives in the struggle.