The Sunday News
Guga sithebe kade wacholela!
The Ndebele proverb raced through my mind as I closely watched and followed men and women who took centre stage to execute the armed struggle performance-cum-military chant.
Music from the Letshani Moyo-led Light Machine Gun (LMG) Choir took them and us down memory lane when they were younger and could perform the toyi-toyi chant of Algerian origin. “Emoyeni Kwakubuhlungu” and “Ibambeni Webafana” were some of the songs that had many minds overflowing with a deep sense of nostalgia.
The performers, all former ZPRA combatants from the liberation struggle days, are assembled at Comrade Abraham Dumezweni Nkiwane’s Joyful Farm in Umguza District across the river of the same name.
Their colleague has clocked 90 years and the former ZPRA fighters and other guests are here to congratulate him and reminisce over the tough experiences that they went through to liberate Zimbabwe.
Scores of people defied the sweltering heat to join in the birthday celebrations of one who played no mean role in ensuring the freedom of Zimbabweans from colonial shackles.
Dr Dumiso Dabengwa, Chief of Intelligence and Reconnaissance and later Director of National Security Organisation (NSO from 1978) and Roma Nyathi, the first Political Commissar when the Special Affairs High Command was established in Lusaka in 1965 are also present. Abraham Nkiwane was Chief of Personnel and Training on that pioneering High Command.
He was appointed to that rank as he had managed to secure training facilities in numerous countries such as the Soviet Union, South Korea, Egypt, Ghana, Zambia, Tanzania and Cuba. Other members of that High Command included Ackim Ndlovu, the commander, Robson Manyika, Report Mphoko, Tshinga Dube and Ambrose Mutinhiri.
There were several other former ZPRA combatants who included inter alia, Mcloud Tshawe, Jaconiah Moyo, Zephania Nkomo, Madliwa Khumalo, Gumede, Marshall Mpofu, Mark Mbayiwa and Single Ndlovu. There were other friends and colleagues who graced the occasion: Dr Michael Ndubiwa, Dr Sipho Zwane, Chief Ngungumbane Mkhwananzi, Dr and Mrs Pollex Moyo, Dumisani Nyoni, Joshua Nyoni, Mr and Mrs Alvord Mabena, among others.
Though we arrived a bit late for the occasion, I did manage to interview Comrades Nkiwane, Roma Nyathi and Dr Dabengwa in order to put together this article in honour of the man who sacrificed so much for the liberation of Zimbabwe, particularly in the nascent stages of the protracted struggle for independence.
Bra Nki, Bhudi Nki, Brankisto, Mvundla, as Comrade Abraham is affectionately known among his colleagues, is best known for daring the heavens and throwing caution to the wind when he and colleagues smuggled the first arms of war into Southern Rhodesian in 1962 following the proscription of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) in September 1962.
Comrade Abraham Dumezweni Nkiwane was born in 1928 in Ntabazinduna and attended the Presbyterian Church’s David Livingstone Primary School before proceeding to Tegwane Mission after which he taught at Tjehanga School from which he was expelled along with Malikongwa and Mkandawire for their demand for justice in the manner the Methodist Church was running schools.
In 1949 he was employed by the Bulawayo Municipality. He was engaged in the African Department under the directorship of Dr Hugh Ashton. In 1954 when Comrade Nkiwane was reading towards the Bachelor of Commerce he left for Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) at the time of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland which had been inaugurated in 1953.
Initially, he lived in Livingstone where he worked as stock controller in a company known as Rhodesia Mercantile Holdings, Northern Rhodesia. He worked for that company till 1960.
Meanwhile, in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) the nationalist party, the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SRANC) established on 12 September 1957 at the Mai Musodzi Hall in Harare Township (Mbare) had been banned in 1959 by the Edgar Whitehead regime, a political move that led to recourse to extra-legal methods of seeking black majority rule.
The Sabotage Stage had started in earnest. The successor party, the National Democratic Party (NDP) was set up in 1960 only to be banned the following year in December 1961. Zapu was formed in the same month of December and was proscribed the following year.
The more radical Zapu youths became convinced that a new strategy had to be worked out to deal with the intransigent whites. The proposed 1961 constitution had been rejected. A more radical white political party the Dominion Party led by Winston Field had been formed. The disgruntled and impatient youths included the likes of Dumiso Dabengwa, Ethan Dube, Misheck Velaphi Ncube, Charles Nyathi, Abel Siwela, Daut Mabusa, Roma Nyathi, Thomas Ngwenya and several others resorted to sabotage activities. Northern Rhodesia was about to become independent. Some of the youths including Velaphi, Roma Nyathi and Sikhwili Moyo left the country with a view to initiating sabotage against the Rhodesian state.
Dr Dabengwa recalls going to Zambia on two occasions to smuggle in suitcases full of weapons of war which were offloaded before Nyamandlovu Railway Station and taken at night by cars into Bulawayo where they were handed over to other youth activists.
Train guards working for the Rhodesia railways who were sympathetic to the cause of the struggle facilitated the safe transit of weapons. Explosives were obtained from mines such as Shabanie (now Zvishavane) for use in sabotage. There were contact persons that stole explosives to give to political activists.
By 1961 Comrade Nkiwane had joined the United National Independence Party (UNIP), Zambia’s nationalist party led by Dr Kenneth Kaunda. Soon he began to work full time for the party and subsequently moved to Lusaka. Not so long after that Zapu leader Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo visited Zambia specifically to solicit political support from Kaunda.
More specifically Nkomo sought a safe route to East Africa in order to facilitate the movement of arms into Southern Rhodesia. Nkomo asked for the services of Comrade Nkiwane, now that the struggle for Zambia’s independence was to all intents and purposes a foregone conclusion.
Comrade Nkiwane then relocated to Mbeya in Tanzania where he was in contact with Sikhwili Moyo who too was involved in the movement of arms between Tanzania and Zambia. Nkomo sourced arms of war which he took onto a flight from Cairo to Dar-es-Salaam.
The weapons would finally find their way to Rhodesia. The person chosen for the risky mission to smuggle those history-making arms of war fell on the shoulders of none other than Comrade Nkiwane.
Comrade Nkiwane, who by that time owned a Zephyr Zodiac car, was not to undertake the risky task alone. Misheck Velaphi Ncube and Kennias Mlalazi were also drafted into the team that was going to ship the weapons across the borders — between Tanzania and Zambia and finally between Zambia and Southern Rhodesia.
Apparently, the Tanzanian government was involved in the transportation of the said weapons, comprising among others, Pepesha sub-machine guns and explosives that had seen service in World War II.
In driving rain the Zephyr Zodiac rolled over the Victoria Falls Bridge during lunch hour when security was lax. The destination was Lupanda Native Purchase Area in Lupane where some SRANC cadres including Maurice Nyagumbo were restricted. Comrade Nkiwane’s father owned a plot at Lupanda, one of the Native Purchase Areas (NPAs) which were created through the Land Apportionment Act (1930).
Prior plans had been made to facilitate the movement of arms from Lupanda onwards. A plan had been hatched through which Comrade Nkiwane showed a smoking pipe to his father, instructing him that whoever brought and showed him that particular pipe was authorised to collect the weapons.
The trio then proceeded to Bulawayo to meet up with Findo Mpofu who lived in Bulawayo’s Mzilikazi Township. Mpofu was in the underground sabotage network that handled the weapons within Rhodesia. Measures had been instituted to avoid exposure if one person got caught.
For example, Comrade Nkiwane did not know where weapons had been sourced. He avoided being inquisitive. Those who received the weapons within Rhodesia did not communicate with those that moved them out of Bulawayo. For example, a car loaded with weapons was left with its keys in the ignition ready to be driven away by one who did not know who had left the car there — near Total in Mpopoma South.
Comrade Nkiwane’s party did not stay long in the country. They did not pass through Lupanda lest suspicions were raised. As a result, the party, after a successful pioneering mission, drove straight out of the country and back to Zambia.
These were the humble beginnings of the armed phase of the struggle for independence. In the same year some cadres, under the leadership of Charles Chikerema, left for training in China in what in future years would become a flood of cadres who left Rhodesia to beef up numbers who undertook military training in various countries both in Africa and elsewhere.
At the Cold Comfort Farm outside Salisbury (Harare) in 1963 a decision was taken by the People’s Caretaker Council (PCC) to send some leaders outside the country to undertake military training. The youth were to do military training in friendly countries such as the Soviet Union. At the age of 24 Dumiso Dabengwa went for training in the Soviet Union in 1964. In fact, the majority of members of the first High Command created in 1965 had been Soviet trained although at different places.
Over the years, more and more cadres left Rhodesia to do training in various fields of specialisation till a point was reached when the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZPRA) was the best armed of all liberation movements in Southern Africa. More and more sophisticated arms were included in the ZPRA war arsenal.
Slowly the strategy changed to give more emphasis to conventional training at places such as Kohima, Mulungushi, Ethiopia and Angola.
The argument had been that only a well armed regular army with numerous support units is capable of defending liberated zones and ultimately taking over the country.
Joseph Khumo Nyathi from Sankonjana who did military engineering in the Soviet Union was in the unit that was attached to the Smile Madubeko Moyo-led Battalion that infiltrated into Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and headed to the Madlambudzi Assembly Point. All this was enshrined within the Turning Point’s Zero Hour strategy which was forestalled through the Lancaster House Talks.
The ageing toyi-toying ZPRA combatants at today’s birthday celebrations are thus a cross section of cadres who participated in the armed struggle from the early 60s to the end of 1979 when a ceasefire was brokered. Today they can toyi-toyi with some sense of security and peace of mind.
Their self sacrifices brought independence and peace. Comrade Nkiwane’s crop field is lush green with a healthy crop of tussling maize. Gifts poured in to congratulate the man who can proudly stand up and be counted among those who brought honour and pride to Zimbabwe. Many wished him many more years.
When I left with Msindo Dube, we decided to pass through Misheck Velaphi Ncube’s house in Lobengula West where more juicy stories of the liberation struggle were narrated by the 80-year-old veteran of that struggle.