The Sunday News
TODAY we round up our interview with former Zanla detachment commander for the Gaza Province’s sector two, Retired Major Simoni Muyambo pseudonym Cde Mambo Mlambo. His area of operation covered places such as Zvishavane, Mberengwa and Shurugwi.
Rtd Maj Muyambo has in the past weeks spoken about his training at Tembwe in Mozambique, operations and how he survived a poisoning incident, which claimed the lives of 23 of his colleagues in Zvishavane after eating poisoned food. In today’s interview with Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS), Rtd Maj Muyambo talks about the battles that he was involved in. Below are excerpts of the interview:
MS: Retired Major Muyambo, tell us about the battles that you were involved in.
Rtd Maj Muyambo: There are so many, but the first battle that I was involved in happened in early March 1976 when we crossed the border from Mozambique to Rhodesia.
We arrived at Mupapa in Chikombedzi and had our first meal in the evening. There was sekuru, an inyanga who had been waiting for our arrival. He applied some muthi on each of us, on the forehead and feet.
After that Cde Juru took his forces to his Sector One, Cde Hector Muridzo was given Sector Two while Cde Zulu got Sector Three. The same night they left for their respective sectors while Cde Muridzo remained in Detachment One of Sector 2. Our main mission was to politicise the masses, a programme which we embarked on.
We were only four sections in detachments one and two, so we were avoiding contact with the enemy as we wanted to teach the masses first, so that they could understand why we were fighting the Rhodesians. However, one day we were spotted by the spotter plane and later on a battle ensued. Since we were outnumbered, we made a tactical withdrawal and disappeared into the bush.
MS: Who were some of the guerillas you were with?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: Some of the guerillas in those four sections were Cdes Goromigo who later on remained as detachment commander in Detachment One in Chikombedzi, Mupapa and Gezani areas, Gonarehondo, Gigidza Mutunhu Washata, Zex Maroro, Kabhachi, Kuseta, Jimmy Chidhoma who was later promoted detachment of detachment 2, Muroi Wemabhunu, Chimedza, Fastmove, Ebiot, Dust Fog Chandiwana and Velaphi. That battle forced the enemy to reinforce its troops at Rutenga Camp, which had four helicopters, vampire aircraft and Dakota for transporting their forces. That also forced us to change our tactics, we started what we called the hit and run operations.
MS: So what did you do?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: We went to Rutenga and fired four mortar 60 shells towards the camp direction and crossed Fort Victoria (Masvingo)-Beitbridge Road to Sarauro area.
We advanced to the north towards Chief Ngungumbane area in Belingwe (Mberengwa) and then turned north east to Matibi and Berejena in Chivi spreading our political lessons to the masses.
We then crossed Ngezi River to Border Munaka areas, in Chivi we were sold to enemy forces by a soldier who was on leave. More than 20 trucks of enemy forces came at night and dropped the soldiers.
MS: What happened then?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: The following morning we found ourselves encircled by enemy forces and the battle started at about 8am and went on until the evening.
We fought until we ran out of ammunition and we had to move out of the killing zone and it was tricky because there were four helicopters hovering around.
We went back to Matibi and during that period one of our comrades, Cde Kabhachi lost his weapon which was hit and broke into two pieces. We embarked on a long journey back to Mupapa to collect ammunition and get reinforcements from Detachment One where we had caches.
It took us a week to get to Mupapa and we were very pleased to find more reinforcements who had just crossed over from Mozambique. Each sector was then given 30 fighters each. Among the comrades were Balembanzou, Vhamazvipere, Satani Mutumbo, Reginald Tofarasei, Joseph Kunyarara and Chapungu. They were coming from Tanzania.
MS: Then tell us about the battles that followed.
Rtd Maj Muyambo: There was a day when we were based near Chizumba Township in Nuanesti when Rhodesian forces arrived in four trucks and proceeded to a nearby dam where they started swimming. We sent two comrades to spy on them, checking on the type of weapons they were armed with.
The two returned and told us that there were both white and black soldiers. We swiftly advanced despite the fact that we were outnumbered and we attacked them.
We killed quite a number of enemy forces and shot down a helicopter in that battle. Another serious battle occurred at Maveza base where we killed six enemy forces and also shot down a Rhodesian aircraft.
There was another incident at Madhafu base where we encountered the enemy and managed to free the father of Cde Rugare Gumbo and a Mr Mabhena, a local businessman who supported the freedom fighters.
Other battles were fought at Chitanga, Chirowhandou, Murongwe, Nyala, Buchwa, Chief Mataruse’s area and Mazwihwa. Later on I was promoted to section commander by Cde Muridzo and assigned to go and open operational areas in Mberengwa North and Shabanie (Zvishavane).
MS: How were the operations there?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: There was a day when we planted an anti-tank mine on a slope near Mwembe Mountains and laid an ambush. The enemy forces were driving from Mberengwa via Doro, so their first truck hit the landmine and it flew in the air.
We then opened fire and hit soldiers from the other truck who were already in panic. We killed quite a number of them.
However, the following week we were unfortunate when we lost Cde Wadzanai who died in an ambush in the same area. In Chief Negove’s area we lost another comrade who was killed by an enemy soldier who had managed to attend a pungwe meeting. But that enemy soldier was apprehended by the masses and killed as well. At Danga we also lost two comrades but we shot down a helicopter.
MS: As the war was intensifying strategies were also changing I suppose.
Rtd Maj Muyambo: Yes, more comrades were also coming and before the end of 1976 Cde Willy Deveteve (Rtd Col Shumba now resettled in Shurugwi) arrived from Detachment One with his bodyguards. He had brought a message from the High Command in Mozambique about the change of leadership on the political side. He told us that the Central Committee had appointed Robert Gabriel Mugabe as the First Secretary of Zanu-PF and Commander-in-Chief of Zanla forces.
MS: What kind of a commander was Cde Deveteve?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: Cde Deveteve was a very soft spoken commander who was liked by his subordinates. He was a revolutionary commander who was dedicated to his military calling.
Learning about the poisoning incident he asked me if I was now fit for operations in the war zone or I should go back to Mozambique for poison treatment.
I answered I was fit because I didn’t want to go to the rear in Mozambique, he then promoted me to the rank of detachment command level as medical officer. With Cde Deveteve you would not lose a battle, he was a political oriented soldier, instructor, a security and intelligence officer. As the sectorial commander Cde Deveteve made sure to visit all the three detachments and made sure the comrades were winning the war.
MS: Any battle that you can say he was outstanding?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: At Madamwa under Chief Matenda his platoon was spotted by the enemy forces and they called for air power with two helicopters deployed to attack them.
Cde Deveteve fought a serious battle taking over the command of the fighters. The enemy forces reinforced and he ordered fighters to get out of the killing bag leaving him on his own until he ran out of ammunition.
When fire was intensified on his position he took out his blue jeans and hanged them on tree branch and was left in his panties only.
The enemy forces took turns to fire at his jeans from the air and ground. At that time he was crawling into the thicket down to the Lundi River where he disappeared. When an enemy helicopter landed to collect the dead commander they found his clothes, much to their disappointment. The following morning Cde Deveteve was given the clothes by villagers from the Mnangagwa Madhibha kraal.
MS: The situation was very tense and you soldiered on.
Rtd Maj Muyambo: Battles in Zvishavane were the order of the day. We could hardly spend a day without one of our groups having a contact. One day at Marovanidze at about 10am the enemy forces attacked us using air power and ground forces. We were being served tea and they pounced, resulting in us losing eight comrades instantly. We were also surrounded by the ground forces with all escape routes sealed. The only opening was towards Lundi River. From the 18 of us, it was myself and Cde Tonde who survived. It was a terrible day.
MS: How did you survive?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: Cde Tonde got into a deep hole and stayed there until late at night while I was saved by a heavy wind which forced me into Lundi River and I was drawn downwards.
Up to now I don’t understand what happened as I found myself under a small bridge with my gun and magazines. I then swam across the river and went to the masses. The bodies of the comrades were taken to Shabanie Mine where they were displayed on the road. During that battle we also managed to kill six enemy soldiers and brought down a helicopter.
MS: You were on the battle front until the ceasefire?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: No. In March 1979 that poison started to trouble me and Cde Deveteve advised that I go to Maputo for medical treatment.
I was given a section to escort me to Mozambique. On my way back to Mozambique I went through Chitanga to Mapai and discovered that there was a gorge where over 80 comrades were massacred during a bombing by the Rhodesian forces.
That happened when the comrades were escorting recruits from the three sectors who were on their way to Mozambique to receive military training. Again at Mapai there were shallow graves of fighters and refugees who were killed by the Smith regime.
Among the graves was one for our first commander in the province, Cde Ziso. When I got to Maputo I was sent for medication at Mashava base.
From Maputo I proceeded to Chimoio and even visited all the camps and ended up at Mavonde where there was a serious battle against the Rhodesian forces. After Mavonde on my way from Chimoio I passed through Nyambani town where Cde Josiah Magama Tongogara met his death in a road accident. I saw the real spot where our commander was killed.
MS: Then at the attainment of the ceasefire where did you go?
Rtd Maj Muyambo: I was flown to Salisbury after the Lancaster House talks and I was part of the comrades who were based at the now University of Zimbabwe while some of our colleagues were at Goromonzi. At the end of 1980 I joined the Zimbabwe National Army as a junior non-commissioned officer where I rose through the ranks. I left after serving the army for 20 years.