The Sunday News
In November 1978 Rhodesian security forces carried out a raid on Mboroma Camp deep in the jungles of Zambia where Zipra forces housed suspected enemy forces sent to infiltrate their ranks and true among them were captured enemy forces.
According to the late commander of the Selous Scouts, Lt-Col Ron Reid Daly in a book titled Selous Scouts Top Secret War where he spoke to Peter Stiff, Mboroma was of particular interest to the Rhodesian security forces because it was “reputed to be a prison and detention camp. Not only was it said to house a number of captured Rhodesian security forces personnel, but it was said to hold a number of Zipra dissidents”. Daly went on: “We naturally wanted to free our own men, but the freeing of Zipra dissidents was also a very attractive proposition, as all the things being equal, they would likely have some interesting stories to tell to aid our war effort.”
However, not everyone who was detained at the camp was a Rhodesian spy according to the survivor of that raid Cde Sikwizi Dlodlo now living in his rural home of Selonga in Matabeleland South’s Gwanda District. Sunday News Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) on Wednesday last week managed to trace Cde Dlodlo to his rural home and he had no kind words for his former colleagues in Zipra especially in the Military Intelligence Department who were in charge of screening the newly arrivals at Nampundwe Transit Camp in Zambia. He said for him what started as a routine screening exercise on his arrival in Zambia saw him being detained on suspicions that he was an enemy agent sent to infiltrate the Zipra ranks.
Cde Dlodlo said after being “fished” out as an enemy agent he was briefly detained at Nampundwe and later on consigned to Mboroma where months later he was to survive the assault on the camp by the notorious Selous Scout regiment. However, during the interview Cde Dlodlo refused to have his pictures taken. He, however, begged Mkhululi not to censor the interview as he believed it was also an important piece of history that present and future generations should know. Cde Dlodlo said it was unfortunate that some of the former freedom fighters interviewed on this column wanted to paint a glossy picture of themselves as super heroes as if they were the alpha and omega of the armed struggle. Below are the excerpts of the interview……
MS: So Cde Dlodlo you are one of the people who survived the raid on Mboroma in 1978, but before we go into details of that raid which was code named, Operation Vodka can you please tell us how you found yourself detained at Mboroma.
Cde Dlodlo: I left the country to join the armed struggle around March in 1978. The previous year that was 1977 I had completed my Ordinary levels at Matopo High School where I had passed with a Division One Class. However, in 1975 I and a few colleagues from Manama High School had sneaked out of the school to join the armed struggle but were unsuccessful as we were caught by the Rhodesian security forces and detained briefly. During that detention the Rhodesian forces in a bid to dissuade us from repeating our action of joining the war told us that it was not worth it to go to Zambia because we had a bright future as we were at secondary school. They said in Zambia those who were joining the war were being killed by the “blood thirst” Zipra communist guerillas but that did not deter me. So in 1978 after receiving my results and working for just two months as a rates clerk for the Tuli African Council I crossed the border into Botswana to join the war. But when I left I took with me $18 000.
MS: In other words you stole the $18 000 from your employers.
Cde Dlodlo: That was not stealing, it was sabotage. It was a rule to sabotage the Rhodesian government and that was my small way of inflicting pain on the racist Ian Smith regime. After all the money was from taxes the regime was forcibly making our people pay. It was easy for me to take the money because I was the one who was receiving the cash and keeping it at a rest camp which was guarded by the district assistants in the Kafusi area before being sent to the council’s main offices in Gwanda Town.
At that time there was a heavy presence of guerillas and so the urge to join the war was strong. In fact before I left I had contact with a Zapu official in the area, Moremedie Nare and he is the one who told the guerillas that there was a boy who had left with the money to join the war. And then I went, crossed the Shashe River, got to emlageni (grazing areas) where I met some boys who told me that there were guerillas nearby but I was scared as I thought they might be Selous Scouts. However, when I got to them I found Mphini, you have written about him, he died in combat in 1979. He was the regional commander for Kezi, Mangwe and Gwanda.
He was with seven other comrades. Mphini acknowledged that he had been told about me. He offered to train me locally but later we negotiated that I go to Zambia and he said it was still fine. I then showed them the money and Mphini took $3 000 for his region’s provisions and they made arrangements for me to reach Selebi-Phikwe. When I got to Selebi-Phikwe, I told the commander there my situation and he understood everything. I then gave him the rest of the money, I did not keep a cent for myself. The commander at Phikwe then made arrangements that I be sent to Zambia as soon as possible because during that time it was not easy because there were many recruits. So in other words I was fast-tracked and all this was because they were impressed with what I had done back home.
MS: Who was that commander?
Cde Dlodlo: I think it was Smart, I never saw him again. So we were flown to Lusaka, Zambia. On our arrival we were taken to Nampundwe and that is where all my excitement to join the armed struggle just evaporated into thin air.
Cde Dlodlo: We got to Nampundwe at night and the following morning we were taken one by one and questioned by the military intelligence officers, a department that was headed by the now Retired Brigadier-General Abel Mazinyane and when I said I had been working at a camp which was guarded by the DAs one guy’s face changed and he became very angry. I was dressed well too as before leaving the county I had bought a new pair of jeans, a shirt and trousers, the Wrangler label. I was also wearing a Citizen watch, remember I was still a boy who the previous year was just a pupil at Matopo High, so I was fashion conscious.
My explanation of telling him that I left that camp after stealing some money and the party elders were happy about it did not change anything. The intelligence officer kept on asking me how I had escaped from the whites and I told him that I had to do anything for Zapu because it was ours and we have always known the party and I told him as boldly as I could. And when we were still talking there was a shooting and that incident taught me that things were not well. Mazinyane was within the vicinity as well, I remember very well. I was then made to take off my nice clothes and boots and an armed man ordered me to get into a pit and I didn’t know what was going on.
And as I was asking where the pit was I was shown something there with a hole that fits a human being. Just below the hole there was some stairs of some sort, I got in and as I stepped on what I thought was the ground I heard someone saying I was stepping on him. Those guys who had forced me into that pit disappeared and came back after a week. Every time we were coming out of the pit we were being beaten and I couldn’t understand why I was being beaten. We were about 30 in the pit and it was very hot. I was now wearing some green uniform as my clothes and watch had been taken.
MS: At that point did you regret joining the war?
Cde Dlodlo: I did not regret as such because I had the motivation of freeing Zimbabwe, but I was angry with these comrades. Also I did remember the whites talking their propaganda to us after our abortive trip to join the war from Manama in 1975, saying people were killing each other in Zambia and I said then there were crazy but when I was in that situation I thought they might have had a point.
MS: Do you remember some of the people who were interrogating you?
Cde Dlodlo: Yes of course, there was Charles Bango Dube, who after leaving the army after Independence became Chief Bango in Mangwe District here in Matabeleland South but unfortunately he is late now as he died in the early 2000s. There was also Sam Madondo who left the army for teaching in his rural area which should have been either in Mashonaland East or Central also after Independence. Cdes Charles Bango and Madondo were the senior military intelligence officers who dealt with us directly, but unfortunately they are both late now. They were the ones who were in charge of screening the new recruits and those guys were rough I tell you. There were also others like Cdes Twinlock, Mudzi and Thodlana.
MS: Then how long did you stay in detention at Nampundwe?
Cde Dlodlo: About 10 days down the line after a full week while discussing with some of the boys in our detention hole in the evening they told me that the only way out was to create a story but I didn’t have that chance because we were quickly called out and loaded into a truck. And it was around 7pm, when we were driven in the truck through a deep forest and we could hear lions roaring. We were now thinking they were going to kill us. The truck then got stuck in the sand and we went out to get it out and while doing so the guerillas whom I believe were part of the military intelligence armed with AK-47s strongly warned us against trying to flee, saying we would either be shot or killed by the lions.
Anyway we had no intention of running away. We travelled the whole night and arrived at what we were later told was Mboroma at around 9 or 10 am the following day. The place was fenced, the people there were wearing khakis and there was also a group of guys wearing green uniforms, they just received us and never asked for anything. Our names were taken down and we were given some blankets to sleep. Little did we know that Cdes Bango and Madondo and their crews would follow us. They would periodically come to carry out their interrogations which were not a picnic. Bango and Madondo never came together, they used to come separately each with his own team. Some of the people sustained serious injuries because of the torture at the hands of military intelligence guys.
MS: So all this time what were you being accused of?
Cde Dlodlo: At this camp we were told straight away that we that we were prisoners of war and we were under arrest. When we got there we found quite a number of people and the number kept growing as more people were being brought in after being accused of being Selous Scouts. Mboroma is about 500 km from Lusaka. We were just kept there and the camp commander was not friendly, he would just tell us that we should not try to run away as they would not hesitate to shoot us.
However, as time went on the atmosphere was relaxed a bit as we could listen to the news, learn about the talks, the operations and so on. We were being told of what was happening around us. Interrogations didn’t stop though as they could just accuse one of us of being sent by a police officer operating in his area of origin to find out how Zipra trained its forces. Of course there were Rhodesian police officers who were notorious and every area in this county had such people and we were accused of being sent by them depending on which part of the country you came from.
This was because people like Bango and Madondo had names of notorious police officers across the country. They would just link you with one depending on where you came from. For example here in Gwanda there was Kinos Ndebele. There was also KK. So when they asked me if l was related to anyone who was a police officer I told them it was KK. They said “yaah KK sent you”. I told them that I had last seen him a long time back. I got a beating still. Later on Bango started warming up to me, saying I was an intelligent boy and that is when I told him that his boys that had arrested me had robbed me of my jeans and watch. I told him the whole story and he was surprised.
MS: In your opinion do you think all those people you were with were guilty of something?
Cde Dlodlo: I don’t think so, not all of us as the responses under questioning were very strange because a majority started parroting what one would have said in fear of being beaten up if one came up with a not so convincing answer. I will then put it to you that a majority of the people there had no case to answer but of course there might have been some enemy forces among us. The number kept growing and I think by the time the camp was bombed we were nearly 400. I had also recognised three or four of my cousins from Gwanda. Also in response to your question, the Rhodesians were not fools, they had a good intelligence network. They were not all that stupid that they would send a 17-year-old like myself to spy on Zipra or Zanla.
They did not need simpletons like us at that time to sniff for information on their behalf. As for Mazinyane I think he was not aware what his boys were doing especially Bango and Madondo.
We will continue with the interview next week when Cde Dlodlo relates to us how Mboroma was raided and the events leading to that raid. The interview would be accompanied by an extract from Daly’s perspective on Operation Vodka.