The Sunday News
THE “girl” who on 22 September 1979 was said to have played a crucial role in tipping off guerillas about the advancing Rhodesian forces is now a lecturer at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Polytechnic in Gwanda.
After reading our articles about the battle of Ndungwane in Gwanda District between the Zipra and Rhodesian forces that took place on that fateful Sunday of 22 September 1979, Mrs Maretha Dube nee Mazhale, now a holder of three degrees including a Masters in African Languages called Sunday News newsroom to say she was the “17-year-old girl” mentioned by our guest writer, historian and educationist, Mr Ezekiel Hleza as the one who gave that crucial intelligence to the freedom fighters, resulting in the much talked about the battle of Ndungwane.
Ndungwane is a village tucked deep in Gwanda District, Matabeleland South. Below is Mrs Dube version told to our Gwanda Correspondent Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu:
“I am Mrs Maretha Dube although I am known as Kerina as that is the name I grew up using. My maiden surname is Mazhale.
I was attracted to the article in the last edition of Sunday News mentioning a 17-year-old girl who was said to have played a crucial role in tipping off the guerillas about the advancing Rhodesian soldiers. Everything mentioned in the article is very true beside the point that at that time I was 18 not 17.
The other issue is that my journey to Ndungwane was not meant to go and tip off the comrades, in fact the comrades had the previous night given me a mission to go and collect their kit bags they had left at Ndungwane.
I was given that mission as I was the chairperson of the Youth Front in my area.
The events leading to the Ndungwane battle that resulted in the Rhodesian forces suffering a heavy loss was that on the eve of the battle, that was on Saturday evening, the peaceful atmosphere in my village of Malitou was disturbed by the heavy sound of gunfire coming from the eastern side of our village. We could tell then that there was a contact between the freedom fighters and the Rhodesian forces.
As the youths we were the eyes and ears of the comrades. We were supposed to assess the situation and provide intelligence to them. It was our role to tell them how safe it was for them to base and if not we would advise them to move to other places deemed safe.
As the youths, it was also our duty to see that the comrades had adequate provisions such as soap and cigarettes while our parents would buy them more expensive stuff such as clothes and shoes. In short, we provided information and logistical support to the comrades, a role which we did with much aplomb and passion.
Also, whenever the comrades were in our area the youths made sure that they cooked for them and we had a sort of a duty rooster for that. By 1979 a lot of freedom fighters were operating in our area — some had been around for sometime while others were new arrivals.
Then going back to the eve of the Ndungwane battle, after the sound of the gunfire had lulled, later on the guerillas arrived at our village.
They asked about the fighting that had taken place on the eastern side of our village, which was a quite a distance and we said we were not sure where it was and what had happened there.
The comrades then became livid and told us that as the youths we were supposed to be up to date with what was happening around us and we should always be vigilant.
Little did we know that the comrades who were digging the information from us were the same people who a few hours ago had been involved in that contact.
Then in no uncertain terms they told us that they wanted to know what had happened during that battle and they left, saying when they come back we should have gathered the information about what had happened in that contact.
They emphasised that it was also our duty as their eyes and ears to gather information about the whereabouts and activities of the enemy.
Because of their instructions, the following morning I took a bicycle and cycled to Ndungwane. In the middle of the journey, at Makokwe to be specific, I took a turn using a bush road, which I knew was a shorter route to the destination. Just after turning, I saw an army truck and I did not care much about it, I thought the Rhodesian forces were on their usual patrols.
When I got to Ndungwane I went to my brother’s homestead, my elder brother-umntaka baba omdala. I told him that I was in the area to collect the comrades’ kit bags hidden othangweni lwensimu enje enje. My brother then said I should leave everything to him as that was beyond me. He then said I should rest a bit and return home later.
Then there was a sudden burst of automatic gunfire that filled the air and from the homestead we could see bullets flying.
The battle of Ndungwane had started and there was the smell of death in the vicinity. As the war kept on intensifying we became used to such dangerous situations and so during that contact we kept our cool. We were no longer frightened by the sound of gunfire, we had gone through tricky situations.
I then told my brother that on my way I had seen an army truck and in response he said guerillas had been sighted in the area. After the heavy exchange of gunfire had ceased my brother told me to wait a bit before returning home to allow the situation to calm down.
However, before I returned home in Malitou we went to the scene of the battle to see for ourselves what had happened.
When we entered the contact area, trees had been shaved off of their barks, leaving them bare, amaxolo ekhitshwe zinhlamvu, spent cartridges were all over the place and there were signs of scooped earth to show that some people were trying to cover the spots where blood had been flowing.
I then returned home just before sunset. When I got home I was shocked to see people gathered at our homestead. I almost fell from the bicycle. When I asked what had happened I was told people thought I had died.
They had a feeling that I had been caught up in the cross fire during the battle. The somber situation changed immediately as people started shedding tears of joy.
It was not easy during the war especially us the youths as we kept a lot of secrets regarding the operations of the comrades.
However, we were no longer afraid — we were now feeling that we were part of the freedom fighters.