The Sunday News
Today we conclude the series of interviews that we have been doing with former Zipra guerilla, Cde Tapson Ncube aka Makhula. Cde Ncube was a maverick guerilla who at one point was detained on the orders of the Zipra High Command after being accused of being a bad influence to the guerillas. Below is the last instalment of the interview with our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS). Below are excerpts of the interview:
MS: Then there was this issue of indiscipline within the guerilla ranks. What was happening?
Cde Ncube: Yes, there was such talk about some guerillas being renegades and this was because of the things we did when we joined the armed struggle. You remember when we started these series of interviews we spoke about a number of issues that we raised when we were in Botswana en route to training. What we did in Botswana in 1975 when we questioned the things that were being done by the Zapu and Zipra leadership was a threat to the High Command so they had to build a false narrative even when we were at the front that some of us were renegades. They wanted to isolate us within Zipra especially the Group of 800. In fact some people who were in the command element felt threatened by the high numbers that kept on pouring into Zambia to join the armed struggle. You have to note that some people became commanders not because they were talented but just as a result of joining the armed struggle earlier. However, I should also be balanced in looking at the behaviour of some of the guerillas at the front who had been in the bush for a long time. Some had arrived at the beginning of 1977 and had been on the ground since then. I should be honest enough and say some of my colleagues were also to blame.
MS: How were they to blame. What did they do?
Cde Ncube: They drafted their own turning point before the commander-in-chief of Zipra, Dr Joshua Nkomo had announced his which called for the establishment of the conventional warfare. So Nkomo had to ask a lot about what kind of person was Sandlana Mafutha (Sydney Saul Dube) who was leading that clique of guerillas at the front operating mainly at Mzola, Dandanda, Dongamuzi all in Lupane overlapping to Nkayi and some parts of Gokwe. To come up with such strategies at the front without getting authority from the central authority was bad. Despite their weaknesses commanders at the rear were still commanders, so we had to take orders from them. However, with regards to Mafutha, he later travelled to Zambia accompanied by comrades like Volunteer where he met the High Command and spoke to Nkomo over the phone as he was in Lancaster for the talks, that is what I was told. The problems that were there were ironed out. Even after the ceasefire we were sent by Mafutha to talk to Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo in Pelandaba. Nkomo told us that he wanted to meet Mafutha as he had something that he wanted to say to him. They met but Mafutha did not brief me on what he discussed with Nkomo. He owes me that one.
MS: Let’s go back a bit, take us through what this turning point that was drafted in Lupane was like.
Cde Ncube: Within us operating under the leadership of our region there was almost an ugly scene, some confrontation between us when we had a Gathering Point at Rupaswana west of Ndimimbili Business Centre and Ndimimbili Primary School in Lupane. The place is north of Gomoza Mission. The person who was chairing the GP was one of the commanders at the front, uCastro deputised by Mafutha. That’s where we had differences. It was mid-79. The bone of contention was the turning point that had been crafted by oMafutha laboVolunteer. That document divided the guerillas as some were for it and others against it. So there was a lot of bickering over that. Those comrades had come up with that document without consulting us and even circulated it among the villagers, and I had come across it at Ngwalathi.
MS: When you saw the document what did you do?
Cde Ncube: I tore it into pieces immediately in front of the villagers as that is what caused the commotion, resulting in the GP. The document was talking about coming up with strategies such as attacking big targets like invading Lupane, Gwelutshena and Nkayi centres. However, I must admit that it was a nice document but the problem was only that it came from people who were juniors and were not part of the High Command. The other problem was that if a document was released within the operational area without the input and blessings of the central command, which in that case it was not aware of it was going to cause confusion. Causing confusion was going to affect the rhythm of the revolution, that is why I tore it. Personally I did not want to see a situation where there was a misunderstanding between us the guerillas and the masses.
MS: Being at loggerheads with your colleagues, how did they take your views?
Cde Ncube: I was questioned at the GP as to why I tore that document and I told them in no uncertain terms that is was even dangerous to us as we will end up fighting against each other. I did not mince my words. Ask Volunteer and Mafutha as well as others what I said at that GP. I was clear that we will end up hunting each other down in the jungles of Lupane and Nkayi. Eventually we ironed out our differences. But the information that was being received at the rear was that we had become renegades, guerillas who were operating independently from the High Command.
MS: But were you comrades getting and following orders from the High Command?
Cde Ncube: What orders? There were no orders that we were receiving from the High Command in Zambia, guerillas at the front had to find ways to survive. The High Command was nowhere to be seen, that is why we had to move to as far as Bulilima to get ammunition from fellow comrades who were operating there. Those comrades in Bulilima and Tsholotsho were better positioned geographically because in the later stages of the war, guerillas being deployed from Zambia were using areas around Kazangula and then move in a bit into Botswana and then into Rhodesia. Just imagine walking all the way to Plumtree for ammunition from Lupane or Nkayi while ammunition was rotting in Lusaka. From the way we saw things then the Western intelligence played a big role within the Zipra ranks especially at the top. A number of commanders were compromised. I am of the view that the imperialists had infiltrated both Zapu and Zanu. That trend continued up to this day that is why we saw all those problems that affected the ruling Zanu-PF, some dangerous elements had moved up the ladder in the ruling party and that is why we had those problems that were healed by Operation Restore Legacy in November 2017.
MS: Despite all these challenges at the front you continued being dedicated to the armed struggle?
Cde Ncube: We did not relent and in my operational area we had the support of the masses, a lot of support. They sacrificed a lot and without their support we could have been sitting ducks. At times I wonder how we managed to carry out such big operations like the battles of Gwelutshena, Nesigwe and that one against the 74 mercenaries who had been deployed to flush us out. These three operations especially made the Rhodesians to stop making forays across Tshangane (Shangani River) until the time of the ceasefire.
MS: So how was life like in the so-called semi-liberated zones?
Cde Ncube: We had the opportunity to also recruit biologically, we started enjoying our freedom and so we had to make children. I was blessed with a child with a Tonga girl at Ngwalathi. I christened that daughter of mine Progress because when I went to see her for the first time it was when the fuel tanks were on fire in Salisbury now Harare. Indeed we were making progress on the war front. We have since re-united with my daughter, she looked for me and visited at my home at Esigodini.
MS: When you talk about operations in Lupane, Nkayi and to a certain extent areas around Gokwe, two characters are always mentioned, Mafutha and Lipson. Tell us about these two.
Cde Ncube: Lipson commanded another part of NF2 and was the sort of man who just accepted activities of the High Command, he seemed to sympathise with the people at the rear while Mafutha was a revolutionary, an armed politician. Guerillas by nature and orientation should be people with a good understanding of politics because we did not only do duty at the battle front but we had to change the minds of the masses so that they became in sync with the situation. The villagers had to accept the war as theirs as well and that was done through politicising them.
MS: After the war, which Assembly Point did you go to?
Cde Ncube: I went to Mike Assembly Point (St Paul’s Mission) in Lupane. I went to the Assembly Point against my will, I was forced to go there.
MS: What do you mean you were forced, wasn’t the war over?.
Cde Ncube: To be honest I was suspicious of the Rhodesians, so I delayed into getting to the AP until my wife, Rosemary Moyo and our two children I had left when going to war, Sibangilizwe and Sithabile travelled to St Paul’s to visit me. They had been told that I was there and during that time, guerillas had started receiving visitors. So one of the buses, the ones that had a white cross was going around, with the bus crew passing out a message that Gegana’s wife was looking for him at the AP. Gegana was one of the names I was using at the front. So because of that I had to move in.
MS: While others were getting into the APs, what were doing and where?
Cde Ncube: I was still living among the villagers, in fact I was evaluating the situation, debating inwardly whether to go to Angola and join the MPLA that was fighting against UNITA or Umkhonto WeSizwe of South Africa. I was suspicious of the Rhodesians. Then when I finally moved into St Paul’s with two other guerillas, I went straight to the officer of the Commonwealth Monitoring Force and threw my AK-47 at him. The fella was frightened out of his wits as he jumped from his seat, I think he thought I wanted to kill him. He was with one of the frontal security officers, an operative of the National Security Order (NSO) whom we had operated together, uMadayiza (Peter Austin Moyo) who died last year in August when he was still serving in the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) here in Bulawayo. Sensing that I could be up to something, Madayiza and that white soldier told me that it would be better to let me go and live where I felt safe. They said I should take my AK-47 with me. So I only spent two nights at St Paul’s, after, which I moved to nearby homesteads. But I would go to the AP and spend time with the comrades. I was at the homestead of Mathe. I did not want to be caught napping.
MS: Did your move have anything to do with the violations of the ceasefire?
Cde Ncube: Definitely, we had seven Zipra guerillas at Cross-Jotsholo along the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls Road killed when they were bombed by the Rhodesian soldiers on their way to St Paul’s Assembly Point. That was naked violation of the ceasefire. However, I later stayed at the AP for several months after which I opted to be demobilised. The Zipra chief of communications, uEmbassy (Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube) tried to discourage us from leaving, urging us to join the new army, but I felt I had done enough and left.
MS: After leaving the military what did you do?
Cde Ncube: I returned to work in the industries in Bulawayo and also participated in the formation of the War Veterans Association. I was in the Bulawayo Province as the secretary for Historical Affairs. Later on I left my job in Bulawayo and returned to my rural home in Esigodini where I am a peasant farmer.