The Sunday News
IN the past few weeks we have been focusing the spotlight on what may be considered the pioneers of Zimbabwe’s armed liberation struggle.
This was done as part of a build up towards independence. At the same time, the deliberate thrust was done to feature the pioneers who apparently have not received the limelight and recognition due to them. None of them is below 80 years of age. David Mongwa “Sharpshoot” Moyo is arguably the oldest surviving ex-combatant from the pioneering period. His political sabotage campaign dates to the 1950s and was accentuated in the 60s, prompting him to jump the border to undertake military training in North Korea. In a nutshell, their narratives have not been sufficiently and definitively captured in the liberation accounts. The majority of them trained in 1962 and 1963.
These pioneers constitute the first batch of military cadres that volunteered to fight in order to liberate the mother land. This was at the time before the unfortunate split in the nationalist movement in August 1963. Training was then taking place in China, Egypt, Tanganyika, North Korea and Ghana. The Sino-Soviet fallout was yet to take place after which Zapu cadres were being trained mostly in the Soviet Union. This took place from 1964 when the likes of Dumiso Dabengwa, Report Phelekezela Mphoko, Ambrose Mutinhiri, Robson Manyika, Akim Ndlovu, inter alia, were trained. The period from then till about 1971 constitutes the second batch of cadres, at least on the ZPRA side. The third period extends to the end of 1976 after which there was accelerated recruitment culminating in the adoption of conventional warfare when thousands were trained in Angola, Zambia, Ethiopia and Libya among other countries. That period extends to the ceasefire in 1979 following the Lancaster House Talks.
Realising the pioneers in the first batch of armed fighters are in the twilight of their lives it is only fair and prudent to throw the spotlight on them so that our armed liberation struggle is properly documented and appropriately rooted where it all started. It is better late than never. In this instalment we focus on Misheck Velaphi Ncube who I have been interviewing virtually on a daily basis for nearly three months. A few weeks ago he became incapacitated and we had to suspend the interviews. When his condition improved we resumed. It was clear to me his condition would never be anywhere near to when we started. Indeed, on 13 April he felt dizzy during the interview, necessitating once again, the suspension of the interview. Fortunately, quite significant strides were made which will, without doubt, enhance a better and more accurate rendition of the armed struggle in its inception and infancy.
Today’s offering is an excerpt from the long, arduous and numerous interviews I have conducted. Velaphi has the rare honour of being in the first Group of 12 to undertake military training in Egypt in 1962. By the end of September he and colleagues had moved to Dar-es-Salaam where the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) had already opened an office where Benjamin Madlela manned it. The office was located at Mtoni. It was time when other cadres were undergoing military training at Kongwa which was a training camp for various liberation movements including SWAPO, FAPLA, FRELIMO and, MK. Tshinga Dube was among cadres at Kongwa and was to be brought into Rhodesia in 1966 together with “Sharpshoot.” The mission was to pave the way for the planned joint operation between Zapu and MK. That Luthuli Detachment was commanded by John Dube (Charles Ngwenya) from Ezimnyama in Plumtree) with Chris Hani as its Chief of Staff. JD was trained at Cheri Cheri in Algeria alongside Alfred Nikita Mangena, ZPRA’s second commander, Actually Chief of Staff, after Akim Ndlovu.
Velaphi and colleagues were itching to go back to Rhodesia and engage the enemy. In order to accomplish that, they needed weapons. Up to that time no weapons had been smuggled and cached inside Southern Rhodesia. It was here that Velaphi, once again led the way. He and colleagues knew the eastern part of Congo (DRC) was politically unstable and volatile. Patrice Lumumba had just become President of the newly independent state. He however, faced a challenge from Joseph Kasavubu. The army led by Mobutu Seseko came to the rescue. Later, there was trouble between Lumumba and Moise Tshombe. Lumumba, realising the danger he was in, invited the Soviet Union, a move that polarised the situation against the backdrop of the cold war. The Belgians, the British and Americans got sucked in, culmination in the assassination of Lumumba. Mobutu, as leader of the military, staged a coup and became the leader of the state.
In the eastern part of the DRC there was turmoil. Antonie Gizenge was leading some insurrection there. The unsettled situation in the eastern part was a good source for weapons. Velaphi and colleagues sprang into action. Velaphi knew about a plant that his “mother” used back in Nsewula. In actual fact, it was his father’s first wife. The plant is called umligazigone (Nligazwikono in TjiKalanga), literally one that fells the big ones. A plan was hatched. The Congolese rebels had the weapons that Velaphi and colleagues needed. In that part of the world there is cassava (umjumbula) which is used to brew amahewu.
Nligazwikono is toxic and its tubers are crushed and thrown into a watering hole. When animals such as buffaloes drink the laced water they get into some drunken stupor for quite a while. This is the time when they are vulnerable. Hunters seize the opportunity and strike with spears. Amahewu brew was accordingly laced with the toxic plant and the favourite drink given to the rebels. Then followed the period when they were knocked unconscious. “This is one incident that I regret to this day,” says Velaphi during the interview. They shot the armed rebels and took away their weapons. They made good their escape back to Tanganyika the neighbouring country.
Sikhwili Moyo was by that time already in Tanganyika, so was Abraham Nkiwane who worked closely with UNIP in Zambia. The Nguni people living close to the border between Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Tanganyika were of assistance when Nkiwane, Velaphi and Kennias Mlalazi were transporting the weapons through Tunduma. Once across the border, the weapons, including Thompson machine guns and the Pepeshas used during the second world war were safe in the Zephyr Zodiac driven by Nkiwane right up to Lusaka en route to Lupanda Native Purchase Area (NPA) where they were to be left in the custody of Nkiwane’s father who had a plot in the area where there were highly politicised people, one of them being Malaba.
The trip, destined to be the first to smuggle the first weapons into Southern Rhodesia was successful, at least that far. Indeed the weapons were taken from Lupanda by one who was identified through bringing along a smoking pipe that Nkiwane’s father had been told would positively identify the correct person he would give the weapons to. In Bulawayo Findo Mpofu and others received the weapons. The trip took place late in September. In the second trip Velaphi this time being driven by Amon Ndukwana ran out of luck. As narrated two weeks ago Thomas “Menu” Ngwenya found a car with keys in the ignition. He did not know who parked the car, let alone the nature of its contraband.
Velaphi and Ndukwana were arrested and incarcerated at Grey Prison in Bulawayo. Such were the dangerous and risky trips that the pioneering guerrillas took. The least we can do for them is to recognise the part they played in bringing about independence.