The Sunday News
WE took a diversion to expose to the general public the military prowess of Commander Mtshana Khumalo who recently was declared a national hero on the basis of his military exploits and prowess during Imfazo I (the Anglo-Ndebele War of 1893). Otherwise previously we had been dealing with the liberation struggle of the 1960s and the 1970s. During that theatre of war there were men and women who distinguished themselves during their participation in that war effort. Every war episode has its own heroes and heroines.
Upon return from further military training in the Soviet Union, Sterling Shumba was deployed to the JZ Camp as an Assistant Medical Officer. JZ Camp, like other ZAPU educational, refugee and military facilities towards the close of the war, was relocated from near Lusaka to the far north west in Solwezi in the hope there was relative security and peace far away from the frequent air bombings by the Rhodesian forces. A school for boys, JZ Camp had been provided with a fully equipped mobile hospital with a hundred beds and with the requisite linen, laboratory, and a radiological department. At the camp, Comrade Shumba and colleagues worked under the guidance and supervision of two medical doctors, one provided by the International Red Cross and the second seconded by the benevolent Cuban government under the leadership of Fidel Castro.
“It was such a good team and I learnt a lot from the two doctors. I also worked among the boys and not the noisy life of the military. I learnt a lot about the development of the struggle from the boys as they narrated stories from their home areas. I only stayed for three months and during those months the most common diseases that we treated were malaria, bilharzia, tuberculosis, and meningitis. I was then transferred to MTD as the task of building the 2nd Brigade had started and my services as a Medical Assistant and Intelligence Officer were sorely missed. I was appointed Deputy Camp Medical Officer.”
Shumba shouldered the responsibility of setting up a training syllabus for first aiders as all sub-units had to have first aiders which were designated Medical Aids. The Brigade at MTD had already been trained. It was then just a question of arranging it into Guerrilla Detachments to be immediately dispatched to the front to engage the enemy forces. These were to put into operation advanced guerrilla warfare tactics. The guerrilla detachments were to act in liaison with the 1st Mechanised Brigade which by that time had taken up positions on Kazatwari side of the Zambezi River.
The Guerrilla Division then left the camp and focus shifted to the 2nd Mechanized Division which was going to serve as the reserve for 1 Brigade whose battalions were already at the front bases awaiting the Zero Hour to roll into Rhodesia as part of the Turning Point Strategy (TPS). The envisaged second Brigade was to comprise men from Angola and Ethiopia where they had undergone basic military training and in some instances some had undergone advanced military training. A week after the departure of the Guerrilla Division, MTD Camp was teeming with these men and work started in turning them into combat ready sub-units.
While all this was taking place the arrival of the tanks and armoured cars was awaited. What should become clear is that the building of the regular army forces was at an advanced stage. The First Brigade as pointed out was on the verge of being launched into Rhodesia. In fact, some units had already been infiltrated to hold positions at a time when peace was around the corner. Other units were equally ready and yet others were in the process of being assembled and prepared into a state where they were combat ready. Tanks and armoured cars were awaited and their delivery routes started from Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. As argued before, it was this build-up that caused consternation and panic among the Rhodesians and their western allies, prompting the quick convening of the Lancaster House Talks.
Concentration of the envisaged war effort as part of TPS was concentrated in the north. The supply of heavy armour was centred in the north. Rhodesian and western military intelligence was heightened and counter strategies with the option of a political dimension were thrown into gear. As observed in an earlier installment, Rhodesian air bombings were focused to the north where the build-up was concentrated.
The Rhodesians threw in everything to thwart the military development, in addition to convening the Lancaster House Talks in September 1979. The Rhodesian spy and destabilisation agents that had been infiltrated during the military training of the ZPRA men leapt into gear.
They caused some mutiny by taking advantage of the outbreak of typhoid disease. Instead of attributing the deaths to natural causes, they took advantage and alleged the disease was not the cause of deaths in the camp. Instead the camp administration were held accountable for the deaths. One day the Rhodesian agents staged a mutiny in the camp.
The development was somewhat akin to one that rocked ZAPU in 1971 when the Philemon Mabuza-led Group (March 11 Movement) pounced on the ZAPU leadership in Lusaka’s Zimbabwe House (ZH). The staff at MTD were rounded, tied up and thoroughly beaten up and accused of being enemy agents. They demanded to be addressed by ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo. That request was denied until they followed laid down party protocol in dealing with grievances. Unconditional release of the men they had arrested was one of the conditions for their grievances being attended to.
The mutineers were adamant they were not going to release the detained ZAPU/ZPRA officers. They even aggravated the situation by confiscating a car belonging to the Zambian Security which had been dispatched to MTD by Zambian President Doctor Kenneth Kaunda. Dr Kaunda was keen to obtain first hand information regarding the developments in the camp and the general area. The confiscated car and its Zambian security men were taken to Zimbabwe House in Lusaka. The mutineers, once at Zimbabwe House, were arrested by members of the NSO and sent back to Solwezi to face the music.