Nikita Man­gena: The mil­i­tary strat­egy genius

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Opinion - Opin­ion Rtd Brig-Gen Abel Mazinyane

ON July 26, 1978, tragedy be­fell the Zim­bab­wean armed strug­gle when Cde Rogers Man­gena or Al­fred Nikita, the com­man­der of the Zapu’s armed wing, ZIPRA, died. He was killed by a land­mine planted by Rhode­sian sol­diers at Ka­banga near the Zam­bezi in Zam­bia. Cde Man­gena pop­u­larly known as Nikita Man­gena, the first ZIPRA com­man­der was ap­pointed at the mil­i­tary wing’s found­ing.

The ti­tle given to him then was Chief of Staff. The ti­tle of com­man­der was re­served for the pres­i­dent of the party, the late Vice Pres­i­dent Joshua Nkomo. Cde Nikita Man­gena and other mem­bers of the Zipra High Com­mand then namely Cdes Cephas Cele (per­son­nel and train­ing), John Dube (op­er­a­tions), Jab­u­lani Ncube (medic), Lameck Mafela/Look­out Ma­suku (com­mis­sariat), Gor­don Mun­yanyi (mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence, re­con­nais­sance and com­mu­ni­ca­tions) and Re­port Mphoko (lo­gis­tics) built ZIPRA from scratch to be one of the strong­est lib­er­a­tion armies in South­ern Africa.

Be­fore that, Zapu’s armed wing fell un­der the Of­fice of Spe­cial Af­fairs, which was com­manded by Cde Ackim Ndlovu.

Zipra was a fully-fledged depart­ment of the party as per the “proxy” doc­u­ment of 1971.

Cde Nikita Man­gena was with­drawn from Moro­goro/ Tan­za­nia, where he had been a train­ing in­struc­tor and ap­pointed to per­form the daunt­ing task of com­mand­ing ZIPRA. He and his High Com­mand took reins of a ZIPRA wing that had a hand­ful of fight­ers, a few guns and am­mu­ni­tion.

From late 1971 to early 1972 Cde Man­gena with less than 20 fight­ers to de­ploy into the bat­tle­field was bold to take the of­fen­sive. The few other fight­ers were con­fined in Tan­za­nia.

De­spite th­ese over­whelm­ing dif­fi­cul­ties that were fac­ing him and his col­leagues, he forced the Rhode­sian forces to go into a de­fen­sive mode.

The Rhode­sians in­tro­duced a pa­trol boat on the Zam­bezi River. They asked for the South African forces’ as­sis­tance who had to leave in a hurry af­ter some heavy losses.

They even closed the Rhode­sia/Zam­bia border in 1973 in a des­per­ate move to try and arm-twist Zam­bia to stop the Zipra of­fen­sive.

Dur­ing op­er­a­tions, the first ad­ver­sary of Zipra fight­ers was the Zam­bezi. ZPRA fight­ers had to con­quer this river be­fore any­thing else. To former Zipra’s the Zam­bezi will al­ways be a lib­er­a­tion shrine.

The in­ten­sity of Zipra op­er­a­tions were hin­dered by means of ford­ing the Zam­bezi. It was un­til the Zipra High Com­mand un­der Cde Nikita Man­gena de­cided to solve the prob­lem once and for all.

It was de­cided that it re­in­forces its flotilla boats. The com­mand came up with an un­ortho­dox source for re­in­force­ment.

Zipra forces were un­leashed to bring back boats from Rhode­sia for its use.

I re­call once we closed a fish­ing camp on the Rhode­sian side of the Kariba by tak­ing eight boats and most of the work­ers. The tac­tic was to wait for the work­ers in the evening as they took their turns in tak­ing a bath at a makeshift bath­room at the camp.

The worker would take his bathing tin while Zipra fight­ers waited pa­tiently un­til the worker ap­plied soap on his face.

The jolly singing worker would be sur­prised, his mouth then gagged, his face vol­un­tar­ily wiped off of soap so that he would fol­low the pro­ceed­ings, a short po­lit­i­cal lec­ture would be given and he would then be po­litely asked to vol­un­teer to join the armed strug­gle.

Any­way by then it would have been proved be­yond rea­son­able doubt to him that vol­un­teer­ing was a pa­tri­otic op­tion.

Not sur­pris­ingly ev­ery­one vol­un­teered. On the fol­low­ing morn­ing the man­agers of the camp found the camp empty and boats miss­ing. Then from here the en­gine pow­ered boats be­came Zipra marine ves­sels.

Some of the peo­ple who helped build the Zipra Navy through this un­ortho­dox method were Joash, Joshua Mpofu and oth­ers. The naval equi­lib­rium was then changed in favour of Zipra and the Zam­bezi was con­quered.

Cde Nikita Man­gena was a vi­sion­ary com­man­der. Un­der his com­mand Zipra mapped out a clear strat­egy — a strat­egy that kept ev­ery­one on the same foot­ing.

This meant all the Zipra de­part­ments de­vel­op­ing a strat­egy at the same pace. There is al­ways a dan­ger of a strat­egy los­ing its mo­men­tum due to the lack of jelling to­gether of its ex­ecu­tors.

Cde Man­gena and his com­mand worked tire­lessly to ac­com­plish the goals it had set on time. The train­ing, in­tel­li­gence and re­con­nais­sance, de­ploy­ment and lo­gis­tics were well syn­chro­nised.

Cde Man­gena and his com­mand made sure that Zipra guer­ril­las were well trained, kit­ted, armed, dis­ci­plined and were re-sup­plied prop­erly. In our lib­er­a­tion war there was al­ways a dan­ger and temp­ta­tion to de­ploy too many troops than the sys­tem could sup­port.

This could lead to guer­ril­las roam­ing their op­er­a­tional ar­eas with­out am­mu­ni­tion, ad­di­tional op­er­a­tional or­ders and any other Head Quar­ters Sup­port. Cde Man­gena’s com­mand tried their best to guard against this.

When the co-re­la­tion of forces was highly not in their favour, Zipra con­ducted highly mo­bile war­fare. This in­volved mine war­fare, am­bushes and night raids, hit and dis­ap­pear /light­ing raids.

Most of the op­er­a­tions were ex­e­cuted in the evening. This de­nied the Rhode­sians the ad­van­tage of air su­pe­ri­or­ity. The Rhode­sian air force was not equipped for night fight­ing.

In fact the Rhode­sian forces were forced to adopt night fight­ing by Zipra forces. The Rhode­sians pre­ferred to ini­ti­ate their at­tacks at first light. This gave them the ad­van­tage of call­ing for air sup­port.

When Zipra had built enough forces it then started at­tack­ing big­ger en­emy in­stal­la­tions and at the same time deny­ing the en­emy the ground they would have cap­tured.

The Zipra High Com­mand un­der Man­gena sent cadres for of­fi­cer train­ing and con­ven­tional train­ing for the troops as early as 1977 in prepa­ra­tion for the con­ven­tional war­fare stage of our armed strug­gle, al­though Zipra train­ing syl­labus al­ways had a con­ven­tional as­pect.

Cde Man­gena al­ways said con­ven­tional forces are needed for the fi­nal push in a war of lib­er­a­tion. Two train­ing camps were opened in Boma (An­gola) and Mu­lun­gushi (Zam­bia)

This was the in­tro­duc­tion of the bat­tal­ion con­cept. The bat­tal­ions were fi­nally formed early 1979.

The bat­tal­ion con­cept was noth­ing new in Zipra ex­cept that this time it was on a mas­sive scale. The first Zipra bat­tal­ion was formed in 1977 to drive back Rhode­sian forces who had crossed into Zam­bia tar­get­ing GC-B, a re­gion that was com­manded by in­cum­bent Zim­babwe Na­tional Army com­man­der, Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Philip Va­le­rio Sibanda.

This was also to test the strength of the Rhode­sians if it came to con­ven­tional war­fare. The oper­a­tion was suc­cess­ful and the en­emy was driven back. There were lessons lent by Zipra from this oper­a­tion.

Nikita Man­gena’s vi­sion was un­wind­ing like clock­work. Fur­ther than build­ing a force that would drive the Rhode­sian army from its op­er­a­tional area and de­fend it, Zipra was also through Nikita Man­gena’s lead­er­ship pre­par­ing for ur­ban war­fare.

Small groups were de­ployed into ur­ban ar­eas un­der Zipra mid 1976. Th­ese were, how­ever, big­ger than those that had been de­ployed by the Of­fice of Spe­cial Af­fairs in the early 1960s.

Spe­cial af­fairs had de­ployed in­di­vid­ual sabo­teurs. The Rhode­sians re­acted to this Zipra de­ploy­ment by mas­sively de­ploy­ing the Spe­cial Branch (Rhode­sian in­tel­li­gence). Rhode­sia was put onto a war foot­ing.

All govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions were re­struc­tured for the war. The Selous Scouts unit which was formed in 1973, was re-or­gan­ised to cope with this new ter­ror­ist ap­proach. Cap­tured gueril­las used to fight their com­rades.

At the end of 1977 the ur­ban war­fare strat­egy was re­vis­ited. Pre­vi­ously ur­ban units were formed from the gueril­las who had un­der­gone the usual mil­i­tary train­ing.

This ap­proach was dis­carded af­ter the re­al­i­sa­tion that the ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment needed some spe­cial train­ing. The depart­ment in­tro­duced ur­ban war­fare in its syl­labus.

The most ef­fec­tive com­mand style is be­ing firm and fair. Cde Nikita was just that — firm and fair. Once he de­cided that any field com­man­der who wanted re­in­force­ment would have to bring an equal num­ber of re­cruits.

The first vic­tim of what some con­sid­ered a hush pol­icy was Brig Gen­eral Colin Moyo (Rtd). He re­sponded by mass re­cruit­ment and the other field com­man­ders through­out the coun­try re­acted in the same way putting pres­sure on our train­ing depart­ment.

How­ever, more train­ing fa­cil­i­ties were opened in Zam­bia, An­gola, Libya, Ethiopia, Ro­ma­nia and other so­cial­ist coun­tries to sat­isfy the field com­man­ders. Man­gena or­dered that ev­ery sol­dier be is­sued with one op­er­a­tional weapon.

Loss of the weapon would re­sult in the sol­dier get­ting another from the en­emy. Zipra would only arm the sol­dier with a grenade. The Zipra com­mand un­der Cde Man­gena pushed for its sol­diers to be in­cluded in all ed­u­ca­tional schol­ar­ships.

He de­manded to­tal com­mit­ment, ef­fi­ciency, ini­tia­tive and courage. If he felt one per­formed below his/her ex­pec­ta­tion he would re­ally come hard on the in­di­vid­ual or unit.

He ex­pected his sub­or­di­nates to ex­e­cute their tasks ef­fi­ciently. Cde Man­gena de­manded lead­er­ship qual­i­ties and proper ex­e­cu­tion of his or­ders. I ex­pe­ri­enced his wrath when I was in­volved in an oper­a­tion which was con­sid­ered to be of strate­gic cat­e­gory. The oper­a­tion was com­pleted, the tar­get de­stroyed, but he felt that the time taken to com­plete the task was not up to Zipra stan­dards.

Al­though we were later con­grat­u­lated we were first grilled for tak­ing too much time.

He did not for­give slack­ness. Cde Man­gena wanted ev­ery­body’s ac­tiv­ity to con­trib­ute to­wards Zipra’s grand strat­egy. He put a lot of ef­fort to the de­vel­op­ment of Zipra, hence he and his com­mand pushed for the slo­gan “ev­ery­thing for the front” by the party.

This meant that Zipra sol­diers were to be first in the dis­tri­bu­tion of re­sources. He ini­ti­ated the pub­li­ca­tion of ZPRA Weekly, the Zipra Combat Diary.

The weekly pub­lished the combat ac­tiv­i­ties in Zo­pra op­er­a­tional ar­eas. It be­came the combat sol­dier’s mouth piece. It nar­rated his day to day achieve­ments.

Cde Nikita Man­gena was also a dis­ci­plinar­ian, he de­manded to­tal dis­ci­pline from Zipra ranks. The high dis­ci­pline he de­manded was frus­trat­ing to rogue el­e­ments, re­ac­tionar­ies and those in­fil­trated into ZPRA ranks by the en­emy.

Man­gena built a Zipra which worked hand-in-glove with the masses. Those who joined it had to raise their bar of ded­i­ca­tion to sac­ri­fi­cial level, be pre­pared to stop the en­emy bul­let with their chest if need be for the lib­er­a­tion of Zim­babwe.

Dis­ci­pline had to be kept high to pro­tect Zapu and Zipra’s re­la­tions, with the host coun­tries, masses of Zim­babwe and our rev­o­lu­tion.

Counter rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies found it dif­fi­cult to op­er­ate ef­fec­tively in such a well-dis­ci­plined or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Cde Man­gena was great a mo­ti­va­tor. He did this by reg­u­lar vis­its to the camps and bases.

He in­stilled a sense of self-be­lief into the com­rades when things looked gloomy.

He in­spired a small num­ber of Zipras who were avail­able in the early 1970 to con­front the well-equipped Rhode­sian army and bring it to its knees. He dared the well armed Rhode­sian army with ill-equipped gueril­las.

Cde Man­gena was so en­gulfed by the rev­o­lu­tion that he even named his son and daugh­ter Lot­she and Leil­lah re­spec­tively. Lot­she was the com­man­der of In­duba reg­i­ment un­der King Loben­gula and Leil­lah was named af­ter a Pales­tinian hero­ine who was re­cently in­vited to South Africa by its par­lia­ment.

Cde Man­gena with his col­leagues, Cele, JD, Gor­don Mun­yanyi and Mphoko were the ar­chi­tec­tures of ZPRA. Cde Man­gena ded­i­cated ev­ery atom of his body to the lib­er­a­tion of Zim­babwe.

He was a mil­i­tary genius. He is a rev­o­lu­tion­ary icon. He will al­ways be re­mem­bered. May his soul rest in peace.

Cde Rogers Man­gena pop­u­larly known as Al­fred Nikita Man­gena

Cde Al­fred Nikita Man­gena

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