Soviet military advisors join Zipra
WE continue our interview with Cde Jeffrey Ndlovu whose pseudonym was Cde Kenneth Murwiri. Cde Ndlovu started as Zipra’s Adjutant-General before being promoted to the rank of chief of technical engineering during which time he lost his sight in a landmine blast in September 1979 near the Zambezi River on the Zambian side.
In the past two weeks in an interview with our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) Cde Ndlovu spoke about his training at Morogoro in Tanzania, deployment and operations, internal problems in Zapu, the resuscitation of the war by Zipra and the importance of the use of landmines in guerilla warfare. Below are excerpts of today’s interview:
MS: Last week Cde Ndlovu we were still talking about massive infiltration of guerillas into the country and you were talking about the massive support you were receiving from the masses, may we pick our interview from there.
Cde Ndlovu: As you might be aware that because of the intensification of the war, the Rhodesian forces were forced to divide the country into operational areas, Hurricane (December 1972), Tangent (August 76), Repulse (May 76), Thresher (February 76), Grapple (August 77) and Splinter (June 78). Such a move by the enemy was because Zanla was pouring in from the other side of the country in large numbers while we had also intensified and were deploying heavily from Zambia. Such a decision by the Rhodesians was a clear sign that the enemy was feeling the heat and that the operational areas of the freedom fighters had expanded, the war was becoming too hot for them.
MS: Then Cde Ndlovu let us look at your side, the Zipra commander Nikita Mangena died in a landmine incident, how then was the army reconstituted. I’m asking this question because by then you were still the AdjutantGeneral, that information should be at your fingertips.
Cde Ndlovu: It was an unfortunate incident as Cde Mangena was a brilliant military strategist and able commander, but the war had to go on. Immediately after his death, Cde Lameck Mafela (Lookout Masuku) was promoted to take over. Mafela had previously been a military instructor having trained in the Soviet Union and when Zipra was established taking over from the Special Affairs Department, Mafela was the army’s political commissar, a rank just below that of the overall commander.
MS: When Masuku took over, did he make wholesale changes?
Cde Ndlovu: Not at all. It would be wrong to say he made serious changes. What happened was that he took over at a time when Zipra was undergoing some re-organisation. In 1978 that is when Zipra was beginning to implement things fully what all along had been on the table since 1972 and what all along the command element had been working on. Here I am talking about the training of special forces such as the air force, artillery, tanks and so on, the build-up started in 1972 when Zipra was reconstituted, from time to time requisitions were made by the commander, sent through to the Revolutionary Council via that organ’s secretary who was Dumiso Dabengwa. Then in 1978 the army had reached a stage what the commanders wanted it to be, so even if Cde Mangena had not died those things we are talking about were going to be implemented anyway.
MS: Highlight some of the things that Mafela carried out.
Cde Ndlovu: Before I speak about that, I think it is important to mention at this stage that after the death of Cde Mangena, Zipra received two military advisors from the Soviet Union, one was strictly for the army, that is to combat operations while the other was for the intelligence and he worked closely with the National Security Organisation (NSO). However, before that we already had another military advisor from the Soviet Union who came to Zambia before the death of Nikita and that one was a military communications specialist. Then turning to the structure that Lookout Masuku came up with some changes were made here and there and they were influenced by the situation on the ground as Zipra was now ready to wage a full scale war on the Rhodesians, conventional and specialist forces had been trained while weapons had been acquired. I should emphasise here that development was the cumulative preparations that had started in 1972. Before that as you know large units of guerillas had been deployed into the country to soften the enemy. Now we were at a stage where the conventional forces were ready.
MS: Before you speak about the changes made by the Masuku command, were the Soviet advisors merely advisors or they were taking over the command considering that they were the major backers of Zipra?
Cde Ndlovu: Let me be honest with you, they were there to advise only and they stuck to that mandate. I have no reason of hiding anything here, people need to know the true history as what we are doing here is writing that history. Then turning to the changes that you asked about I was personally affected as I was moved from being Adjutant-General to the rank of chief of technical engineering and a structure was put in place. My position as adjutantgeneral was taken over by Cde Ishmael Gondo.
MS: Then what became of the whole Zipra structure considering that the war situation was changing?
Cde Ndlovu: Nyika (head special forces-air force, artillery, strallar units and so on), in the armoured units there were comrades like Devine Malaba, Mbhejelwa and David Ndebele, reconnaissance there was current ZNA commander Lt-Gen P V Sibanda (Annanias Gwenzi), Eddie Sigoge and Jimmy Mhandu, the late Retired BrigadierGeneral Mike Reynolds (Charles Grey) was chief of operations, Zwafa (Emmanuel Moyo) chief of communications. However, Zwafa was later killed in a bombing attack and in came now Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube. As for the Women’s Brigade it’s commander was Cde Sihle Ngwenya.
MS: Some comrades are of the view that some things might have been done in a particular way had Mangena not died. Any comments on that?
Cde Ndlovu: My comment on that is that all what happened after the death of Nikita had been in the pipeline. Some of the arrangements might still have happened even if Nikita was still alive because most of those things were a collective decision. We should also be aware that whatever Zipra as a force was getting it was coming through the party. The party is the one that had diplomatic relations with other countries not Zipra directly. Our backers supported Zapu first and then Zipra. All the logistical support was coming through the party. MS: Take us through your new assignment. Cde Ndlovu: It was sort of starting afresh as we had to come up with a stand-alone team of engineers. Our training camp was at CGT. Coming in as the head of engineers I was deputised by Benon Dube. Then we had James Savanhu (Penous Dube) who was embedded to us having come from the intelligence unit, NSO. To complete the top four was Nkosi Maphosa (Elliot Mahlole). We drew up a training manual and operational plans. However, we also got already trained specialist engineers. From the four of us Cde Savanhu was then deployed to Mashonaland West Province where he started working with Cde Richard Mataure (Rtd Col Richard Ngwenya) while Cde Mahlole was seconded to the southern front and was then based in Botswana. However, he was later captured together with Cde Makepesi Tshuma in a raid by the Rhodesians in Botswana and they were never seen again. Within a short space of time we had become a fully fledged unit with more than 1 000 engineers. We got most of the guys from those who had trained in Angola and had gone under the tutelage of the Cubans. MS: How was your deployment like? Cde Ndlovu: I should bring it to your attention that prior to the creation of a standalone squadron of engineers, military engineers were part of the operations department. In fact all those who trained under Zipra were well trained in military engineering but others of course were sent for further training in that field. Then as for operations, Savanhu remained on the field in Mash West until the ceasefire and his team is the one among many operations that blew up power pylons from Kariba to then Salisbury in 1978 that saw whites in suburbs such as Malbereign spending Christmas without electricity. A team of engineers usually operated with small numbers of between three and five but in most cases they were attached to some units. In a battalion we attached about 30 engineers. Most operations needed engineers who besides their explosives were armed with small arms such as AK-47s. Our engineers usually carried Soviet-made TNT explosives which were very effective in destroying rail lines, bridges. By the time of the ceasefire some of the engineers had started penetrating urban areas, in Bulawayo, Donnington Police Station was hit by them. That was meant to harass the enemy and also send a message to the enemy that urban areas were no longer safe as well.
MS: Now the war was on, then can we take us to the unfortunate incident where you were injured, resulting in you losing your sight.
Cde Ndlovu: A lot happened leading to that incident. I had been on the operational field as at that time I used to move to the front on a regular basis. At first I had been to Livingstone where I managed to see the deployment of some of my guys, the same people who hit Donnington Police Station and were led by Agent. I then moved to the other side where there was Richard Mataure and Savanhu. A number of comrades were crossing the Zambezi going to Mash West. We met a fighting force of about 85 comrades who were coming for supplies on the Zambian side. I had also brought 15 engineers who were going to Nyakasaka where there was Cde Savanhu. They managed to cross and then on my way back to Lusaka I passed through the position of the First Battalion which was under the command of Cde Mandliwa (Retired Major-General Stanford Khumalo).
The interview with Cde Ndlovu ends in our next issue when he gives an account how he was hit by the landmine. He will also talk about how he has managed to survive considering his disability. He will reveal the people who have managed to assist him in his welfare among them being the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Constantino Guveya Chiwenga and
his wife Mary.