Syr­ian-trained Zanla Com­mando re­lives fight­ing years

The Manica Post - - Analysis - Free­dom Mu­tanda and Sife­lani Tonje Post Cor­re­spon­dents

MUCH has been writ­ten about the role of for­eign coun­tries in the in­de­pen­dence of Zim­babwe with Mozam­bique, Zam­bia, Botswana, Tan­za­nia, An­gola, Ethiopia and Libya among oth­ers hog­ging the lime­light in of­fer­ing ZANLA and ZIPRA bases to train to be feared com­bat­ants who would go back to Rhode­sia and un­leash ter­ror on the white man who never be­lieved that the ‘’horse’’ would ever have the right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. Com­mu­nist and Nordic coun­tries also con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly along­side the OAU Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee.

Man­ica Post cor­re­spon­dents, Free­dom Mu­tanda and Sife­lani Tonje, had a chat with David Si­mango whose nom de guerre, Cephas Mab­hunu Muchapera, made him a feared guer­rilla in the Gonarezhou area. Cde Mab­hunu Muchapera was one of the com­bat­ants trained in Syria dur­ing the war. Let’s lis­ten to his story as his roller­coaster ride from Gwenzi com­mu­nal lands to Tri­an­gle, Mac­hazi, Chibawawa and the Golan Heights in Syria and back to Gonarezhou in the Lowveld. CMM stands for Cephas Mab­hunu Muchapera while MP stands for Man­ica Post cor­re­spon­dents, Free­dom Mu­tanda and Sife­lani Tonje.

MP: Take us back to the rea­sons be­hind your join­ing the war at the age of 35.

CMM: I was an ir­ri­ga­tion su­per­vi­sor at Tri­an­gle Sugar Es­tates for some years. The com­pany made me a men­tor to var­i­ous white men; what irked me was that af­ter three or so months un­der my men­tor­ship, the white man got pro­moted and in no time he would be given a car and the com­pany spon­sors his white wed­ding. In the mean­time, I con­tin­ued to use a bi­cy­cle in my job. These green­horns didn’t know any­thing about sugar cane when they ar­rived.

MP: When did you be­come po­lit­i­cally con­scious?

CMM: I was a mem­ber of the Youth Wing of NDP and from there I joined ZAPU and later ZANU. In­jus­tices against the black ma­jor­ity at the work place made me re­alise that the white man had no place for the African in his heart. MP: What did you do to show that po­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness had taken root in you? They say words with­out ac­tion won’t amount to any­thing in a rev­o­lu­tion?

CMM: When the Sec­ond Chimurenga came to Tri­an­gle, I was in close li­ai­son with the boys. I gave them in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the white men’s movements and mo­bilised re­sources to help them in any way pos­si­ble. By 1975, I was able to use the gun and ac­tu­ally had con­tacts with the white sol­diers as a TIF com­bat­ant (Trained In the Front cadre).

MP: Weren’t you invit­ing trou­ble

for your­self by be­ing so brazen in your sup­port for the com­rades since you were an ir­ri­ga­tion su­per­vi­sor?

CMM: Yes, word got round that I was a worker by day and guer­rilla by night. Con­se­quently, the op­er­a­tions direc­tor, T. Goss, openly told me I was a gan­danga and he would one day, catch me. I had a wife and four chil­dren and I knew my days at the com­pany were draw­ing to a close. There­fore, I de­cided to go home and join the lib­er­a­tion

strug­gle.

MP: At 35?

CMM: Yes, age is noth­ing but a num­ber. I skipped the bor­der via Espungabeira. My days at Mac­hazi and Chibawawa refugee camps were very few. Hav­ing skipped the bor­der in May 1976, I was one of the 500 cadres who went to be trained in Syria near the end of 1976. Fred Matanga was one of the com­man­ders who ac­com­pa­nied us to Syria. Jus­tice Ben Hlatswayo also trained in Syria. We went by air. MP: Take us through the train­ing

regime.

CMM: We woke up at 3am and toy­i­toyed non-stop for two hours; we came back and did crawl­ing and cover drills be­fore go­ing for tar­get shoot­ing. We used sub­ma­chine guns, semi-au­to­matic ri­fles for the tar­get shoot­ing drills. Af­ter that, came the break­fast which com­prised small bread and fruits. It was dif­fi­cult to ac­cli­ma­tise to the new food but af­ter some time, our tum­mies cot­toned on to the diet. There were days we had po­lit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion. To­day, I can as­sem­ble and dis­as­sem­ble guns in the dark be­cause we did that reg­u­larly in Syria. Our coun­ter­parts in Da­m­as­cus were the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion fight­ers.

MP: Did your group face chal­lenges

dur­ing the train­ing?

CMM: Of course, we did mo­bile war­fare and guer­rilla tech­niques dur­ing our six months stint in Syria. There was this drill where we had to crawl from one end to the other and there was a min­i­mum height one did not have to breach as one crawled. Our train­ers would fire live bul­lets at that stip­u­lated height so much that when you got weary, you had to en­dure lest you would be shot dead. It was a chal­lenge to con­tinue crawl­ing but we all made it ex­cept for a few Pales­tini­ans who were shot af­ter they raised their heads.

MP: You told us how you re­turned to Chi­moio via Yu­goslav Air­ways. Tell us about the Mof­fat Hall in­ci­dent in Mutare.

CMM: I was de­ployed in the Gaza Province and I would op­er­ate in Gonarezhou. On our way to Gonarezhou, we at­tacked sol­diers at Mof­fat Hall in Um­tali, com­mando style.

There was a group of sol­diers at Mof­fat Hall and we staged a sur­prise at­tack on them. In Syria, I trained in the ar­tillery divi­sion. Cde Stan was our com­man­der. That was in May 1977. Our at­tack did not last five min­utes. We hurled three mor­tar 60 shells at the sol­diers. A bazooka at­tack fol­lowed. I han­dled the mor­tar 60. We had made a re­con­nais­sance be­fore the at­tack. Other guer­ril­las at­tacked and be­fore the sol­diers could re­spond, we had made good our es­cape. A num­ber of sol­diers died and a bul­let grazed Cde Stan’s thigh but it wasn’t se­ri­ous to war­rant med­i­cal at­ten­tion. MP: The Mu­papa at­tack? What hap­pened?

CMM: We were in Chief Chi­longa’s area in July 1977. We mounted an am­bush at a curve near Runde River. 15 com­rades were present. A con­voy came. I launched the mor­tar at the lead­ing ve­hi­cle. Sol­diers jumped out of the ve­hi­cles and im­me­di­ately took cover as they fired at us. A fire­fight en­sued and be­fore we knew it, he­li­copters came. We re­alised we were out­gunned and the he­li­copter is dan­ger­ous in that it pur­sues you wher­ever you try to go. It was our un­der­stand­ing through train­ing that when the go­ing got tough, we had to re­treat and meet at our GP (Gath­er­ing Point). We re­treated. Un­for­tu­nately, our com­man­der, Cde Stan, was cap­tured. Cde Shumba took over lead­er­ship. MP: You men­tioned in one of your con­tacts with the Rhode­sian sol­diers the late Army Gen­eral, Rex Nhongo, nearly died in a con­tact. What hap­pened?

CMM: Cde Rex Nhongo came to Gezana in Septem­ber 1977. Things were tense dur­ing that pe­riod in Gonarezhou. He came with his mag­wada­posto (aides). He pro­posed to use a dan­ger­ous route to go back; he sug­gested go­ing via a river where our re­con­nais­sance had shown we could be at­tacked. Cde Rex in­sisted we use that route and we did. Sol­diers am­bushed us and we hit back fe­ro­ciously and our com­man­der man­aged to go back to the rear.

MP: Cde, we have heard a lot about svikiros’ role in the war. Is that true?

CCM: When we got to Chief Chi­longa’s area, we no­ti­fied the Chief of our pres­ence in the area. He made us meet the svikiro who warned us against vi­o­lat­ing fe­males in his area. At times, the Cha­pungu would fly above us and go in a cer­tain di­rec­tion and we would fol­low suit. Of­ten­times, ba­boons warned us of im­pend­ing dan­ger. There­fore, it is true that the spirit medi­ums went a long way in guid­ing us dur­ing the war.

MP: How did you sur­vive in Gonarezhou see­ing that there are plenty of wild an­i­mals there and the Big Five are there? CCM: An­i­mals fear gun­pow­der. In­cred­i­bly, in my group, no one died up to the end of the war. It’s only our com­man­der Cde Stan who got cap­tured.

MP: You had many en­coun­ters with the en­emy. How did you get ma­te­ri­als for use with­out us­ing the povo?

CCM: (laughs) There was one in­ci­dent at Chibi. We flagged down a bread de­liv­ery van. We took the bread and gave the povo who obliged by sup­port­ing us fully.

MP: Do you have any re­grets? CCM: Not at all. How­ever, when I re­turned from the front, my wife had de­serted the four chil­dren. I never joined the Zim­babwe Na­tional Army but re­turned home to be a farmer.

MP: Com­ment on the new dis­pen­sa­tion.

CCM: Ini­tially, as com­rades, we got recog­ni­tion but in the past four or so years, we were dis­par­aged as drunks, thieves and un­e­d­u­cated felons. Nev­er­the­less, I be­lieve, we are in the right di­rec­tion in terms of lead­er­ship which is peo­ple ori­ented. The ‘sea and the fish’ semi­otic re­la­tion­ship has to be re­vived if we are to make it as a na­tion. Wide con­sul­ta­tions with the tra­di­tional lead­er­ship, academia, busi­ness com­mu­nity and the youths will give us the sign posts to fol­low as a na­tion. MP: Thank you Cde Mab­hunu for

your time.

Cde Mab­hunu Muchapera

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