Why we needed the guns
Cde Clark Mpofu is one of the first people to push for the use of weapons against the white settler government in Rhodesia. He is also famous for escaping from Grey Prison - now Bulawayo Prison - among a number of activities during the liberation struggle. Our Deputy News Editor Levi Mukarati interviewed Cde Mpofu at his home in Nketa, Bulawayo, where he chronicled his political journey. We publish the first part of the question and answer.
Q: You are revered as one of the first people to undergo military training in China as nationalists ratcheted up pressure against the white colonial government. What was your background before active politics? A: Clark Mpofu is my name. It is the name I also used during the war. I was born on 8 April 1938 in Nkayi, where I attended school at Ziyangeni Mission. At this mission school in 1957, while I was in Standard Six, our teacher told the class that Gold Coast, now Ghana, had become independent. He explained that the independence meant the country was now being ruled by blacks. That sent a shock wave inside me, I itched to see our country also follow that same route because we were all aware of how the whites were ill-treating our parents. During those days, a white person, be it an adult or a small child, induced fear in us. They were a “superior race” and we were “inferior”. They made us look like we were lesser human beings. So the independence in the Gold Coast struck me. I then moved to Bulawayo, after Standard Six, where political activities had started to increase. It was mainly along the lines of trade unionism, as black workers demanded better treatment from their white bosses, better working conditions and good wages. At that time, there was the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress formed in 1957, which we commonly refer to as the ANC. This party had leaders like (Joshua) Nkomo, James Chikerema and Abel Muzorewa. My uncle, my mother’s brother, Alfred Mathendele Sibanda, had been active in the ANC. During those days, they were going around the country mobilising people to join their quest for freedom. The ANC was banned in December 1959 and my uncle, Alfred, was arrested and detained in Marandellas, now Marondera. The arrest and detention touched me because we were close. My dislike for the colonial government increased. Q: Can we then say the arrest of your uncle heralded your
entry into politics? A: It is difficult to draw the line to say when exactly I became active in politics. At that time, we were living in an environment where politics could not be avoided, there were those who were in the forefront and those supporting. I was among those supporting the cause to end colonial rule. So when ANC was banned, the NDP was founded on 1 January 1960, with Michael Mawema as interim president. Joshua Nkomo was to be elected president of NDP in November 1960. I was part of these developments. I had also been following the political activities in the country. I was not just coming from nowhere. The NDP was talking about ruling ourselves; one man, one vote and Joshua Nkomo used to say, “Freedom is around the corner”. I was 22-years-old when the NDP was formed and Nkomo’s statements gave us zeal as the youth. At the NDP November 1961 Congress where Joshua Nkomo became President, Morton Malianga was elected deputy president, while George Silundika became secretary-general. At the Congress at McDonald Hall in Mzilikazi, that is when I first saw Robert Mugabe, who was elected publicity and information secretary. There was also a woman, Sally Heyfron, who was introduced as a representative of the President of Ghana, Nkwame Nkrumah. She was coming from a country that had gained independence and was my inspiration. But we did not know that Sally was coming here to get married to Cde Mugabe. At that Congress, Herbert Chitepo spoke strongly against the 15 Parliament seats that were being offered by the whites to the blacks. He spoke in Shona and said, “Zve Parliament yenyu zvaramba, tati hatidi 1961 constitution”. It was resolved at the Congress, that we reject that constitution. I also remember Mugabe saying that the youths must “self-deny and fight for the liberation of this country”. That touched me, I felt tears welling in my eyes and said to myself, “now, we will fight!” The end of the Congress marked the “Zhii” period, when we took demonstrations to the streets and employed rudimentary methods to resist settler discrimination and oppression by throwing stones and petrol bombs to damage the white people’s infrastructure. Q: Still at the Congress, what role did you take? A: We were still youths. We were listening to what the leadership was planning. You see, as youths, there were tasks that we were given to ensure the logistics were in place. The running around with chairs and providing security, patrolling, among other duties. But we were in close proximity of what would be happening and the deliberations. While we were not at the top table or seated as Congress delegates, we were there carrying out other roles. But we were present at the Congress and we were very active. However, NDP was to be banned on 7 December 1961, leading to the formation of Zapu on 17 December 1961, with (Joshua) Nkomo as president, Samuel Tichafa Parirenyatwa as vice-president and Ndabaningi Sithole chairman. Mugabe was information and publicity secretary. But we also had Chitepo in Zapu. Many people miss that Chitepo was in NDP and Zapu. They only associate him with Zanu. Q: Can you elaborate on Cde Chitepo being in NDP and
Zapu? A: History has been distorted to make it appear as if Chitepo had nothing to do with NDP and Zapu. No, that is not true. I could be right to suggest that it was anaTekere and Mugabe who were trying to play tribal politics. We were youths then and interacted with Chitepo, a humble and soft-spoken, but tough man. I know he was there before Zanu because I was part of these political parties during their formation. We were the active youths then, together with people like Bernard Mutuma, Ethan Dube and Dumiso Dabengwa. I knew Dabengwa before the NDP was formed. He was among the first Africans to be employed as tailors, making clothes for Barclays Bank employees. This was an attempt by the Federal Government to try and show that there was no discrimination in this country. Sir Roy Welensky was then Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland between 1956 and 1963. But the issue is that Herbert Chitepo was very active in the NDP. When the NDP was banned, he had secured employment in Tanzania after being asked by President Julius Nyerere to work for his government as director (of) prosecutions, but he still remained active in politics. When NDP was banned, we also had Dr Tichafa Parirenyatwa. We used to call him Dr Pari, again a soft-spoken but tough man. A powerful man who talked or addressed us softly and humbly as if we were his age, we respected that man. Dr Pari was like that; Herbert Chitepo was also like that. I remember before we flew from Tanzania to China via Soviet Union, I spoke to Chitepo from across the table and admired his attentiveness. A tough person against the whites. The others who were soft like Mugabe and Nkomo thought we could only be freed by sabotage only and not through the use of guns. Chitepo and Dr Pari were not like that, they had taken a tough position that unless we start killing these whites with guns, we would remain oppressed. But today, and for political reasons, some people heavily linked to the old Zanu want to say Chitepo started politics as chairman in Zanu. No, that is not true and I want that placed on record that Chitepo formed NDP and Zapu. Unfortunately, Chitepo died in a bomb in Zambia and Dr Pari died in an accident after his driver misjudged the speed of a train at a rail level crossing before Hlambabaloyi just outside Bulawayo on the then Bulawayo-Salisbury Road. The person who was driving him is Danger Ncube, he is alive and is now based in London. Q: Earlier, you mentioned the riots of the 1960s. How
did they pan out? A: The riots were serious. I led youth from Makokoba branch and we were using stones to attack the whites and their buildings. That forced the British to hold a constitutional conference in Salisbury, which was chaired by Mr Duncan Sandys. I was at that conference that produced the constitution that was rejected by the blacks. But the liberal Africans, who we called stooges, accepted the constitution and got in Parliament, 15 of them. We did not support their move; that is why we called them stooges, the likes of Jasper Savanhu, Michael Hove. We were saying no, we want one man, one vote. The NDP organised a referendum to reject that constitution and the majority vote said no. Then Nkomo took those results to the British government and met the Duke of Devonshire, who was a junior minister in the government of the Conservative Party. He said to Nkomo, “Southern Rhodesia is highly industrialised and cannot be given to inexperienced hands.” That was an insult and we did not accept it. When Nkomo returned and after landing at the Salisbury Airport (now Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport), he said if the “industry is going to stand in the way of our freedom, then that industry must go”. That message was enough for us; hence, the burning of factories all over the country’s towns or the riots of 1961. They were sparked by Nkomo’s message. I was on fire, I felt the urge for arson and destruction to show my dislike of white oppression. We were using petrol bombs, but we had not perfected that. I remember then with my fellow youths Gordon Butshe and Shadreck Nkomo approaching one of the leaders, Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo, requesting the use of guns against the whites. He was reluctant at first but later convinced the National Executive Committee of Zapu to consider helping us get training in the use of explosives. In 1962, I had been chosen by Jason Moyo to lead a group of four youths to Salisbury (Harare) to join others in organising our tactics. I went to Harare with Elias Ngugama from Mpopoma; John Mundiya Ndlovu, an embuthweni youth; then Amen Chikwakwata - he was from Mpopoma. We were met at the Salisbury Railway Station by the chairman of Harare District, Cde Enos Chikowere, and taken to meet our contact in the central business district. I had been told that to dispel any suspicions of who we were, when we got to our meeting point in Harare, I must read my newspaper upside down and then that is when one liberal white, Dr Terrence Ranger, who was at the University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, came and took us. When he got to where we were, he said “Jason, Jason, JZ”, and I said Jason Moyo, he said, yes, and he took us. We were taught how to make petrol bombs using benzene and other explosive material. These liberal whites at the University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland understood our cause. There were also youths from Salisbury for this training and I remember in that group was Phebion Shoniwa. After perfecting our skills for about a week, we then returned to Bulawayo to continue our sabotage by burning white-owned properties, committing arson. That same year, in December, I was also sent to Zambia. The leaders trusted me and that is why they made me the leader of these youth groups. I was sent to Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, for training by uMkhonto we Sizwe. Q: Who took you there and who received you in Zambia,
were you alone? A: We were taken to Northern Rhodesia by Kenius Mlalazi, a dark and tall man whose liberation struggle name was Inyoni Yezulu. Upon arrival there, we were handed over to Cde Sikwili Khohli Moyo. Like I said earlier, I was leading the group and Amen Chikwakwata, John Mundiya Ndlovu and Elias Ngugama was to later follow. These were the same people I had led when we went to Harare to meet Dr Ranger. The Northern Rhodesia exercise was like further training after the one we had got at the University. Our instructor at Umkhonto we Sizwe was Cde Makiwane. Regional movements were working closely together; that is, the ANC of South Africa and Swapo of Namibia and so on. We were trained with others from countries in the region. I spent the Christmas of 1962 in the bush in Zambia, getting this training. Northern Rhodesia at that time was being ruled by the British and there was only a governor, but then the nationalists were managing to do their activities underground. Q: After the training, what was your immediate task? A: After that training, we were to return back home and I was entrusted with a big trunk which contained grenades and bombs. My colleagues were not told about its contents. Cde Sikwili Khohli Moyo instructed me that after we alight the train at Mpopoma Railway Station in Bulawayo, there would be people to welcome us. When we got to Mpopoma, we were met by Ethan Dube, who was later to become the first intelligence officer of Zipra, but was captured by the whites and killed in Botswana. He was very intelligent. There was also Gordon Butshe waiting to receive us. So they took me from Mpopoma and asked where we could hide the trunk and we agreed we take it to Mzilikazi at my aunt’s house (R7, Mzilikazi) for the night. My aunt, the late liberation heroine Cde Mafazi Moyo, was on our side and took the trunk in. The following morning, Dube and Butshe came and we took the trunk to Matobo Hills and cached it there. So those bombs were being used to turn up the heat against the whites and this resulted in the tense relations between the whites and blacks.
◆ To be continued next week