‘We were sold out by fellow comrades’
WE continue our interview with former footballer, Cde Joko Thodlana about his exploits in the armed struggle. Cde Thodlana who operated under the pseudonym Cde Hughes Mhondoro continues the interview with Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda about their deployment at the front. Last week Cde Thodlana said he believed his unit of 14 was sold out by fellow comrades when it was about to cross the Zambezi River.
MS: You said you were saved from the jaws of death by Cde Reggie who stopped you from using that crossing point. Do you think you had been set up for slaughter?
Cde Thodlana: It’s possible that within our ranks there were Rhodesian moles. Why were we supposed to use a crossing point that was no longer deemed safe? It’s very difficult to understand. Anyway we finally crossed the Zambezi into Rhodesia, the crossing point had a gorge which made it difficult for one to move. It was very difficult, but we managed to find our way. Our unit had AK-47 rifles, a bazooka while one was armed with a Simonov, which was fitted with a grenade launcher. Our unit was a mixture of those who had been trained at Morogoro and Mwembeshi in Zambia. We moved through the Hwange area, entered the park and in areas around the park that is where we encountered problems, which resulted in us splitting the group into two.
MS: What problems did you face?
Cde Thodlana: After the Hwange National Park we found a spot with water. After satisfying ourselves that the water was safe we started cooking because those days guerillas used to carry their own food supplies and were also given some money so that they could buy their provisions. As for the safety of water, if some organisms in the water were alive we then could tell that it had not been poisoned. We were not worried about the amount of dirt, we were only afraid of the poison. So immediately after we had finished cooking and had eaten, we heard the sound of an aircraft. The sound grew louder as it was moving towards us. We then put out the fire using soil. The aircraft approached where we were and we realised that it was a military aircraft, okuyisileyi. It then started encircling the place, but we had taken cover in the thicket. For sometime it was trying to locate where we were, but failed. It then left. We then realised that the
Rho de s i ans would start looking for us, so a decision wa s made t o split the unit into two. So Cde Makwesha a veteran who had been in the operations for some time took the other, which had comrades like Lovemore Mpofu (Howard Ncube) while ours was given to Chirisa another veteran guerilla. They were in Zambia after coming from Gwanda, so they knew the area where we were going very well. So myself, besides Bernard Chirisa I was with people like Kaizer and Madabudabu.
MS: How did you move?
Cde Thodlana: We went through Tsholotsho-Plumtree area, Kezi and finally we reached Gwanda. However, the other unit arrived in Gwanda with six people, one comrade Jimmy lost the group while they were in Mangwe. However, he managed to find his way to Gwanda after meeting other comrades. So when we got to Gwanda, Gobatema area we found some comrades already on the ground such as Mdubane, Ellington, Teaspoon and Toyitoyi. Some of these comrades started operating in Gwanda soon after the death of Zipa.
MS: Then tell us about your operations. Cde Thodlana: One of the objectives we had in Gwanda was massive recruitment, we were supposed to recruit and escort the recruits to Botswana, make sure those coming from areas like Bulawayo were given all the security to take them across the border. We were also supposed to recruit from Gwanda and surrounding areas, the Manama Mission school children were taken by comrades like Mdubane. We also took advantage of community gatherings such as weddings to take away the people and move them to Botswana to join the armed struggle. We did not care whether one wanted or not, those found at the wedding and fit to train as soldiers were taken. That included lomatshada (the groom). While we were recruiting we also wanted to create a safe corridor for the recruits and comrades moving to areas like Mberengwa as well as for our comrades
f rom Umkhonto WeSwizwe of ANC. That safe corridor could be created only if we attacked the Rhodesian forces, harassed them by laying ambushes to restrict their movements. We were recruiting and fighting at the same time. However, soon after arriving in Gwanda I was sent to Beitbridge to go and recover a weapon, an AK-47 which had been hidden by other comrades when its owner was killed in combat. It was the Mtetengwe area of Beitbridge. We were given that mission together with Kaizer and Madabudabu. However, things changed when we got there.
MS: What was the problem this time around?
Cde Thodlana: We managed to locate the weapon, but two of my comrades started saying we should not go back to Gwanda, but should operate in that area. In fact it was the home area of Kaizer, he started engaging in romantic activities with local village girls and soon Madabudabu joined in. The most worrying thing was that when Kaizer, a comrade we trained together at Morogoro left the country to join the armed struggle he had left a wife and children. But now he was having an affair with another woman, ignoring the wife. Madabudabu also had an affair with Kaizer’s relative. The whole thing became messy and my efforts to talk them out of it fell on deaf ears. In fact it created a rift. I almost lost my life because of that situation.
MS: They wanted to happened?
Cde Thodlana: One day we were out in the bush during the day. I was mending my combat trousers and the two of them had deployed some metres away. They were playing some music on the radio. Then came six Zanla guerillas, they heard the sound of the radio, I was watching their movements. They stopped and surveyed the ground and they saw me. I was now ready for anything. Those Zanla comrades looked at me and walked away, after that brief and tense situation Kaizer and Madabudabu emerged from different positions behind me. They started asking where those people had gone, I realised that if an exchange of gunfire had started especially if it were Selous Scouts, I could have been killed. I then left them and returned on my own to Gwanda.
To be continued next week with Cde Thodlana talking about his operations and his role in the mutiny at Zezani Assembly Point in Beitbridge where guerillas held hostage senior commanders who included Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube over allowances. Zezani was an Assembly Point
for both Zipra and Zanla.
Cde Joko Thodlana