Syrian-trained Zanla Commando relives fighting years
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
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
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
Cde Mabhunu Muchapera