‘13 of you can free Zimbabwe’
The Sunday Mail’ s Deputy News Editor Levi Mukarati continues his conversationwith C de Clark Mp ofuatt he liberation fighter’ s home inNke ta, Bulawayo. Cde Mpofu chronicles how he became a wanted man by the Rhodesian police, his escape to Zambia, and his military traininginChina.
Q: You make it seem as if you committed sabotage under the noses of Rhodes ian security forces. How did they react to youractivities? A:
No! no! The Rhodesian police were always after us. They would even plant their men among us and arrests were taking place, especially against our leaders. As for us, the youth in Bulawayo, it was Shadreck Nkomo who was arrested first around January in 1963. After his arrest, he was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Q: What was his crime? A:
He had been the mastermind in burning a bookshop in Bulawayo’s CBD. But there were other cases of sabotage and riots that he had been involved in, which he denied. Nkomo, myself and Butshe were behind the bombing of some factories around the Thorngrove, Kenilworth and Khami Café, as well as railway line targets. But the bookshop case was enough for the Rhodesia Courts to sendNko mo to prison for seven years. Immediately after Nkomo’s arrest, the police were looking for Butshe, Ngugama and me. They were hot on us and we were hiding in various places. Dumiso Dabengewa was chairman for Mpopoma branch, Ethan Dube was chairman in Makokoba and Akim Ndlovu was chaiman Emabuthweni. The trio used to meet with us to strategise. After the arrest of Nkomo and news that we were being sought after by the police, Dab engwa, Nd lovu and Du be arranged that we leave the country. It was no longer safe for us to continuerunning away and sleep in one house after the other. We then left for Northern Rhodesia.
Q: How did you leave the country? A:
After it was agreed that we flee the country for Lusaka, we slept at Dabengwa’s family house in Mpopoma before boarding a train at Mpopoma Railway Station the following morning, destined for Lusaka. We did not encounter any problems with the police and managed to cross into Zambia. Getting out of Bulawayo was the big issue because some of the police knew us. But once we were out of Bulawayo,
we knew we had succeeded. In this escape, it was me and Gordon Butshe and we first arrived in Chilenje, where John Bhebhe ran a dry cleaning shop in Materu. We stayed at Bhebhe’s place, where we were joined by Mbejelwa Moyo and after a week, James Chat agwa arrived accompanied by David Mpongo, who had been trained in Cuba. It was in 1963 and the four of us were taken by Mpongo to Mbeya, Tanzania. In Mbeya, we were received by Cde Abraham Nkiwane. Cde Nkiwane used to be in charge of the Za pu office in Tanzania. All the comrades who were going to Tanzania would first get to that office for further transmission: be it to the Soviet Union, China or Cuba. Again, on return, it was Tanzania before Zambia and Rhodesia. While in Mbeya and still in 1963, Joshua Nkomo, accompanied by James Chikerema, arrived to meet us. We had a meeting with them. Nkiwane was not allowed to be part of the meeting. I don’t know the reason, but Nkomo asked him to excuse us and they met the four of us; that is me, Chatagwa, Butshe and Moyo.
Q: What was the meeting about? A:
In that meeting, Nkomo wanted to establish what we were up to. Remember, we had ran away from Rhodesia for various acts of sabotage. He seemed to be interested in learning more about our characters. I would be correct to say Nkomo was afraid we were waging a war in a manner different to what they wanted. He thought we were too radical. Nko mo asked what we had been up to, and we told him that the sabotage and bombs that had been targeting the whites and their properties had been our doing. He asked what we wanted, and we told him we now wanted military training and guns to shoot the whites. Nkomo looked puzzled, he seemed as if he was questioninghimself on what animals the struggle was now creating. I remember Nkomo being silent for a while before Chi ker ema asked where we wanted togo for the training. We all said Cuba. We said Cuba because the guy who took us to M be ya, David Mpongo, had told us he had been trained in Cuba, so we all thought we could be trained there. At that moment, Nkomo said: “Do you know that if you shoot a white man, the whites will shoot all the blacks back home?” He was of the opinion that we must continue committing sabotage without killing the whites. He believed in negotiations with the whites. But for us, we had decided to shift a gear up because sabotage alone was not working. The two leaders promised us that something would be organised for us without elaborating, but they surely left the meeting puzzled on the path that we had decided to take. About a week after that meeting, Cde Nkiwane received a telephone call for us to travel to Dar es Salaam. Our travel there was not easy. We were suffering and we would ask for food from the locals. I remember Nkiwane gave each one of us an orange as a provision for food. We were then taken to Iringa by bus and later, a train to Dar es Salaam. It was a long journey. We had grown long hair and we looked like vagrants. In Dar es Salaam, we met Cde Clement Muchachi who we used to call Sekuru veNDP. He used to share a bedroom with the Bull of Chiru- manzu, Leopold Takawi ra. They got these names because of their tough stance against the whites. It was in Dar es Salaam where I saw Edson Zvobgo. He was saying he was representing Zapu in the United States. At one time, I questioned what representation he was doing in America when people were suffering back home. My colleagues had to restrain me from confronting him because really I saw no logic in someone representing us in the luxuries of the white man. Chitepo was also there in Tanzania. It was in Dar es Salaam where our group off our was joined by Charles D aura manzi, Lloyd Gun du and Felix Rice, and the number of people who were destined for military training became seven.
Q: When then did you leave for training
and to which country? A:
We first flew to the Soviet Union where we spent about two weeks. We were taken to the Kremlin, the government offices, and we also visited the embalmed body of Lenin. It was in Soviet Union where I first heard the Soviets talk of how Africa was wasting its land. I did not understand what they were saying because we had plenty of it in Rhodes ia. They emphasis ed we build skyscrapers and keep the land for future use. I now understand what they meant, especially if I look at how our towns and cities are failing to expand because of lack to space. From the Soviet Union, we then proceededto Peking, China. Peking was the name of the capital city of China then. The Chinese, then, were very poor and we wondered how these people were surviving. But they were welcoming. When we arrived, they asked us what we wanted and we told them we wanted to train to fight the white sin our country who had taken land from our forefathers. The Chinese then said you have come to the right place to get technological skills. We were puzzled as we thought these people were going to take us to the shooting range and start training on how to fire a gun. But they were taking us to the rural areas, teaching us agriculture. We were moved from one province to the other fa mi li arising with their way of life. At one time, I asked one of our Chinese handlers the purpose for the visits. He asked what the staple food was in Rhodesia. I replied it was maize. He then said so you need to learn agriculture and produce a lot of it and export the surplus to bring money to your country. He said you should use everything at your disposal to develop yourself. We then went to various province sand cities to familiar isewi th their industry and manufacturing companies. They talked about mass production. They told us that we had to use the gold that we had in abundance to lure people with technological expertise so that our industry develops. All this did not make sense to us then because that was not the reason why we were there. After the economic inductions, we then went for military training and we were joined by another group of six led by LukeMhl an ga and comprising John Maluzo Ndlovu, Stone Philip Nkomazana, Benson Maphosa, Johnson N de be le and John Mon di ya Ndlovu. These came around April 1963 and together we became 13. The Chinese gave us motivation that Fidel Castro liberated Cuba with 12 men and us being 13, we were even better positioned to liberate Zimbabwe.
Q: We understand your leaders back home were not am used with the trainingyou got from the Chinese. Can you explain where the problem was? A:
Our actual training lasted six full months. However, during the training,our leaders were briefed about the type of training we were undergoing and they thought it was too radical. Our leaders - Nkomo and Chikerema - preferred negotiating with the whites rather than direct confrontation. However, the Chinese told us that when the Americans talk of negotiations, reject that. We asked ourselves why the Chinese talk of Americans when our fight was against the British. But we later realised the influence of the Americans on the Britons at the Lancaster House Conference. The Chinese emphasised we should seize political power through the barrel of the gun. They even gave us tactics of how to stage a coup, including the various methods of assassination. We were trained how to manufacture land mine sand hand grenades, went through mock battle operations and specialised in guerrilla warfare. Our leaders didn’t like it.
Q: How did your leaders get to know of
the training programme? A:
There was a time when Cde Chikerema came to China to see how we were being trained and the Chinese gave him the programme. Chikerema returned to brief Nkomo and Mugabe and they were not amused. Mugabe was of the view that the country cannot be ruled by soldiers. You see, at that time soldiers were constantly staging coup sin some African countries such as Nigeria and Mugabe said they can not rule. That is why even later, Charles Dauramanzi was not made to lead Zanla forces despite being one of the first to undergo military training in China. Mug abe was afraid of him, he did not want well-trained soldiers as leaders. The nationalist were scep tic al of soldiers trained in China. They did not worry about those trained in camps such as Morogoro because these were given the ideology of the nationalists unlike us who were given a different view of freedom and power by the Chinese. We were and are seen as too radical. ◆