Today we continue our interview with the former bodyguard of the late Zipra commander, Rogers Alfred Nikita Mangena, Retired Major Ben Ncube pseudo name Charles Shava who last week took us through the period where he worked closely with the late military strategist. Mangena was recently honoured by the Government with army Baracks named after him.
Rtd Maj Ncube struck a balance serving as sort of a personal assistant and also providing security duties for the late commander. Below are excerpts of the interview with our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS):
MS: Last week we were still talking about how Mangena related with his subordinates in general. You said because he was strict, some misinterpreted that as cruelty. What about with colleagues such as Dumiso Dabengwa who was head of intelligence, wasn’t there some rivalry? Some former combatants suggest so.
Rtd Maj Ncube: I was with Cde Mangena at our military headquarters at Freedom Camp (FC), visited training camps with him and other military facilities. He (Mangena) and Cde Dumiso Dabengwa who headed the National Security Organisation (NSO) and was also the Secretary of the Revolutionary Council enjoyed cordial and brotherly relations. I know for a fact that the two were in agreement that there was a need for the transformation of the intelligence system. The Military Intelligence was incorporated into the NSO. That saw the head of the Military Intelligence, Cde Gordon Munyanyi posted to Libya to become the Zapu representative while his deputies such as now Retired Brigadier-General Abel Mazinyane were moved as well. Mazinyane was later sent to Yugoslavia for advanced military training. All these developments happened with Dabengwa and Mangena agreeing on the way forward. So as for cheap talk that there was some rivalry I am not aware of and I never witnessed any.
MS: Why was the MI moved to NSO?
Rtd Maj Ncube: From what I learnt it is because of complaints about how the MI was handling some issues especially people who were suspected to have been sent by the Rhodesian government to infiltrate Zipra. The way the military intelligence guys treated those people bordered on violations of human rights, some people thought so. I understand the Zambian government even complained about the treatment of those people. Also Mangena was disappointed by people who at times acted callously.
I remember he reprimanded heavily the now late Thodlana (Tshaka Moyo), who later on became a senior operative in the NSO for shooting at close range a Rhodesian soldier during that Feira battle that I spoke about earlier during which we were under the command of Rodwell Nyika. During that fierce fighting that Rhodesian soldier sought refuge under a Land Rover and he had lost his weapon. Instead of capturing Thodlana gunned down that Rhodesian. Mangena was very angry because we lost the opportunity of displaying that soldier to the whole world and advance our propaganda.
MS: Then there is this talk that Dr Joshua Nkomo once knocked Mangena with his knobkerrie on the head as he was deemed stubborn. Did you witness that?
Rtd Maj Ncube: Those are outright lies being advanced by people who were jealous of Mangena. I can tell you that Dr Nkomo loved Mangena very much and Mangena also had great respect for his leader. Even when Mangena went to Kabanga where he met his death, Dr Nkomo had told him again and again not to go. He left because he thought things were not going in the right direction. He was a hands-on commander
MS: Do you still remember what really happened in the run-up to the death of Mangena. Take us through the events leading to his death.
Rtd Maj Ncube: There was a heavy presence of Rhodesian forces on the Zambian side with the intention of blocking our movement to the front. Information was left to me that the Rhodesians had invaded Zambia and were about 60km from the Zambezi. He was away when that information was relayed to his office and I am the one who gave him that report. The Rhodesians used to do that and at one time, a whole Zipra battalion under the command of Madliwa was deployed near the border to clear the Rhodesians out and that mission was accomplished with distinction. So this time around the Rhodesians came again and even went to the extent of harassing our Zambian contacts. A Zambian villager was killed on accusation of harbouring terrorists and Mangena said enough was enough. That Zambian man had in fact stolen some kit bags from the Rhodesian forces who had relaxed and left them.
So when our troops from Angola arrived there was an urgent need to deploy some of them. So Assaf Ndinda had just arrived from the front and Mangena immediately gave him that mission to take the troops to the front, to comb the area where the Rhodesian forces were gaining ground. I remember when he came he had been in the bush for sometime and his military fatigue was dirty. However, like a committed cadre he was did not complain. He asked me to lend him my jeans, which I gladly did. Unfortunately on their way they were ambushed and Assaf and others perished there. That is when Mangena decided that arrangements should be made to go and bury them. All the comrades who were in the truck were killed except Bablock, the driver. He is still alive. We had lost a big number and the commander was seething with anger. Their truck was hit by a controlled landmine. Then Mangena tasked me to organise the trip for the burial. I then organised three Land Rovers for that trip.
MS: So what was your role in that?
Rtd Maj Ncube: Mangena instructed me to get the mine detectors and then it was discovered that they did not have batteries.
When I told him that the detectors did not have batteries, he a lashed out and said “lawe usengenwa yibugwala”, you are becoming a coward as well. I explained that Cde Donki had insisted that we bring the detectors as it seemed the whole area was mined. Then he said I should go and look for the batteries and also remain at the office, relaying the information to the HQ and updating the leadership about the situation. That is how I remained behind. My other two co-bodyguards, Pressman and Sam also died in that incident.
MS: Who accompanied Mangena to the scene of the ambush?
Rtd Maj Ncube: There were 20 guerillas to reinforce the security and comb the area. He was accompanied by senior commanders like the now late Enoch Tshangane (Major-General Jevan Maseko), Eddie Sigoge, Gedi (Col Richard Dube) and Jack Mpofu. Then after the incident when Mangena was hit by the landmine, information was relayed to us. At first it was said he was alive, but was bleeding profusely. A helicopter was organised from the Zambia Airforce to airlift him, but it was already too late. Then after the death of Mangena, Lookout Masuku came in and I was redeployed to the department of training where we were organising medical check-ups for those who were being sent overseas for further training.