Blondie recalls being counted among the dead

Cde Sennie Ncube (nee Nare)

YOUNG, innocent, determined and green behind the ears, Cde Sennie Ncube (nee Nare), barely fifteen, fled her home in Gwanda to go and join the armed struggle in Zambia via Botswana. She did not tell anybody but fled with four friends and her grandparents watched as she disappeared into the horizon and they knew for a fact that they had gone to fight for the liberation of Zimbabwe.

The day she left she didn’t turn back because she knew of what was before her and her peers and they were determined to set the country free from colonial bondage. Cde Ncube pseudo name Cde Margaret Chedu or Blondie spoke to our senior reporter Robin Muchetu (RM) about her activties in the armed struggle at her home in Queens Park, Bulawayo. Below are the excerpts of the interview:

RM: Who is Mrs Sennie Ncube?

SN: I was born in Gwanda District, Matabeleland South 55 years ago.

RN: When did you join the armed struggle and what motivated you to do that?

SN: I decided to join the struggle in 1977. We left my rural area in Gwanda headed for Selebi Phikwe in Botswana where we stayed at that town’s prison for three months. I stayed for that long because I was of the Nare surname so the Tswana people tried to convince me to go to school rather than join the struggle. So it took time for me to go to the struggle, I was 15 by then.

RM:Your motivation to join the struggle?

SN: I was motivated to join the struggle after I had seen my uncle go and my husband (then boyfriend), they were the first in our village to go to the struggle so I felt a sense of responsibility to also go. In 1976 some Selous Scouts visited our home in Siboza area in the southern part of Gwanda claiming to be guerillas who had been with Section my husband and they asked for food from us. My grandfather was quick to notice that they were not genuine people but were Selous Scouts and he quickly dismissed them.

After this incident the feeling naturally came that I had to stand up and fight just like my uncle was doing. I was then arrested after the Selous Scouts incident and taken to Gwanda and after a while the case was dismissed as I was found not guilty of any wrong doing and went back to the village. I was in Grade 7 by then, and results had just come out and I was meant to start schooling at Manama High School but unfortunately the school was taken over.

RM: Then tell us about yor journey to join the armed struggle.

SN: We came together as three girls and two boys and planned to go to the struggle, we would hear how others went and we followed that. On our way we were shot at as there were travelling restrictions. So I fled with one boy while the others went in another direction. We sought refuge at a homestead of one nurse called Mrs Malemani. She housed us for three weeks and assisted us to go further. One day we then left and pursued our journey to Shashe River. When we arrived we found the river infested with elephants and we could not cross so we slept on a little mountain. In the morning we crossed, it was in January and it was wet, at one point I fell in to the sandy soils waist deep and my partner assisted me out using a log and we carried on.

As we went we saw a tractor and spoke to the people who carried us as we were on our way to Phikwe now. We met others who we later trained with. I remained again there because of my surname, they felt I should go back and get an education. But after three months they released me and I went to Zambia at Victory Camp in March of 1977.

RM: How was the situation in Zambia?

SN: The situation was tough, there were so many people, we would just sleep there, many as we were. We were taught how to chant slogans. We did many things as we were awaiting the opening of Mkushi Girls Camp. We were the first group at Mkushi. I was removed from the group because I was very young but I insisted that I was 18 and when the trucks came to take others for training I squeezed myself in and went. Training was hard; we would wake up very early, run, climb mountains and roll down. We stayed deep in the bush where there were no shops, or homes. There was a big river ever flowing called Mkushi just near the camp.

We would sometimes go for two weeks without food and when it came it would be black tea just to give us some energy. It surprises me how we managed to survive because today I can’t go for that long without eating, I could die. We still trained hungry as we were. When the food finally came we would collect it from far afar and come with 50 bags of maize but today I can’t carry just 20kgs for a short distance.

RM: Despite all the pain and hard work you soldiered on. What kept you going?

SN: What kept me going was the desire to liberate our country, our grandparents would narrate to us how they wanted their land back and we were eager to free the country against the racist Ian Smith regime. Again we were taught at the camp that we came to free the land so it stuck in the mind that we had been robbed of our wealth so we were prepared to fight. We also were told that those that had taken our wealth were a minority so we really felt we had the power to take back our land.

At one point while training I was so homesick I felt like ngizabhalela umama ehlamvini ukuthi ngapha kunzima (chuckles).

But we soldiered on and the calibre of people back then was strong. |Today’s children cannot do the training we did.

RM: What happened just before the bombings at the camp?

SN: After training commanders and instructors were chosen, we were known as the group of 50. During training there was a point where many people fell sick and were hospitalised. It was something like malaria and some even seemed to lose their minds. One day after training some girls came and said they had seen a white man, we assumed they were severely fatigued and were “imagining things”. So life went on, another day another girl called Martha who was in the information department came and told us that there were bombings in Lusaka and they were not sure where the enemy aircrafts would hit next.

As instructors we told the people to prepare for anything and we were now on high alert. Luckily we had done a rehearsal in case of a bombing that people would hide in pits and flee to certain places.

So after this we had our meals strategically because we knew that the whites were likely to strike the kitchen first. One day we decided to eat in the kitchen, I refused and said let’s just collect the meal and eat outside. As we were arguing on where to sit as we ate, a bomb fell and it hit the kitchen. Before we knew it there was dust all over, people screaming, crying with others fleeing in all directions. I ran away alone. I was lucky to survive that.

I was spotted by the helicopter and it chased after me and they were shooting at me, I went and got in to this huge tree that had fallen and was rotting, I never imagined I would fit into it but I did. They saw that I had got into a tree and they poured Napalm on to the area I was, Napalm burns and can kill you. I crawled deep into the tree and I did not stop at the entrance, they poured this liquid which ignited and they thought I had burnt to death yet I was still alive and hiding.

I then came out after some time. I started walking, and then I came across a group of girls and went back to Mkushi with them to check on the situation. I started the journey again, I walked the whole day, I ran as fast as my feet could carry me, I was running away from the enemy. I was hiding among trees. There were some that I saw before they saw me and I was passing a heap of dead bodies from the bombings, I quickly took blood from one of the bodies and smeared it on my body and pretended to be dead. When the whites got near they actually counted the bodies and I was counted among the dead. That is how I managed to survive and I ran further until evening.

The enemy did not stop shooting because they knew people were in the bushes. They used something called flare which they shot in the air and it lit up the whole area and they shot at us. Due to training we managed to outwit them as they were shooting at us. The next day we decided we had to go to the gathering point and we were very hungry, we ate mazhanje and drank water only. We were so fatigued that we found it better to roll over on the ground than to walk.

We then met some Zambians who took us to the assembly point. They had heard that we were bombed. We were so few.

People had died. That was the most painful part because we looked for our fellow comrades and when we could not find them we knew they were dead (sobbing).

Some who survived were so traumatised to insanity and it was very sad indeed. They could not even eat because their minds had been disturbed. We went to Kafue at a farm where others had been kept. I was so traumatised I just got an injection from my friend who was a nurse and went to sleep. The following day we met Cde Joshua Nkomo, all we did was just cry because many had died.

RM: Then what happened after the bombings?

SN: From Kafue we went to Solwezi camp and we started looking for a new camp. We wanted to go to the front but we were stopped. We trained under Nicholas Ncube and finished. In January 1980 we flew back home with Cde Nkomo and went to Harare and we were taken to Bulawayo Castle Arms Motel. We were then taken to Gweru for a while and ended up at Sierra in Insukamini. I then joined the army in 1981 as a private soldier. In 1983 I got married to my boyfriend in Zimbabwe; we still maintained the relationship while I was in Zambia.

I must say the happiest day during my time in Zambia was when we had taken a body of a girl who died to Lusaka, I met him there and we spoke briefly but those few minutes felt like forever because we were both happy to see each other alive. I gave birth to my first son in 1983. I have two sons, three daughters and five grandchildren now. I was based at Imbizo Barracks for 24 years and I retired as a Captain in 2005.

Currently we are farmers in Fort Rixon where we are into cattle ranching and horticulture, we do come often to our Queens Park home but we are based at the farm now.

RM: What is you opinion on the welfare of war veterans?

SN: War veterans are not well catered for. They need a lot of support from the Government and some are very poor. Some of us are lucky that we served in the army after Independence that is how we managed to buy houses , some of our colleagues did not serve and they are suffering. Something has to be done to assist them.

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