Long journey from Zambezi to Gwanda

Last week we carried an interview with Cde William Ncube pseudonym Cde Lovemore Mpofu about how it was taxing for guerillas to cross the Zambezi River and then move to the Southern Front, an operation in the western part of the country that covered provinces such as Matabeleland South, Midlands and was set to expand to Masvingo and eventually Manicaland but such plans were cut by the attainment of the ceasefire.

In last week’s instalment Cde Ncube spoke of how former Zipra regional commander and later on Deputy Chief of Reconnaissance, Cde Todd Mpisi (Pilate Ndebele) had given orders that they should move to Gwanda with their GP (gathering point) being Halisupi. Below are excerpts of the interview with our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS). Read on . . .

MS: After being ordered to move to Gwanda may you please take us through the journey.

Cde Ncube: After crossing the Zambezi River into then Rhodesia we moved to Matetsi and when we moved we were getting lost but we soldiered on. As we continued with our journey we were shocked when we realised that we were on top of that mountain that overlooks Hwange Town.

Sensing danger we decided to lie low as there were chances of encountering the enemy forces as we were avoiding contacts so that we could reach our destination without being depleted. So we waited until around 4pm and we continued with our journey and while we were crossing the road coming from the Zambezi River we saw a Land Rover on patrol and without wasting time Cde Makwesha, the veteran guerilla among us hit it with a bazooka and ordered us to quicken our pace and we disappeared into the bush.

We didn’t even bother to check what happened to the occupants of that truck. We then moved to Lukosi where we approached  villagers and asked for directions. At Lukosi we also bought a goat, during those days guerillas leaving Zambia for operations were given money. One of the villagers whom we had asked to show us the way just disappeared and we concluded that he was a sell-out. Sahle sasuka.

MS: So from Lukosi which direction did you take?

Cde Ncube: Our objective was to cross the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls Road, we were not sure of the Rhodesians as there were regular patrols along the highway.

However, we decided to move, but we were getting lost time and again because of the thick bush, we were moving in circles. We crossed the highway near what used to be cattle sales pens. We then entered the national park, but we then started suffering from fatigue coupled by the fact that we did not have water with us.

As for food we were carrying meat from the goat that we had bought at Lukosi. We were following elephants paths and comrades were tired with tempers among ourselves starting to rise. Sasesihamba sitshiyana and after some time we saw impala zinatha and that saved the day for us.

MS: From what you are saying it was very difficult for comrades going to the southern front.

Cde Ncube: That was very difficult, besides dealing with the Zambezi River first, there was the distance to deal with and also the heavy loads of ammunition, landmines and all assortments of military necessities.

It was not easy but since the revolutionary spirit was upon us we had to do the job for nothing. We were fighting an enemy that had vehicles, air force and expecting a salary at the end of the month. However, we were young and very enthusiastic.

Anyway back to the journey, after getting to the watering place comrades just knelt down and started drinking like cows, umuntu wayeguqa anathe njenkomo aphinde afithizele izigubhu zakhe emanzini efuna zigcwale kuqala. Appeals for the comrades to take precaution on the water fell on deaf ears. Even appeals for us to draw water in sections fell on deaf ears.

MS: But how safe was the national park, considering that there were rangers and other forces that could cause harm on you?

Cde Ncube: It was not safe at all, the risk was there. While we were relaxing, we saw a white man in the company of two guards and we immediately surrounded them, after taking them by surprise. We left the white man and ordered his guards to leave the country as soon as possible to join the armed struggle.

We said they should go to North Nata and cross into Botswana en route to Zambia. We instilled fear into those guards by pointing them with a bazooka and also showed them a grenade, which we said was a device used to detect people who we were looking for and were fighting against the struggle such as releasing information about the presence of freedom fighters to the Rhodesian forces. Wawusenza angani uvula i-grenade so uthi khuluma ukuthi ungubani ibizo lakho. The way they seemed to believe what we were saying I am positive they crossed the border to join the struggle.

MS: As for the white man what do you mean when you say you left him there? Do you mean you killed him?

Cde Ncube: I am saying we left him there unable to move. What more do you want me to say? We treated them the way we were expected to treat those who were advancing the interests of the Rhodesians. We did what we were supposed to do as soldiers. We then moved and reached a place near Jotsholo and the villagers there showed us Fatima Mission.

While we were still there, some alarmed villagers came and told us about the presence of Rhodesian soldiers on horseback and we then left and moved towards Tsholotsho following Gwayi River.

Before  reaching Sipepa in Tsholotsho we had taken at about six or seven days from the Zambezi River. We had lost weight and some comrades were even using ingxoza (tree bark) to secure their combat trousers. From Gwayi we moved and reached Ngamo and eventually Sipepa.

At Sipepa we organised food and the villagers treated us well. From Sipepa we moved and when we were about to reach Tsholotsho Business Centre, we avoided it and moved to Ndolwane. We continued with our journey until we reached Thekwane where we spent two days resting. The local Zapu leadership treated us well and so did a white man who had some business there who supported the struggle. After Thekwane we crossed the Bulawayo-Plumtree Road into Fumugwe where we got a lot of support from  Pelandaba Store.

The owner of the Pelandaba Bus Services who also ran retail shops in many districts in the country, Joseph Mtshumayeli Ngwenya was a strong supporter and benefactor of the country’s liberation struggle. So it was easy for us to approach the business premise and as expected they gave us all their support and we then crossed the Bulawayo-Kezi Road and Wovi River where we took time to bath since we had been given soap as well.

From there we moved to Mayezane, a place in Gwanda where we found the morale very high. We continued with our journey — remember the GP was Halisupi. We walked past Mafuku, Tshoboyi until we reached Mawaza ko NaJudy where we stopped. Then we saw some helicopters flying past and we were told that they are looking for our colleagues who had been seen in that area.

Eventually we managed to locate where others were and they included Toyitoyi, Ellington and Mdubane. We found them with more  youths taken from Buvuma and being escorted to Botswana. We joined them and escorted the recruits.

– To be continued next week with Cde Ncube relating his operations in Gwanda.

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