Sunday, August 14, 2016

Zimbabwe: The Making of a General

The Sunday Mail Editor Mabasa Sasa and Reporter Tinashe Farawo spoke to Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander, General Constantino Guveya Dominic Nyikadzino Chiwenga about how he joined the liberation struggle as a teenager and rose to become a general. Gen Chiwenga gives an overview of the challenges of rebellion, his last conversation with Gen Tongogara; and then speaks his mind on rogue war veterans and power-hungry politicians. The following is a transcript of what the ZDF Commander had to say.


Gen C Chiwenga

My joining the struggle was because of my grandfather. He was a nationalist of his own kind and I don’t think even the late Rekayi Tangwena equalled him. In 1930 he addressed an all-white meeting at what was then called Market Square to say, “You whites you didn’t bring any soil. Did you bring any soil in your hands and sprinkle it around and create Zimbabwe? This is our land.”

And from 1930 right up to the time when he died in 1965, my grandfather was in and out of prison.

Because of the background of our family, we had guns we called gidi remutsindirwa, which we got from the Portuguese through trading with the Portuguese during the Mutapa Empire.

My great-grandfather, Matangira, had five wives. The fifth wife was a Portuguese. The family history says a lot of gold and ivory, we don’t know the quantum, was given as lobola for her. When the King of Portugal heard that the people in birthday suits had married a white, the Portuguese governor, who was then in Tete, was told “take our daughter back”.

When the Portuguese came, they said they had come to see their new son-in-law.

There was a big feast for two weeks, seven days beer was brewed, a lot of cattle were slaughtered. The Portuguese had their strong liquor, which was mixed with the seven days, and everyone went to sleep.

By the time they woke up the following morning around 11, the Portuguese were nowhere to be found. Our soldiers ran to the royal hut where the youngest queen was supposed to be, but she was not there.

They sent a messenger to our allies to say “as a friend, can you send a blocking force, the Portuguese have taken the king’s wife”. Makombe did not co-operate. Guveya was given an army to follow up the Portuguese and Guveya was killed at Villa Guveya, which is now Katandika in Mozambique. The rifle he used was taken by the whites after the Battle of Chinhoyi in 1966.

It was taken from my mother when people said this woman was keeping automatic rifles. It was an antique and they took it. I have tried until now to track it but I think it is already out of Zimbabwe. When my great-grandfather Chiwenga died, my grandfather was about 15 or 16 and he could not be made chief because he was underage.

So they took his uncle and they married his uncle to his mother, but with the condition that my uncle will never get into the house of my grandmother. Later they said to my grandfather take the chieftainship, but he could not be chief because the whites wanted him to wear the modern red gowns and he refused.

That’s when he started fighting the whites.

When nationalist politics started in 1956 he was in the ANC, then the National Democratic Party and then he was arrested as a member of Zapu. When (Zapu) split he remained in Zapu together with the late Vice-Presidents Joshua Nkomo and Joseph Msika.

They were the first ones to be sent to Gonakudzingwa. He was only released from Gonakudzingwa 1965 because he was now aged. He was the oldest prisoner at that time.

He was released in February 1965 and he died on the 11th of October 1965.

The day before he died, he called for me and told me: “What I wanted to achieve I could not achieve, but you are going to do it. Iwe ndiwe Nyikadzino. Ndiwe Nyikadzino, zita randakakupa uchiberekwa, you are going to fulfill this destiny.”

But I could not understand because at that time I was still very young. I was only nine-years-old.

Journey to Lusaka

I continued with my school but when I was doing Form Three something told me that I needed to go to war. I told some of my friends, including Johannes Bopoto, that we needed to go to the war.

He asked how are we going to go, and I said we will go via Botswana. Later he said he could not join me because there were only two boys in his family thus he could not go to war.

The late Cde Shaya, the one who was Secretary to the President’s Office, he later on followed me.

We were in the same class with Air Marshall Perrance Shiri, Retired Colonel Richard Guchu and Ernest Mandizvidza; and we decided to leave.

At that time we were also lucky in that the Irish Republican Army was fighting the British. So when we left the mission, the Irish missionaries did not report to the government; they only reported when we had arrived in Lusaka that there were missing children at the school.

So we left in 1973.

This was the time Percy Sledge came to Zimbabwe. We left saying we wanted to go and see Percy Sledge, but when I got to Harare, Salisbury then, I visited my father and in my heart I said goodbye to him.

I visited my aunt, my father had two sisters and I visited one of them. We also visited Ernest’s mother.

We visited Big Boy’s uncle, Big Boy Chikerema is actually Shiri’s name.

His uncle asked us what had brought us to Harare and we said we were part of the school science team touring the country.

His uncle gave us some money. We still had our school fees because we had not paid. That is the money that we used for transport.

We got to Bulawayo around one o’clock in the afternoon and we didn’t know which way to go.

We asked what about the train to Plumtree and were told that it had already gone. We asked about the buses and again these had already gone.

So what were we to do?

We had a map, you know the Rhodesian map, and we saw Tijorotijoro, it was not yet Tsholotsho. It was near the border and we would cross into Botswana from there.

What we failed was to understand how to read it properly and we walked towards present day Entumbane and it was all bush, there was no life there.

We met a strange man. He asked us where we were going. We said we were going to Tsholotsho. He said, “I think you are going to join the war.” He said no that’s not the route, dzokerai kwamabva uko.

We made an about turn and when we looked back, we could not see the man.

So we hired a taxi and we got to Plumtree.

When we got to Plumtree there were many soldiers and police but because our uniform for Mount St Mary’s, where we had been with my colleagues, was the same in every respect with that for Tegwane. So we told them we were going to Tegwane Mission. Because we were young, nobody suspected us.

We got our bread and our beef and we walked all night and passed where we have now 1.3 Battalion. That camp was being occupied by the South African Police.

We had been told there is a river and when we crossed Ramokgwebana River. But because it was dry we did not know we had crossed it and we kept walking for many more hours.

We started wondering why we were still in Rhodesia.

We were tired and we slept in the bush. I remember the Air Marshall almost had his eye plucked out by a vulture whilst we were sleeping. The vulture thought were dead, this is meat.

I don’t know why I woke up but I did and we chased off the vultures.

That area has lot of our Zimbabwean people, who with the Apostles (of a religious sect) were trying to go to Jerusalem. We were taken to the head and we were there for three weeks, herding goats and cattle.

The opposition leader who was in Francistown was very supportive of Zimbabweans going to war. He is now late. There was only one truck per week which would go to Francistown and we went there after three weeks. This opposition leader took us to prison because it was the only safe place. We had our own “VIP” room.

We had to be largely treated like any other prisoner so that the Rhodesians would not suspect, and we stayed there for I think two weeks until we got a plane to go to Zambia.

At that time we had met the now late Dick Chikara, Kamusoko. He was from Seke and chief representative of Zanu there.

We flew to Lusaka and crossed over Rhodesia. We only relaxed when we crossed Kariba and the pilot told us we were now in Zambia; it was a small plane – I think it had about six passengers – and it was my first flight.

Determined to fight

When we got to Lusaka, there was a big fight.

The late Mangena said these are my men, the late Zvinavashe said the same because there was always a fight for new recruits between Zapu and Zanu. Zvinavashe won the day.

Then we were driven to what then became known as Freedom Camp, which was subsequently occupied by Zipra after we moved to Mozambique, but at that time the camp was occupied by Frelimo.

The first combatant we met there was Colonel Khumalo. He’s here in Harare now; he had just come from the front and was wounded.

We were sent to Chimbichimbi camp and did our initial training.

We then moved to go to Tanzania towards the end of 1973 and got to Mgagao and that’s where I trained.

I trained in Military Engineering and in Tactics and Strategy for guerilla warfare. I also got trained as a medic. At that time we were called doctors because there were no doctors or nurses who would join the war. I had so many portfolios.

When I left Rhodesia, I was doing Form Three so on arriving at Mgagao, they wanted to put me in a juvenile group which was called vatoto.

I told them that’s not what I had come for but they insisted I was too young and I answered that I was old enough. I was turning 17 and I said I had come for military training.

Dzinashe Machingura, who was then the political commissar, understood and said, let him proceed.

After my training I was selected to be an instructor and then appointed a member of the General Staff in 1974. I was also teaching Military Engineering, and Strategy and Tactics. Being a medic, we opened Chindunduma School and joined Cde Nyamanda – I can’t really recall his first name, but he was working at Parliament at one point.

We had our classes passing twice a year: if someone was in Sub-A in June, they would go to Sub-B for the rest of the year and they were writing the Tanzanian examinations and doing very well. That is why we have Chindunduma now in Shamva.

Sentenced to death

Détente then caught up with us.

Initially we had the Nhari-Badza rebellion. One of our colleagues was part of the group that quelled rebellion. Colonel Richard Huchu, myself and Air Marshall Perrance Shiri remained as instructors at Mgagao. Ndabaningi had been released from prison, it was in 1975, and he came to Mgagao. I was his most senior aide de camp. There was the late Pedzisa, there was Colonel Nelson Tamwa but now he’s Colonel Dzinzi, I think he’s now retired. The three of us looked after Ndabaningi.

We discovered what kind of tribalist he was when he asked, “Gara zviya unobva kupi?” We had been advised by the others to be careful of him.

I lied to him that ndinobva kwaNyanyadzi shefu, and he said: “Very good, very good, very good…”

He was also complaining why Badza had been killed after the rebellion asking, “How can people kill Badza who comes only 5km from my home?”

I briefed Dzinashe, who was the political commissar, and James Nyikadzinashe, who was in security, that what Ndabaningi was saying was wrong.

That’s the genesis of the Mgagao Declaration. Dzinashe said I shouldn’t go around telling people what Ndabaningi was saying, and I said, “No, no, no. I’m not saying anything, but it’s dangerous if it gets to the other comrades. Hainake. Macomrades kunze uku varikuimba, Zimbabwe inemisodzi nyarara kuchema, hondo yedu yasvika.”

I asked so what do we do?

Zvikanzi, no watadza. And they said ngaaendeswe pa firing squad and I was sentenced to death. I was supposed to die on the 18th of March.

So when I commemorate the 18th of March it’s for two reasons.

(I think you have been to my office: I have a picture of Chitepo and another picture of Tongogara because those two mean a lot to me.) Around 9 or 10, the Voice of South Africa – I think it was Alexander Stewart – announced the death of Chairman Chitepo and that is the day I was supposed to be executed.

James Nyikadzino, Gordon Mlambo, Parker Chipoyera and Gwauya, who was Zanu’s representative in Dar es Salaam, went to Lusaka to represent us at the Chairman’s funeral.

The only person – even though we differed apanduka – who came back and said sorry to me over my death sentence was Dzinashe; he said munhu uyu (Ndabaningi Sithole) akashata zvikuru!

That’s when we did the Mgagao document and my signature is there.

It was one thing after another from there. Dare reChimurenga, most of whose members were in prison, approved the Mgagao Declaration and also Zipa was formed.

When Zipa was being formed we were at what we used to call our officers mess at Mugaggao.

Robson Manyika was arrested and sent to prison in Lusaka then we remained with General Rex Nhongo. We said when Tongo comes back you will give him his post.

To Dzino Machingura we said, when Mayor Urimbo comes back, you will give him his post; James Nyikadzino, when Chiguhwe comes back you will give him his post; Parker, when Manyika comes back you will give him his post back.

So we were clear and we divided amongst ourselves those who had to go to Mozambique and those who were remaining in Tanzania, and then joining together with Zipra to form Zipa. I went to Morogoro.

Zipa didn’t work and Zipra went back to Zambia.

I went back to Mgagao in 1976 with the late General Chimombe; the rest moved to Mozambique.

We moved to Mozambique in late 1976 at the time of Geneva Conference to join the rest of the team there.

Confronting rebellion

We met in Beira with General Zvinavashe and General Tongo as the Vashandi Rebellion began and we discussed what we should do. These were youngsters who had been misled to say “how can a soldier become a worker?”

I said we should go to Chimoio.

We went there and for three days I was sleeping under General Zvinavashe’s bed during the day. At night I would visit all the camps to investigate quietly and I found that it was not worth executing the rebels.

I, General Chimombe and the late General Chitekedza – who are national heroes – deployed 1 000 guerillas, a peace-keeping force from Mgagao.

People still speak a lot of nonsense about this and some of us are not happy about it.

Many people went to Mozambique because Frelimo had attained independence and the border was wide open from Pafuri to Kanyemba. Some of them just went because the borders were open, others not knowing where they were going, with only enthusiasm that they were going to Mozambique.

So all those people who went there, others were recruited by the internal organs of the party inside Zimbabwe, but others went there because Mozambique was free.

None of them had ever been to the front except Saul Sadza, who went to the front and died. The rest were here, so what is it?

So eventually Vashandi was suppressed.

I was the director of training and director of commissariat and I selected the cadres I could work with.

They sold out the second time; I dealt with them personally only one rebel leader agreed to be rehabilitated. I was then appointed, after the death of Chimukute, the provincial commissar for Manicaland province, which also covered Mashonaland East and three-quarters of Masvingo up to Mhondoro. My commander was Commisioner of Prisons Paradzai Zimondi.

I was in the front for most of the operations that were carried out in the war.

In 1978 I was appointed deputy political commissar and I move from Manicaland because there were problems in Tete, which covered Mash Central, part of Mash East and a large part of Mash West.

What ceasefire?

By Lancaster I was in Gaza and when preparations for the talks started I was in the rear. Lancaster opened with the attack on Mapayi on September 5 to 10, you can get images of that from Webster Shamu.

We had to push everybody to the front.

It was in December when Cde Tongo said I should meet him in Maputo and he told me the unthinkable.

I go to Maputo around 2am on December 4, 1979, and he said I want us to talk together with Rex – but we shall never meet again.

That was the last time we talked with Cde Tongo, when he asked me to take our forces to Marondera.

I don’t know what was going in his mind. But he knew very well that he was not going to see Zimbabwe. (Long pause)

We discussed, for an hour, a lot of things. I only told Mai Tongo about this conversation when we launched the Tongogora Foundation.

So I drove to Chimoio. I found my force ready, 500 men and women. Now I was a real general. (Laughs) On the 9th I crossed the border into Zimbabwe.

The day Lancaster was signed I was shot. I had three bits of shrapnel in the chest and three bullets, and I went flat.

The wife of Colonel Masebeka saved me. I will not forget what she did to save my life. From 21-28 December I was in a comma.

When I woke up there was a ceasefire, you could see helicopters flying with white flags. We were now in Hwedza, the place I was born. I could hardly walk and the guys kept trying to explain to me that the fighting was over.

They then kept quiet for a while before breaking the news that Cde Tongogara is no more. It was difficult to accept. (Long pause)

I still had that agreement with Cde Tongo that I must go to Marondera.

So all the way to Marondera we were hitting the whites until we arrived at Mushandirapamwe. That when I saw Solomon.

And he said, sekuru, because he was my nephew, we are looking for you, you are wanted in Harare, everyone is waiting for you, including Cde Tungamirai.

He said there is now ceasefire and you keep on killing the whites. And I said whites must die. Because there was a ceasefire they were not cautious and I told my people, “Hit them, don’t stop.”

So the Rhodesians sent an assistant commissioner of police with a B-car. I was not sure what was going on.

We drove to Harare with me sitting behind him, my gun pointed at his head in case they were trying something funny and the boy was sweating all the way. (Laughs)

We arrived in Mt Pleasant where the ceasefire headquarters were located and that’s when the liberation struggle ended for me. But I had wounds. I still had fresh wounds. They wanted to operate on me.

The person who saved me was the late General Muchemwa who oversaw my treatment. Only two years ago, I underwent an operation to remove some shrapnel. But I still have a shrapnel and a bullet in my body which they cannot remove.

Those ones I will probably die with. Maybe advances in medicine will come.

After 1980

At Independence, you know my story, I went to Matabeleland, 5 Brigade, then Mozambique, DRC, Somalia, Angola where we had deployed General Sibanda; first we had deployed General Nyambuya.

So that is my story in short. You need maybe a week for me to include all the details. I am happy that some of the people I went with, the likes of Air Marshall Shiri and Colonel Huchi, are still with us.

Unfortunately we lost Enest Mandizvidza in 1974. His body is probably in a mass grave.

We don’t agree with that programme of reburials, culturally.

If you know that this is a mass grave, protect it like we have done in Mozambique. Make a shrine. If you know the names of people that are there, etch them.

We should never take somebody’s bones from the ground. What if you take the wrong body? Never take the bones of the dead out the grave. Is it Satanism? Why do you want to disturb the dead?

It’s not our culture. It’s nothing

The ZDF Today

We remain resolute in defence of the Constitution, national sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interest for social and economic growth.

Section 212 of the Constitution is very clear. It says our function is to protect Zimbabwe, its people, its national interest and its territorial integrity.

That is why history is very important. It grounds us, tells us why we are who we are today and where we are going.

The colonialists came pretending that they had brought civilisation and we had no civilisation.

Who built Great Zimbabwe? Did we go and borrow architects in Europe? Where did we get that kind of architecture?

Did we not have our own religion? After all, where was the Bible written? There is a story of Jesus who was in Egypt. Joseph was told take Jesus to Egypt. The Arabs only came 400 years after the death of Jesus Christ, so who was in Africa? Wasn’t it us?

So why are we so shy about our history? It is that history that we are going to protect; that history and protection of Zimbabwe and its independence, the sovereignty of Zimbabwe, the territorial integrity and the national interests of Zimbabwe, and upholding the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

Which country will move forward without knowing its history? We have our friends, the Chinese. They are where they are because of their Founding Father, Chairman Mao.

Look at the Russians, even if the current leadership is not communist, they respect their Founding Father, Lenin.

Isu muno tina VaMugabe vedu, ndoovatakabva nawo. He is the Founding Father of this country and it shall remain so.

That’s why our war cry is very clear: “Nyika yedu yeZimbabwe, ndimo matakazvarirwa, vana mai nababa ndiwo mavari. Tinoda Zimbabwe neupfumi hwayo,” and we are prepared to lay our lives down again for this country.

Asymmetric war

We are facing severe asymmetric warfare; that’s what is coming through social media, churches. And some of them are now more revolutionary than Zanla and Zipra at the height of the liberation war.

Why would people want to worry about unnecessary things? People should concentrate on the development of the country. Humambo haubvutwe, hunobva kudenga handiti?

We have been watching and people should not make the mistake of crossing the Rubicon. The issue of shutting the country’s borders is nonsense, it is absolute nonsense. Vanhu ngavaende kudzimba vanodya sadza ravo vakazvigarira. Shutting the borders to please who?

Do you think God is going to create another Zimbabwe? This is the only Zimbabwe which was created by God and therefore we must protect it.

Let’s speak with one voice and pull in one direction; that’s what we should do.

Remember that the issue of the land reform has not disappeared and it will never disappear from the minds of the yesteryear colonialists. Why should we sheepishly listen to people who want us to destroy our own country? Are they destroying theirs? Whose democracy are we trying to follow? Are we not democratic enough?

Allegations that the ZDF is politically biased are absolute nonsense. We fought for this country, that’s why we are talking about the history of this country. We went to the struggle and brought Independence and today you cannot say I must shut my mind and completely forget where I came from.

That’s what our Constitution says. Everyone contributed to writing the Constitution and it says we (the ZDF) shall uphold the Constitution. We are apolitical to the extent that we leave you to do what you like but the moment you threaten the sovereignty of the country, then you threaten that very Constitution.

Please don’t expect us to sit and watch. We are there to protect the people and that’s what we are saying and will do.

War vets “communique”

I deliberately talk of rebellions from Chikerema, Shamuyarira, we had rebellions from Badza Nhari, Vashandi I and Vashandi II. On the Zipra and Zanla sides, we had our own renegades.

When a clique or infiltrators comes in, do you move around saying everyone has rebelled? War veterans start from the President himself down to the last cadre.

Let me make it very clear; we have the War Veterans Act and there is a War Veterans’ Association Act under registration as a PVO (private voluntary organisation), which is governed as a non-governmental organisation.

It was supposed to be like an organisation where people work together to improve livelihoods, not what we are seeing. They are not the leaders of the war veterans, they are the leaders of a war veterans association.

And when you look at them, is there a member of the General Staff or High Command in there amongst the leaders?

Tinenge tichiti vana ngavakure but kana vanhu vakazoita misguided . . . When somebody has an erroneous idea they should get sanctioned because you would have done wrong. And this is why we are saying we will leave no stone unturned (in finding out who authored the communique attributed to war veterans).

If it is the fifth columnists outside the organisation, they too will face the full wrath of the law. It’s simple.

Nyika iyi wakaiona iripo, uchaisiya iripo. We can’t allow people to destroy the country under our watch. How can we let people this beautiful country which was created for us by God be destroyed?

Ukaona vanhu vachimhanya vachiridza mabhero kuita fanike kunge hameno . . . ko inga vamwe vacho vari pamberi kuridza mabhero vakaitiza hondo yacho wani. We will end up exposing them if they continue doing that.

But that’s not the point: we must pull together and not try to be clever and being a hero mumhepo. Don’t build castles in the air — it doesn’t work.

If we have one rogue war veteran it doesn’t mean everyone is a rogue.


Kana wada kutonga enda kuvanhu. We are a democratic country. We are commemorating Heroes Day; that is blood that was shed and it’s time to reflect. Ropa iroro harina kurasikira mahara.

Those people died for you and me. Some of us survived the war not because we were the best kana kuti tanga takangwara. No. We survived so that we can bear witness to how this country was liberated.

So if you are a survivor, don’t think that you are cleverer than the comrade who is in an unmarked grave. Many of those who did not make it to Zimbabwe were the real fighters and some of the celebrated cowards who only saw the border when going into Mozambique and coming back at Independence and never during combat, ndivo vakuzviisa pamberi manje.

This nonsense of someone who was at a refugee camp or was a cleaner moving around telling people that he or she fought in the struggle is just that — nonsense. Wakarwa hondo kupi?

Vanhu ngavapute mbanje dzavo zvakanaka, hazvirambidzwi. Kana ririshave rekumusha kwenyu it’s ok, putayi ikoko — don’t disturb us because we have lost thousands of innocent sons and daughters.

And please don’t move around muchifukunyura vanhu and you start thinking that you are war veterans. What kind of nonsense is that? Vamwe takasvika kuvaona muno vachipfeka manapukeni yet now they claim they are more revolutionary than the real comrades. Ndochii ichocho? It must stop. Hazviitwe.

We were reading mapepa paakatanga kuti “when you want to destroy Zanu-PF you need to do it from within”. Vaitiudza kuti kuchazoita vamwe vechidiki vanofanirwa kutonga. Hazvina kunyorwa here? Munoti tanga tisingazvioni? Hazvisizvo here zvirikuitika?

Ngatidye sadza zvakanaka.

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