Sunday, November 06, 2016

Zimbabwe's Untold Story of Zipra Women’s Brigade, Part I & II
Starting this week, The Sunday Mail will be publishing excerpts of the biography of Group Captain Sithabile Sibanda aka Cde Ntombiyezizweni Mhlanga. Under the working title “A Woman’s Choice, The untold story of the ZPRA Women’s Brigade”, the book was researched and written by Tjenesani Ntungakwa. Group Capt Sibanda was been awarded the Liberation Medal (1990), Independence Medal, Mozambique Campaign Medal (1991), Ten Years Service in the Air Force of Zimbabwe (2000), Long and Exemplary Medal after 15 years of service in the AFZ (2005), Sadc Medal of the DRC Campaign (2008), the United Nations Medal (2008) after serving in The Sudan under the United Nations Mission in Sudan.
Group Capt Sithabile Sibanda

In March 2016, at the time of being assisted to write this book, I got in touch with Hubert Chifumbu for one or two comments that my biographer had requested. Over a telephone conversation, Hubert opened up: “I would say that 15-year-old girl who came from a poor background exuded so much confidence.”

He continued, “We were so close with Sithabile. I was just a year younger than her, what we shared mostly was that she was very eager to learn English. She was so keen to learn the English language and other books”.

One would think that Hubert got overexcited and gave more than I had expected. Going further, he was quoted as saying, “She was just a maruzevha girl and I was more like her English teacher, very rural indeed.”

As a matter of detail, “maruzevha” was the corrupted English term for Reserves, expressed with Shona plural overtones. In that case, he said something like, “She was a Reserves Girl, rather of a strong rural background.  I laughed when Hubert went on with his input on the phone. “However, she was very smart indeed. When she came to work for my parents, she had only two dresses to change.”

The urban lifestyles were what everyone really aspired for, and coming from the rural areas was something to look down upon. The assumption was that non-urban upbringing lacked some basic etiquette like bathing, using deodorised soap, lotions and the like. It was also assumed that the individual would find town to be an unfamiliar jungle and ended up getting confused by vehicles, utilities and traffic lights.

At times, the person was suspected of being ignorant when it came to the choice of clothes that one had to wear for certain occasions like dinners and so forth. If it were a woman she might not have known the right options of perfumes and would have an intolerable odour. As for men, they might not have been acquainted with such clothing labels as Pierre Cardini which most of the elders at that time pronounced as “Peri Cardini”. It was a laughable background that most average black urbanised Rhodesians frowned upon.

For those who became domestic workers for the whites, they had become familiar with the low-density areas the “Europeans”, as they were called, used to live. Such places were colloquially referred to as “emayadini”. “Emayadini” was the corrupted version of “yards”, expressed in a Ndebele option borrowed from English.

By “emayadini” Ndebele speakers would have meant a residential area where the space was much bigger than where the generality of black people lived. Being a domestic worker in emayadini was looked up to as some kind of white collar job. The food was different, the whites had swimming pools, English was the medium of communication, the cooking had a varied outlook and life was understandably as good.

Such was the scenario which determined the social classes as well tastes of that time.  I got a job as a house “girl” at the Old BSAP Camp in Kwekwe. I had to leave home and be away from the others as had happened before. By the way, the BASP had been the state police force before Independence in 1980. The British South Africa Police had been associated with the British South Africa Company, the forerunner to colonial rule in Zimbabwe.

Among the architects of the BASP had been Cecil John Rhodes. The politicisation we went through in the Zimbabwe African Peoples’ Union left us more knowledgeable about the political history of Rhodesia. Anyway, back to the formative years that made Sithabile Sibanda the kind of person that she came to be.

In March 1974, I got employed at the Old BSAP Camp at Kwekwe. I had left the Ascot Teachers Cottages around December of 1973. For about three months I stayed with my mother in Silobela. I really did not have any plans for the future except to wait and see what lay ahead. It so happened that I felt much had been done concerning housework.

I had been baptised in October 1971 as a Catholic. I attended church services every Sunday without failure. The world of work had opened up more social avenues. Unlike my previous experience at Fatima, I had made some friends who were working. One of my cousins, Manokishi Mpofu — who at the time of writing this book in May 2016 was Member of Parliament for Silobela — had a father, Phillip Mpofu, who was among the early African entrepreneurs of that area. He owned a store.

One of Phillip’s employees was a young lady named Idah Songo. Idah and Marina became my most trusted friends. I used to visit the two time and again. They were famous at the shopping centre and every man who felt worth some salt would make an attempt to befriend them. We used to communicate through letters and were constantly in touch. It was normal for us to gossip about men.

I was very particular when it came to the male factor in my life. It had been part of my upbringing to avoid just being carried away by some character.

Given a chance, I would have preferred a suitor who wore an expensive watch, smart shoes and was of admirable height and looks. He would not have to drink alcohol or smoke.

It was fun when we giggled as women after one us had turned down a guy who might have assessed himself as the best choice. I was never in a hurry to fall in love. In March 1972 another of my relatives called Joyce who was married to one Rusike invited me over to Kwekwe for a job. She was somehow associated with the wife of a senior officer of the British South Africa Police who was known as Dodd.

Joyce had been very inquisitive after I left the Ascot Teachers’ Cottages and she definitely wanted me to settle for some work in Kwekwe. She overhead Mrs Dodd talking about her need for a housemaid and brought the news to me. At first, I was not interested. But the fact that it meant a change of location from Gwelo to Kwekwe was central to my final decision.

Having made up my mind, I prepared myself to leave for the Crossroads point and proceeded to Kwekwe with Joyce. Joyce and I travelled together to the Old BSAP Camp at Kwekwe. At the Old BSAP Camp, Officer Dodd and his wife allocated me some accommodation quarters. It made the situation very different from what I had seen in Gwelo. I had to live at the camp among the junior ranks of the force, most of whom were African males.

Now I had a one-roomed cottage to myself. My salary was 14 Rhodesian dollars. The tradition had been such that as Africans we needed to have some “baptism names”. Thus I was known among the Dodd’s as “Ignatia”. Mrs Dodd used to like calling it out loudly to which my normal response was “Yes Madam”.

My duties were to wash the plates as well as attend to other house chores. I had been adequately trained at the Ascot Teachers’ Cottages and was thus well prepared oriented for such kind of work. It was not difficult for me to adjust to the environment that I found at Officer Dodd’s place. I came up with an intelligent routine like dusting the floor, applying furniture cream and everything else was in order. It was more of a walk over.

Despite being new to them, the Dodd’s were a jovial couple who had friendly children. Their first born was Jeffery, who attended Kwekwe High School, and then a girl named Georgina and lastly a boy called Veridy. I usually arrived in the morning and was accorded some time off. My total span at the Old BSAP Camp was from 1974 to 1976.

Once in a while I got naughty and Mrs Dodd caught me red-handed. It should be noted that having stayed at unfamiliar place for long as a housemaid, there was every reason to be wayward. One day, I was cleaning the bathroom and got attracted to some of the toothbrushes there. I opened the tap and used one toothbrush that did not belong to me. As I did that, Mrs Dodd’s daughter, Georgina walked and shouted, “Ignatia what are doing?” She reported the matter to her mother.

It was something that I did for the fun of it. When Mrs Dodd, came back after work she subjected me to another round of shouting. She might have lost some trust in me as a result of that incident.  However, I remained a faithful houseworker who was never suspected of such misdeeds as petty theft or anything of that sort.

The record of my service was straight.

At the old BSAP Camp in Kwekwe, I never used to do the cooking. Mrs Dodd was a full-time house wife who preferred to cook on her own. She liked to read a lot. I had become acceptably proficient in English and could communicate effectively with the Dodd’s. My day was appropriately programmed and organised.

The unwritten rule was such that I never ate in the house of Officer Dodd. I was given some tea at 10 o’clock in the morning and three in the afternoon, but would have to drink it outside. The beverage usually came with slices of bread on which I spread some thick red fruit jam. I was not used to the additive but really loved it.

It was something that we usually had during the festive season because my parents could not afford such extras on a daily basis. My stay at the Old BSAP Camp was the first instance which gave me some space to interact with the whites in Rhodesia. I also observed that they tried as much as possible to preserve exclusivity.

This is the second part of the biography of Group Captain Sithabile Sibanda aka Cde Ntombiyezizweni Mhlanga. Under the working title “A Woman’s Choice, The untold story of the ZPRA Women’s Brigade”, the book was researched and written by Tjenesani Ntungakwa. Group Capt Sibanda was been awarded the Liberation Medal (1990), Independence Medal, Mozambique Campaign Medal (1991), Ten Years Service in the Air Force of Zimbabwe (2000), Long and Exemplary Medal after 15 years of service in the AFZ (2005), Sadc Medal of the DRC Campaign (2008), the United Nations Medal (2008) after serving in The Sudan under the United Nations Mission in Sudan.
Group Capt Sithabile Sibanda —

The mood for a war in Rhodesia had become so pronounced that there was no longer any room for a normal life. The Rhodesians were very much on the offensive, doing all they could to stifle the pace of the armed struggle.

Young people had to take up arms and remove the chains of British settler colonialism. In terms of my social involvement at the OId BSAP Camp, Judith Mavolunteer Moyo became another dependable confidant.

She worked for the man who deputised Officer Dodd. The junior police details were very cautious about approaching me. There was a black officer, Rogers Mdlongwa who had some kind of respectable rank. I cannot recall what status he had in the BSAP but for a black man, he must have been somebody.

He seemed to like chasing after young women and also preyed on me to no avail. I once met him in Bulawayo after ceasefire and he had lost most of his teeth due to old age. Some of his responsibilities were distributing beds, mattresses, blankets and sheets. In the organised structures of a conventional army like nowadays, he could have been referred as a provost.

Other than that, the rest of the guys were very much apprehensive of me. At weekends I used to do my laundry, visit Idah Songo or hang around with Judith Mavolunteer Moyo.

With time, the strain of work began to wear me down. I kept in touch with Idah Songo. After leaving the Old BSAP Camp in Kwekwe, I went to stay with a relative at Torwood in Kwekwe.

I was getting older, more rounded and definitely with an appearance which left many males holding their breath. However, the tradition had been that the brothers of a girl who was just getting over puberty would watch out for any trespassers.

Supposing I got home late, my brother had a self-proclaimed right to send me back to wherever I had been. There was a day that I went out with Idah to a function and stayed there overnight. Having arrived early morning, I was told to go away.

I ended up staying in Torwood for the whole of 1976. In 1976 I applied to join the British South Africa Police but was turned down. My fascination was with the uniforms female officers wore in the BSAP.

At that time, the police force was taking some recruits that were holders of the Grade Seven Certificate of Education. I heard that the police sent some people to our area and investigated my family’s political background.

When it was discovered that Nkonkoni was politically active in Zapu, my application to join the BASP was rejected. Such was normal practice in settler colonial Rhodesia.

With time, I became aware that there were Zapu broadcasts on Radio Zambia. They became quite frequent after the recruitment of the Manama students in early 1977.

I was also constantly involved with Idah Songo. On Radio Zambia, Jane Ngwenya was part of the Zapu compliment of announcers. The spirit of what I heard on radio began to move my interests towards Zapu.

There was another Zapu radio personality called Chipo Mabuwa, the sister to Chiratidzo Iris Mabuwa who also played a part in conscientising us towards the armed struggle.

Chiratidzo Iris Mabuwa was among the group of students that were taken by Zapu militants at Manama around January 1977.  Ian Douglas Smith had openly stated his disapproval of the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union and listening to such Radio Zambia could get us into big trouble.

The armed struggle was scaling new heights and reports of contacts between the Rhodesian security forces and guerillas were increasingly becoming pronounced.

I recall that one day Chipo Mabuwa appealed to us on Radio Zambia, something to this effect: “To you who are still at home, what are you waiting for? I joined the armed wing of Zapu and have since been issued with my rifle.”

It was an unpredictable phase in my life but I had decided that push had come to shove; the armed struggle was going to be my choice. I would fight for the freedom of my country. At that time, I thought that being in the armed struggle was going to be exciting.

A crop of the Zimbabwe Peoples’ Revolutionary Army female combatants had were spreading the ideology of the armed struggle waged by the Zimbabwe African Peoples’ Union. I had to be prepared to carry the gun and move forward.

After all, missionaries like David Livingstone had preached the gospel on one hand whilst facilitating the work of the Maxim gun on other. I began to realise that Zapu was the vehicle for the emancipation of the majority in Rhodesia. It was in Zapu that I was to find the messiah mentality which would set my people free.

By then I did not know that the slogan, “Aluta Continua” meant something serious, beyond life or death. At Torwood, I spent some time at number N2 11 where the Moyos lived. Paul Moyo was like my guardian, married to Jessica Sibanda who became a relative by virtue of sharing the same totem with me.

Paul was an avid lover of soccer and became a coach in the latter years of his life. Benedict Moyo his son, followed suit and also became a prominent mentor in the game of football. I used to call Paul “Sibare”, taken from Ndebele.

It meant brother-in-law. In those days, in-laws were dear. It was unheard of that they quarrelled. In 1976, I was a mature 17-year-old. By February 1977, Silobela had become a very tense spot. There were movements of Rhodesian security forces in pursuit of guerillas.

Everywhere, there were searches and roadblocks manned by heavily-armed soldiers. Everything deteriorated after the mass recruitment of Manama students.

Manama was a mission secondary school of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rhodesia, situated about 200km south of Bulawayo. The nearest major provincial centre to Manama was Gwanda, and Gwanda became known for guerilla incursions.

Here and there were some clashes between the Rhodesian army and freedom fighters. The Rhodesians used to issue what was called a communiqué from their army headquarters in Salisbury indicating the casualties of every battle.

Those updates would be along the following lines: “Today, the Joint Operations Communiqué informed of a clash with ZPRA terrorists at Figtree, near Plumtree. Four terrorists were killed and five terrorists’ collaborators were wounded in cross fire. The security forces are continuing with follow-up operations.”

One was left feeling as if the guerillas were losing ground to the Rhodesians. At times, the reportage seemed to demean the intellect of the predominantly black populace.

Not all of us were in a position to read between the lines as the Rhodesians waged psychological warfare against supports of both Zapu and Zanu. Some among us lost relatives; others were captured and tortured by the Rhodesian Special Branch.

I got to learn that the Special Branch was the state security arm of the Rhodesian right wing government led by Ian Douglas Smith. The intelligence organisation was quite heavy-handed in its operations against Zapu and Zanu.

There were many stories about how the Special Branch abducted some of our comrades in neighbouring countries like Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique. The accounts were painful, even young as I was.

Under such circumstances the broadcasts from Radio Zambia caused a lot of indignation among the Rhodesian security apparatus.I grouped together with such friends as Idah Songo, Marina, Ossa and others to hear Zapu’s revolutionary propaganda encouraging us to leave the country for Zambia.

It was risky for us to crowd around the radio set and listen to the message of hope. The evenings were quite convenient for this. It was like a spiritual experience and it was partly because of such broadcasts that we were motivated to join the armed struggle.

I became so bold as to tell my mother what I wanted to do. Sooner rather than later, we had to organise ourselves and cross the border into Botswana. On January 22, 1977, Zapu national treasurer Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo was killed by a parcel bomb in Zambia.

Ziyaphapha had been instrumental in modelling the armed struggle with Zapu after the banishment of the party’s leadership to Gonakudzingwa around 1964.

After Zapu Vice-President James Dambaza Chikerema left in 1971 to form the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe, Moyo took on greater significance in the struggle.

There were many versions that were spread concerning the death of JZ. One theory was that the Rhodesians might have planted an informer within Zapu to eliminate him.

The survivors of the bombing incident in which Moyo died were John Nkomo, Jane Ngwenya, Dumiso Dabengwa, Amos Jack Ngwenya and a Zapu intelligence officer who went by the name Cici.

Amos Jack Ngwenya assisted in Zapu’s external wing after the banning of 1962, along with Aron Ndlovu, a trade unionist who had worked closely with Joshua Nkomo.

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