Sunday, December 29, 2019

‘We Picked Up Human Flesh With Bare Hands’
29 DEC, 2019 - 00:12
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

Our Reporter Norman Muchemwa this week chronicles the political life of Cde Gilbert Msebele, whose war name was Cde Lovemore Sibanda. The former Zipra combatant talks of his early life and military training in Zambia

NM: You are one of the comrades who joined the liberation struggle under the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), at a time the war to dislodge Smith’s regime had gathered momentum, can you first tell us about your childhood life?

Answer: My name is Gilbert Msebele. I was born in Ndolwane in Plumtree, Matabeleland South Province, on August 8 1955.

I was the second born in a family of nine, from my mother’s side. In 1962, I enrolled at Buche Primary School for Sub A.

There was a time I dropped out of school when I was in Standard One.

This was after my father had returned from South Africa seriously ill.

I then went to Dombodema Mission, in Plumtree, where I repeated Standard One in 1967. I went to school up to Standard 3 in 1969.

I joined the liberation struggle in 1977 in Zambia and my liberation war name was Cde Lovemore Sibanda.

Question: Why did you decide to join the liberation struggle?

Answer: I grew up in a family that was already in politics. Malani Msebeli, popularly known as George Silundika, was my uncle.

My father was one of the people who used to make the traditional Zulu animal hide headgear, which was synonymous with Zapu supporters.

The likes of Ubaba uNkomo and other leaders used to come to our homestead to take the headgears and hats.

My father was arrested and tortured several times and most of my family members were arrested and taken to detention centres like WhaWha.

There was also an old man by the name Madiba, he passed away a few years ago, at one time he was arrested and tortured together with my father for their political activities.

In May 1973, Rhodesian soldiers came to my home area asking about the whereabouts of freedom fighters.

They interrogated villagers using force, but never got any information.

All this was happening before my eyes. As such, I had an understanding of the problems between the locals and the settlers.

Then beginning of 1975, a group of freedom fighters came to our area and mobilised a group of boys who included Dumisani, Dongo and Howa, who was a Kalanga and my cousin Stephen.

These boys formed part of the first group that went for military training in Angola.

Question: On your part, how did you join the liberation struggle?

Answer: I finally left to join the struggle in February 1977.

Since I already lived near the Botswana border, I was familiar with the terrain and knew that those going for the war would cross to Francistown first.

There was already movement of people going for training in Zambia through Francistown, Botswana.

These people would pass through my home area and at times we assisted them with directions, food or a place to sleep.

As such, I was not venturing into an unfamiliar territory. I knew what was happening.

When I crossed into Botswana I was with someone called Edwin Ndlovu.

Unfortunately, I last saw him when we arrived in Francistown.

While in Francistown there was a comrade called Edson, who was one of the contacts for recruits intending to proceed to Zambia for training.

When arrangements had been made for us to fly to Zambia, Edson cancelled the bookings.

He had gathered information that the Rhodesians had planned to attack that plane.

Edson then organised that we board a different plane at Pikwe Mine, there in Botswana. We were about 50 recruits and there was a plane waiting for us at Pikwe.

When we arrived in Zambia, we were taken by a lorry to a camp called Nampundu.

When we got there we found many people waiting to go for training.

One group went to Angola while the other one, which I was in, went to Mlungushi at a place called CGT1 or Emagojini because it was mountainous.

We spent some days at Nampundu awaiting to be moved to our training base because the reconnaissance team was still investigating (to check) if the place was proper for training.

There was also another camp near the border with Mozambique painzi paChipekete.

That place had been attacked before by the Rhodesian soldiers, hence the need for proper reconnaissance.

We finally started our training in November 1977. It was during this training period that the issue of forming units with heavy weapons was introduced.

The training was offered to us depending on our levels of education. Those with Standard One could qualify for the artillery unit. That is where I was.

Question: Who were your instructors at CGT1?

Answer: In the artillery unit, our commanders at the camp included Cde Maseka, who was the overall camp commander, Chief-of-Staff was Cde Goronga and senior artillery instructor was Cde Israel.

We had Cde Mawema, who was anti-air senior instructor, Cde Velapi was senior instructor engineering and Cde Godfrey was senior instructor combat tactics.

The current Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Retired Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo was also one of our senior instructors at this camp.

We finished our training around April, 1978. The commanders then decided to separate the units.

The artillery unit became a stand-alone unit stationed separately, the same was to be decided for the infantry section and other units.

We formed artillery camp that was named CGT2, near Chongwe, CGT1 was a distance at a place named paChinyunyu.

While at this CGT2 camp, there was an attack that was launched by the Rhodesian soldiers on one of our platoons.

It happened as Cde Rodwell Nyika was addressing that platoon, which he was supposed to lead on a reconnaissance mission in Mana Pools.

All the comrades were killed except for Cde Nyika. No one knows how he survived. A fighter jet came parallel to the sunlight and no one saw it coming.

Question: How did you handle this attack?

Answer: The attack left the whole camp in shock. It was the first time for some of us to experience that gruelling experience.

That is when I learnt for the first time that human brains and even the intestines can be active for several minutes while outside the body.

We did not sleep that night and we collected the decapitated remains of our fellow comrades. Our instructors told us that we could not wear plastics on our hands as we collected the human flesh.

They led us, using bare hands, to collect the body parts. That was the camaraderie spirit during the war.

We were one flesh and using our bare hands was meant to strengthen us into loving one another.

That is why even today, former liberation fighters have a different way of relating to each other that bears testimony to the spirit of one family.

We then prepared the body parts for burial in one grave.

I will never forget that experience even up to today. I went for the whole month smelling human flesh on my hands. Most of us went for a very long time struggling to eat meat.

The experience was just nasty.

Question: Let us get back to training, what kind of training did you receive?

Answer: I finished all my training at CGT2 and never trained at any camp outside Zambia.  Our training was very tough and physical.

As someone fighting for the liberation, the training had to be very tough to prepare ourselves for any eventuality.

I trained in the general military drills and how to handle different weapons. We used to train using real weapons of war and material the same way we would carry our material in the front.

We undrewent rigorous physical training so that we could carry bombs, landmines, heavy guns, etc. We were also trained in martial arts — judo and karate — for self-defence in the event that you ran out of ammunition.

The training, as expected, was very tough. We also had issues of hunger that threatened to derail our training, but we soldiered on.

Our training was slightly different in approach to that of our Zanla combatants.

We had more a confrontational kind of training, going into the enemy’s territory and attacking. It was not a hit-and- run affair like guerrilla warfare.

To be continued next week

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