Détente: When the Nhari rebellion was crushed


LAST week we focused on the death of Herbert Chitepo who was assassinated on March 18 1975 when a bomb placed on his car exploded, killing him, a bodyguard and a child in a neighbouring garden.
In fact, Chitepo’s death and the subsequent arrest in Zambia of most senior members of the Dare and the military high command of ZANLA, which disrupted the war effort for almost a year, and the ‘Nhari Rebellion’, which we will focus on this week, were interrelated .
All were orchestrated by Ian Smith’s CIO in a bid to bring a war they knew they would lose to an end.
The ZANLA chief of defence, Josiah Tongogara, described the Nhari Rebellion as ‘an attempt to destroy the armed struggle’.
The man behind the rebellion was Thomas Nhari, who was born Raphael Chinyanganya and was a teacher by profession who had been sent by ZAPU for training in Moscow and had defected to ZANU in 1971.
He commanded a great deal of respect among the cadres and at the time of the rebellion he was Provincial Field Operations Commander in MMZ (a ZANLA term used to describe the area of operations in the north east bordering Mozambique) and a senior member of the general staff.
The chain of events began with a low key secret meeting near Mukumbura just over the border in Mozambique on September 21 1974 a day after the swearing in of the Mozambican Government enabling them to meet without fear of attack or detection since the war had virtually ceased.
Nhari and Dakarai Badza who was also a senior ZANLA commander met an SB officer; the other meeting was between Nhari and another commander ,Cephas Tichatonga with a military intelligence at the same location while the third on November 9 and 10 involved a senior member of the SB.
Junior commanders were aware of these meetings but were afraid to expose Nhari for fear of being victimised or killed.
Simbi Mubako who was a law lecturer in Lusaka at the time (still alive) summarised the reasons for the Nhari Rebellion as being: ‘sudden explosion in recruitment coupled with administrative deficiencies, enemy action and the existence of disgruntled politicians’.
Mubako explains that within two years the ZANLA Forces had expanded to 5 000 from 300 hence making it difficult for the party to absorb, equip and feed such a number of cadres and the Organisation of African Unity liberation committee and the states which supplied the war were very slow in responding to the requirements of the expanding war.
Despite knowledge of these hardships and the reasons behind them as well as efforts that were ongoing to improve the welfare of the fighters, Nhari felt that the leadership of ZANU were having a ‘good time’ in Lusaka and Salisbury (now Harare) denying them better weapons to fight the war.
It is felt because of his Russian background he preferred sophisticated armaments to the Light Chinese weapons that were available.
The period was tough; the opening of a new province of operations (ZZ) to the West of MMZ was stretching ZANLA’s capacity to supply equipment, ammunition and trained personnel. Mounting grievances in the camps included walking for long distances, ambushes and blisters.
The situation was made worse at this stage because the Frontline States led by Kenneth Kaunda had stopped extending support, sticking rigidly to the ‘Ceasefire’ that had come about as a result of Détente.
Nhari also fell for the message that Rhodesians began spreading that the war had come to an end and there would be substantial rewards for the capture of senior commanders that did not wish to lay down arms.
The first time Nahri and others left the front disregarding orders by the Dare that no commanders should leave, Nhari and others were caught, disciplined and ordered to return.
One of the officers, Dzikamani Badza was demoted to an ordinary cadre while Caesar Molife was stripped of his rank after an attempt to shoot Nhongo. Nhari maintained his post.
During this time half of the Dare and some senior members of the High Command had been out on missions, Herbert Chitepo and Josiah Tongogara were in Romania, while Dare members Rugare Gumbo and Kumbirai Kangai with Nhongo, and others were in China.
On December 10 1974, fighting erupted in Lusaka’s Kamwala Township when the Nhari rebels tried to ambush Tongogara .They had already kidnapped his wife and children, as well as 19 ZANU officials including three members of the Dare and several members of the High Command.
The rebels took over the Chifombo Base, in Mozambique and would not take orders from anyone except three members of the Dare, Noel Mukono, Henry Hamadziripi and John Mataure.
Nhari forced a group of cadres including newly trained women from Nachingwea in Tanzania to carry weapons to Chifombo.
Along the way they were ill-treated.
Tungamirai described the ‘support’ that Nhari got as emanating from fear and those that were against his regressive act were shot for being Tongogara’s puppets.
Two commanders opposed to Nhari –Lovemore Chikadaya and Peter Ngwenya were buried alive at Chifombo.
They also arrested Vitalis Zvinavashe, who went by the name Fox Gava.
The rebels later picked up William Ndangana, Chief of Operations, Charles Dauramanzi, Logistics and Joseph Chimurenga.
When Tongogara and Chitepo returned from Romania they found the party in disarray and Tongogara decided to meet the 26 rebels who were led by Nhari and were demanding money.
Nhari also presented a five-page dossier to Tongogara and announced the proposed new commanders who replaced the ‘old and ineffective’ high command led by Tongogara, with him being the Chief of Defence.
Not long after the meeting Nhari and Badza tried to ambush and kill Nhongo and Tongogara but the Zambian police fired at them foiling the attempt to assassinate the Chief of Defense.
Nhongo and Mayor Urimbo later slipped into Chifombo on a reconnaissance mission to work out a strategy to neutralise the threat to the struggle.
Tongogara led a group of 250 newly trained cadres on Christmas Day under an operation code named ‘Gukurahundi’.
Another section of the Gukurahundi led by Elias Hondo was sent across the Zambezi to Teresera Camp where other members of the High Command including Gava and Dauramanzi were being held.
Nhari, Tichatonga, Badza and another rebel leader, Matthew Ndanga who had been at Chifombo were executed, others were suspended or detained and some deserted.
Before his execution Nhari confessed to the plot to rebel and his contact with the Rhodesian Special Branch.


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