Another iconic highway and dam to visit

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AS we keep on building up to our independence celebrations next month, we also keep on visiting battle sites, across the country where a lot of fighting took place between freedom fighters and the Rhodesian racist army during the Second Chimurenga.
At the same time, we also visit places of tourism interest.
The whole idea here is to encourage our Government to develop the battle sites and the places of tourism interest into one smashing tourism product which will be sold to both locals and visitors from abroad.
Last week we decided to kill two birds with one stone.
We made a journey to Masvingo Province to see the filling up of the new great Tokwe Mukorsi Dam and the Beitbridge-Masvingo Highway which, from our perspective, was a huge battle site of the Second Chimurenga as we shall show.
With the glorious rains falling nearly everyday and the two main rivers that feed the Tokwe Mukorsi Dam – the Tokwe and Mukorsi reported to be overflowing their banks for weeks on end — we decided to witness the filling up of the mighty dam itself before going down Beitbridge Road to talk to locals along the highway about the battles, ambushes, contacts and skirmishes that took place on and around the big road during the liberation struggle.
On getting to the new big Tokwe Mukorsi Dam, we were not disappointed at all.
In fact, we witnessed a great spectacle.
The dam was about 62 percent full when we arrived and because the two big rivers of Tokwe and Mukorsi were completely swollen, the dam itself was rapidly filling up and rising by the hour.
Standing on a big highland, it was amazing to see how the dam has become pretty big, going everywhere to the horizon overnight, covering vast expanses of land.
Right before our eyes we were able to see kopjies, hills, knolls, mountains and highlands being transformed into islands.
Now and again we saw the shoreline which was full of froth in many places as if it were the mouth of a huge African earthenware pot, (gate) full of fermenting rukweza beer, changing its boundaries every hour as the dam expanded further and further in all directions.
It was pure magic to see a huge dam such as Tokwe Mukorsi filling up.
Before we left the spectacular Tokwe Mukorsi Dam onto our second leg of the journey, we caught up with one of the officials who filled us up on the technical details about the mighty Tokwe Mukorsi Dam:
“This is going to be Zimbabwe’s biggest inland dam when full, second only to Kariba.
It will cover up to 100 square kilometres carrying up to 1,8 billion cubic metres of water.
Lake Mutirikwi was our biggest inland lake until now.
It covers only 9 100 hectares and holds 1 425 million cubic metres of water.”
But when it comes to Tokwe Mukorsi Dam, we can as well say Zimbabwe now has two Karibas!
Now can you imagine the amount of tourism that can be developed around Tokwe Mukorsi Dam, bearing in mind that the Beitbridge-Masvingo Road, soon to be upgraded, passes via the dam?
Now we can talk about the Beitbridge-Masvingo Road which we travelled along all the way to Beitbridge from Masvingo.
That great highway, which is going to be turned into a four-lane motorway very soon, is an entire battle site as far as locals and freedom fighters who fought in that part of the country are concerned.
The road fell into ZANLA’s Gaza Province which became arguably the hottest fighting zone between the Rhodesians and ZANLA as the war reached dizzy heights in the late 1970s.
The Rhodesians themselves christened Gaza Province ‘the Russian front’ because of the heavy and incessant fighting they experienced against ZANLA in that province.
Yes, the Gaza Province became so hot the Rhodesians decided to set up a forward airfield base at Buffalo Range, outside the town of Chiredzi.
But in no time this was proved inadequate, so they established another Forward Airfield base right on the Beitbridge-Masvingo Road itself – at Rutenga.
This was to ensure the vital Harare-Beitbridge onto South Africa Road remained operational.
But ZANLA turned the entire Beitbridge-Masvingo Road into a battleground.
Yes, freedom fighters did not make life easy for Rhodies on the Beitbridge-Masvingo Road.
They conducted ambushes and surprise attacks on the road and the surrounding areas almost on a daily basis, as well as at night.
This gave the Rhodies a real headache and as usual, they decided to use the ‘Sikuziapo’ into luring their nemeses, the local ZANLA detachment commanders who were giving them sleepless nights in and around the Beitbridge-Masvingo Highway.
Below we highlight a story where the Rhodies tried to lure one of the detachment commanders but came second best.
“We knew from Special Branch intelligence that there was a large ZANLA detachment east of the Beitbridge to Bubye road.
The detachment commander was well known to us.
He was very wary and difficult to contact.
But something had to be done.
One day they tried to lure the freedom fighters under that detachment commander into a ‘trap’ but that detachment commander was not taken in. Instead they got into a big battle.”
One of the freedom fighters who took part in that encounter described the battle to us as we moved around Rutenga Growth Point.
“It was early in the morning, the Rhodies who were led by their Sikuziapo came to attack us.
We had occupied a forest of Mopani trees, west of a number of villages, a good distance East of Rutenga Growth Point.
We were over 50.
They advanced with mostly small fire arms and two French 60mm mortars. They started the show by firing mortar shells at us.
Deafening explosions followed.
But we soon hit back with our own mortars which were bigger — 82mm mortars.
We also had a good number of bazookas with us.
They had no chance.
Every comrade fought with the greatest courage as the Rhodies kept on coming despite the heavy mortar fire we directed at them.
However, on our part, there was no yielding at all.
The battle went on until 10am when the enemy then withdrew.
We were surprised that they did not bring the helicopters into the equation.
We won that battle hands down.”
The Sikuziapo were sent to the cleaners.
Then they tried another trick in the same Beitbridge-Masvingo Road area.
They took a game ranger (white) and made him pretend he was a soldier captured by freedom fighters.
The ‘freedom fighters’ in this case were in fact Sikuziapo who went on to move with the white game ranger pretending they were busy looking for freedom fighters going to Mozambique to take the so called ‘white prisoner’ there.
The freedom fighters got in touch with the Sikuziapo and their so-called white prisoner.
They were not fooled one little bit.
Instead a fire fight ensued.
“The terrorists (freedom fighters) got deployed into a crescent facing the Selous Scouts at almost point blank range hidden amongst a herd of cattle.
The cattle stampeded and the terrorist used them as effective cover.”
The Sikuziapo were again defeated.
And so there was no respite on the Beitbridge-Masvingo Road.
The battles and ambushes on and around the Beitbridge-Masvingo Highway, where freedom fighters in the majority of cases came out winners, became the order of the day until the Rhodies surrendered.
We urge the Government to erect monuments along the Beitbridge Road, especially at places like Rutenga, to commemorate the great fighting that was put up by freedom fighters on one of the most heavily defended highways in Rhodesia.

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