Armageddon at Skhumbi

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2011

The story of Cde Richard Ndlovu, aka Cde Sigwagwa

WE grew up seeing Rhodesian soldiers and policemen in our area under Chief Shana in the Hwange District.
These people were notorious, ruthless and repressive.
We hated them.
By 1976, their activities in our area had intensified.
The liberation struggle was being waged to free us from colonial bondage and the Rhodesian operators were known to do anything to maintain their grip on power.
We had been effectively told that we were second class citizens in our country, that we had no rights and would forever remain in servitude.
All of the above were enforced in a manner that left Africans fully aware of who was in charge — the Rhodesians.
Their modus operandi included arrests, imprisoning without trial, kidnappings and killings.
These Rhodies stayed at a camp in Jambezi, Matabeleland North Province.
The camp was called Skhumbi.
This camp was home to hardliner Rhodesian soldiers who had racism imprinted in their DNA.
A lot of nasty things happened at this camp.
Many villagers taken to this camp never returned and have not been accounted for to this day.
The camp was hyena’s cave; no-one came out alive or if someone miraculously did, then he/she left seriously scarred.
Army trucks were serviced and repaired at Skhumbi Camp.
It was also a Rhodesian listening post on operations on the other side of the border, Zambia, as it was not easy for Smith’s soldiers to cross the Zambezi River into Zambia without trouble.
Zambia was already independent then and supporting the liberation struggle in every possible way.
The camp was also used to monitor the movement of people, goods and services along the border.
Those unlucky to be caught on the ‘wrong’ side by the Rhodesian state apparatus were executed without trial.
Artillery was also kept at this camp.
In short, the camp was strategic for Rhodesians in many ways and at the same time the camp was an impediment to ZIPRA cadres in many ways too.
The other mission for those at the camp was to intercept ZIPRA cadres going to Zambia for military training and those being deployed back into Zimbabwe afterwards.
As long as the camp remained in place, ZIPRA cadres’ operations were at risk and were likely not to succeed.
It was a stumbling block.
Mercenaries from South Africa were also housed at this camp.
The guerillas planned a mission to destroy the camp.
Its destruction would cripple the Rhodesians.
One day in the summer of 1976, around 6pm, ZIPRA cadres descended heavily on this camp.
It was a mission to snuff the camp out.
We were not privy to the plans to destroy the camp, but we clearly saw the results.
What we witnessed was a scene we had never seen before.
The camp was hit relentlessly for two hours.
From miles away, we could hear loud explosions and see smoke billowing into the sky.
There were fuel tanks at the camp and large balls of fire erupted in and around the camp.
The Rhodesians were caught off guard.
They did not anticipate the attack and were caught napping.
This was evidenced by their retaliation — it was feeble at most.
They had, to their detriment, underestimated the ZIPRA cadres.
Almost everything at the camp was gutted down.
The camp was in a raging inferno till the early hours of the morning.
All that was left as evidence this was once a huge camp where burnt out shells of trucks, small vehicles and spent cartridges.
A few soldiers managed to escape but many were burnt in the inferno, some were shot dead as they tried to escape the Armageddon.
Skhumbi Camp never operated again after this attack.
Its demise meant there was an improved movement of ZIPRA guerillas to and from Zambia.
The guerilla operations went a gear up.
The attack was enough message to the Rhodies that the comrades meant business.
Compiled by Tobias Manyuchi

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