…Commissioner General Chihuri speaks
By Evans Mushawevato and Emergencey Mwale
BY 1977 Rhodesians were desperate admitting that the ‘penetration’ and ‘disruption’ by guerrilla forces had increased and they were overstretched.
Finding the guerrillas too huge a force to repel and their operating areas increasing while their numbers thinned, Rhodesia’s Grand Reef Air Base in Manicaland, a large and strategic Forward Airfield (FAF) became one of key operational centres.
A FAF was an airfield out of which aircraft operated supporting the various desponded Rhodesian forces.
The guerrillas brought the war closer to the doorstep of Rhodesians and three more operational areas were opened, Central Rhodesia (Grapple), the Salisbury Area (Salops) and Lake Kariba (Splinter) further stretching and weakening the army.
And the Rhodesian Airfoce was supplied with planes by apartheid South Africa and embarked on a series of calculated massacres.
It carried out cross-border raids attacking guerrilla camps in Mozambique and Zambia.
Worst attacks by the desperate Rhodies, who were now conscripting 60-year-olds and children barely out of high school, included the genocidal attacks of Nyadzonia and Chimoio Camps that left thousands dead, mostly women and children.
The ZANLA High Command soon realised that the Grand Reef Air Base was a debilitating thorn in the foot of its forces.
And the man revered and described as one of the most brilliant military minds and strategists in Zimbabwe’s liberation war, the late Rex Nhongo (General Solomon Mujuru), a member of the High Command and Chief of Operations acted.
In the summer season of 1978, in Chimoio, the stammering, but sharp General summoned ‘Stephen Chocha’.
‘Chocha’ was the nom de guerre of current Zimbabwe Republic Police Commissioner General, Augustine Chihuri.
Having undergone military training that was not only intense, but vast and long and established guerrilla training camps that included Takawira 1 and 2, Cde Chocha whose physical stature belied his military skills, was not only a senior official, but among comrades who understood the art of war very well.
And at this stage he was the Director of Training.
“At this stage of the war, we were way past retreating and reacting to enemy’s manoeuvers, we were initiating attacks that Rhodesians never imagined,” said Cde Chihuri.
Cde Mujuru, he said, was as an astute leader.
“Cde Mujuru kept a cool head and had exact impressions of things,” said Cde Chihuri.
“He was never overwhelmed by challenges or responded to issues emotionally or with fear or frustration, he simply demanded solutions.
“Most importantly he gave commanders below him considerable latitude to perform their duties.”
Attacking the Grand Reef would be hitting the enemy where it hurts the most and the attack happening in the festive season would be a well-timed blow to Rhodesians whose morale was now at an all-time low.
According to Rhodesians, “ZANLA raids grew more daring.
“On December 18 at 10 45pm about 60 ZANLA guerrillas attacked the Grand Reef base near Umtali.
“The troops were watching a film show in the canteen.
“The show came to an end as rockets crashed on to the area.
“The guerrillas had seen one RLI unit leave, but they had not noticed the arrival of another which returned fire.
“The guerrillas then disappeared into the night after killing one African and injuring six whites at the base.”
Cde Chihuri who planned, recruited, retrained and led the 250 fighters that wreaked havoc on Grand Reef laughs off the assertion by Rhodesians which he describes as a distortion inspired by humiliation.
“Those that managed to escape the Grand Reef attack were found in a state of shock, confused and hiding under granaries,” said Cde Chihuri.
“Vamwe vaiwanikwa pasi pehozi, in the surrounding villages.
“Some news agencies because of the enormity and success of the attack were saying the Chinese had carried out an aerial attack at the base.”
The order to attack Grand Reef came as a question.
“You are the one in charge of training what must we do about Grand Reef, what do you need to destroy the air base ,” Cde Chihuri was asked by Cde Mujuru.
Being well-schooled in the art of war, Cde Chihuri knew exactly what was needed to succeed in destroying Grand Reef.
“To succeed the group had to be fluid and have the ability to strike with speed thus I asked to choose the fighters, retrain them, asked for specific heavy firearms and to personally conduct the reconnaissance of the target and afterwards hit it with a force so huge that everything in the base would be reduced to smithereens,” he said.
“I also asked for a special ration of food, not only would we work on the psychological and fighting skills, but the physiological aspect of the fighters was critical, they had to be strong.
“We were given mealie-meal and the relish we would hunt.”
The retraining that was conducted in 21 days was carried out in a bush in Gorogongoza.
“Being alone in the bush with the fighters, allowed me to get a feel of the men,” said Cde Chihuri.
“For the attack to be successful there was need for the group to be one mentally and physically.
“Much was at stake, we could not afford to fail as we would never get another opportunity.
“The Rhodesians were not expecting us, we staked everything on a single blow thus we ensured that there would be no hesitancy or confusion, we had to create an esprit de corps.”
In the three weeks he spent with the 300 fighters, Cde Chihuri, would take platoons to hunt an exercise he used to judge how effective the retraining was.
“Every day in the bush was spent making the fighters think less about themselves and more about the group,” he said.
“We drilled into them that their survival was tied to the success of the group.
“And each hunting expedition showed that the group was strong, spirited and motivated.”
After three weeks, said Cde Chihuri, Cde Mujuru was invited to the training ground.
“After training I summoned Cde Mujuru to witness a mock battle and it is at that time that I removed 50 fighters that I deemed not fit for the mission,” said Cde Chihuri.