Salisbury’s tank inferno: Hero with nerves of steel

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ON July 9 2014 a gallant son of the soil, Cde Norman Hwiza, passed on to join the constellation of the country’s finest.
A down-to-earth and unassuming man, Cde Hwiza lived in the bliss of the country’s independence never flaunting his contribution in the liberation struggle.
Cde Hwiza contributed to the efforts that led to the successful bombing of the main fuel depot in Salisbury in 1979.
The operation was critical as the attack on the tanks marked a turning point in the war.
Born on February 14 1957, the parents did not know that a warrior had come forth.
Cde Hwiza collaborated with the team that had come to bomb the tanks.
The team was hosted by Mbuya Sekesai Hwiza in Mbare.
Her house, for two months was the command centre of the team.
And Mbuya Hwiza’s fourth child, Norman became part of the grand operation.
According to one of the members of the crack unit, Cde David Mushangwe aka ‘Lobo’, they noted that the St Ignatius College-educated Norman was a calm and reliable young man.
Thus Norman found himself a runner for the comrades whose stay at the house was to remain unknown.
The fate of all the members of the team that included Cdes Member, Hwanda, Damage Bombs, States America Mudzvanyiriri, Take Time, Nhamo and Norest was in the hands of the young man.
“Excitement and careless talk by the young man could have sold us out and put the mission in jeopardy, but he had nerves of steel and at that tender age understood the importance of our mission,” said Cde Lobo.
Thus Cde Hwiza began gathering information critical to the success of this all-important mission.
He earned the trust of the fighters that he accompanied them when they went for reconnaissance.
The presence of the guerrillas was known by the enemy and Norman swiftly reacted informing the fighters of the danger they were now in.
The fighters evaded capture and went on to blow up the fuel tanks and threw the Rhodesians into a tailspin.
Cde Hwiza had played his part.
But that was not all.
He left with the fighters, he would not stay behind.
The fire raged on for days, it had to take fire fighters from South Africa to put out the inferno.
On completion of the mission, the guerrillas, including Cde Hwiza, drove to a farm close to the Snake Park.
Cde Hwiza was introduced to the vagaries of war.
For two weeks, they camped in the bush and survived on wild fruit because contact with people would increase the risk of capture.
After a fortnight, they proceeded to Domboshava.
Out of the hot zone and before they could breathe a sigh of relief after escaping the city, Cde Hwiza was ordered to return home with Cde Member.
The team had left behind some ammunition at Mbuya Hwiza’s house that had to be collected.
This in itself was a major assignment.
The enemy knew that Mbuya Hwiza had hosted the fighters that had crippled them and the house was under surveillance.
The two successfully collected the ammunition and returned to Domboshava.
In no time, the team was advised that Domboshava was no longer safe and they prepared for the journey to Mozambique.
But the enemy was already onto them.
It was Cde Hwiza, while resting on a mountain top in Ngwerume Village, who first saw the Rhodesians that ambushed the team.
He alerted the team that promptly got into action engaging the enemy.
So heavy was the gunfire that Cde Hwiza could not escape despite being ordered to run for dear life.
He was shot in both legs.
“We had no choice but to leave him. That is how brutal war was,” said Cde Nhamo.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Heritage Trust (ZHT) before his death early this year, Cde Hwiza said he never forgot the brutality he was subjected to by the Rhodesian soldiers.
The soldier who captured him in Ngwerume village was the notorious Selous Scout, Roy Bennett, now MDC-T treasurer general.
He was popularly known then as ‘Mzezuru’ because of his fluency in Shona.
Bennett, after brutally assaulting the injured Cde Hwiza, drove him to Susuman Farm in Shamva where he handed him to the special branch.
Cde Hwiza was taken to a base in Bindura, the infamous ‘Majarata’ where injured guerrilla captives were brought before being buried in mine shafts after succumbing to torture.
Cde Hwiza’s wounds began to fester and hoping to get more information from him, they took him to hospital.
He recovered and insisted on his innocence claiming that he had been caught in a crossfire and was not part of the guerrillas.
The Rhodesians bought it and released him.
When the country attained independence Cde Hwiza worked for Famer’s Co-op as a senior accounts clerk.
At the time of his death, Cde Hwiza was an assistant lecturer in the Accounts Department at Great Zimbabwe University.
Cde Hwiza was buried at his rural home in Mandaza Village, Domboshava.
He is survived by two children Loreti and Samantha and three grandchildren.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.

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