The bombing of the Salisbury fuel tanks:How mission was carried out


SOME of the strategists spearheading Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle gathered at Uriri Military Base in Tete Province, Mozambique in 1978, to discuss the decisive blow that would knock the wind out of the heartless Rhodesians suppressing the black majority.
The gathering was comprised of some of Zimbabwe’s finest military brains that included the late General Solomon ‘Rex Nhongo’ Mujuru, ZANLA Army Commander Josiah Tongogara, Cde Dominic Munyaradzi and current Zimbabwe National Army Commander, Constantine Chiwenga.
The ZANLA High Command had agreed it was time the war was taken to the doorstep of the Rhodesians.
And it would be done in a spectacular and devastating manner.
Salisbury (now Harare), the capital city of Rhodesia, was the target, specifically fuel tanks.
The impending attack was not about engaging to find out who had bigger muscles, it was meant to paralyse and do away with illusions of invincibility that some Rhodesians still harboured despite fighting a losing battle.
The mission, which would be a defining moment of the protracted liberation struggle, required guerillas that had detailed knowledge of Salisbury.
Comrades David Mushangwe aka ‘Lobo’, from Mabvuku, Member, Hwanda, Damage Bombs, States America Mudzvanyiriri, Take Time, Nhamo and 17-year-old Norest were chosen for the mission.
They were taken to Chigayo Base for further training in close combat.
After training the group was given its ammunition.
Each guerilla had his own AK47 machine gun, a CZ pistol, grenades and Cde Lobo in particular had an 82 mm mortar and rocket launcher.
The section was driven to the border in a Land Rover truck by Cde Perence Shiri.
“This is where the mission started,” Cde Lobo said.
“We had no money and we were not supposed to use public transport so we walked from Nyamapanda to Domboshava.”
Cde Lobo was attacked by Malaria and when they crossed the border he was left behind as his fellow comrades thought he would not survive.
However, he recovered after taking some herbs and water he dug on a dried river bed before catching up with his colleagues after two days.
The crew walked for three months and arrived at Musana Tribal Trust Lands where they helped the guerillas operating in that area to fight the Selous Scouts who were terrorising villagers. After the battle, Cde Lobo and company proceeded to Domboshava and established a base in a mountain in Zimbiru Village.
“When we arrived in Domboshava, we established a friendship with a local businessman, Richard Mverechena,” said Cde Lobo.
“Mverechena played an important role on our mission because he financed us.
“We would wear smart clothes and go for reconnaissance on our targets which were the electricity power station and BP Shell tanks in Southerton.”
The section would go for reconnaissance in groups of four.
They would go with one old man, ‘Long Chase’, a tomato farmer whenever he was going with produce to Mbare.
This process of investigating was done for a month before the final attack.
Convinced they were well versed about their target, the guerillas arranged with one ‘Mbuya Hwiza’ for accommodation at her house in Mbare and another ex-detainee who stayed in Highfield.
The section divided themselves into two groups.
The other group went straight to Mbare while the other went to Highfield.
The group that went to Mbare went with ‘Long Chase’ and the one to Highfield was accompanied by one ‘Murewa’, a truck driver working for a removal company.
The Highfield-bound group, however, relocated to Mbare and secured a house adjacent to Mbuya Hwiza’s house. After four days in Mbare, Sekuru Hwiza who was a taxi driver told the guerillas that people were suspecting them hence the need to speed up their mission.
The guerillas suggested to go with Mbuya Hwiza’s son, Tasi, and Norman from the other house in case their parents would sell out.
Sekuru Hwiza offered his taxi which ferried five people and the other group hired another taxi driven by one ‘Harry Muzuva’.
The taxis were driven to a mountain in Warren Park where the guerillas strategised their attack.
Muzuva panicked hence he was handcuffed and they drove off for the final mission.
The section arrived in Southerton around 8pm, but had to delay the attack because people were still loitering.
At 9pm, the freedom fighters lined up 400 metres from their target, opposite Bitumen along Lyton Road.
They fired relentlessly before the fuel tanks exploded.
The massive explosion was so loud and the fire, according to Cde Lobo, and smoke was seen by people as far as Domboshava.
The mission was complete within 10 minutes and the freedom fighters sped off towards Snake Park.
The taxis dropped them at a farm close to Snake World where they camped for two days in a mountain eating wild fruit.
“We stayed in a mountain for two days eating Mazhanje,” said Cde Lobo.
“We realised that the Rhodesian farmer who owned that farm would come in the morning and sit watching his workers at work.
“Farm workers used the mountain we were basing as toilet and on the second day, we nabbed an old man who came to relieve himself in the mountain.
“He informed us that there were delivery trucks which brought bread at the farm.”
Cde Lobo said they ambushed the London bakery’s truck that came to the farm and the driver and his assistant were put in the back of the van with other guerillas.
“We drove straight to town and we never had any problems,” said Cde Lobo.
“We celebrated as we passed through the State House where Smith was residing at the time and on arrival in Domboshava, Mverechena gave us four crates of beer at his hotel and we went to our base and celebrated our victory.
“Our mission had been accomplished.”


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