Rex Nhongo (Solomon Mujuru) and Mayor Urimbo accompanied Josiah Tongogara to Chifombo and the mission to re-capture Chifombo was assigned to Elias Hondo who commanded a Tanzanian-trained ‘Gukurahundi’ battalion of more than 250 ZANLA guerillas, writes Dr Felix Muchemwa in his book The Struggle For Land in Zimbabwe (1890 – 2010) that The Patriot is serialising.
Muzorewa’s United African National Congress (UANC)
AS a way forward, on December 9 1974, the Frontline States leaders forced ZAPU, ZANU and FROLIZI to unite under the umbrella organisation of the UANC led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa.
Under that arrangement, the bishop was recognised as the only legitimate leader of the united ZAPU, ZANU and FROLIZI. (Sobel, 1978: p.43)
However, of the seven points of the Declaration of Unity signed by the uniting parties, the last point demanded that: “The leaders recognise the inevitability of continued armed struggle and all other forms of struggle until the total liberation of Zimbabwe.” (Martin and Johnson, 1981: p.155)
The declaration therefore left Ian Smith with no ‘moderate’ African leader to negotiate the establishment of a ‘moderate black-ruled ‘Zimbabwe-Rhodesia’.
Notwithstanding the negative blow, Smith curiously proceeded to make a radio and TV broadcast, offering guerillas a ‘ceasefire’ on December 10 1974.
All over the war zones inside Rhodesia, particularly in the north-east, leaflets containing conditions for ‘ceasefire’ were para-dropped and on December 16 1974, a group of ZANLA guerillas led by Herbert Shungu took advantage of the ‘ceasefire’ announcement and sent an emissary to a South African Military Police Camp with an invitation to discuss surrender terms.
The South African soldiers naively welcomed the invitation and walked straight into a well-laid ambush on the Mazowe high level bridge.
Six of them were killed without any loss to the guerillas. (Moorcraft and McLaughlin, 1982: p.40)
Meanwhile, two senior ZANLA commanders, Thomas Nhari and Dakarai Badza had rebelled against the ZANLA High Command.
Since September 1974, they had been holding secret meetings with Rhodesian Special Branch and Military Intelligence Officers in the Mukumbura border area of Mozambique.
More meetings were conducted on December 9 and 10 1974 and they coincided with Smith’s ‘curious’ ceasefire broadcast on the same days. (Martin and Johnson, 1981: p.159)
The rebels had mobilised and brought with them a large group of guerillas from the operation zones inside Rhodesia.
Those who had refused to co-operate with them were either shot dead or buried alive.
And, they had also captured Josiah Tungamirai at Chifombo Rear Base Camp.
While being held by the rebels, Josiah Tungamirai found that they had no genuine and convincing grievances, apart from accusing the High Command (Dare) of enjoying a life of luxury in Lusaka, instead of being on the battlefield with them. (Martin and Johnson, 1981: pp.161-162)
It was a very familiar accusation against ZIPRA and ZANLA leadership by Smith’s propaganda radio broadcasts, which later continued as ‘Padare’ on the African Service of Radio Rhodesia.
The dissidents also demanded that the High Command (Dare) be replaced by them and others of their choice.
And, they also demanded that ZANLA should change its orientation.
“One of his (Nhari’s) complaints was the lack of sophisticated weapons reaching ZANLA.” (Moorcraft and McLaughlin, 1982: p.41)
He was ex-ZIPRA and Soviet-trained and obviously preferred Russian orientation and weaponry.
While all this was happening, Herbert Chitepo and Josiah Tongogara were in Romania on a mission to mobilise arms and ammunition for the intensification of the war.
Nhongo, Rugare Gumbo, Kumbirai Kangai, Chauke and Mpunzarima were on a similar mission in China, where they had been given large amounts of arms and ammunition in support of the intensification of the war. (Martin and Johnson, 1981: p. 161)
Back in Zambia, Tongogara and Nhongo escaped several ambushes by Nhari and Badza.
Tongogara’s family was even kidnapped but later released.
On December 12 1974, Tongogara advised the full Dare meeting that he was to advance to Chifombo to sort things out in the rear base camp. Chitepo and the rest of the High Command (Dare) agreed and urged Tongogara to speedily do so.
However, Noel Mukono resisted such moves.
Nhongo and Urimbo accompanied Tongogara to Chifombo and the mission to re-capture Chifombo was assigned to Elias Hondo who commanded a Tanzanian-trained Gukurahundi Battalion of more than 250 ZANLA guerillas.
The rear base camp was recaptured without much resistance from the rebel guerillas and, more than 49 of them were court-martialed and sentenced to death by firing squad.
The executions included Nhari and Badza. (Moorcraft and McLaughlin, 1982: p.41)
It was exactly the kind of situation Smith and John Vorster wanted in the process of sabotaging the Zimbabwe revolution.
But worse acts of sabotage were still to come.
On March 18 1975, at exactly 8am, an explosion ripped through Herbert Chitepo’s blue Volkswagen as it reversed from his house in Chitenje South Suburb in Lusaka, instantly killing him and his bodyguard.
A child in a neighbour’s garden was also killed and a second bodyguard in the rear seat was seriously injured.
An explosive device containing 1,6kg of TNT had been attached to the inside of the right wheel fender with a magnet. (Martin and Johnson, 1981: p.173)
Designed to explode at the slightest movement of the vehicle, only a highly trained ‘Saper’ or experienced military engineer could have laid such an explosive on the car.
Years later, it was revealed that Chitepo had been killed by two former British SAS men.
The Rhodesian Military Intelligence admitted that the two British SAS men responsible for the assassination of Chitepo were Alan ‘Taffy’ Brice and Hugh ‘Chuck’ Hind. (Moorcraft and McLaughlin, 1982: p.39) Rhodesian Intelligence also bragged that the two British SAS’s most successful operation was the assassination of Chitepo. (Stiff, 1999: p.274)
The Zambian Government set up a ‘Special International Commission on the Assassination of Chitepo’ and on March 28 1975, only 10 days after the tragedy, the Zambian Home Affairs Minister, Aaron Milner, announced that ‘quite a nice number of ZANU members’ had been detained.
Milner proceeded to ban all Zimbabwean nationalist movements based in Zambia, including ZANU, ZAPU and FROLIZI.
Chifombo, ZANLA’s only rear base camp inside Zambia, was stormed and captured by the Zambian Army.
Many ZANLA senior commanders, including Tongogara, Urimbo, Tungamirai, Chauke, Chimurenga and Chinamaropa, who were inside Chifombo at the time, escaped to Fingoe in Mozambique.
Nhongo and others escaped north into southern Tanzania where they got sanctuary.
However, FRELIMO later surrendered those senior ZANLA commanders, who had escaped to Mozambique, to the Zambian authorities, for them to answer questions by the Special International Commission on the Assassination of Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo.
The ZANLA High Command members were all arrested and put in Mpima Prison, charged with the killing of Chitepo, supposedly motivated by power struggle based on tribalism between the Manyika and the Karanga.
By the end of March 1975, more than
1 000 ZANLA, ZIPRA and FROLIZI guerillas had been rounded up by the Zambian Government and put in the Mboroma Detention Camp.
ZANLA guerillas were separated from the rest.
On September 11 1975, Zambian troops opened fire at unarmed ZANLA guerillas at Mboroma, killing 11 and wounding 13 others and the incident raised more tension between ZANU and the Zambian Government. (Martin and Johnson, 1981: pp.179-199)
On the battlefield inside Rhodesia, the war was grinding to a halt.
The last ZANLA reinforcement into the war zone was the 250 Gukurahundi Battalion, led by Tungamirai in January 1975.
Within a few months, especially after the death of Chitepo, most of the gallant fighters had either been captured or killed by Rhodesian security forces.
Those who survived faced extreme and serious problems of logistics, equipment, personnel reinforcements and medical drugs, especially in the Chaminuka Sector. (Martin and Johnson, 1981: p.172)