By Cde Canaan Nyika Mugadzaweta aka Cde Brooks Chinembiri
THERE was a small asbestos mine called Vanguard in Mberengwa.
Apart from mining, Vanguard was also used as a training base for District Assistants and guard forces. After completion of their training, most of them were deployed as guards at farms deemed vulnerable to attacks by freedom fighters.
One day in 1978, while I was based at Mataruse Village in Mberengwa, I met a long-time friend, Comrade Ngirazi. I first met Comrade Ngirazi in 1975 at Nyafaru Farm on my way to Mozambique to join the liberation struggle.
I left him at Nyafaru Farm and crossed into Mozambique.
A few weeks before we crossed the border into Mozambique, Cde Herbert Chitepo, the ZANU National Chairman, had just been killed in a car bomb blast in Lusaka, Zambia, and Mozambique was just a few months away from celebrating her independence from the Portuguese.
Fellow recruits and myself were unfortunate to be caught up in this uncertain transitional period following the fallout after Cde Chitepo’s assassination.
When we arrived at the border with Mozambique, we were ordered to go back to Rhodesia because, as the FRELIMO commanders put it: “You people are killing each other so we have been ordered to tell you to go back to Rhodesia. You are not welcome here.”
We had no choice but to walk another three days back to Nyafaru Farm in Rhodesia. At Nyafaru Farm Chief Tangwena gave us some of his sons to accompany us back to Mozambique via another route, and one of them was Ngirazi.
That is where my friendship with Cde Ngirazi started.
It was a friendship that took us to Nyadzonia Camp in Mozambique and to Tanzania where we both received military training.
We then separated when Cde Ngirazi went back to Mozambique and straight to the war front.
I was deployed to Nachingwea Camp in Tanzania as a military instructor.
Thus when we met at Mataruse, it was an extraordinary re-union.
We talked throughout that Wednesday night, reminiscing on the long journey we had travelled together.
By the early hours of the morning, we were now deeply engulfed in discussing the war situation, particularly the situation that was obtaining in Mberengwa.
I briefed him about the training camp at Vanguard Mine; how this mine had been turned into a manufacturing plant for a bunch of meddlesome mercenaries whose main goal was to cripple our operations.
They had become a terrible menace, seeding a network of sell-outs across Mberengwa.
Most of these guard forces were recruited locally.
As a result of our discussion, we came to the conclusion that the strategy being employed by the enemy was to use the guard force as an intelligence gathering outfit.
They would be deployed on the farms and eventually make contact with their relatives who would subsequently provide information on our movements.
We then made a decision to attack Vanguard Mine.
The following day, Cde Ngirazi organised a meeting of all three sections in his platoon.
I was in charge of security. The gathering point was at Madhoro Base and by 8pm, Madhoro Base was home to 35 guerillas.
In terms of weaponry, we were well-kitted.
We had one M90, two 60mm motor bombs, one 80mm motor bomb, one RPG7 Bazooka rocket launcher, two light machine guns (LMGs). The rest were AK47 assault rifles.
That evening, we decided to dispatch a small group of four comrades as an advance party.
These were Cdes Parafin, Mbagu Chigwagwagwa, Silas and Mabhunu. Their responsibility was to monitor our route to the target and on spot reconnaissance.
They were under instruction not to attack enemy soldiers unless it was necessary, but to monitor their movements only.
In addition, we seconded four mujibhas to constantly relay feedback on whatever would be transpiring at Vanguard Mine.
Even if the situation was normal, we still expected updates.
That was a specific order to enable us to take quick and informed decisions.
We did not want to endanger the lives of any of our comrades.
We retired for the night and decided not to change base since the situation was under control. No enemy movements had been sighted in the last two days.
We had breakfast and requested early lunch. By 2pm we were on our way to Vanguard Mine.
Messages were constantly coming back from the advance party with all indications that the situation was fine. By 5pm, we were 10 km from the mine and indications still pointed to a normal situation with no enemy movements being sighted.
We decided to take a break and rest till it became darker since we were nearer our target. We ordered a 10-minute break, the last one that we would have before the attack.
After the break, we held a very short parade. There was not much to brief the comrades as they were all aware of where we were going.
We reiterated our attack plan, making it very clear that after the retreat of those comrades with heavy artillery, the rest of us would remain behind holding our fire.
Just before we left, Cdes Mbagu and Parafin, from the advance party, arrived and gave us a valuable briefing.
They had been able to infiltrate two mujibhas, right inside the camp. One mujibha had an uncle who worked as a ‘cook’ at the mine.
He had been there on several occasions visiting his uncle so it was easy for him to sneak in and persuade his uncle to meet with the comrades.
The uncle had briefed the comrades on the gun positions, also that vigilance was at its lowest as there had been no sighting of comrades in the last two months.
Furthermore, senior commanders were not present.
They had been called for an urgent meeting at Buchwa Mine the previous day.
This information was very important to us as it enabled us to deploy our forces without fear of being counter-attacked.
We could attack and retreat at our own pace. After the briefing, we marched on in single file, keeping a distance of about five metres from one comrade to the next.
One kilometre from the target we called for a halt.
Cde Ngirazi and others went to carry out a final reconnaissance of the target.
After what seemed an eternity, they came back and told us that it was going to be a walk over. The enemy was busy partying at the Beer Hall and most gun positions were deserted.
I had been wondering why Ngirazi took so long to come back after his last minute reconnaissance.
He had been surveying positons to place our rocket launchers and the LMG’s.
Thus it did not take time to deploy these weapons when we finally arrived.
We had decided to launch our attack from the western side, a most unlikely direction for the enemy to expect an attack from because it faces Filabusi while the eastern side faces Mberengwa communal lands, our own habitat.
Thus it was more likely that the eastern