‘I survived Tembwe attack’

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The story of Takundwa Rukwambaire, 

aka Mabhunu Muchatambura

MY father was brutally murdered by Rhodesians in October 1976 at their military base at Makumbe Mission after he was sold out by a fellow villager for supplying clothes to vanamukoma (freedom fighters).   

I was 15 years old then and in high school (Form Three).

Rhodesian soldiers came to the funeral at our homestead in Mujeki Village and dispersed all mourners. 

I was so disturbed by my father’s death such that I decided to join the war. 

I sold the idea of going to Mozambique for military training to Tafadzwa Nyoka, Panganai Murove and Nyararai Mhondiwa who were war collaborators.

I sold two goats to finance our journey.

We left home at midnight and walked to Bindura a distance of about 32km.

From Bindura, we boarded a van which left us in Mount Darwin.

In Mount Darwin, there were heavy Rhodesian military patrols hence we started our two-week journey on foot.

We only travelled at night and rested during daytime because Rhodesian soldiers patrolled during the day.  

We were fortunate to coincidentally meet a group of eight boys, a few kilometers from Mukumbura border, who were on the same mission.

Fortunately, the boys from Madziwa knew the route and this worked out in our favour.

They led the way and, soon enough, we were spotted by FRELIMO soldiers who were doing their border patrols. 

They interrogated us before taking us to their base where we were handed over to ZANLA freedom fighters.

Cde Mhaka, a ZANLA combatant, again interrogated us to ascertain our agenda and he was convinced after the cross-examination that we were genuine youths who wanted to join the liberation struggle.

We stayed at that base for three weeks before being taken to Kambototo Base.

That was where I separated from my friends from home.

I was put in a group which was transferred to Itubi Base along the Zambezi River where I stayed for a week before I left for Tembwe, ZANLA’s military training camp.

The enemy attacked Tembwe two weeks after my arrival.

I will never forget that horrific day (November 27 1977).

I remember seeing a Fish Eagle flying past our base and my friend, Cde Muchatama Mabhunu, who later died in that attack told me that it was a bad sign on our part.

At around 7am while I was preparing to go fetch water, a spotter plane flew past the camp and I knew an attack was imminent.

A spotter plane was usually followed by air raids. 

I panicked because this was my first encounter with the enemy and I had not yet received military training.

A few minutes later, helicopters were all over the sky, dropping paratroopers.

It was just a few minutes before parade and I remember Cde Gava shouting an order to engage the enemy.

By that time, the sky was filled with ugly killing machines in the form of Hawks and Mirage jet bombers.

There was commotion at the camp and some comrades who had been hit by fragments were screaming for help.

I will live with the agony of seeing my friend Cde Muchatama Mabhunu screaming for help in a pool of blood.

He was hit by fragments of a bomb that seriously injured him, but unfortunately I could not help him.

Flashbacks of that scene still haunt me to date.  

I don’t know how I got the energy to run towards the river which was to the north of the camp.

I took cover in the reeds.

This was when I realised that I had been hit by a fragment of a bomb on my left arm.

I crossed the river and dug sand on the river bank and rested with the injured arm in the sand to reduce bleeding.

I then lost consciousness.

I was shocked when I woke up later at night in a hut.

That was when I learnt that I had been rescued by Mozambican villagers who took me to their home.

I stayed at that home for three days.

One of those good Samaritans managed to get bandages and some painkillers from some of our combatants. 

Eventually, a medical team from ZANLA forces came and took me to Tete Provincial Hospital where I stayed for three weeks receiving medical treatment.

I later heard that we lost thousands of lives in the Tembwe attack.

That attack, coupled with the murder of my father, hardened my resolve to fight for independence.

Compiled by Emergencey Mwale-Kamtande.

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