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Roll call and the destruction of the Salisbury fuel tanks 1978





There has been a lot of confusion on the role ZPRA played during the liberation struggle and a lot of twisting of facts related to certain operations that are perceived to have changed the course of the war.

Firstly, some heroes were created by Zanu-PF, who have been in control of the state media since 1980. This led to the twisting of facts and the creation of fiction since they controlled the means of communication and churned out propaganda to the people of Zimbabwe.  

Since 1980 Zanu had no facts underpinning the way the operation to destroy the fuel tanks in the then Salisbury was carried out. So forty years later Zanu-PF is trying to justify the change of the curricular in schools, by usurping an operation that would be considered to have changed and influenced Ian Douglas Smith to come to the negotiating table for talks. They picked an operation they did not execute on the basis that it was in Salisbury (Harare) by assuming that ZPRA was only operational in Matabeleland yet that was far from the truth as ZPRA had long been in Lomangandi now Mashonaland West from 1976.

I first set foot in Hurungwe in 1976 and I know how ZPRA irregulars had taken control of Vuti, Kazangarare, Masanga, Chibakanenyama, Piriwiri, Magondi, Zvimba, Chitomborwizi, Mashonganyika villages, Musengezi Purchase Area, Zowa, Chenjeri, Sanyathi and operations in Salisbury launched from Musengezi. ZPRA irregulars had frequented Salisbury many times since the first Woolworth bomb. Two of our cadres who had been in urban centres were Colonel Mandu and Colonel (VP) Mohadi who went to Bulawayo.

When we left Mozambique during ZIPA in 1976 most of us ended up in urban areas not because we were disillusioned as suggested by some, a perception that only fits fiction rather than what transpired. Guns started being used by ZPRA in urban areas as far back as Zanu will admit. [Check Rhodesian newspapers and Sitreps.] The government of Rhodesia knew how difficult it was to deal with ZPRA throughout the war. In the view of others, Magondi now Makonde had been the most active area that was problematic to the Salisbury administration because special recce operations were infiltrating through the township[s] for reconnaissance and target identification for future operations.

ZPRA had various departmental units who would cross the Zambezi escorted by irregulars who dominated those areas until they reached their destination. Many BL1 regulars were either National Security Organisation (NSO), Engineering or Recce elements. Each of these departments did not interfere with each other's missions but unit commanders would be informed of the missions they were to undertake.

Time has come to tell it all since ZPRA did not have a platform on which to air our untold war operations to our people. We still do not have reasonable media nor visibility within the country's media landscape. Hence Zanu can propagate absurdities, blatantly naked embarrassing lies as much as they like, even going to the extent of denying the Gukurahundi massacres. This uncouth lying syndrome denies the people of Zimbabwe the true happenings and history of our struggle and the facts of the war. However, the same people who participated in the war, {peasants –povo}, couriers, numerous logistical supporters and even the enemy know who executed certain operations.

ZPRA did not make any claims, and will never make those claims. Heroism doesn't come from fiction nor claims. The claim that they bombed the fuel tanks is totally and completely fictitious. The truth is that the actual operations were indeed carried out by ZPRA soldiers some who are still alive. The team of ten members led by Section Commander Quattro that had crossed from Kariba at an area that had been codenamed BL1 infiltrated further inland to the areas across Zvimba to Msengezi Purchase Area farms. This launching area was the nearest choice to Salisbury as they were too many ZAPU inhabitants, politicians, businessmen and supporters.

Arrangements were made to ferry the group to Salisbury from Musengezi disguised as farmworkers going for shopping. This had not been the first time that guerrillas were ferried to Salisbury. Several groups had been to the capital for different missions such that contacts had been well established in three townships, Mufakose, Harare now Mbare, and Kambuzuma. It is the latter mission that was to be so significant as a group of four guerillas was taken from Msengezi using a farm vehicle which belonged to a local farmer. His farm was located near the Musengezi Cattle Dip Tank. The group was ferried through farm roads and taken to Mufakose township.

The farmer had routinely frequented Salisbury on various logistical errands for the comrades. He purchased clothes for the guerrillas especially the popular brand called Sting and veldskoen commonly known as farmer-shoes. Rhodesians wore farmer-shoes, we also wore them. The farmer knew all the safe unmanned dust routes into Salisbury. It is the farmer who would collect all the essential items from war supporters in the said townships. Fighters were kept in safe houses in Kambuzuma, Mufakose, Highfields etc through a network of party supporters. Only four engineers led by Quatrro were ferried to Mufakose from Musengezi for this operation while the rest remained in Musengezi.

The Mufakose safe house contact was a Ndebele speaking lady who lived close to the current Mufakose Main Shopping Centre just as you turned into Mufakose main Township road from Marimba Park. The lady was known as a ZAPU active supporter with a couple of trusted business community supporters frequenting the house to drop off war logistical supplies. ZPRA BL1 operational command units had stringers running all logistical and information lines from Sinoa, Hartley, Gatooma etc. ZPRA Salisbury target missions were fuel tanks, departmental stores, White's only bars, airports, aircraft, Salisbury power station,  and fuel depots.

If the war had gone beyond 1980. ZPRA reconnaissance units had finished mapping out and reconnoitring strategic targets. This was assisted by the same supporters who constantly tracked Rhodesian Security Forces presence and movements. At some stage Rhodesians never expected guerrillas could infiltrate high profile targets like fuel depots within towns. Hence soldiers occasionally could be seen milling around cities relaxed.

The Mission

The unit headed by Quattro a cunning guerrilla from our ZPRA Engineering department saw it fit that the mission required only 4 men. They were based in Mufakose and transport was arranged by the Ndebele lady from Mufakose who brought another taxi driver, a ZAPU supporter who worked for RIXI Taxis and lived in Harare Township now (Mbare). His ZAPU drinking-mate friend was Sekuru Madangure a relative of the former Minister of Health Obadiah Moyo. Madangure was part of the ZAPU underground movement. The taxi driver was a man of short stature and light in complexion. He had another taxi driver also a ZAPU supporter who occasionally frequented the houses in Mufakose and Kambuzuma.

Two taxis picked up the four comrades from the Mufakose house, and then they followed each other towards Kambuzuma. Shortly before Kambuzuma, they took a detour to the right towards Southerton.  The Yugoslav Anti-tank rifle launchers were fired from the road perimeter of the diamond mesh fence. It was a surprise to the drivers as they did not know what was happening. The drivers had been told that they were heading towards the Salisbury Power Station but the guerrillas ordered drivers to follow the route that led to the fuel tanks. Quattro's team knew Shona very well, they had lived in Harare and they carried out the order to bomb the tanks from the ZPRA HQ in Lusaka.

It was the first time for the drivers to see urban guerrillas and they were very excited and their morale was high. For the mission leader Quattro whose name sounded like Cuban, his imposition and body stature dictated the pace. The drivers knew at that point when they put the 4 comrades into their taxis that the guys were no-nonsense ZPRA lot. They were happy to participate but had no clue what it was all about and where and what was going to be done.

The front taxi was carrying guerrillas without the rocket launchers except for a personal folded butt AK 47. As they went past Gomo Hospital gate suddenly drivers got wind that the mission was to bomb the fuel tanks.They soon arrived at the depot and the tanks were visible from where they were.  It was around 9 pm and there were few cars on the road.

The car in front came to a screeching halt and two men jumped out approached the perimeter fence and fired anti-tank grenades, hitting the two tanks. Before the drivers could react,  the two guerrillas jumped back into the car and ordered them to drive fast out of the area towards Rugare and on the way they were then coerced to take them to Norton using the Gadzema Junction dust road which the Musengezi Farmer had shown Quatrro's earlier. They drove to Norton West to a place called Gadzema Junction. The drivers dropped Quattro's gang and went back to Harare.

The four guerrillas tracked back to Msengezi African Purchase Area where they had stayed before. One of the taxi drivers, out of excitement, divulged the details of the operation and that he knew the men who had carried out the attack and their whereabouts. The Special Branch then started arresting people in Mufakose in reaction to the bombing. They also went to Msengesi which was already known to have ZPRA operatives. Stop groups had already been sent by trucks and horse-back. Grey Scouts were deployed sweeping the whole farming area. They followed up every lead including information from the driver who said he was highjacked and taken to Norton-Gadzema. The RSF were deployed in Zvimba to track Quattro`s gang. By this time the whole group had displaced to avoid detection.

As skirmishes went on contact occurred and the Grey scouts killed two the guerrillas and one of them being the commander Quattro. However, they had already carried out a successful mission. The rest of the guerrilla's survived the contact. The bodies of the deceased were taken back to Salisbury and by then the fire in Salisbury was still raging. It was at this point that the Rhodesian confirmed that ZPRA had carried out the mission. Their Sitreps and combined operations were so angry that from the 11 December attack on the oil tanks they went into Zambia to blockade Zambia roads and destroyed bridges.

It is suprising that 40 years after independence, ZANU-PF civilians who were not even part of ZANLA, are laying claim to the Salisbury tanks bombing. The claim is made by civilians who were never near the ZANLA operations as some of them were part of the Zambia Lusaka-Matero taxi drivers and revellers. Today they openly invent, foment claims that the mission was their own, and that the mission had initially been planned in Maputo to destroy the sewerage pipes and suddenly it turned out to be the mission to destroy the fuel tanks.

It is pure fiction what ZANU-PF is portraying as the truth because they first removed the mouthpiece from ZPRA by destroying the very core of the ZPRA Commanders and as time went by they thought they can now place their fictitious stories within their ranks to befit the role of heroes. Another invented claim even says that Oppah Muchinguri was part of a team that planned the operation. If truth be told Oppah was only a special secretary in Mugabe's office as Comrade Luke Mathe a ZANLA honest comrade testified after independence.

The claim that Shiri who was in Tete planned the mission is ludicrous. Shiri may have been the commander of Tete Sector but he never claimed to have undertaken the mission. The civilians in Zanu-PF are attaching heroism to it because he had killed our people in Matebeleland and committed gruesome atrocities in the 1980s. Shiri was and remains the face of Gukurahundi and to give him the befitting send-off they wanted a narrative that would make him recognisable as a hero.

The civilians who participated in the bombing of the tanks know that it was not ZANLA but ZPRA. If the claim persists we will further prove ZPRA participation in the bombing of the tanks. ZANU-PF imposters and not the ZANLA fighters are bent on distorting the history of the liberation including the school curricular to own the historical narrative that they were the party that fought the liberation war. Yet they could not even send a single bomb to Mutare which was on the border with Mozambique.

The Rhodesians knew who had done it and had since announced that they had been attacked by ZPRA and that was not the only attack in Salisbury and other urban centres. The truth is we had missions in towns and there are many cases to prove it. During the same Mufakose incident, other guerrillas were captured on a separate mission.

This is the roll call in remembrance of Quattro and those who laid their lives in pursuance of a free Zimbabwe which we still don't have.

About the author:

Barbatone  Irvine Sibhona a former senior ZPRA operational commander and had privy to operational information and had was in constant liaison with other commanders of the happenings of their operational areas. He is a lawyer and writes such ZPRA information as he knows it.

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Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka
Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka

Chuka is an experienced certified web developer with an extensive background in computer science and 18+ years in web design &development. His previous experience ranges from redesigning existing website to solving complex technical problems with object-oriented programming. Very experienced with Microsoft SQL Server, PHP and advanced JavaScript. He loves to travel and watch movies.

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