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Thambolenyoka was hurt to leave military life





WE continue our interview with Tennyson Mlobi Khutshwekhaya Ndlovu who during the post-independence conflict operated as a dissident and was known as Thambolenyoka. However, during the war of liberation Ndlovu, a military instructor in the Zipra camps in Tanzania and Zambia was known as Hezeck Magedlela.

In a recent interview with Mkhululi Sibanda (MS), Ndlovu continues giving an account of his participation in the armed struggle in the 1970s. Below are excerpts of the interview. Read on . . .

MS: You said after training you were immediately deployed to the pool of instructors as a result of being one of the outstanding recruits, so may you please tell us about what you were doing in your new role.

Ndlovu: I was part of the team that trained the group of 137 and later on the group of 800 when it came from Mgagao following the demise of the Zimbabwe People's Army (ZIPA), which was an initiative to combine the Zipra and Zanla forces. All these groups were trained by us at Morogoro in Tanzania. Later we left Morogoro and that was in 1976 and moved to Mwembeshi in Zambia. We left Tanzania in trucks belonging to Umkhonto WeSizwe, the armed wing of the ANC of South Africa.

At Mwembeshi, Eddie Sigoge became camp commander while Stanley Gagisa came in as chief of staff. Another training camp for guerillas was also opened up at CGT (Camp for General Training) and fell under the command of Ananias Gwenzi, yenalo uP.V. Sibanda who is now the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF). During my stint as an instructor I played my part in producing guerillas and soldiers who went on to face the formidable Rhodesian forces.

I am proud that some of the people I trained later on became commanders during the war while some moved up the ranks in our Zimbabwe Defence Forces. When we returned to Zambia from Tanzania, we trained a group that had the likes of former commander of the Commando Group in independent Zimbabwe, uBhuzhwa (Major-General Nicholas Dube) who also has served as Ambassador to Mozambique until recently. There are many others who went on to become colonels and Brigadier-Generals, they all passed through my hands. At first the numbers were not that big, but people starting coming in droves in 1977 and then we were training thousands and thousands including some cadres from Umkhonto WeSizwe. Like I said there was also CGT under PV while some other comrades were trained in other friendly countries. It should be noted that PV later on left the camps when he was promoted to the High Command and given the crucial rank of Chief of Reconnaissance.

MS: As an instructor which parts of the training manual did you specialise in or that you were tasked to do?

Ndlovu: I covered physical training, guerilla administration and at times I would take the recruits through armaments, both small and big arms. I also want to point out this misconception from certain comrades who viewed and still have that mentality that instructors did not play a big role in the armed struggle as they were based at the rear. That is a foolish thought from an uninformed person who because was deployed to the front thinks he contributed more to the struggle than others. As instructors we are the ones who built this army called Zipra and kept on churning out properly trained soldiers. It is not easy to turn a mere civilian into a proper soldier. Those comrades at the front also needed reinforcements and we at the camps are ones who were responsible to see to it that we kept on producing soldiers.

MS: Then there is this issue of the bombing of camps in Zambia and Mozambique during the war, how did you view it as someone who lived in the training camps?

Ndlovu: We could not rule out that we had sell-outs within our ranks who were supplying information to the enemy on the set-ups of the camps, organisational structure and so on. However, as the bombings intensified there was this feeling among the comrades that indeed people were selling out. Other comrades even came up with radical theories that perhaps when our leaders moved into exile to lead the war they brought with them compromised cadres who were working with the enemy.

I remember some comrades remarking that before the release of the leaders from detention in 1974 and their eventual relocation into exile, kwakungafiwa (people were not dying) in Zambia and Mozambique. But when the leaders moved into exile they brought with them death, babuya lokufa. Those were some of the feelings that as military people we had. Maybe people had a point because revolutionaries such as Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo, Herbert Chitepo, Alfred Nikita Mangena just to mention a few died in mysterious circumstances after 1974. However, that is subject to debate.

Of, course you can't rule out that they were people who were selling information to the Rhodesians. As the war intensified and with the Rhodesians bombing our military installations we decided to move the training camps to the border with Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). The Rhodesians were using all sorts of combat aircrafts to bomb our camps. We were still going on with our training when the ceasefire was announced and the last Zipra group to be trained was at MTD close to the border with Zaire.

MS: As someone who was part of producing the soldiers do you think you were going to achieve an outright victory through the barrel of the gun?

Ndlovu: I believe we had done wonders on the battlefield, at the front it was no longer business as usual for the Rhodesian forces, we had stretched them. Guerillas were all over the country. At the rear in Zambia the Rhodesians were finding it difficult to penetrate our camps as we had deployed heavy weapons to protect our installations. The battle that made the Rhodesians realise that Zipra had built a strong force was the one that took place along the Zambezi River, just across on the Zambian.

Our first battalion commanded by now Retired Major-General Stanford Khumalo engaged the Rhodesians supported by their air power for five days, it was a blow by blow battle. The Rhodesians were shocked that they were no longer fighting the guerillas who will hit and withdraw, but they were facing an army which wanted to hold the ground and defend it as well as go on the offensive.

MS: After the ceasefire where did you go?

Ndlovu: We rounded up the training of the last group at MTD and then in February I arrived home passing through Kariba and moved into Gwayi River Mine Assembly Point near Dete in Matabeleland North. We were a battalion and I was deputy commander of that battalion. Our battalion is the one that set up everything at Gwayi Assembly Point, which later on became sort of the Zipra headquarters.

MS: Then from Gwayi, what happened to you?

Ndlovu: I had become a military animal, I had looked forward to a good career in the army, but that was not to be. The reason was simple, we the senior guerillas were frustrated from joining the army. That was done by the British. In fact from the Zipra side more than three quarters of comrades who were instructors were blocked from joining the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA). Just look at Jack Mpofu and Billy Mzamo, career military men who ended up joining the ranks of the "povo" while during the armed struggle had been on the fore-front.

I should repeat that I was hurt, I had wanted to serve in the army. I was then demobilised and in frustration moved back to civilian life after all those years living in the bush. I then went back to school, wrote the Zimbabwe Junior Certificate (ZJC), building on my Standard Six, then enrolled for Ordinary Level studies while working for National Foods. At that time I had my eyes on the academics, but then came our problems, which saw me being hunted down again. I moved back into the bush.

MS: That is becoming a dissident, tell us about that period.

Ndlovu: No! No!. Not today, maybe sometime. It is a closed chapter for me and to be honest I am not comfortable talking about impi yomphehlo (second round of the war). What I have told you is enough. What people should know is that after the Unity Accord and amnesty for dissidents, I joined Zanu-PF and worked for it. I continue doing so that is why in 2008 when the former Member of Parliament for Insiza North and Cabinet Minister, Andrew Langa urged me to get into the leadership, I did so without thinking twice. I stood on a Zanu-PF ticket in Ward 14 under the Insiza Rural District Council and won resoundingly. I have been winning the seat for Zanu-PF since then and at the moment I chair the council's finance committee. My ward is the nerve centre of the economic activities in Insiza as there are productive farms and mines.

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Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka
Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka

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