OPINION: The Valid Reason Why I Joined Chimurega At 16 - Obert Mpofu
Zanu PF secretary for administration Obert Mpofu has written about his reasons why he joined the liberation struggle at a tender age. Mpofu who says he was a teenager when he joined ZAPU forces to fight for freedom has written an autobiography titled: On the Shoulders of Struggle: Memoirs of a Political Insider in which he claims he had nothing to lose when he joined Chimurenga because his father had died at the hands of the imperialists.
In 1967, at the age of 16, I went through the arduous experience of the liberation struggle. Young as I was, I had made a resolute decision to fight for the liberation of my dear motherland. Breaking the system that kept the captivity of our people intact was the most revolutionary thing to do. Some of my immediate family members and some individuals in my community were already involved in mainstream politics. My uncle Solomon ‘’Mzethi’’ Mpofu, my father’s brother and my auntie’s husband, Mlobisi Sibanda, were among the top ZAPU contacts in our village.
Our homestead hosted regular ZAPU meetings at the time. Apart from this immediate family connection to ZAPU through the meetings hosted at our home as early as 1964, my involvement in the liberation struggle was broadly inclined to the emotive quest for liberation of the Black majority. Uncle Solomon and Mlobisi both had a high degree of political consciousness which ignited strong patriotic zeal in me.In 1965, when I was in Standard 5, I was involved in the periodical collection and supply of The Zimbabwe Times which was published in Zambia.
The Zimbabwe Times was a pro-ZAPU publication which was circulated to party loyalists. Apart from being involved in the distribution of this ZAPU publication, I was involved in frontline collaborator activities whenever I crossed to Zambia with my peers. At one point I was detained with my cousin Albert Sibanda for crossing over to Zambia with expired passes. We were only released after comrades in Lusaka intervened and secured our release. My passion for politics grew. In the process, the search for radical actualisation in military activity resulted in my decision to be finally conscripted into ZPRA in 1967.
My father had died after succumbing to excessive torture in the hands of the cruel colonial regime. Therefore, I had no fear of losing my life in the hands of those who had caused my father’s death. Ultimately, each one of us had a valid personal reason to fight the enemy. Our different objections to the colonial system climaxed in the resolve to break the bondage.
Joining the liberation struggle was the most virtuous decision that any politically conscious person could make. It was the most honourable thing to do. During holidays, with other teenagers at the time, we would covertly cross to Livingstone, Zambia. There alongside others, I received early reconnaissance grooming which later formed the science of information extraction about the activities of the enemy. These routine trips to Zambia were mainly coordinated by Luke Mhlanga and Pepezela Ncube. There we were equipped with the ability to spy on the activities of the Rhodesians and their military formations. From this rudimentary state of reconnaissance, my role developed into sophisticated forms of military intelligence to guide the nationalist military strategy. In the process of the mission to liberate our country, I felt the assurance of having regained my humanity and the dignity of our people which had been long lost in the hands of colonial repression.
At the time, Zambia was the sanctuary for liberation movements. It was in Zambia that we met ANC’s Umkhonto weSizwe guerillas and received extensive military training in preparation for the protracted guerilla warfare against settler rule. The anti-apartheid cause of the people of South Africa was synonymous with the anti-colonial predisposition of our people in Rhodesia. As a result, we were unified by common aspirations for self-determination as the then colonised people of the South to fight for our rightful place in humanity.
Zambia provided a Pan-African fraternal link to the cause of our liberation movements. We would bring back home newspapers published at the time in support of the armed struggle. This way, we were able to carve a political consciousness which aided in justifying the cause of the war against Rhodesia amongst our people. All these activities were in preparation of the 1967 Wankie Battle. Tanzania was another home for the revolutionary cause. In 1968, I received military training in Morogoro Tanzania. I was part of the second ZPRA cohort to train in Tanzania. The pioneer group had been trained in 1967. The advanced military training I received in Tanzania further heightened my conviction to the cause of Zimbabwe’s liberation. Thereafter, I was geared to take part in the Sipolilo Battle.
Background to the Wankie Battle of 1967
The African National Congress (ANC) had opened an office in Lusaka in 1965, a year after Zambia became independent. The alliance between Zambia’s independent Government under Kenneth Kaunda and the ANC offered a practical manifestation of the Pan-Africanist cause. Zambia’s political big-brother status afforded the then liberation aspiring Southern Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa political mentorship on the needed revolutionary processes to collapse White monopoly rule. ZAPU had already established a camp for ZPRA recruits in the surrounding area of Kongwa in Tanzania.
The Kongwa camp also hosted:
ANC: African National Congress; FAPLA: People’s Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola (Portuguese: Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola); FRELIMO: Mozambique Liberation Front and the PAIGC: African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde.
De facto diplomatic negotiations to create a military alliance between ZPRA and Umkhonto weSizwe had begun in 1966.
The ANC assigned Chris Hani to undertake a feasibility investigation on the possibilities of military cooperation between ZPRA and Umkhonto weSizwe. The proposed military pact between our ZPRA and Umkhonto weSizwe received an endorsement from the newly independent governments of Tanzania and Zambia. The outcome was the joint military pact which aided in the initiation of the famous Wankie Battle. ZAPU was already headquartered in Zambia by 1964. The widespread support of the two liberation movements aided the execution of the joint military campaign. The union between ZPRA and Umkhonto weSizwe was also founded on the shared historically compelling factors of the fight against imperialism in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Beyond, the pro-ZPRA interests, the ZAPU-ANC alliance was aimed at aiding the Umkhonto weSizwe forces who had been trained in Zambia and Tanzania. Rhodesia provided an easy passage for the Umkhonto weSizwe forces to execute their military activity in South Africa. From a strategic point of view, Rhodesia could be easily infiltrated by the Umkhonto weSizwe troops. Therefore, it made significant sense for the ANC troops to take part in the ZPRA offensive missions as they sought a passage entry in transit to South Africa.
Another strategic merit of this alliance was not only the convenience of Rhodesia as an appropriate passageway for the South African guerrillas. Rhodesia harboured a politically attuned majority similar to our fellow Black majority across the Limpopo. The harmonious cultures of the oppressed majority in Rhodesia particularly in Matabeleland with those of Zulu, Sotho and Xhosa people in South Africa also justified the eyed fortunes of this military expedition. The Rhodesian passage back home to South Africa, therefore, implied ease of communication for the Umkhonto weSizwe troops.
On the other hand, Botswana was a non-starter for a possible transit down South. Botswana had been served with an instruction by the South African Government to suspend its assistance to any of the liberation movements and, if possible, crush their military activities. Consequently, Botswana had the predicament of showing non-alignment to the cause of any liberation movement. On one end, Botswana could not afford to ignore the popularity of the liberation cause in Rhodesia and South Africa.
However, its economic dependency on the Rhodesia-South Africa railway lines bent it into submission to the dictates of the two colonial Governments. That economic survival was uppermost in Botswana’s administrative logic became more evident after the Sipolilo Battle when some guerrillas were arrested in the country. To sustain the temporary benefits of its proximity to the apartheid South African and the Rhodesian regimes, Botswana had to keep its distance from the liberation movements’ activities. In the interest of political-economic survival, Botswana had to stick to more diplomatic ties with colonial powers in South Africa and Rhodesia. This became more evident after the Sipolilo Battle when some guerrillas were arrested in Botswana. In the foundational stage of the ZPRA military conscription, young revolutionaries who took up military training in Zambia went through Botswana. Therefore, Botswana was heavily infiltrated by Rhodesian forces.
Participation in the Wankie Battle
I was among the ZPRA and Umkhonto weSizwe reconnaissance teams along the Jambezi-Victoria Falls, Lupane and Tsholotsho routes. The 1967 famous Wankie Battle was a culmination of these reconnaissance initiatives. Through reconnaissance, we coordinated the movement of the armed troops who waged a war that wobbled the entire Rhodesian and South African security forces. This mission was an outgrowth of joint political and military synergy between the two liberation movements. Oliver Tambo of the ANC and James Chikerema of ZAPU chaired the political coordination of this pact. At a military operational level, Akim Ndhlovu (ZPRA commander) and Joe Modise (MK Commander) were all at the leading front. The late Dumiso Dabengwa of ZAPU was the Chief of Intelligence. Among some Umkhonto weSizwe military gurus there was Archie Sibeko (Chief of Operations), Eric Tshali, (Chief of Staff), Walter Mavuso Msimang (MK Chief of Communications) and Chris Hani (Political Commissar).
The inaugural joint offensive by the ZPRA and the Umkhonto weSizwe was carried out on the 13th of August in 1967 on the banks of the Inyantuwe River. This meant that the Wankie and Dete area became a protracted guerrilla firing zone which saw the Rhodesian forces’ conceding to our vicious attack. Realising the intense combat effect of the joint assault of the ZPRA and Umkhonto weSizwe, the Rhodesia Government solicited the assistance of the South African apartheid forces.
It was clear that the guerrillas had successfully infused this area in a way that posed as a tremendous future threat to the Rhodesian defence force. The South African Government responded to Rhodesia’s request for military support. A determined group of soldiers were unleashed to assist in gathering intelligence. This resulted in swift military intervention by the South African forces, but it was all clear that the Rhodesians’ military power was at its weakest point and was certainly beyond possible recuperation.
After Inyantuwe, we also had other major battles at Sinamathela, Tsholotsho and along the Natha and Tekwane river areas. The Tekwane Battle marked an end to the Wankie Campaign which saw the enemy being derailed and decimated. The next port of call was the Sipolilo Campaign. On the other hand, some troops landed themselves into the hands of Botswana security forces. There they met their fate. They were imprisoned before being deported back to Zambia.
Source: Sunday News