Ndabaningi Sithole, Said to have been the brains behind the formation of the Crocodile Gang

The Crocodile Gang was a five-member gang which was formed in 1964 in Zambia under the leadership of William Ndangana. It staged acts of sabotage under the banner of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) party. The gang is said to have paved way for the birth of the Second Chimurenga war as it was assigned to conduct acts of sabotage meant to distract and destabilise the Ian Smith led government. It operated in the eastern part of the country, mainly in Mutare, particularly in Nyanyadzi and Chimanimani. The infamous killing of Pieter Johannes Andries Oberholzer on 4 July caused a major blow to the gang leading to its demise.

Its Formation

The gang was formed in Zambia by Ndangana who recruited four youths who were disgruntled by the presence of the whites in Rhodesia who were suppressing Africans. The other four members were, Victor Mlambo, Amos Kademaunga, James Dhlamini and Master Tresha Mazwani. Ndangana was working under the instructions of Ndabaningi Sithole who was the then president of ZANU.[1] Sithole had called the 'Clarion for War' in 1964 when the ZANU party held its inaugural congress in 1964 in Gwelo present day Gweru. It is along this line of thought in which the gang is said to have been formed in order to conduct sabotage activities to provoke the whites. Sithole however tried to distance himself from being the brains behind the gang despite the assumption that the gang met at his house in Highfield.[2] The gang is also said to have met with Sithole in Umtali,present day Mutare before it began to launch its activities.[2] After recruiting his fellow comrades in arms, the gang went to Tanzania to receive 'basic' military training.[2]

The Gang in Operation

The gang arrived in Mutare on 30 June 1964 and it was welcomed by Joseph Shasha who was one of the local link man to assist the gang.[1] Obed Mutezo is said to have found the cave which later became the gang's place of residence.[2] Sithole in his account of the operations of the gang dismissed the argument that Mutezo assisted the gang. Sithole wrote his own account of the gang whilst he was in prison in Salisbury (present day Harare), which was one of the most gruesome prisons in Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe).[2] In regard of this, it has been argued that Sithole was influenced by the spirit of the time and the circumstances in which he was embedded in. It was thus impossible for him to praise the gang whilst at the same time pin point Mutezo as he was awaiting a trial whose possible judgement was a death sentence.[2]

Upon arriving in Mutare, the gang purchased knives, explosives and dynamites to use in their operations.[1] On 1 July 1964, the gang undertook its first operation when it attacked Nyanyadzi Police Camp.[1] During the day, the gang had toured the site in company of Solomon Gwatira and it had also scribbled numerous confrontational letters.[1] These letters were later left at the scenes at which the gang had conducted its operations. The attack was successful but one of the members of the gang, Kademaunga opted out of the gang because of what he had seen.

On 2 July 1964, the gang undertook its second operation along Chikwizi Bridge.[1] In anticipation of attacking a white person, the gang instead attacked Lucas Siyomo who was travelling from Kariba together with his family.[1] The site was thus not ideal. The fact that the gang chose a wrong site to conduct its acts of sabotage was used as evidence to show that it was poorly organised and it was never supported by the locals. This was because the road was used by Africans and it was rare for the Europeans to use that road.

Despite this however, Siyomo was pardoned but warned not to report to the police. Coincidentally he went to Nyanyadzi Police Camp to report and upon seeing an on coming police vehicle whilst stationed at the bridge, the gang dispersed.[1] Kademaunga who had earlier opted out, saw this as an opportunity for him to part ways with the gang. He was later arrested on 5 July 1964 and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment.[1] Confrontational letters which resembled those found at Nyanyadzi were also found at the bridge.

On 4 July 1964, the gang killed Olberholzer in Melsetter District. It was reported that, Olberholzer was stabbed by Ndangana who sparred the lives of his wife and their three year old daughter.[2] Ndangana tried to burn Olberholzer's body but when he saw a car approaching, the gang dispersed but Olberholzer's blue kombi had already turned black.[1]

Demise of the Gang

After the murder of Oblerholzer, the police began to hunt for the gang which was lying low after murdering a white man who was a member of the Rhodesian Front. The search intensified and the gang perceived that it was prudent for it to disband into two groups which took different directions running away for their dear lives. Mlambo and Dhlamini decided to go to Mozambique whilst Ndangana and Mazwani went to Highfield en route to Zambia and Sithole's wife funded their journey.[1]

Three of the gang members met their fate and Ndangana survived and he was the only celebrated hero who later had an illustrious political career until June 1989. Mazwani was arrested and sentenced to death but he was spared because he was a minor and was thus sentenced to twenty years.[1] He was released after 1980 but was reported to be mentally ill. He thus went into oblivion. Mlambo and Dhlamimni were later arrested, charged with terrorism and they were hanged.[1]

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  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Baxter Tavuyanago, The Crocodile Gang Operation: A Critical Reflection on the Genesis of the Second Chimurenga in Zimbabwe, "Global Journal Inc", published:2013,retrieved:4 July 2014"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Terence Ranger, Violence Variously Remembered: The Killing Of Pieter Oberholzer In July 1964, "African Studies Association", published:1997,retrieved:4 July 2014"