In our last edition our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) spoke to one of the pioneer guerillas, Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube about the first operations.
Retired Col Dube whose pseudo name was called Cde Embassy was deployed in the Tsholotsho area in Matabeleland North in a unit that included the famous David Mongwa Moyo (Sharpshoot) and John Ntemba.
The unit laid the groundwork for the joint Zipra when it was still called the Department of Special Affairs and Umkhonto WeSizwe Wankie Battle of 1967 and also carried out massive recruitment and politicisation exercises of the masses. Rtd Col Dube continues with the interview below:
MS: You spoke about mobilisation and recruitment, what about battles?
Rtd Col Dube: Like I said our operations were to avoid contacts with the enemy forces and intensify our recruitment and mobilisation drive. However, we were involved in some skirmishes with the enemy on some occasions. There was a time when we were ambushed by the enemy forces in Sikente, but their ambush was poorly planned, it looks like they also panicked as their shots lacked accuracy and were done wildly. We got out of that ambush and retreated to the Manzamnyama area. During that time Sharpshoot with two other comrades had proceeded to Kezi.
Meanwhile, we continued doing our work. At some later stage the enemy forces launched an operation in a bid to flush us out. That was a real operation, they had spotter planes and also brought trucks. With our strength and type of weapons there was no way we could withstand them, so we moved out of the area and they pursued us until we got to the Bulilima area, the Maitengwe area from where we crossed into Botswana. Remember we had split our unit of 10 into three groups.
MS: After getting into Botswana, what was the next move?
Rtd Col Dube: There was a need for us to be on the lookout for spies, so three of my comrades went to the grazing areas, emlageni where they stayed with herdboys who were looking after cattle. I approached a Tswana man, Sibuhudu, who was a headmaster at a local school.
I told him that was I was looking for a job as a teacher and to my surprise he said he could try me with their Grade 7 class. We were doing that to buy time and map the way forward as we were aware that the Rhodesians were still looking for us and they could cross into Botswana.
I then started teaching but still on the lookout for the danger and then it happened that one day while I was picking something during lessons, my pistol, which was in my jacket pocket fell and the children saw it. I pretended as if nothing had happened, though I could sense that I had compromised the situation. Then one day I was raided by the security forces and during that period the Botswana administration was very hostile. There was still a heavy presence of the whites in their security structures. When they went to search my things they found in a “coat flyers with messages such as kill the Boers”.
MS: After your arrest how were you treated?
Rtd Col Dube: I was taken to Francistown where I was interrogated and life there was horrible with bedbugs tormenting the inmates. I was then charged with bringing the arms of war into Botswana, which if convicted one was slapped with a five-year jail term. However, the Zambian government intervened and then I was charged with violating the immigration laws of Botswana. With that I was slapped with a six-month jail term.
My colleagues Ntemba and Matshimini (Roger Ncube) were also arrested and they found me in Francistown and they also faced the same fate as me. Later on we saw Sharpshoot and others who included some MK comrades. After serving six months for violating the immigration laws of Botswana, we were further detained for six months. At the end of that six months I was released and flown to Zambia and so were other comrades of mine.
MS: When you got Zambia what did you find there?
Rtd Col Dube: When we got to Zambia we sat down with the command element as that was the time preparations for the Wankie (Hwange) battles were being planned. We sat down with JD (Sotsha Ngwenya), Chris Hani and other commanders and apprised them of the situation on the ground at the time when we had left our operational area.
However, what was important was to give them the route, water points, place of entry and so on. In the Tsholotsho there was a serious issue with water. Water was a problem there. Remember part of our deployment was to lay the ground work for the 1967 attack. So when they launched their forays into Rhodesia they followed the route we had recommended to them.
MS: What was the difference between the comrades who fought in the 1967 battle and you?
Rtd Col Dube: It’s the strength of the units and their weapons were a much upgrade from the ones we had. They were better equipped than us. The only similarity is that after their battles they also fled into Botswana where some were imprisoned for a year like us before being released to go back to Zambia.
MS: During those days how was your command structure like?
Rtd Col Dube: It was at a time when we were working closely with the MK of South Africa and we were using the same camps. Among the commanders then were comrades like Joe Modise (MK), Ackim Ndlovu, Report Mphoko and Dumiso Dabengwa who was in the security department as well as Gatsheni also from MK. Sunday News
– To be continued next week