Fighting for the people, with the people

Cde Kenny Ridzai

Cde Kenny Ridzai

Hildegarde The Arena

Due to this basic training element, the struggle for Zimbabwe’s Independence transformed itself into a people’s war, where the people (masses/povo) were heavily involved, despite inherent dangers.

A CRITICAL element in guerrilla warfare is political orientation and mass mobilisation. Freedom fighters had to understand why they were fighting; who the enemy was; what liberating the country from colonial bondage meant and implied; and, the meaning of oppression.

Political orientation/education answered all these questions

As Cde Kenny Ridzai underscored, fighting in the struggle was voluntary: “Kuhondo wange usingarwiri mari. Vaiziva kuti kana usina politics dzakakwana it’s either uchatiza, and it’s obvious waigona kutiza.”

Freedom fighters received political orientation before the military training, which was anchored on Mao Zedong’s teachings who said that “the guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.”

Chairman Mao also taught that, “If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself.”

Without mass mobilisation, the war of liberation would have been difficult to execute because the people’s support was critical.

Due to this basic training element, the struggle for Zimbabwe’s Independence transformed itself into a people’s war, where the people (masses/povo) were heavily involved, despite inherent dangers.

To the people, the guerillas were the children fighting to liberate their parents.

This thread runs through the narratives of the Chimurenga chronicles being compiled by Munyaradzi Huni, Tendai Manzvanzvike and Forget Tsododo.

Cde Ridzai, who was among the first group of freedom fighters to enter Rhodesia in 1972, recounted two incidents in an interview on October 29 that demonstrate that when guerrillas moved amongst the people as fish swim in water, the going would be easy.

The first incident was when he sought refuge at Chief Makuni’s homestead for almost two months after he lost contact with fellow comrades following a military operation with Rhodesian forces.

The second instance resulted in his demotion when he defended his group’s stance for not burning down farm workers’ compounds as per command at a tobacco farm in the Centenary area.

The full transcript of Cde Ridzai’s interview would be published separately.

But a brief background of Cde Ridzai suffices. He was born Constantine Mabuya in Filabusi in 1952, and his parents, like many families in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), relocated to Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) in 1954. He did his primary and part of his secondary education in Zambia, before joining the struggle.

Unlike other Ndebele youths who joined Zapu’s military wing Zipra, Cde Ridzai made a deliberate decision to join Zanu’s military wing, Zanla.

He also opted for Zanla despite the fact that he could not speak Shona because he feared that his brother who had joined Zapu in 1964 would send him back to proceed with his education.

During the third term, while doing Form 2 in Lusaka, he “decided that it was better to join the liberation struggle. Ndakange ndave kutoziva kuti nyika isiri yangu (Zambia) haiite.”

Cde Ridzai said he went to the Zanu offices in Lusaka on September 15, 1969.

“I knew that my brother was in Zapu. I knew that there was a common thinking that Zapu was for Ndebeles only, Zanu yoita yamaShona but ndakati ndondozvionera ndega, zvokutaurirwa navanhu zvinonetsa.”

He was received by Cde Felix Rice Santana: “Ndivo vakange vari mashefu acho.” Another official, Cde Bernard Mutumwa told him that he was too young, but he said, “I want to go and fight and free Zimbabwe.”

In December 1969, together with other recruits, they left Lusaka for Itumbi Training Camp in Tanzania, and commenced training in January 1970, conducted by Chinese instructors: “We received various military tactics — mobilising the masses so that they support the struggle. We were also trained in guerrilla warfare (hit and run tactics), laying ambushes, and much more. The training lasted two years — 1970 to 1971. It took so long because I think they wanted the numbers to grow.”

When the terrain was favourable, they were divided into groups, and the first three groups entered Rhodesia at the beginning of 1972. It was tough, as they had to fight Rhodesian and Portuguese forces. They transported ammunition from the Zambezi valley to Mavuradonha mountain during a large part of 1972 with the assistance of the masses.

When they entered Rhodesia in 1972, their group comprised 20 fighters and Cde Kenneth Gwindingwi was their overall commander.

Some of his comrades-in-arms included James Bond, Kid Marongorongo, Mabhonzo, George Rutanhire and Vhu-u. He was a section commander when they opened up Chaminuka Sector.

A number of comrades exhibited unique survival instincts, and they also used intuitive military tactics that were not part of their training.

As fish swimming in water, the people were their means of survival.

Cde Ridzai said this was because they became part and parcel of the masses, and the latter accepted them not based on political grounds but because of earlier political orientation as “vana vevhu” or “vanhu vapasi” (sons of the soil) who were fighting for their cause.

“When we started fighting, our group was deployed in the Chunye area in Mutoko district where we laid an ambush.

After the landmine blast against the enemy, we retreated to our gathering point (GP). That was around August 1972.

When we got to the GP, we realised that we were running out of bullets, so we decided to go and get some more ammunition from one of the mountains in the Kotwa area where some of our material was hidden.

“But the enemy was following us, and we think that they discovered where the ammunition was hidden. They moved around with mine detectors. They stayed on top of the mountain knowing that we would come at some point.

“Five of us went to get the ammunition, and when we saw a footprint, we realised that the soldiers were on that mountain. Since I was commander, I told my colleagues that the enemy was on the mountain, and there was no way we could get the ammunition, but they thought that I was being cowardly. Eventually, we went up and there was military contact. Two of the comrades were killed, and one was captured. We fled. I retreated ndikabva ndaenda kwangu ndega. My colleague also went his way . . . After losing other comrades, I was now on my own,” he recounted.

Cde Ridzai said he started walking back to Mozambique alone. “Pandiri kufamba, ndiri kukumbira chikafu mupovo, muvanhu . . . At the same time, as I moved on, I would mobilise the people, but in some cases I would also be sold out. But, they were very supportive and helped me cross Nyadire River because they knew how”.

He would always ensure that he hid his gun before engaging people, but as a sign of appreciation, he vividly remembered the assistance he got from Chief Makuni, and his subjects.

The chief was a big supporter of the war of liberation: “Chief Makuni was well-known for supporting the struggle. His homestead was the last one as you got close to Mozambique. I had heard about his support, thus I had nothing to fear. I hid my gun in the mountain, and went to see him. I told him of my predicament — kuti ndakarasana namamwe maComrades saka pano apa ndiri kutoenda kuMozambique, saka ndinokumbira kuti ndingafambe sei.

“He took me in as his biological son, but he didn’t know that I had a gun. He went to his elders and told them, ‘As I once told you, when I worked in Salisbury, at one point I married a Ndebele woman, and we had a son. This is the child (referring to me).’ He told them to take care of me, until further notice. From then on, I stayed at the chief’s homestead as his son.

This encounter resulted in a stranger than fiction incident. Cde Ridzai said at the attainment of Independence in 1980, he got his first national ID under the chief’s name Chegorerino: “PaIndependence, ndakatanga kuisa zita rake nokuti ndakazogara ipapo almost three months before crossing into Mozambique. Then I started mobilising the masses.

“I went to Makuni Primary School. Eventually it was an open secret that there was a freedom fighter residing at the chief’s homestead, because I was mobilising people, although I was performing chores around the household including farming.

“The chief had two sons, almost my age, but I was younger. I was now 21 years of age and qualified to be in Grade 7 then. I went to Makuni Primary School and they issued me with a pass because the authorities used to ask for passes. But I continued to mobilise the people.

“I was free to move all over the area. We would meet soldiers, and I would produce my pass, and they were never suspicious,” he said. But he was later sold out. “Handina kuzoziva kuti pese pese pane vatengesi. The sell-out gave the Rhodesian forces very accurate information that Chegorerino was keeping a terrorist, as the enemy referred to freedom fighters.

“Then one day, the other two boys came home around 2pm to milk cows. The kraal was not far from the homestead, and we then saw soldiers all over.

“I never thought of escaping. I asked the other boys for my pass in case they asked . . . We stayed on kudanga whiling away time. The soldiers started searching the homestead isu takagara kudanga. They even searched the granaries, but we had already decided that when asked, we would produce our passes.

“Then the white soldiers told a black soldier: ‘Call those boys.’ They were about 15 of them, but I was the first one to walk over to where the soldiers were. (What saved me was that my two-months stay at Chegorerino/Makuni had cleared the marks on my shoulders. Zvazvinoita maComrades, kana uchitakura zvombo, musana uyu unosvuuka.”

“He ordered me: ‘Take off your shirt,’ and I just tore it up and threw it away. Akanditi, ‘Look over there’, ndikabva ndamupira gotsi, akatanga kundirova-rova musana, achitarisisa akaona kuti hapana kumbosvuuka. Ndakange ndagarisisa. And he said to me, ‘Move over there,’ and I did. Akange ari mumashure mangu akabva anzwarwo futi. When they were done with us, we went back to the cattle pen.

“I later realised that there were more than 200 soldiers there. They went back to Makuni Primary School… Meanwhile, people feared for me… One of those boys is still alive. I visited the family just after Independence”.

Cde Ridzai said he realised that if the soldiers were to return, he would be captured, so he had to move on.

“I stayed another two weeks and came out in the open that I was a freedom fighter, and said guerrillas can disappear, and that those soldiers were seeing only my shadow. The people believed it because it’s not easy to be caught and then told that you are not a terrorist, when you are a guerrilla,” he said.

Cde Ridzai realised that he had overstayed his welcome, and had to proceed to Mozambique. The chief provided escorts, and eventually he linked up with his comrades.

In another incident, he said they went into Centenary, a tobacco-growing and dairy farming area. Farmers in that area gave Smith a lot of financial support, so they had to sabotage their operations.

Their mission was to destroy the tobacco crop, plant landmines and organise farm workers. One of the tasks was to burn the farm compounds: “But zviya zvinotaurwa nemunhu asiri paground. Saka isu taenda imomo, I was the platoon commander. We mobilised the workers, attacked the horses and spotter plane near the farmer’s homestead.

“After all this, towards the end of 1973 we went back to give reports to our commanders in Karuyana – Cdes Thomas Nhari, Badza, Cephas Chimedza. I gave the brief. An issue was raised why we had not burnt down the farm compounds. I replied: ‘Aiwa chef, ungapise komboni where we get information and food from?

“You had told us to destroy the crop, so why should we have burnt the workers’ houses? Fodya yacho inoda kutemwa. Hatingatemi fodya yese tiri 7. Zvinototora vanhu vomukomboni imomo kuti handei husiku namabhemba kana mapadza kundotema fodya, tovadzorera mukomboni… Ndokutaura kumashefu kuti zvange zvisingaiiti. Zvikanzi iwewe une misikanzwa, hauna kutevedzera order. You are no longer a platoon commander. I was demoted to section commander. But, Cde Nhari wanted to beat me up because I had not followed orders.”

However, the other comrades he was with said, there was no point in punishing Cde Ridzai because they could not burn the compound where they got information and support.


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