The untimely death of Lieutenant General Norbert Chingombe (Agnew Kambeu [Sparrow Kanyama]) on June 9, 2008, robbed the nation of a great military instructor, renowned commander and strategist. The first citizen to hold and hoist the Zimbabwean national flag, Cde Chingombe died in Harare after a long illness and was unanimously declared a national hero on June 11. He was 58.
Lieutenant-General Amoth Norbert Chingombe, also known by his two Chimurenga names, Agnew Kambeu or Sparrow Kanyama was a loyal, dedicated and brilliant military strategist and instructor.
Cde Chingombe will be remembered for the immense role that he played in the formation of the Zimbabwe National Army at Independence in 1980 and the stabilisation of the Democratic Republic of Congo after a joint invasion of that country by Rwanda and Uganda in 1999.
Born on September 25 1950 in Ndanga, Masvingo Province, Lieutenant General Chingombe attended Zaka and Manokore Primary Schools before proceeding to St Antony’s Mission in the same district for his secondary education.
A part of a family of seven, his working life started with Bata Shoe Company in Gweru where his nascent interest in politics showed and grew.
After all, young Amoth had been born into a family of political activists, starting with his own father, Nyasha Chingombe, and his elder brother Charles Chingombe.
By 1970, this incipient political interest had crystallised into activism such that by 1973, the young Amoth had scaled up local politics to become a branch secretary and then chairman of the African National Congress (ANC) branch in Masvingo.
He sneaked out of the country the same year to join the liberation struggle in Zambia and received initial military training at Mgagao, Iringa, Tanzania, in 1973.
He shared the rigorous training with fellow comrades like Pascal Takawira, now known as Peter Manyani, Thomas Chibage, Parker Chipoyera, Den Murimo, Walter Mupfure, Johnson Ndoda, Ariyaga, Everisto Mhamo, Denis Mazvimbakupa, Dan Unoroya and Hwata, among a host of other fighters. He specialised in the use of mortar 82mm and anti-aircraft machine guns.
He was trained by Rex Tichafa, Abel Sibanda, Dzinashe Machingura, Sipho Gambune Machoro, and Saul Sadza, among others.
In early 1974, Lieutenant General Amoth Norbert Chingombe was appointed to become a member of the General Staff of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA).
He became a military instructor at Mgagao and Morogoro training camp, graduating many combatants who passed through his hands, notables including General Chiwenga, Air Marshal Perrance Shiri, Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri and Commissioner of Prisons Cde Paradzai Zimondi.
In 1976, he led a group of ZANLA cadres to join Zimbabwe People’s Army (ZIPA), itself an attempt at integrating fighters from the two liberation movements of ZANLA and Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) into one fighting force.
Through this programme, both ZIPRA and ZANLA cadres shared training at Mgagao, with the ZIPRA contingent being commanded by Lieutenant General Valerio Sibanda, the current commander of the Zimbabwe National Army, who worked closely with the late fighter at Mgagao.
Later, Lieutenant General Chingombe relocated to Mozambique where he continued to be in charge of external training and specialised training in artillery guns. His diligence and dedication saw him being appointed to the ZANLA High Command in 1978.
At Chimoio, Cde Kambeu was in Block 12, made up of four deputies in the High Command, that is, Cde Dominic Chinenge (Commissariat), Cde Kenny Ridzai (Security and Intelligence), Cde Morgan Mhaka (Logistics and Supplies) and himself (Training).
The High Command was headed by Cde Robert Mugabe who was the Commander-in-Chief.
A man of action, Cde Chingombe in 1978, was deployed in the Gaza Province where he ensured the Rutenga Railway line was crippled, thus denying the Rhodesians of an important lifeline.
Later that year, he was part of 550 ZANLA forces commanded by the late Josiah Tungamirai, who launched an attack on Mutare.
In September 1979, Lieutenant General Chingombe was part of the command that defended the all-important base of Mavhonde in a five-day battle against Rhodesian Forces.
This battle took place at a time when the Patriotic Front was in London for the Lancaster House talks.
It was an attack meant to break the back of the Patriotic Front at the talks so Rhodesians and their puppets would dictate the pace at the negotiating table.
Thanks to the courageous defence put up by the fighters at Mavhonde under a command which included the late Agnew, this was not to be.
The battle was fought mainly through artillery and Agnew demonstrated his prowess in this weaponry.
The battle proved a turning point in the struggle that even the Rhodesian establishment realised majority rule could no longer be deferred by the force of arms.
Indeed, the Rhodesians admitted to losing two fighter jets and five smaller planes with many of their number dead.
At Independence in 1980, Lieutenant General Chingombe had the great honour and privilege to be the first citizen to hold and hoist Zimbabwe’s brand new national flag.
This historic event took place concurrently with the official handover of power to the black majority at midnight of April 17, 1980.
After the formal handover of independence, the late Cde Chingombe worked tirelessly for the moulding of a loyal and competent national army out of hitherto warring forces of ZANLA, ZIPRA and the Rhodesian army.
He was commissioned to the rank of Brigadier-General in April 1981.