Jonathan Moyo made 2 escape attempts

Part 2 in our 6-part series of excerpts from the autobiography of one of Zimbabwe's real heroes of the liberation struggle, The making of a freedom fighter by Wilfred Mhanda.

Wilfred Mhanda
Wilfred Mhanda

The fundamental principle of war is to preserve oneself and destroy the enemy. The purpose of military training is to acquire the skills to enable you to survive and protect yourself as well as destroy the enemy as the basic guarantee of your own protection. Destroying the enemy does not mean killing him or her; it also means incapacitating the enemy through wounding or capture.

The training to become a soldier began as soon as one set foot in the camp, for one immediately became subject to military discipline.

The very first thing was to learn the party’s three basic slogans, as is the case at present. At 6 a.m. every morning, Monday to Friday, we would run a 20-kilometre road race followed by 30 minutes of rigorous physical exercise. This was an in-house routine that did not involve the Chinese experts. After that we would tidy ourselves up before having a cup of tea and piece of bread. We had about 30 minutes after breakfast to relax and prepare for lessons that lasted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There was a military parade every morning, every day before classes and on Saturdays and Sundays. The squad leaders or section commanders would give a presence report during the parade. During my training, we never experienced any food shortages – all our provisions and supplies came from the OAU Liberation Committee through the Tanzanian army, the TPDF. Every day we had rice and beans for lunch and sadza and beef in the evening, all of which were cooked on open fires. The TPDF would truck in daily loads of firewood.

There was a plentiful supply of fruits that we could eat whenever we liked. Every recruit had to perform cooking and day- and night-time sentry duties on a rotational basis. Saturday mornings were generally reserved for production work like agriculture and construction. At least one afternoon a week was reserved for sporting activities. Saturday and Sunday afternoons were left open for activities of our choice. We could partake of a one-day alcoholic brew made from maize porridge and fermented with rapoko, malt and brewer’s yeast. The non-drinkers had a non-alcoholic brew to raise their spirits, and those who smoked received a packet of 20 cigarettes every week.

Favourite radio pgm

On all evenings we would hang around the kitchen and listen to international news broadcasts. Our favourite programme was the BBC’s Focus on Africa with Chris Bickerton and there would always be animated discussions afterwards. There was only one radio set, and that stayed with the camp commander.

There were occasions during the weekends, particularly in the evenings after we’d all drunk rather a lot, when Chimedza would blow the emergency whistle to declare an ‘emergency situation’. This would require us to evacuate the camp and jog for up 60 kilometres. No one was exempt: even in a very drunken state everyone had to run the distance, sobering up along the way.

Long marches, dubbed manoeuvres, where distances of approximately 60 kilometres had to be covered in a space of ten hours walking, would also be arranged over a weekend. We would carry our food rations with us. Such exercises were important, as the ability to move from one place to the other at short notice is the lifeline of guerrilla warfare. It was swift, sudden movement that underpinned the ability of guerrillas to mount surprise attacks against the enemy and to move away in face of danger, in line with Mao’s dictum ‘fight when you can win and move away when you can’t’.

Che Guevara too saw it as one of the three golden principles of guerrilla warfare: constant mobility, constant vigilance and constant mistrust. This training came in handy during the operations in north-eastern Zimbabwe when the ZANLA units had to traverse hundreds of kilometres from Zambia through Mozambique to Zimbabwe. During the early 1970s the guerrilla units survived by moving around to avoid detection by the enemy. Most of the movement would happen at night.

First aid

I was appointed as a medic at our camp after the training in first aid that was mandatory for all guerrillas. I joined comrades Jairos Ndlovu and Josiah Ziso who ran the camp clinic. We provided all basic medical care for the trainees, diagnosing and prescribing the requisite treatment, giving injections and drugs and bandaging wounds. Serious cases would be referred to the Chinese doctor who was resident at the Chinese camp or to the Tanzanian regional hospital in Iringa, which was about 60 kilometres away.

Our training group, which was of platoon strength, was divided into three sections under section commanders. We had four trainee platoon commanders. A fourth section was created in the course of training and I was appointed its leader. Josiah Tungamirai7 was a member of the section that I commanded. In his A Lifetime of Struggle, Tekere refers to him as one of those conscripted into the struggle: The other two generals were quite different. They [Kadungure and Tungamirai] had both been conscripted into the struggle in Zambia, and Tongogara had little respect for them. (2007:133)

It is not true that Josiah Tungamirai was a conscript as Tekere claims. I knew Josiah from my student days when he was doing his A levels at Harare Polytechnic. He left for the struggle early in 1971 directly from Zimbabwe and we met again at Mgagao. No one in our group had been conscripted.

At the end of the formal training programme, before proceeding to the transit camp in Kongwa in the Dodoma region, most of our time was spent on productive activity and on extra political lessons. A voluntary group of about eight, headed by Dick Moyo, was formed to study the basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism. I was part of that study group. We would also took part in jogging sessions that involved carrying a rucksack full of bricks for a distance of twenty kilometres in full military gear.


During the course of our training, at least 10 enemy infiltrators were uncovered, one of whom I had been to school with, which startled me. Rudo Tafirenyika, who later became a CIO director for internal security and operations after independence, was one of the infiltrators. So too was Bassoppo Mupangara, who later became an area manager with the ZBC. Both are now deceased. The Rhodesian agents were typical malcontents who strove to sow dissent and discord at every opportunity through non-conformist behaviour.

All 10 were removed from the camp after being exposed and before they had completed training. Tafirenyika and Mupangara were imprisoned by the Tanzanian authorities for some years before being released into ZANU’s hands.

The problem of infiltrators who tended to be better educated and trained was initially a very serious one. The question of education, however, led to stereoptyping and to the erroneous generalisation that educated recruits were more likely to be enemy agents, whereas most came of their own volition. However, life was often simply too hard for them. Some educated cadres were caught during escape bids. Jonathan Moyo, for example, made two escape attempts from Mgagao, of which the second was successful and took him back to Rhodesia from where he made his way to the United States in 1976–77. Based on Chinese experience, ZANLA developed a policy of turning over enemy agents.

This yielded positive results, to the extent that some former agents rose to become colonels and generals in the ZNA after independence, just as Tafirenyika and Mupangara, known enemy agents, managed to climb up the ladder. Regrettably at least five of the accused died during the course of interrogation on account of non-co-operation before I became the overall camp commander. No one ever died at Mgagao during interrogation after that.

Chinese examples

Three recruits joined us at Mgagao towards the end of our training. Among them was Basil Zimbodza with whom we had fled the University of Rhodesia. He had spent some time in Lusaka before coming for military training. The others were Joseph Mpofu and Jakachaka, who was only about seventeen years old. One Saturday evening, quite tipsy, he called me by my real name, Wilfred. I responded without alarm.

However, I made a report to the camp commander soon afterwards. During interrogation, Jakachaka confessed, without being beaten, to being a Rhodesian agent who had been sent to track me down. His colleague Mpofu also confessed to being a Rhodesian agent. Both of them accepted re-orientation and subsequently became outstanding ZANLA fighters. In a way, the practice of having beer on Saturdays and Sundays helped us uncover a lot of enemy agents as intoxication lowered their guard.

Towards the end of our training Dick Moyo and Gordon Shiri put forward a written proposal to adapt political education to the Zimbabwean context by using concrete Zimbabwean experiences rather than Chinese examples. The proposal was submitted to the High Command for consideration. Fabian Kashiri was the ZANLA political commissar at the time. There was no feedback. The assumption was that the well-meaning proposal, which had taken a lot of time and effort, was seen as an effort to project two ambitious cadres. I, on the other hand, considered Dick Moyo to be the most advanced cadre in our group politically, ideologically and intellectually.

He was overlooked in promotion into the ZANLA general staff and remained an ordinary cadre at our transit camp for close to a year, despite being far superior to Gordon Shiri, who was appointed to become the political commissar at Mgagao in March 1972. Rodrick Musoko, however, utilised his time productively, pioneering the translation of key political terms such as ‘socialism’, ‘imperialism’, ‘capitalism’, ‘communism’, ‘revolution’, ‘exploitation’ and ‘scientific’ from English into Shona.

Killed in 1975

However, and again because the High Command was once more wary of his influence, he was removed from the transit camp and transferred to Dar es Salaam. In 1973, he was appointed instructor to train our first women’s detachment at Nachingwea, the FRELIMO camp, together with Elias Hondo. In 1975 he was finally appointed to the ZANLA High Command, but was killed by Rhodesian agents near Francistown a few months later, after the Zambian clamp-down on ZANU and its military wing ZANLA.

It was only after I became political commissar at Mgagao training camp in 1973 that that I started adapting the political lessons to the Zimbabwean context, in line with Dick Moyo’s original desire. I got the green light from Meya Urimbo, who had become ZANLA’s political commissar that same year. Urimbo was a very supportive boss. It was also during this time that I introduced formal evening lessons about Marxism-Leninism, beginning with political economy and led by my friend James Nyikadzinashe. This programme was, however, banned without explanation by William Ndangana, ZANLA’s Chief of Operations at the time. Tongongara and Urimbo later reversed his decision, but I decided not to resume the programme, being wary of exacerbating divisions within the High Command.

Post published in: Arts

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