The making of a freedom fighter

Our team of trainees was the first to comprise recruits coming directly from Zimbabwe. Among us were Abel Mabunu and Lloyd Dube, two former ZIPRA cadres who were undergoing retraining. ZANLA had the policy of retraining in full all cadres who defected from ZIPRA. This was for the purpose of harmonising both our political outlook and appreciation of the tactical and strategic concepts of guerrilla war¬fare. Other comrades in this group were Kenneth Gwindingwi (our trainee commander), Abel Sib

Wilfred Mhanda: makes an invaluable contribution to the country’s written history. Photo credit: David Brazier.
Wilfred Mhanda: makes an invaluable contribution to the country’s written history. Photo credit: David Brazier.

Our group was the third to be trained by about 20Chinese mili¬tary experts in Tanzania and the first at Mgagao. All in all, the Chinese conducted a total of 10 training sessions. (The same team was also responsible for training MPLA fighters.) Their group leader in 1971 was Lt General Chang who had been chief of staff of an army corps in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The choice of the Chinese military experts was based on competitive selection from 25 different Chinese divisions, each expert coming from a different one.

The three leaders of the experts had all participated in the revolutionary war with Mao Tse-tung, each having taken part in the strategic retreat dubbed the ‘Long March’ in the early 1930s. It has to be said that the experts displayed the highest standard of discipline, commitment and devotion to their duties. Indeed, they seemed more committed to the liberation of our country than we were, which was a great challenge to us.

The first session to be run by the Chinese in Tanzania was at Itumbi Camp in Chunya in southern Tanzania in 1969. It mostly comprised people who had been conscripted by Tongogara and his team. Among them were Vitalis Zvinavashe, Ernest Kadungure, Justin Chauke.

Meya Urimbo, and Gandamuseve. Tongogara had masterminded the operation as ZANU was under pressure to demonstrate to the Liberation Committee of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) that it was committed to an armed struggle to liberate Zimbabwe or risk losing their support. The party had to demonstrate its commitment by having cadres undergoing training in the camps. To achieve this they had to resort to various unorthodox means, i.e., abductions, kidnapping and luring recruits with promises of jobs or education.

Most of the victims were from Lusaka; largely unemployed, they formed part of what in Marxist parlance was termed the ‘lumpen proletariat’. Their recruitment was undertaken in 1968 and ZANLA ended up with 38 fighters at Itumbi camp who were trained by the Chinese in 1969, having first undergone some rudimentary training from ZANLA’s own instructors. The latter included William Ndanganawho had been trained in Ghana before the coup against Kwame Nkrumah and had led the famous Crocodile Gang that had killed a white farmer back in 1964.

Felix Santana, ‘Madiba’, Stanford Manifore, Bernard Mutuma, and David Mutasa were also instructors. The second group of about 15 cadres was trained in 1970 and largely comprised those who had deserted from ZIPRA following the internal strife within ZAPU. Those cadres who fled from ZAPU/ZIPRA as a result of the disturbances included Rex Nhongo, Thomas Nhari and David Todhlana. Only a few trainees – Dakarayi Badza and Kenny Ridzai, for example – did not desert from ZIPRA.

Chinese experts

The Chinese experts lived in their own camp about 1.5 kilometres from our camp and 300 metres from the MPLA camp, which was closer to us. The Chinese would come to our camp for training duties from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. Contrary to numerous reports from the Rhodesians, the South Africans in particular and from the West in general, the Chinese adhered closely to their training schedules.

Their involvement in political education was confined to three components, namely, an analysis of national grievances against the illegal settlerist Smith regime; the attributes of a people’s army; and the political context of a people’s war.

They never ran lessons on Marxist-Leninist philosophy, political economy or socialism. In fact, we had our own library in the camp that was well-stocked with revolutionary literature and included a range of books by African political theoreticians; experiences of the Cuban Revolution; the Vietnamese struggle; and key works by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao Tse-tung. The books were sourced by ZANU and we ran the library ourselves. I was appointed librarian, which exposed me to this diverse revolutionary literature.

The Chinese training mission was based on a co-operation agreement signed between the Chinese and Tanzanian governments and was renewable every two years. It came into force in 1969 and ended in 1975 when the Chinese experts were satisfied that ZANLA had developed the capacity and requisite expertise to sustain the training programmes on its own.

We came to this conclusion after I had discussed the matter with them in September 1975; this was in my capacity as the head of political and military training after my return from Zambia but before the formation of ZIPA. At the time, most of the members of the senior ZANLA High Command were still in prison in Zambia. We on our part did not seek any renewal of the co-operation agreement.

Our camp commander during training was Cuthbert Chimedza and he was joined by interpreters Ernest Kadungure, Gordon Mlambo and Elias Hondo later in the year.

The Chinese experts were fully responsible for all these training modules through a Chinese-English interpreter and a ZANLA Shona interpreter. The course structure remained basically the same over time, although it also became richer in content in some areas as the Chinese gained more confidence with ZANU’s successes in the field.

A people’s soldier

The Chinese attached considerable importance to political education. They believed it was imperative to first raise the political consciousness of trainees so they could fully appreciate the purpose of their training, which was to fight the enemy. And the question of first importance in any revolutionary struggle was being able to distinguish friend from foe.

This would enable the fighters to mobilise and win over to their side all those forces that were not in the enemy camp, divorce and alienate from the enemy all those they could not win over, and finally isolate the hardcore enemy. This awareness had to be firmly anchored in our political education, which was made up of three components.

The objective of the first component – the pouring out of national grievances – was to identify the underlying problem in Zimbabwe and understand its characteristics. The other components would then provide the answer as to how this problem – an oppressive system that deserved to be overthrown – should be resolved, i.e. by means of a

people’s army spearheading a revolutionary war. In other words, just as in modern corporate business, political education was an induction or orientation programme that articulated the vision, mission and values of the liberation struggle and provided a strategic political framework for the prosecution of the war.

National grievances

All the fighters were required to recount their personal experiences that had filled them with anger and bitterness and prompted them to join the ranks of the liberation struggle. This outpouring of personal grievances enabled the fighters to fully appreciate the ramifications of oppression, repression and discrimination. The objective of this exercise was to acquire a national rather than a personal conception of the ‘enemy’s’ oppression.

At the end of this component there was a systematic analysis of national oppression that would be categorised as political, economic, social, cultural and military. The fighters would then come to the inevitable conclusion that the enemy was evil, could not be reasoned with and deserved to be fought. This filled them with hate and the readiness to fight for national liberation; it also gave birth to the realisation of the need for revolution that would sweep away the enemy and establish a new order that would transform society to serve the people’s interests.

The people’s army

Once the trainees were convinced that the system oppressing them could not be removed by peaceful means, they had to become resolved to fight the enemy. However, they had to be taught not to become like enemy soldiers who fight the people. Instead they needed to form a totally different fighting force, an army with a difference; a people’s army, i.e. one made up of politically conscious fighters who are dependent on support from the people as well as their own political consciousness and resourcefulness.

A people’s army had to be inseparable from the people, it had to be highly disciplined, show the utmost respect for the people, and serve their interests. It was through the training to become a people’s fighter that one accepted the readiness to sacrifice oneself for the greater cause of national liberation. This was the political consciousness that imbued the fighters with courage.

A people’s army was not only a fighting force but also a political and productive force. It was through the accomplishment of these strategic roles that a revolutionary struggle could be sustained and victory achieved. Being a political force entailed involvement in activities to mobilise the masses as the bedrock of the revolutionary struggle. Being a productive force entailed engaging in production to make the people’s army self-reliant in terms of meeting its requirements. Being a fighting force entailed fighting to destroy the enemy.

The people’s war

Once the trainees had grasped that the enemy oppressing them was evil, they then had to understand how the enemy needed to be fought, namely, through a revolutionary war, a people’s war. This component was designed to convince the fighters that the war could only be won by fully mobilising the masses and being able to rely on them. Any other approach would be counter-productive and would not guarantee victory.

Furthermore, a revolutionary war, the recruits were taught, was a protracted war without the promise of quick victory. Every recruit had to be mentally prepared to fight a long war and to wage a ruthless armed struggle that would inevitably entail huge sacrifice on the part of both the fighters and the broad masses of the people. It was through the political consciousness acquired by political education that the indelible bonds of comradeship were forged; it also helped turn over enemy agents.

It is testimony of the effectiveness of political consciousness that the ZANLA guerrillas who opened the north-eastern front willingly walked hundreds of kilometres from Zambia through Mozambique to Zimbabwe under very difficult conditions. Throughout the struggle I do not recall a single incident of a ZANLA guerrilla running away to voluntarily join the enemy or, for that matter, another organisation.

Admittedly there were problems of discipline in the last years of the struggle, but those were occasioned by other factors that are discussed in Chapters 5 and 7.

For the next six weeks The Zimbabwean will publish a series of extracts from Wilfred Mhanda’s autobiography, Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter.

Post published in: Arts

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