Liberty Dube and Lloyd Makonya
IT is 46 years since the fateful morning of November 23, 1977, and the aftermath which ensued when Zimbabwe lost thousands of her gallant sons and daughters at Chimoio and Tembwe Liberation War Heritage sites in Mozambique during an operation code-named Dingo.
Chimoio Liberation War Camp is located 21km north of Chimoio in Manica Province of Mozambique, on a former Portuguese owned farm called Adriano.
Vila Pery, popularly known locally as Adriano Farm, was abandoned by its Portuguese owner during the peak of that country’s liberation struggle against Portuguese colonialism.
When Mozambique attained independence in 1975, the government led by Frelimo, an ally of Zanu, donated the farm to the liberation movement.
Upon its establishment in 1975, Chimoio was to become the largest rear base for training freedom fighters in Mozambique.
The establishment of Chimoio and other camps in Mozambique came at a time when it had also become necessary to intensify the struggle for independence in Zimbabwe.
Chimoio Camp was well linked by both road and rail to Zimbabwe and was nearer to the frontier as it was located 95km from the border.
The camp, together with others such as Tembwe and Nyadzonia, became targets of Rhodesian attempts to dampen the spirits of the freedom fighters through well coordinated callous air bombings and massacres.
The indiscriminate attacks aimed at exterminating the Zanla war machinery resulted in the loss of thousands of freedom fighters and innocent civilians.
However, this did not deter the liberation movements, instead it galvanized the resolve of the freedom fighters to dislodge the colonial regime and unjust rule in Rhodesia.
Because of the blood that was shed at Chimoio, the site is immortalised in the annals of Zimbabwe’s history as a symbol of resistance to colonial rule, self-sacrifice, determination and triumph against all adversity.
The attack of Chimoio was the first phase of “Operation Dingo”.
The second phase was the attack on Tembwe in Tete Province of Mozambique 72 hours later.
On Wednesday, November 23, 1977 around 7:45am when most people were on parade, the Smith Regime’s murder squads attacked Chimoio Camp.
The attack was led by Major Brain Robinson who was the ground force commander and Group Captain Norman Walsh who was the director of air operations.
A DC-8 airliner was flown over the Chimoio Camp 10 minutes before the airstrike as part of a deception plan to disperse the comrades, only for them to reform on parade a few minutes later in time for the main airstrike.
The approach of the main airstrike did not cause alarm due to the ruse of the DC-8 airliner minutes earlier.
When the first air force jets arrived, the assembled Zanla forces did not take cover again as they assumed it was the DC-8 that was returning.
In the first pass, four Canberra bombers dropped 1 200 Alpha bombs over an area 1.1 kilometres long and half a kilometre wide.
The attacking force comprised of eight Hawker hunters, six Vampire ground attack aircraft, three Canberra bombers, six Dakota troops carrying aircraft, 12 lynx ground attack light aircraft, an unknown number of Alouette, French mirage jets and 10 helicopters armed with 20mm Cannons.
A total of 185 troops from the Rhodesia Special Air Services (97) and Light Infantry (88) parachuted and heli-landed within the vicinity.
The attack was effected by combined Rhodesian, South African, Israeli forces and mercenaries provided by France, USA, Britain and other Western countries.
The aircraft that was used in the attack was highly efficient and effective.
The VIP Dakotas that were used were fitted with tele-printers, high frequency (HF) and very high frequency (VHF) communicators, comfortable seating and could remain aloft for several hours.
The Chimoio massacre evokes memories of the arduous route that Zimbabwe went through to gain her independence from colonial rule.
The massacre on that unforgettable morning left many surviving cadres and their families traumatised physically, psychologically and emotionally.
The traumatic effects are manifesting in many living war veterans who experienced the event.
Indeed, the struggle to remove colonial injustices and achieve equity and democracy was not easy.
Chimoio is therefore a symbol of resistance, sacrifice, bravery, selflessness and dedication of the fallen heroes buried there.
It is also a constant reminder of the callousness and brutality of colonialism and the suffering and hardships endured to attain independence from the colonial yoke.
It serves as an inspiration to the nation and as an instrument to build national unity, consciousness and patriotism in defence of the hard won independence.
The Rhodesian Security Forces had been conducting raids and operations into Mozambique since 1972, but as the war intensified, these operations became almost routine.
When reality dawned on the racist oppressive Smith regime that the local Zimbabwean population was not going to give up on their quest for independence, it desperately embarked on genocidal raids in Mozambique that resulted in heavy military and civilian casualties at Mapai (June 1976), Nyadzonia (August 1976), Chimoio (November 1977), Tembwe (November 1977) and other sites.
Rhodesian forces’ intelligence about Chimoio was built from captured comrades, surreptitious deployment of agents among Zanu occupants, as well as secretive observation and listening posts.
There was a thorough reconnaissance by the Rhodesian Security Forces using binoculars and aircraft, including one that had a Red Cross sign.
Updated aerial photography of Chimoio area had discovered a large camp 7km from the main base where hundreds of people were marching on a parade square which had not been revealed in the interrogation of captives.
The Rhodesians came to believe that the thousands of Zanla cadres coming from training in countries like Tanzania, China, Ethiopia and elsewhere were assembled at Chimoio Camp.
A member of the Special Air Service (SAS) later wrote that accumulation of intelligence work at Chimoio took nine months.
These methods enabled the Rhodesians to acquire as much information as they required about Chimoio for them to carry out the attack.
The ZANLA Forces commander, Cde Josiah Magama Tongogara who was shown some of the Rhodesian Intelligence reports during the Lancaster House Conference remarked that “they were exceptionally accurate except for one thing — they thought there were 4 000 people at Chimoio while there were actually twice that number”.
Chimoio was the biggest freedom fighters and refugee camp set up by Zanu outside the country to wage the armed struggle against the colonial regime.
This was after the failure of repeated attempts to solve the racial conflict in the then Rhodesia through peaceful means and civil disobedience.
Thousands of heroes and heroines showed their commitment to the liberation struggle by braving the rigours of guerrilla life in the jungles of Mozambique and other countries surrounding Zimbabwe.
Continues next Friday . . .