Freedom Mutanda and Sifelani Tonje Post Correspondents
AS the nation celebrates 39 years of independence from the colonialist regime of Ian Douglas Smith regime today, we tracked one of the gallant fighters of the liberation war Cde Cephas Muyambo, whose nom de guerre was Karikoga Maronga in Chipinge to get an insight into his wartime heroics.
Cde Muyambo had many contacts with the enemy during the liberation war, some of which were spine-chilling.
His quest to join the war was motivated by the desire to end the brutality of the Rhodesian Forces meted on blacks.
It was a great individual initiative whose commitment was political.
His frequent contacts with the nationalist party in Zvishavane, the resultant intense politicisation, personal experience of discrimination, brutality and exploitation, led him to the decision to join the war.
Cde Muyambo also grew up in family that had an established link to nationalism, and oftentimes he was politically active.
Throughout the interview, Cde Muyambo at times forgot names, places and contacts he had during the war. In the writers’ view, this is an indictment on how people take history.
We should have had those stories taken from the horse’s mouth in the early years of independence.
It is never too late however, to do the right thing.
He recalls his worst account of August 1978:
“I saw the bearded face of the Rhodesian soldier who had smeared some black paint on his face, as he shot at me. A wicked smirk spread over his face and I stood on the spot transfixed, numb and in shock. The helicopter hovered around our base code named ‘Twins.’ Life took a slow motion demeanor; I ran away from the space where only seconds before, I had stood nonchalantly not knowing what to do seeing that as a group, we were done. We had been ambushed and hammered as if we had never been trained in the art of war.
“Out of the blue, five helicopters came out towards the base in Zvishavane communal lands. They headed towards ‘Twins’ base in a battle formation-C shaped and in some quarters, it is called the cow horn formation. We knew we were trapped and the only way out of the situation, was to fight. Paratroopers leapt from the helicopters and immediately took positions while from the air the gunner sprayed bullets at us like confetti. The povo had come to celebrate with us. That was August 1978, and the heat of the war was too much for everyone, especially the Rhodesian.
“I winced in pain after the gunner shot me on the foot; I was galvanised into action; my heart palpitating in fear, I ran to nowhere in particular. It was in August, and the tree cover was scant. Suddenly, the pain intensified, while blood streamed from the leg and in no time, the ‘tender foot’ tennis shoe I was wearing, dripped blood. I could not run; up to now, I can’t fathom how the soldiers failed to hit me on the chest or to just pump bullets all over my body”.
“My first instinct was to shoot back in the same manner my colleagues were doing. I did. To my surprise, the helicopter flew away much to my relief. I looked around me, a trail of destruction stared back at me. What the chimbwidos had cooked for us lay waste in smithereens. Cde Antony Chiwara, my comrade in arms, lay there, dead. A chimbwido grimaced in pain as she attempted, but failed to rise and escape. She had been hit by shrapnel, and was lucky to be alive. As the medical officer in my section, I treated her and she went back home,” he recalled.
Cde Muyambo added: “I had many contacts with the enemy during the liberation war, but the one I have narrated took my breath away. Crucially, I wonder how I survived the gunner’s onslaught. I did not have a bullet proof vest and I was in the open with practically nowhere to hide, but still I survived.
This battle at the Twins base was one of the greatest shocks I encountered in my life as a guerrilla from 1977 to late 1979.
In another battle, we were at the foothills of the Rumuzhe mountain between Mnangagwa and Paweri villages in Zvishavane. There were times when we took the war to the Rhodesian army and times when we lay low waiting for the enemy to attack us.
My group had 15 guerrillas and we interacted with the chimbwidos and mujibhas and there were times when we had close liaisons with the community.
We had just had a pungwe at a nearby village and we heard that the soldiers were patrolling the Rumuzhe mountain. Cdes Norman Zex and Kufakunesu prevailed on us to go and smash the Rhodesians. It was going to be a good motivator for the povo. They would not doubt our capacity.
“The soldiers were on top of the mountain. We were to go up and hope against hope to finish the business and see the soldiers capitulate. We had our AK 47s, a light machine gun plus the bazooka, but we were wary of the terrain.
“We had recently graduated from Nachingweya training camp in Tanzania, and we were in Regiment 4, but at that moment, we were so eager to engage the enemy and we threw caution to the wind.
“Rhodesian soldiers were up the mountain. Something rang into my mind compelling me not to go and fight the enemy. My other side told me that ndiyo hondo yacho and we proceeded.
“We went up the mountain firing at them while the soldiers sprayed bullets downwards. One of us fell and a rock that came from the mountain, hit him.
“Cde Chigomochesango was a tall guerrilla and as he fell, we realised that we were engaged in an unwinnable battle and we retreated. I was tasked with carrying him on my back. Our firepower could not match theirs, at that instant.
“I quickly thought about our camp commander Cde Albai’s words: “If the battle proves too hot for you, retreat and find another time to engage the enemy”.
That, they did.
“It was awkward to carry a very tall man yet I was a short man as you can see,” he said.