Freedom Mutanda and Sifelani Tonje Post Correspondents
Lying to the south eastern side of Chipinge, Chikore has lush vegetation and it is no wonder that it is christened Dondo by the inhabitants who have lived there for years. Today, as the car negotiates the curves from Chiriga to the heartland of the Musikavanhu paramountacy, the unmistaken red soils tell the world that the area is amenable to agriculture and it is no wonder that one of the finest agriculturists ever to work in the country, Dr Emery Alvord, established an institution to train the agriculture demonstrators at Chikore mission, which would go on to train a number of future nationalists in Zimbabwe.
It was to this area that The Manica Post correspondents, Sifelani Tonje and Freedom Mutanda, paid a visit to interview Davis Mtetwa, an unassuming former freedom fighter who saw duty before and after independence and lived to tell the tale.
A lot has been written about the Chimoio attack but there is always another element which surprises many researchers into that dark period and Cde Davis Mtetwa comes in with his twist to the story of how he survived the enemy attack on that fateful day.
This week, the two researchers give the readers a gripping tale of a freedom fighter who braved the vicissitudes of war by doing the unthinkable and staying grounded right through the ordeal with the result that his injuries that day affects him up to now.
Cde Davis Mtetwa is DM while the correspondents are MP. Read on.
MP: Cde Davis, we understand you went to war at the instigation of some of the agents of imperialism. What made you decide to skip the border and join the comrades?
DM: Demas and I always listened to the war narratives courtesy of Radio Mozambique and we were fascinated by the way the announcers made it look easy to go and fight the enemy who by now was convinced the black man would never take the reins of powers come what may. Some of my friends had skipped the border in 1975. By 1976 we were inhabitants of the ‘keep’, the so-called ‘protected villages.’ I had a smattering of the Nazi Germany history to know that the Rhodesians treated us the way Nazis treated Jews and now to me, we were in concentration camps. We stayed in Kondo-Fumhanda ‘keep.’ One night, I had a conflict with a guard at the gate.
MP: What happened?
DM: As I entered the ‘keep,’ the guard seized my hand by force. That infuriated me so much that I turned and looked at him with hatred. How could he behave as if I was his slave? He laughed and accused me of being a guerrilla recruiter. It was shortly after sunset and I was coming from the fields. My grandfather, B Mtetwa, commonly known as BB, was the Chikore Mission Farm manager and it was always important to tend the fields notwithstanding the inherent danger as guerrillas or the settler soldiers didn’t trust our family. Either way, taipinda mumoto. Just then, a kwela mahala ( a military vehicle whose occupants would tell suspects to board and not pay any fare) came to the place; he called out that there was a tororo (terrorist) at the gate. With a sneer, the guard handed me over to the soldiers who appeared bored. Perhaps, they had not been able to get the quarry they wanted at Siyakisa where the guerrillas were domiciled and seemed not to be intimidated by the white soldiers’ presence.
MP: You mean by that time, the freedom fighters were calling the shots or they had established a form of a liberated area there?
DM: Not exactly but the terrain isn’t hospitable to settler soldiers for they didn’t know the area while our traditional leaders and youths knew where they could be found. During my incarceration at Chibonore, I prayed day and night to be released for me to go and join the boys. A chance presented itself. A small dog guarded me. I scaled the fence even as the dog pursued me. I saw that no one was following me; I realised I could not go back home. I had to go to Mozambique and join the others who had gone before me. The verdant Mahlatini vegetation helped me merge with nature and soon I had arrived at Chimoio where I trained at Takawira Base 2. I assumed the nom de guerre, Diva Chimoto.
MP: Tell us about the Chimoio attack.
DM: I had been posted as part of the anti-air personnel on raised ground. One war plane after the other rained bombs over Chimoio. In my dazed state, I thought about the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I returned fire and to my greatest astonishment, the firing barrel was bombed and ultimately our poshto was demolished. Desperately, I jumped into a thicket where uriri (an itching powder drawn from dried pods) greeted me with gusto. My body was affected by the thicket whose pollen makes someone scratch incessantly; I stayed in that thicket for seven hours. White soldiers used a ruse-‘macromades ndozvinoita hondo. Huyai tibatsire vakuwara.’ Those few minutes which I lost as I attempted to shake off the pollen saved my life. Those who came out were shot dead. Some girls were sexually assaulted in helicopters; after the dastard acts, the soldiers would throw them out.
MP: You survived and now what about a battle which you will always remember?
DM: I should have gone to Yugoslavia but somehow, General Tongogara came to the camp and said: vaya vanga vari mbavha mirai apa. I don’t want to send you back home but use your skills. Pane mabhunu akapona pa Ruda so I want you to lob bombs where they are sheltered. My commanders were Cde Tonderai Nyika and Cde Dominic Chinengebere as I was in the Manica sector. My group was made up of girls. We got through Gandayi with the intention to attack Umtali. We saw a group of soldiers as we were about to reach Mutare. We wiped the entire group. There were thirty Rhodesian soldiers at Zimunya. We surrounded them and picked our spots and then wham! We started firing and in their confusion they ran straight at us. Women fighters don’t retreat, I tell you. As a lone male fighter among female combatants, I couldn’t retreat either.
MP: Did you arrive in Mutare safely after that skirmish which turned up to be a huge battle?
DM: Yes, we did although we were shocked to hear that the girls had been recalled to the rear. We were divided into groups, the Mutema A one which specialised in anti-air artillery and the Mutema B group. My group and I operated in the Charter and Chipangayi areas in Chipinge. We liaised closely with the people. To illustrate, Gazaland Secondary School along the Tanganda River is where we kept food mathidza Several girls and boys from the school escaped to Mozambique after the regime targeted the school as a result of sell outs who had informed them that the school authorities cooperated with us.
MP: We understand Middle Sabi had hard core Rhodies who sent their children for call up which was a compulsory military training. Did you have a lasting impression in the area in the wake of Gunn who is said to have been a fearsome Rhoddie?
DM: Towards the end of 1978, we attacked Guy Menage at his farm 25 stronghold and after shelling the house, we went away and just as we passed Chipangayi Stadium, we heard firing from behind us. The only window of escape was through the Chipangayi Stadium. It appeared that Guy Menage called for reinforcements and we thought he had accepted defeat yet he had an ace up his sleeve. One comrade was severely injured there and my survival hinged on my perfection of the crawling skills; I rolled over time and again until I was out of danger until I ran to the road and the meeting point at the Electricity Supply Commission depot beyond the road on the way to the Safari Area. On another day in early 1979, we decided to teach Peter Gunn a lesson after he had terrorised his farm workers and other peasants in the Mutema communal area. He was a big man, heavily built and hairy but we shot and killed him; he had become so confident that he used a motor bike as he made rounds in his farm.
MP: What is your take on the new dispensation?
DM: Well, some comrades had lost direction, gwara remusangano and it was fitting to redirect the trajectory of the revolution. I am sure very soon, we will be out of the woods and the fruits of independence will be realised by everyone.
MP: It was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you.
DM: The pleasure is mine.