“Wagging the liberation struggle was the only way to change Rhodesia into a new Zimbabwe. Everyone had to lay down his life for his people and country. There was no way I could evade this national duty. We would perish. We had no guns, still there was no way – the valuable tool at the time was the intrinsic conviction and motivation – which made us to be vigilant, innovative and strategise to achieve our goal of liberating Zimbabwe”.
These words underline the supreme commitment to the liberation struggle by Cde Tongesayi Shadreck Chipanga.
Cde Chipanga was one of the initiators of the political struggle against a minority Ian Douglas Smith regime – that cruelly sought to eradicate, through terror, any direct challenge mounted against the epicentre of its authority.
His journey could be traced as far back as 1962 when he joined the political fray as the first Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) national youth leader.
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, and saw him in Tanzania, Ghana, Britain and ended with him serving a 10-year jail term for acts of insurgency.
Cde Chipanga, a Zanu-PF Central Committee member, shared time in prison with President Mugabe, the late Cdes Edgar Tekere, Maurice Nyagumbo, Enos Nkala and Matthew Malowa.
In his engagement with The Manica Post, one thing was clear – he had no choice but put the splendor of life behind him.
“I had no right to escape death, though I did not want to die,” said Cde Chipanga, adding that even if the Ian Douglas Smith regime, which was hot on Cde Chipanga’s heels over his involvement in the invention of explosives and bombs – had succeeded in killing him – the demise would have ameliorated lives of a larger group of combatants and succour the attainment of the country’s independence.
He was a calculative and stone-hearted guerilla who believed in returning “fire with fire” – a radical stance that made his relationship with the dreaded Special Branch a “tiger hunt”.
“I was the Special Branch public enemy Number One because I was the mastermind in the manufacture of petrol bombs and explosives. I would co-ordinate the actual bombing of the settler regime’s strategic business interests.
“As a result they were always hot on my heels. I had use different names to evade arrest. I refused to be a passive servant of the emperor, of the warlord. I chose to be a catalyst of political change we enjoy today. At that time we ushered a in a period of political ferment that remains unequalled to this day,” revealed Cde Chipanga, famously know as The King.
The soft-spoken and humble politician whose strength lies in his ability to balance ambition with conscience, added:
“Liken me to a cotton pillow, no matter how hard you punch it, it regains its shape instantly,” said Cde Chipanga.
As the pioneer ZAPU national youth chair, in 1962, Cde Chipanga, together with the likes of Cde John Mupembe, was charged with organising and teaching youth recruits how to manufacture petrol bombs and other dangerous explosives.
He refused to divulge the methodology for security reasons.
“There is no need to (reveal) as we are no longer at war.”
Cde Chipanga would survey and decide the strategic placement of these dangerous devices.
The sporadic acts of annihilation were performed at night on targets like farms, shops, cars, bridges, houses, offices, police stations and bases.
This led to the quaking and panic of the settler regime, in Salisbury.
He was forced to relocate to Bulawayo on picking intelligence that police were hot on his heels.
While in the City of Kings, where he was temporarily housed at the house of the former Deputy Minister of Local Government Cde Frank Ziyambi, Cde Chipanga continued recruiting youths while employing his clandestine terror tactics.
“Look we had no guns, so we had to improvise. This was one of the initiatives to pursue the struggle. Dealing with explosives was very dangerous. Once arrested, that was your end. I knew I was going straight to the gallows. I knew of suspects that had been hanged, but no amount of fear could deter me. I had no obligation to escape death in our quest to liberate Zimbabwe, though I did not want to die,” said Cde Chipanga.
After the heat had subsidised, the late Vice-President Cde Simon Muzenda recalled him to Salisbury.
Finding his way to the capital was not easy.
“I picked up someone else’s national identity card and used it to travel back to Salisbury. This was the only option because police had intensified their hunt for me,” said Cde Chipanga.
They proceeded to Gweru; where meeting was convened on May 19, 1963, and it was resolved that Cde Chipanga goes to Ghana through Tanzania, for military training.
The word of his posting was intercepted by the Special Branch, and all exit points were sealed.
How did he make it to Ghana then?
“I was identified to go for training. It was a heavy task since I had to return and train other cadres. All the exit points were sealed, so I was smuggled out of the country in the container of a Clan truck. There was no other option. This was the safest way to avoid arrest. If I had used a plane, train or bus I would have been arrested.
“The Special Branch was vigilant and organised in such a way that their focus was on specific wanted criminals like me. My face was posted everywhere and if the dragnet squad was to fish me out, that was going to be my end.
“It was a hot afternoon and the container in which I was locked was very hot. The fact that I could not see where I was going made it worse. I was dehydrating and very hungry, but in the end I made it,” said Cde Chipanga.
On arrival at an Immigration checkpoint, an attempt was made to open the container, but the situation was saved by the driver’s insistence that it was loaded with cigarettes and sealed.
“I suddenly felt a chill down my spine. I started shaking uncontrollably. There was nowhere to run or hide. That was going to be my end and I began to wish if I had suffocated to death than dying at the hands of the Special Branch. I hated the maximum penalty of death,” he recalled.
Luckily the vehicle took off, separating him from death.
“After some distance into safety, the driver opened the container and instructed me to join him in the front seat. I breathed a sigh of relief,” he said, adding that along the way they bribed police officers with cigarettes.
“The driver is one of the people who if I meet him today, would buy him a beer. His sacrifice was unqualified. He was one of the guys with the mentality that hondo yaifanirwa kurwiwa (the liberation struggle should be waged). I appreciate his contribution. If I was going to be arrested, it was going to be ugly,” he said.
From Tanzania, Cde Chipanga was posted to Ghana using the name Samuel Gurupira.
“I was in the second group to undergo military training after the one led by Vice-President Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa, under ZAPU. We were the first crop of trained cadres following the formation of ZANU. We were the pioneer group that was going to train cadres back home in 1965,” said Cde Chipanga.
His training focused on how to assemble, disassemble, operate a gun, making explosives, manufacturing bombs among others acts of terror.
He refused to disclose how it was done.
After finishing his training, he passed back through Chirundu together with the likes of Cdes Linos Mukoro, Titus Chakawanda and Wilson Chihota.
They had to split into small groups in order to infiltrate their way back home.
The four crossed Zambezi in a canoe.
After footing for 12km along the lion-infested valley, they were lucky to be bundled at the back of another Clan truck.
The area was infested with lions.
They were dropped at Nyabira in Mashonaland West.
They had challenges to integrate as structures had been dismantled with the arrest of many cadres.
He was arrested after being sold out by an infiltrator, Simon Bene.
“We were captured. Simon Bene had sold us out and by the time we touched down home, the Special Branch had the names of all those who received training in Ghana. We had always been cynical about Bene’s conduct and we had communicated our suspicions to Cde Stanely Parirehwa (the Zanu rep in Ghana).”
Bene had been posted by the regime as an impostor and an attempt was made to post him to Britain for studies, but he refused.
“He had a return ticket and he refused, insisting that he will find his way back home,” he said.
He was arrested along Grey Street in Bulawayo on his way to meet Dr Samuel Munyawarara over logistical issues.
The special dragnet squad had his finer personal details and particulars that included photographs, names and finger prints.
“I was detained at Solusi Town Police Station before being transferred to Banket, where there were bucket toilets. That was a nasty experience because it was in June. It was terribly cold. They gave me a blanket with a big hole in the middle. I could not sleep because each time I tried to, the cold floor made it impossible. I was awake the whole night. They wanted me to admit my transgressions, but I refused and maintained that I had come searching for employment. Together with others, we were sentenced to 10 years in jail,” said Cde Chipanga.
In 1972, he was moved to Khami Prison and later Salisbury, where he became an inmate with President Mugabe, the late Cdes Edgar Tekere, Maurice Nyagumbo, Enos Nkala and Matthew Malowa.
They were later separated over fighting for prison crumbs and bedding.
Cde Chipanga was moved to Gweru, while others were taken to Hwahwa Prison till 1979.
Cde Chipanga, as the Zanu youth chairperson, was part of a delegation that attended the Lancaster House Constitutional talks with the likes of Cdes Chiwende, Alex Mudzingwa, Malianga and Zihambe.
“I told Cde Tekere that I wanted to remain behind to pursue my studies.”
Cde Tekere discussed the request with Cde Mutasa, who then had been released from detention in 1972. He was introduced him to Mr Leonard Newman, who enrolled him at Warrick University, where he studied Politics and International Studies.
Cde Chipanga returned home in 1982 and joined the President’s Department.
He was posted to Germany and Britain to sharpen his intelligence gathering and interpretation acumen. Cde Chipanga, joined active politics of Manicaland in 1999.
He contested and won the Makoni East parliamentary seat in 2000 after beating MDC’s Nicolas Mudzengerere. In 2005, Cde Chipanga also defended his parliamentary seat after beating the now MDC Renewal Team provincial spokesman Mr Pishai Muchauraya. During his tenure in parliament Cde Chipanga was appointed as one of two deputy chairs of the observer delegation of the parliamentary forum of the Southern African Development Committee, the 14-nation regional political bloc, to the elections in Namibia.
He also chaired the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice. He also served as the Zanu-PF provincial chairman, a position he left following his elevation into the Central Committee.
He is now a member of the National Consultative Assembly (NCA). Cde Chipanga is a beneficiary of the land reform.
He owns Mukonyora Farm, on the outskirts of Rusape, where he is into tobacco and maize farming.
Cde Chipanga is married to Betty, and the couple is blessed with two children – Nyasha and Tanaka.