Obert Chifamba Associate Editor
THE quiet of the night of December 11, 1978 was shattered by a huge explosion that reverberated over the sleeping town of Salisbury, (now Harare) as efficiently as a thunder clap, which left the Rhodesian military machine in panic, as they sought to establish the source of the explosion.
Already, a ball of fire had lit up the western sky of the city of Salisbury and the source of fire was a big diesel tank belonging to BP Shell, where Rhodesia drew most of its fuel.
It immediately formed a reddish glow from the distance with flames rising boldly into the sky.
The architects of the explosion were a group of eight freedom fighters who had sneaked into the country from Tete Province in Mozambique at the behest of the late Zanla commander, Josiah Tongogara.
The eight were Simpson Mukuru Manjonjori whose Chimurenga name was Member Kuvhiringidza, Poison Waungana, Lobo, Brian, Norest, Nhamo, Bombs, America Mudzvanyiriri. Member Kuvhiringidza was the commander of the octet.
It had taken the gang one month and a week to plan the assault, which was expected to break Ian Smith’s resistance and essentially change the complexion of the Chimurenga war.
Member Kuvhiringidza from Chimanimani, had been a bus driver in Harare prior to his departure to join the liberation war in 1975. He had received his training at Tembwe Base 1 in Tete before being sent to the front in 1977.
Cde Tongogara had taken advantage of Member Kuvhiringidza’s knowledge of Salisbury to make him head of the mission. They entered Salisbury through Domboshava first as a group of three to look for houses to rent in Mbare, Mabvuku and Highfield.
They secured lodgings in Mbare at one Mbuya Hwiza’s house and at one Mr Muhwati’s house while they also got another house at one Mr Ruparanganda’s home in Mabvuku. They could not use the Highfield house owing to security concerns.
“We spent one month in Harare doing some reconnaissance and trying to find all information we needed about the fuel tanks, which were the core source of fuel for the capital city and other vital arms of the Rhodesian government. At one point we even toured the tanks after an old friend, Amon Nyazika, facilitated our entry after introducing us as teachers from Seke.
“Our mission was to identify the petrol tank, which we knew would create an inferno enough to consume Salisbury if we hit it,” said Member Kuvhiringidza in an interview at Manica Post yesterday.
He narrated how they had brought their weapons into Salisbury in trucks ferrying vegetables from Domboshava. The trucks belonged to businessman Mverechena and another one called Musiiwa and were stashed in cache established in a grassy area in Kambuzuma for safe keeping.
On the night of the attack, Member Kuvhiringidza, now with the rest of the eight had commandeered Rixi taxis from Mbare to Kambuzuma to ferry the weapons to the area of the tanks.
“All this time the taxis were moving with light switched off to avoid detection. When we got within the range we wanted, we positioned ourselves and Norest who had our most trusted weapon, the MP90 rocket launcher was ready and waiting for my order to fire. When I eventually ordered him to fire, he missed the petrol tank and hit the diesel one but still the impact was huge,” he said.
Member Kuvhiringidza explained how he took over driving one of the taxis and escaped via Glasgow road to Rugare, then Kambuzuma before exiting Harare along Mazowe Road. When they got to Concession, they released the taxis and gave the drivers a letter and a bullet for their boss.
The group then disappeared into the Concession farming area from where they later hijacked a bread delivery truck belonging to London bread and retraced their way to Mabelreign in Harare then Borrowdale en-route to Domboshava. As per their tradition, they also gave the truck driver a letter and bullet for his boss and left.
“We immediately set out for Mozambique where we received a rapturous welcome especially as the news of our mission had already reached the comrades that had sent us.
Norest and Brian requested to remain in Zimbabwe so it was only six of us that made that trip back to Moza,” concluded the soft spoken Simpson Mukuru Manjonjori aka Member Kuvhiringidza.