Freedom Mutanda and Sifelani Tonje Post Correspondents
His eyes stared at The Manica Post team comprising Freedom Mutanda and Sifelani Tonje as if he didn’t believe his story was an important piece of Zimbabwean history. To reach his homestead, the team had to negotiate steep slopes and literally go through the revered Chirinda forest with its lushness. He is an affable character whose slight frame might deceive people that he could not be responsible for liberating Zimbabwe.
He is Samuel Wayne Simango whose moniker is Timba that very tiny bird found in the Eastern Highlands which many bird hunters disdain for it has very little flesh there. His war name is Ranganai Shasha; indeed, his fellow comrades had an agreement to prosecute the war until the end when Zimbabwe was free hence the nom de guerre Ranganai (let’s exchange information for a purpose). He stays at Mapote village, deep in Chief Mapungwana’s area. In this interview with The Manica Post team, Ranganai Shasha is (RS) and MP stands for The Manica Post.
MP: Give a brief history about yourself comrade.
RS: I was born in 1951 in Chief Mapungwana’s area, Mapote village and my mother died when I was very young. I went to school but stopped after my father failed to continue paying fees for me as his financial position wasn’t good. I felt that I had been disadvantaged greatly but I saw that the system did not allow the blacks to learn for the white man’s own selfish interest. Thus, I went to work for Ellman who had buses plying the Chipinge routes. My first brush with the white man was in 1969 when I went to take my chitikinyana (a form of temporary ID) at the Native Commissioner’s offices. He clearly showed that he had no room for us blacks in his heart. From there, I had a different disposition towards the whites and resolved to join the liberation struggle.
MP: How did you know that there was a war of liberation going on in the country?
RS: We had heard the exploits of the Crocodile Gang and how William Ndangana, a Chikore boy, had killed a white man and escaped without being caught. Because of that, in 1974, my four friends and I attempted to cross into Mozambique but developed cold feet when we were at Zona Tea Estate. My friends were Shanda, Kwaba, Tsikirai and Mutasa.
MP: Finally, you managed to cross into Mozambique. How did that happen?
RS: I decided to go on my own; I felt that group work wasn’t the best method as some grew lily livered at the last moment. To avoid that, I went alone; in the dead of night I travelled from Kopera to Zona. The chill of the morning hit me on the face as I passed through Zona Dam and stealthily crossed the border into Putukezi. Incredibly, no landmine hit me and I arrived at Mupanyeya (Espungabeira). We went to Chibawawa with other would-be-combatants I met at Espungabeira.
MP: We know Chibawawa was a refugee camp. How long did you stay there? Are there any activities you were involved in at Chibawawa which kept you busy before you were trained?
RS: Comrades, there was hunger at that refugee camp and our only solace was Chilenje. A Cde Mabasa gave us orientation when he read from a book, ‘‘Mwenje’’ and we would chant slogans. That orientation propelled us to a world of fighting the oppressor and we were convinced it was a matter of days before Ian Smith capitulated. Zvimatekenye was one of the marauding diseases which made our stay there very uncomfortable. I remember Mbuya Masheedze who acted as one of the nurses at Chibawawa. All the time, we demanded to go and get training.
MP: Did the powers that be accede to your demands?
RS: They had to; after all, Cde Robert Mugabe had promised us that we would go for training. Therefore, one day, Tanzanian army trucks came and took us to Beira en route to Nachingwea for military training. Unfortunately, Rhodesian had gotten wind of the plans and they sent a plane which was identical to the one we were supposed to use. Our intelligence guys spotted the plane and advised the leadership to postpone sending us. For the following six months, we stayed in Beira at the pleasure of FRELIMO. We carried mathidza for the guys who had been deployed to the front. We were bidding our time. Then, one day, we were told it was time to go. We boarded Nigeria Airways; we went to Tanzania. From there, we went to Nachingwea and received military training and I became a member of Fanya Haraka.
MP: We are aware of how the trainers put you through your paces but do you remember your leadership back then?
RS: (laughs) You think it was child’s play? No, it wasn’t. Cde Alban and Monte Kary were our trainers. I specialised in sub machine guns and artillery.
MP: You are now in the front and we understand, you were put in the Gaza and Masvingo sector under Henry Muchena. What are the major contacts you had with the enemy?
RS: There was the Rukombo attack in 1979. We left our base and went to Murinye; we intended to attack the soldiers at Shepherd Camp. We found ourselves under a barrage of attack from our erstwhile enemies. It was 8:00 in the morning. A Dakota zoomed into view followed by eight helicopters and a Vampire. In the arumanya, music blasted from the speakers and the soldiers seemed to be sadists. I ducked the hail of bullets by sprinting behind a thicket. I attempted to flee to safety in a zig-zag fashion. In confusion, I fell into the Mutirikwe River and sunk to the bottom of the river. From my days swimming in the Chiredza River, I learnt to be a competent swimmer. I fought to go to the surface. To my horror, I saw a ladder dangling at me as the helicopter’s engine roared above me. The white soldier called out, ‘bata ladder ukwire gandanga.’
MP: Comrade, maive pamahwani chaipo. How did you react?
RS: I felt powerless. That was capture which may result in me being paraded in the whole village and later on executed. I felt a nudge on my back. The submarine left to me by my friend Masamba galvanised me into action. I appeared as if I was going for the ladder and at that instant, I opened fire at the soldier who leered at me fiendishly. He keeled over with his mouth wide open in surprise. I had no time to grin triumphantly as I had other fish to fry with the other soldier who manned the helicopter.
MP: Comrade, are you sure you are not taking us for a ride? What you have said is a stuff of action movies.
RS: (chuckles) When the first soldier fell into the river, I was afraid, I would not make it. I shot at the other soldier; the full impact of the bullets blew his brains which splattered onto the windscreen. The crimson colour was a signature tune of what I had just done. Pilotless, the helicopter careened into nobody’s land and finally exploded at a nearby mountain. In that confusion, I melted into the nearby bush. Later, the body count was done. Out of 27 guerrillas who had left base to go and attack the Rhodesians, four were alive. I felt empty, dead inside. For a moment, I wondered where our ancestors had gone in view of the massacre. We had walked into an ambush yet it was us who intended to inflict damage on the soldiers.
MP: Are there any other incidents where you were involved in contacts?
RS: Naturally, we had many contacts but we are talking about things that occurred nearly four decades ago. I remember my fellow comrades getting poisoned at Chivamba. After the Rukombo attack, soldiers became more daring in their pursuit as they knew our number has been greatly reduced.
We had to blend with the povo to survive but even then, the pressure was still on. At one time, we buried our weapons and went to Kopera to hibernate for some time in the 1979 winter period. We only returned three weeks later when the soldiers thought we had fled for good.
MP: How did you link with the indigenous knowledge systems?
RS: Mujibhas and chimbwidos were our link to the elders. When we were about to cross the Save River, a hippo appeared from nowhere and grunted; we decided not to cross. Later, another hippo came and we crossed the river safely. Svikiros told us whenever there was imminent danger.
MP: Did you play around with the chimbwidos? We hear failure to accord proper respect to them might result in disaster for the platoon. For example, there is something that you did to anger the spirits when 23 comrades died in one contact.
RS: Looking back,I believe you are right. Some of us fell in love with vana chimbwido. I for one, had a sexual relationship with a chimbwido which culminated in the birth of a child.
MP: We understand you aren’t married?
RS: No, I am not and life goes on.
MP: Do you regret going to war?
RS: No, not at all although the memory of Cde Masambaasiyana, my commander, collapsing and leaving behind his Ethiopian machine gun with me, always makes me cringe. To all Zimbabweans, I want to warn you that Zimbabwe is rich and many countries covert it. However, we can’t let down our departed comrades. We have to work hard until everything is all right. Be wary of people who wish to befriend us lest they rob us of our God given resources. Cde Samuel Wayne Simango, is a hardened war veteran who wants developments to filter to all parts of the country. He said the enduring legacy of all Zimbabweans is the armed struggle.
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