I felt like shooting Rex Nhongo

1
Rex Nhongo

Rex Nhongo

COMRADE Francis Komboni Gondo, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Elias Hondo continues his fascinating narration with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike. He speaks openly about how Zanla engineered the death of ZIPA, the tense meeting between leaders of the Front Line States led by President Julius Nyerere and the leaders of the liberation movements in Zimbabwe. He also speaks about how he thought of shooting Cde Rex Nhongo and later ordered him to be locked in a hotel room to prevent him from selling out their strategy and his clash with Cde Tongo.

Its stuff that will keep you on the edge of the seat. Read on …

SM: Cde Hondo let’s continue your story. You said Frelimo initially wanted you to go and brief vaMugabe and vaTekere about the war situation when they were released from prison in Rhodesia. This was however later reversed. Can you explain why?

Cde Hondo: Like I told you, these were our early days in Mozambique and Samora anoratidza kuti akanga asingadi vaMugabe. These are my personal views. I got the impression that Samora supported Rev.

Sithole during these days. Samora sort of blocked us from meeting vanaMugabe. He didn’t want the fighters to meet vanaMugabe. VaMugabe was our leader and surely as the director of operations, I was supposed to meet my leader and brief him of the situation. But this didn’t happen.

SM: You see, Cde Samora Machel was a soldier and vanaMugabe were nationalist leaders who were coming from prison. Isn’t this where the mistrust came from because he saw vanaMugabe as politicians?

Cde Hondo: We could say that, but then aiwirirana nanaChitepo who were also politicians who had not received any military training. Even Ndabaningi had not been trained but these were our veteran nationalists, our leaders who initiated the struggle.

SM: When eventually, Cde Tongo and others were later released, where were you?

Cde Hondo: I remember Cde Chikerema coming to Tembwe after he had gone into some negotiations with Sithole. There was Chikerema, George Nyandoro, the late VP Nkomo, Sithole and others.

I remember I was shocked to see Noel Mukono among this group and I immediately said vapfana rovai Noel Mukono. I said you are here vamwe vakasungwa how come? I said vakomana batai munhu.

Noel Mukono akamhanya akasvika akazvikanda mukandege kavakanga vauya nako. The next day, Major General Mabote, Nkomo, Muzorewa and Noel came back with the other leaders I mentioned earlier on.

These leaders addressed us. Sithole talked about our plight and how the situation could be addressed. Sithole instructed us to write down the list of our problems and we wrote them down.

He went away with this list and we heard later that he had been removed as the leader of Zanu. Sithole aida kuti Zanu ibatane with these other political parties. He was however removed after the Mgagao document.

SM: What exactly was the reason for these leaders from different political parties to come and address you?

Cde Hondo: Vaida kubatana. There were moves to isolate those who were leading the struggle. After this address, these leaders left. Sithole akanga atobatana with all these leaders, including vanaMuzorewa. There was also Zapu with vaNkomo. VanaMugabe were still in Kilimani.

A meeting for the Front Line States was then arranged. President Nyerere was the chairman of this meeting. There was Seretse Khama, Augusto Neto, Samora and Kaunda. This meeting was held at Kilimanjaro Hotel.

I think taenda mberi because by this time, ZIPA yakanga yaparara. We will have to talk about that chapter also. So vanhu vakanga vasarastill using ZIPA was Zanu represented by Rex Nhongo, myself, Machingura and Gwauya. We went to this meeting as ZIPA.

SM: Maybe to avoid confusion here, let’s talk about the formation of ZIPA and what exactly was this ZIPA all about?

Cde Hondo: When Sithole and others decided to join each other, I was called in Maputo. I went with Charles Munyoro. We stayed in Maputo for two days. We were then called to the Ministry of Defence in Mozambique.

We were told that the OAU wanted the war to resume. I was then asked kuti une masoja here iwe? I said yes. I wasn’t aware that on the other hand, vanaNhongo vaibatanidzwawo neZapu with Nikita Mangena.

This brought some confusion and conflict. We were then told that OAU would support us to resume the war. Unknown to us, vanaNhongo had gone to Tembwe while we were in Maputo. When we got to Tete airport, there was Nhongo and Soul Sadza.

They were getting into the plane that we had came with. We didn’t have time to talk to them. We were now going to the camps telling the comrades that now we could resume the war with support from the OAU.

In about three weeks, Nhongo came with some comrades from Zapu, including the current VP Mphoko, Ambrose Mutinhiri, Mangena and others. From Zanu there was also Soul Sadza, Cde Zino and others. Vana Gwitira also came together nana Matemasango and others.

Frelimo then warned us that vakomana if you are not careful, mava kutorerwa masoja ese opihwa these new guys. So what we are going to do here, as these comrades drive to Maputo from here, we will give you tickets to fly to Maputo so that they find you there.

So we got into the plane and flew to Maputo. There was myself, Rex Nhongo, Dzinashe Machingura, Parker Chipoyera, Soul Sadza, James Nyikadzinashe, Edmund Kaguri. I think from Zanu we were ten. From Zapu there was Nikita Mangena, John Dube, Ambrose, Mphoko, Doctor Mudzingwa — I can’t remember the others but in total there were nine.

So as Zanu and Zapu we flew  to Maputo and we quickly started putting together structures to form ZIPA but taitambana tsoro chaiyo. By this time, Zanu had majority. The idea was to share the posts under ZIPA.

The commander was Rex Nhongo and The deputy commander was John Dube, commissariat we gave it to Nikita Mangena, we deliberately took a decision that I should be demoted for the purposes of ZIPA because we wanted to be in charge of operations.

So deputy political commissar was Wilfred Mhanda (Dzinashe Machingura). These were the top comrades in ZIPA. Then came director of operations, that was myself, deputized by Javin Maseko from Zapu. Commissariat was given to Webster Gwauya.

Intelligence was given to Gordon Munyani from Zapu. Logistics we gave it to Report Mphoko deputised by Edmund Kaguri who later died at Nyadzonya and we replaced him with David Todhlana.

We gave Training to Ambrose Mutinhiri from Zapu, deputised by Parker Chipoyera. Under Medicine there was Dr Mudzingwa from Zapu deputised by Cde Pfepferere from Zanu. When we got to Finance, ndipo patakanetsana manje. We then started looking at qualifications. We, as Zanu, put forward Soul Sadza (Arthur Magaya) and Zapu couldn’t challenge him because he was qualified mupfana iyeye.

In the evening, vana Chikerema arrived in Maputo wanting to talk about taking over the struggle and they were told that Zanu and Zapu had already formed ZIPA.

Zanu brought 500 comrades while Zapu brought 200. The zone we were going to operate in was under Zanu so naturally, Zanu had an upper hand. And remember I was the director of operations. I was the one in charge of appointing commanders.

I made Bombadiari commander of Tete province. We put some comrade from Zapu as commander of Manica province. In Gaza province I appointed Makasha from Zanu. Our slogan as Zanu at the war front was “Pamberi neZanu!” and all the comrades continued saying “Pamberi neZanu!” I instructed that this slogan should not die and all comrades were supposed to continue chanting this slogan.

SM: But this was ZIPA and not Zanu?

Cde Hondo: You are asking me and I am telling you kuti yaiva tsoro. Listen to me. I was the one in charge of operations. In a section we would have ten comrades from Zanu then the commander would be from Zapu. Unofunga kuti munhu one angagone vanhu nine? Most of these section commanders from Zapu later ran away. I think only Dr Mudzingwa from Zapu remained and he later joined Zanu.

SM: How long did it take you to engineer all this?

Cde Hondo: Kana pachida kutambwa tsoro hazvitore time. Most comrades from Zapu didn’t argue that much because they had been told that if you don’t get into an alliance with Zanu we give the soldiers to Chikerema. Plus like I told you Zanu was now in the majority and we had strong presence at the war front.

ZIPA was formed in mid 1975 but we started our operations on 20 January 1976. This operation didn’t take long. In no time yakanga yangova yezita. We were just doing it for the OAU. As Zanu we continued using ZIPA to get materiel from OAU.

SM: Don’t you think you killed a good idea because of mistrust and these games you were playing?

Cde Hondo: You could say that. Remember when Zanu was formed there was always suspicion between Zapu and Zanu. That spirit persisted. We knew kuti Zapu yaidawo kutitamba tsoro.

SM: But do you think ZIPA was a good idea minus all these games?

Cde Hondo: I think so and despite the games, I think it sowed the seeds of unity that we later witnessed. The politicians didn’t trust each other but as soldiers we showed them that unity was possible.

So as ZIPA was crumbling with some comrades from Zapu leaving, that’s when the meeting of the Front Line States was called in Dar es Salaam. We are now going back to that meeting I had spoken about.

Zanu went to this meeting with two delegations. VaMugabe was leading one of the delegations with vaMuzenda, Edgar Tekere and others. Our delegation comprised Nhongo, myself, Gwauya and Dzinashe Machingura.

The leader of Zapu, vaNkomo didn’t come with his soldiers. Vana Muzorewa and Chikerema were also there. Even Sithole was also there.

The Front Line States said you people should unite. The leaders then said Muzenda you should chair this meeting to seek unity and by tomorrow we want to be united. The leaders from the Front Line States then left.

Ummm, ungamubatanidze munhu weZimbabwe? Ungamugone? Mupaka kwayedza, no solution. Nharo dzega dzega. As Zanu takaendazve to this meeting netsoro dzedu that’s why vaMugabe had two delegations — the one he was leading and ours, representing Zanu but under ZIPA. We knew that OAU wanted to see ZIPA, even though in reality ZIPA was dead. So the whole night, no unity.

SM: What exactly were the problems?

Cde Hondo: The issue about positions was the problem. Whatever was to be formed, vaMugabe was to become the president. That was obvious. But then for example vaMuzenda knew that once vaMugabe vaita president, vaNkomo was the natural deputy and this caused problems. To be honest with you, most of the fighters in Zipra were better trained than us and most of their politicians had more experience than the ones in Zanu. But then Zanu now had the majority and had the upper hand at the war front.

VaMugabe vakanga vasina anovapikisa. But from vaMugabe, in terms of team, Zanu was weak. Zapu had thinkers like JZ Moyo, Silundika and others. It was a formidable team saka Zanu yakanga ichingoita nharo. On their part, vanaMuzorewa knew that once they united with Zanu and Zapu vatomedzwa. They didn’t have an army. So we spent the whole night dzichingori nharo chete.

SM: So tempers would flare up?

Cde Hondo: Oohhh, yes. Zvakanyanya. I remember vaNkomo threatened kundibaya netsvimbo yavo iya. Its unfortunate vaiva kure. I can’t remember what I had said zvikanzi “wena mfana, wena mfana! Tula wena mfana!” The other problem takanga tava nehope plus takanga tambohumwa.

SM: Who were very vocal from the Zapu side?

Cde Hondo: There was vaNkomo, Jason Moyo, I think Silundika. I have forgotten the fourth one. Muzorewa came with Chikerema, Sithole and Reverend Chigwida.

There was also Clemence Muchachi. So the next day, President Nyerere came and said “Joshua, is there any war in Zimbabwe?” VaNkomo stammered and Nyerere asked several times “is there any war in Zimbabwe?” VaNkomo said “yes” then Nyerere said “we want the truth, are you the one leading this war?” VaNkomo said “no, I am not the one leading this war.”

Nyerere then said “but the war is there?” He turned to Muzorewa and asked the same questions. Muzorewa agreed that there was war but he wasn’t leading it. He turned to vaMugabe and said “Robert, is there a war in Zimbabwe?” VaMugabe said “yes.” He asked “are you the one leading this war?” VaMugabe said “yes, but ZIPA is a child of …” Nyerere cut him short saying “hey, I am asking are you the one leading it?” VaMugabe said ZIPA with its command was leading the war.

President Nyerere then said the Front Line States were now handing over the war to ZIPA. He said ZIPA is the one with soldiers on the ground. He said “you politicians you don’t want to unite but the forces are uniting so we are handing over the war to ZIPA.” He said the Front Line States were now going to offer support to ZIPA. After saying this he said “the meeting is over.”

I remember Sithole was suffering from fits during this time and when he tried to ask why the war was being handed over to us as ZIPA, President Nyerere said “Ndabaningi, do you know what a coup is?

If you are a commander and your soldiers no longer allow you to enter into camps, that’s a coup.” He said “your soldiers no longer want you so the story is over.” Sithole collapsed. When he woke up that’s when he said he was leaving party yanaMuzorewa and he was forming Zanu Ndonga.

President Augusto Neto from Angola turned to us and said “boys, I wish you good luck but the going is going to be tough.”

We were then taken to President Nyerere’s private residence. That’s where we had pictures taken and we spoke at length. That’s where we were told about the Geneva conference. We were then asked to write 10 names of the people we wanted to attend this conference. We wrote the names of vaMugabe and others, then we included Enos Nkala.

SM: You are saying President Nyerere would call these leaders by their first names like “Robert, Ndabaningi, Joshua.” Was this disrespect or what?

Cde Hondo: It wasn’t disrespect. That was his nature if he wanted to emphasise a point. He had realised that our leaders were against unity and so he wasn’t happy about it. He actually told them that munokundwa nevana vadiki meaning us the fighters who had tried to operate as ZIPA.

SM: During the meeting or at some other time, did you have the opportunity to talk to Cde Mugabe?

Cde Hondo: Ohh, yes we would brief him and we would come up with strategies on how to proceed with the meeting. We met quite often. Even the Geneva conference, we spoke about it well before it happened.

That is why I told you that when we were asked to write 10 people we wanted to go with, the first name we wrote was that of ravaMugabe. Nyerere also told us that he would talk to Kaunda so that he could release the Zanu leaders who were in prison.

SM: Do you remember the 10 people you wrote?

Cde Hondo: I remember vaMugabe, Tekere, Enos Nkala, Gumbo, Kangai, Tongogara, Morris Nyagumbo and vaMuzenda. I can’t remember the other names. We actually told Nyerere that isu zvechirungu hatingazvikwanisi so we wanted our leaders to lead us to the Geneva talks.

We had discussed with vaMugabe kuti one of the strategies to ensure that those who were arrested could be released was to write their names as part of the delegation to Geneva. So we wrote down names of people like Tongogara and so on. The idea was for force Kaunda to release them.

SM: You are saying President Nyerere was referring to you as ZIPA but this was only the Zanla component of ZIPA. Was he aware of this?

Cde Hondo: I don’t think he was aware that we were all from Zanla. He was never given a chance to know all that. VaNkomo tried to explain but Nyerere kept on saying we could not waste time talking about comrades who had deserted ZIPA. At one point, Nyerere asked vaNkomo kuti iwe vanhu vako varipi. He said if your soldiers ran away from ZIPA there is nothing we can do, we will support those who are here.

SM: So after writing the 10 names did you go to Geneva?

Cde Hondo: We had come up with a strategy that as fighters we don’t want to go to Geneva. Like I said, we had discussed this navaMugabe and came up with strategy to ensure that Kaunda released the Zanu leaders. We said as fighters, our jobs was to execute the war. We said we would want vaMugabe to lead our delegation. That’s when we came up with the other nine names.

When we said we didn’t want to go to Geneva, the idea was not to take power from our leaders. If we were power hungry, this was the opportune time to strike. We would just go to Geneva and shut out all the other leaders out.

When we gave Nyerere the names, he said he was going to talk to Kaunda so that he releases the comrades we had included on the list. I think he spoke to Kaunda because Tongogara and others were released and they went to Geneva. All this was happening at Nyerere’s private residence and the only other leader who was there was Samora Machel.

SM: So when these comrades were released, what they happened?

Cde Hondo: Ndipo pakazoitika chimwe chimoto. When these comrades were released from prisons in Zambia, problems started. You see these comrades had been under arrest for something like 18 months.

Now after being away for this long, these comrades wanted to come straight from prison to tell us what to do. So we sent a delegation headed by Rex Nhongo (Cde Mujuru) kuti muti Tongogara kana abuda mujeri atanga awuya kuno so that we brief him about developments on the ground.

So Rex went and he says when he tried to talk to Tongogara about it, Tongogara said “munondiudza zvekuita imimi? Mapanduka sanaBadza imi.” When these comrades were released, most of them went straight to Geneva. You see, varungu vanoziva manje how to divide people if they see an opportunity.

When they got to Geneva, Tongogara said he was the commander of ZIPA but Alfred Mangena from Zipra refused to accept that. He openly said he was lying because ZIPA had been formed while he was in prison.

I think it was Ivor Richard, who was the British High Commissioner to the United Nations who was chairing the meeting. He said we want to talk about Ceasefire here and so we want to integrate all the fighters.

Tongogara was then asked how many soldiers he had and because we had not briefed him, he didn’t know. This was the beginning of our problems with Tongogara. He had labelled us sevapanduki. Chitepo had died and we had not sat down to solve any issues. This was in 1976.

I then said vakomana tikangoita mistake, we will be killed. There was now tension. That’s when Rex Nhongo also sold us out.

SM: How did Rex Nhongo sell you out?

Cde Hondo: We said these comrades have labelled us as rebels and so on their return from Geneva we need to take a strong stand and make ourselves heard. It’s me who said this. When these comrades came back, we were in a hotel — we were seven.

On arrival these comrades were put in another hotel that was close by. The arrangement was that we would meet the next day at 2pm. We then agreed that no one among us would talk to these comrades on his own.

We then assigned James Nyikadzino to be the security guy and be on the lookout for anyone who would try to reach out to these comrades. After a while, Rex Nhongo went to the foyer and he dialled some number. James akabva amubata.

He alerted us that Rex wanted to call vanaTongo. Knowing what had happened to Badza and Nhari, I felt like shooting Rex Nhongo there and then. I knew he was brewing trouble for us.

We then decided kupfigira Rex Nhongo mumba. We locked him inside some room. He was supposed to be the leader of our delegation and the next day when we went for the meeting at 2pm, we said “ahh, we are sorry Nhongo azonzwa musoro zvisingaite. Saka he is not coming.”

Josiah Tungamirai was like Tongogara’s puppet. Even Robson Manyika. I then straight away confronted Tongogara reminding him about how he hand mishandled the Badza-Nhari issue.

I said to him, “this revolution haisi yekuShurugwi.” I knew kuti if I don’t speak like that I would be killed. I said why is it that munhu wese ataura something unoti apanduka? I asked him why he had refused to come to see us in Mozambique before going to Geneva. Ndakati unofunga kuti ndiwe ani iwe? I had to show bravery.

SM: This was quite some gamble. How did Cde Tongo react?

Cde Hondo: He looked me straight into my eyes and remained stone silent. I could see he was very angry and I was also very angry. I was ready kuti kana zvaipa topfurana ipapo. Later he responded and takatukana for a long time. Takabva takonana. The unfortunate thing for us was that Samora Machel supported Tongogara and his group.

SM: We will proceed, but let’s pose for a moment here. Cde Hondo are you not speaking so much against Cde Tongo because of these clashes you had with him?

Cde Hondo: Tongogara was my commander and I respected him. No one can take away what he did for this country, but people have to know that it was not all smooth flowing during the liberation struggle.

We were human beings. We were young and clashes were inevitable. These clashes don’t take away the role that Tongogara played for the liberation of this country.

So like I was saying, after Geneva, Samora Machel thought freedom was coming to Zimbabwe and they were supporting Tongogara and his group. They thought vapfana ava, meaning us, vari kuramba vachingoti hondo, hondo, vanotiuraisa.

The next day, we were called kumusha kwaSamora kuGaza. When we got there, I discovered that something was wrong. I saw the Minister of State from Tanzania. I instantly knew that something was wrong. We started our meeting there which was being chaired by Joachim Chissano.

We had a problem in our group because we had people like David Thondlana and Dzino, vakanga vasinga nyararidziki. I tried to calm them down and warned them that if we don’t behave Samora will have us arrested.

We then cooled down just to appear as if we were in agreement to what they were saying. We then said this issue we had with Tongo and his team was over. Robson Manyika and Tungamirai came up with a plot.

The plot was that I, together with Dzino, Joseph Chimurenga and Tendai Pfepferere were to be sent to Geneva for the next talks. In our absence, these other comrades on our side would be arrested. This was meant to weaken us.

What they didn’t know is that we knew something like this would happen and we had trained some of our comrades, like Happison Muchechetere, Gula Ndebele and others at Wampua to become vigilant.

I think there were about 300 of these comrades. We then went to Geneva but still there was tension between us and Tongo’s team. We would talk naTekere pakumwa doro.

Nothing really came out of the Geneva talks. Tongogara and Rex Nhongo were assigned to return back to Mozambique. I was then assigned together with vaMugabe to go to Eastern Europe. The idea was to delay me from arriving back to Mozambique early.

(Next week, we conclude Cde Hondo’s intriguing narration. He has given a shocking description of Cde Tongo? Was this personal or what? What was the Vashandi Group all about? Cde Hondo will, as usual, speak without mincing his words. Don’t miss your Sunday Mail next week).-SUNDAYMAIL

Share.