Comrade Francis Komboni Gondo, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Elias Hondo, continues with his gripping story from the Second Chimurenga. In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, he reminisces about Cde Chitepo, saying he was a people’s person. Cde Hondo also gives us his views on the death of Cde Chitepo.
SM: We hear there were reports related to regionalism in Zanu during its early years. Can you explain that?
Cde Hondo: I heard about the stories regarding regionalism. Chitepo was Manyika, vana Tongogara vaiva maKaranga. Despite his weaknesses, Tongogara didn’t kill Chitepo. There is a white person who used to work in the Smith regime who actually confessed that he is the one who killed Chitepo.
Of course there was talk that vaKaranga vauraya muManyika but from my knowledge, Tongogara didn’t kill Chitepo.
SM: The death of chairman Chitepo, how much did it affect the liberation struggle?
Cde Hondo: It really, really affected the struggle. Remember during the Badza-Nhari rebellion when some comrades were arrested, the liberation struggle came to a halt. I think by this time only 60 freedom fighters were at the war front with no proper weapons. When Chitepo died, things got worse, there was now no one to continue fighting the struggle. Zvombo taizviwanepi?
If Chitepo had not died, I think we were going to achieve our independence much earlier. Hondo yakamira.
SM: Do you think the Badza-Nhari rebellion gave the enemy the opportunity to kill chairman Chitepo?
Cde Hondo: Yeah, that’s true and I really think that is what happened. The Badza-Nhari rebellion yakapa muvengi mukana. And after that takabva tatanga kunongedzerana kuti hehe Tongogara ndiye auraya Chitepo but that wasn’t true. The enemy took advantage of the rebellion. People may say whatever they want to say, but the death of Chitepo, that was the work of the enemy and takapotsa tadyira.
SM: How would you describe chairman Chitepo?
Cde Hondo: He was munhu anodzoreka. You remember he was a lawyer? Aitodzora vanhu vakawanda. Most people couldn’t say a word in front of Chitepo. Vaitya kugona kwake and people loved him. I told you that Cde Shamuyarira tried to contest against him but he was beaten hands down. He was like what Jason Moyo “JZ” was like in Zipra — a people’s person. In short Chitepo aiva munhu kwaye.
SM: After chairman Chitepo’s death and when other Zanu leaders were arrested by the Zambian government, we hear you were appointed to lead the struggle and to relocate the Zanu offices to Maputo, Mozambique. Tell us more about this?
Cde Hondo: When the Zanu leaders were arrested, I was sent by Tongogara on January 1 1975 to fight the Badza-Nhari rebellion to free people like Ndangana, Gava, Charles Dauramanzi, Chimurenga and so on. Patrick Mupunzarima is the one who came with the news that I had been promoted to become a member of the High Command.
Like I told you when these other comrades were arrested, I was at Seguranza camp. My assistant during this time was Charles Munyoro. From Seguranza, we were taken to Battaliyao in Tete. From there we were taken to Tembwe.
When vaMugabe and Tekere came to Mozambique, Frelimo asked me to go and update them about the war situation. Samora by this time wasn’t sure about vaMugabe so when they came, he quickly arranged that they should be taken to Kilimani.
SM: We will get to that Cde Hondo and we will give you an opportunity to explain what exactly happened. For now, tell us the reasons why Zanu decided to relocate from Lusaka to Maputo?
Cde Hondo: The Zanu leaders had been arrested by Kaunda. On the other hand, Mozambique was now free and we had good relations with Samora Machel. It was even a good move because it was easy to cross from Mozambique into Rhodesia because there was no Zambezi River.
Now, let me go to your question earlier on. When I was appointed member of High Command and these other leaders were arrested, chese chaida kuitwa in Mozambique chaitoda ini. I was responsible for administration of everything that was happening in Mozambique. Zvese zvinoda mucomrade I was the one in charge. I went around some camps in Mozambique removing some camp commanders and replacing them. I only stopped these duties when vanaTongogara were released, but vasvika we clashed futi. We will talk about this later.
SM: What were some of the challenges you faced during these early days in Mozambique?
Cde Hondo: During these early days we didn’t have many challenges. The food was there and Frelimo made sure we were well catered for. Of course we had challenges to source for clothes and weapons during this time.
After a few months, that’s when there was an upsurge of recruits from home. People were now coming in large numbers and I instructed freedom fighters at the war front to stop recruiting people. But then now people were running away from schools in Rhodesia crossing into Mozambique. The OAU had to chip in to assist in feeding these people.
Most of these people never got proper training and feeding them became a nightmare. I remember one day I got to Tembwe. Pakabikwa mangai and that’s the day I saw kuti vanhu vechikadzi vane moyo wakanaka kudarika varume. Vanhu vakapihwa mangai and I saw some men vachibvutira vakadzi mangayi iwayo. On the other hand some women shared nevamwe vavo but mangai acho you could actually count them on your fingers.
SM: You spoke about removing and replacing some commanders in Mozambique. Do you remember some of these commanders?
Cde Hondo: I was now the director of operations in Mozambique. I remember I removed Cde Makasha when I heard that akanga atukana nevanhu veFrelimo paNyadzonya. I replaced him with Bombadiari.
Unfortunately I can’t remember all of them but even at war front, I changed some commanders, sometimes just to inject new blood and so on.
SM: Were you not accused of favouritism?
Cde Hondo: I think I did my best. I don’t want to beat my chest and claim that I was liked by all people. Some people saw things differently.
SM: Now, let’s divert a bit here. Since the days you joined the liberation struggle until these days in Mozambique, what did you believe in?
Cde Hondo: I was born a Christian. I am a Catholic. So I grew up ndiri Katorike ndichiita zvekutya zviya. That’s why at some point I told you ndakanyora tsamba ndikarambwa ndikanyarara. Handina kumbozvonda musikana iyeye. Zvechivanhu ndakasangana nazvo kuhondo. As Catholics, takanga taisa chivanhu chedu pasi. So sometimes kana podiwa chivanhu, I would say vapfana itai. Pane vapfana vechi Korekore vaichigona stereki.
Most people from my group were from Zambia in town. We didn’t have much background in the Zimbabwean culture and tradition. But pakazoitwa ma rituals about Mbuya Nehanda, we ended up believing that indeed chivanhu chiriko. Vakomana vaiva kufront are the ones who really made us believe this. They told us that ukaona chapungu chikatenderera, modobvapo because you will be bombed.
Homwe yaMbuya Nehanda actually warned us that ndiri kuona muchirwisana pachenyu. Ndinoda kuti ndikuudzei zvinhu zvacho zvisati zvaitika. And indeed, in about two years, there was the Badza-Nhari rebellion.
Again, when MbuyaNehanda died, the first few years, vakangovigwa panenge pachena and I can tell you that chitunha ichocho hachina kana kudyiwa nemapere kuChifombo but akanga ariko hobho. I remember one day we passed through Chifombo with Bombadiari.
When we got to the place pakanga pane chitunha ichi, Bombadiari akati ngatitsaukei timbowuchira. I was shocked kuona chitunha chiri pachena and chisingabatwi kana nei.
When the Zanu leaders were later arrested, we actually sent some people kunonyatsoviga chitunha ichi and they told us that takangowana chakadaro. So with the passage of time and seeing all these things I started believing in chivanhu. Chiriko chivanhu but ukanditi ini ndipire up to this day handigoni. I grew up as a Christian. But handishori munhu anonzi anosvikirwa.
But during the war, there were also some comrades who abused chivanhu nekutya hondo. One day pakasvika vamwe vakomana, vhudzi iri, at Tete. I was with Vitalis Munyoro. They said tanzi musanodya sadza.
Munowudza mukuru wenyu ariko kusvika madzoka. Mukuru wenyu iyeye akangobata katsvimbo aka nyika yotowuya. I turned to Charles and said uuumm, vanhu ava vari kutya ava and they should not go back to the war front.
I said ibva waita kuti vagerwe izvozvi sadza richibikwa. Ndoda kuti vapedze sadza iroro rese (laughs). I said we have leaders like vaMugabe in prison, why didn’t you go there kunovabatisa katsvimbo ikaka tibva tatora nyika yacho? I asked them kuti hamuzivi kuti vakuru ndivanana Mugabe? I said Charles, tora chitsvimbo ichocho uchirase. These comrades should go to Tembwe.
SM: Cde Hondo, dai makangobata katsvimbo ingadai hondo yakatopera chop chop.
Cde Hondo: (laughing) Uuummm, iwe hakuna zvakadaro. Aiva magwara.
SM: At some point you spoke about the time when vaMugabe and vaTekere arrived in Mozambique. Tell us now in brief about this?
Cde Hondo: VaMugabe and vaTekere left Rhodesia vakaperekedzwa naChief Tangwena. Chief Tangwena did not come to Mozambique. He just showed them the way. I was in Tete at that time. Vakasvikira pasome place which we used to call paZhunda where there were people like Zororo Duri, Gula Ndebele and others.
When I heard that vaMugabe vauya, I was instructed to go and brief him about the war situation but later Frelimo said I shouldn’t go. Remember I said I was the one in charge of all the operations. So Frelimo said I shouldn’t go.
So I sent Rex Nhongo and Makasha to go and brief them of the situation. But I was later told that vakatowana vanaMugabe vatorwa vaendeswa kuZambesia province in Kilimani. From that time, I never got the chance to meet them. I continued with my duties directing operations. Vana Tongogara were still in jail in Zambia.
Next week, Cde Hondo will give us an account of how leaders from different political parties converged in Dar es Salaam during the Second Chimurenga to seek unity. Tempers flared but President Julius Nyerere came to the rescue. Do not miss your copy of The Sunday Mail next week.