This week, we continue with CDE JOSEPH TSENGERAI (JT)’s narration of his journey during the liberation struggle. This week, he narrates to our Features and Arts Editor PRINCE MUSHAWEVATO (PM) how he narrowly escaped the Nyadzonia massacre before undergoing training in Tanzania.
PM: What happened when you got to Mozambique?
JT: We were given food and soon after we finished eating, the commanders began mobilising those who would undergo training.
It was at this very moment that I realised the struggle was not a walk in the park.
The commanders confiscated all the comfortable shoes we had brought with us from home and we were handed combat boots that were being given to every aspiring freedom fighter.
After that, tractors were mobilised to ferry us to Villa Perry, where we stayed for close to two weeks before being transferred to Nyadzonia.
The huge number of people I saw at Nyadzonia Camp really sh0cked me.
I was asking myself where I would get a decent meal given the number of people who were at the camp.
To be precise, I asked myself: “Panodyiwa sadza here pano?”
The answer to that question was confirmation that we were in for some troubling times.
Fortunately, I met some comrades who were my seniors during my time at school.
We exchanged pleasantries before they enquired what we were doing at the camp.
We told them that we were there to join the fight for the liberation of the motherland.
They warned us about the prevailing dire living situation at the camp before promising to take care of us.
We then went through the requisite security checks for clearance to begin training.
Unfortunately, the day we were cleared was the very day Nyathi (Morrison) came with the Rhodesians to bomb comrades at the camp.
Many people were killed in the brutal Rhodesian attack that came as a surprise. Countless others were injured.
I managed to escape by the grace of God.
The entire camp was littered with dead bodies.
Those who were not killed in the bombing were screaming in pain.
It was a nightmare.
PM: After the attack, did you manage to regroup and what was your immediate reaction?
JT : After escaping from the killing bag, a local man assisted me to cross Nyadzonia River to safety.
I had never seen so much blood and bodies in one place.
You can never imagine the pain of seeing your fellow comrades being killed like flies and you could do nothing about it.
This horrific incident gave me a new perspective on the war.
I wondered whether I had made the right choice in joining the war.
But I knew deep down that, despite the pain of this devastating setback, I was determined to fight for freedom.
Others with faint hearts could not carry on with the struggle after the gruesome attack.
They left in their numbers; they could not stomach the Rhodesian brutality.
It was too much for them.
But we had to soldier on, determined to fight for an independent Zimbabwe.
After escaping from the horrific Nyadzonia attack, we travelled on foot for a long distance, in order to go as far as possible from the enemy.
Fortunately, along the way, we came across a local who was driving a truck to Chigai.
We boarded the vehicle and were dropped off at Chigai. We waited for orders of what we were supposed to do next. That is when the order to open a new base at Doroi came.
We built the Doroi base from scratch.
We dug holes and used big logs to make makeshift houses.
At that point, we were now the first battalion and we were expected to join training immediately.
We built barracks for everyone.
After that attack, Germany provided us with Scania and Dodge trucks for logistics.
We were the first ones to use those trucks, when we were being transferred to Beira.
I was transferred to Beira because I had been selected to undergo training in Tanzania.
We stayed in Beira for about six months before travelling to Tanzania by air.
PM: Take us through your training experiences in Tanzania and how you eventually got deployed to the war front?
JT: We arrived in Tanzania with very little incident.
We were told that we were going to a training camp called Mgagao.
We did not know what to expect because we were in a foreign country.
We then underwent training.
Our training instructor was the late Cde Edwin Munyaradzi (Chitekedza), who was the commander, Harare district.
The training was tough as you would expect of any training done in preparation for joining a war.
After the training, we were ordered to go and open a new base in Tete.
In Tete, we were supposed to either go to the front or stay behind and work as training instructors for new recruits coming from home.
Because of my diminutive stature, the commanders said I could not be deployed to the war front. They thought I was not “fit” for combat.
They wanted me to stay behind and train other comrades how to use an array of weapons.
Cde Munyaradzi made it clear that I would always be an instructor.
PM: How did you react to this news given that you had worked so hard to be deployed to the front?
JT : The news was devastating, as you would expect.
However, an unforeseen turn of events changed the course of everything.
A comrade who had expertise in setting and disarming landmines was killed in an unfortunate incident on the front. The commanders had no option but to send me to the front as his replacement.
I was then taken through a crash course to prepare me to replace the fallen comrade.
Cde Tito, who was the chief instructor, took me through the training.
I mastered all the requisite skills and techniques in little time. Part of my specialisation was blowing rivers apart and blasting trees for freedom fighters to use as makeshift bridges when crossing rivers.
I was deployed to Mutoko, where a request for reinforcements had been received from.
Cde Tito was initially apprehensive about releasing me. However, the comrades on the front insisted that my services had become indispensable on the battlefield.
The enemy was placing all manner of landmines along the border to prevent people from passing.
The commanders finally relented and I eventually had my chance to move to the front.
I was relieved because that is exactly what I had longed for since crossing into Mozambique.
I left Tete for Nyamapanda, where there was a section waiting for us.
We were all introduced to one another and the comrades were told that they had an engineer among them — me — who was going to ensure they travelled safely.
However, because I had only received training for a very short while, I was not yet adept at handling and defusing the type of explosives that had been laid by the enemy in that area.
Luckily, among the comrades was another senior engineer who quickly brought me up to speed.
Along the way, the two of us would remove all the explosives, carry them, before planting them in different locations.
Finally, we ended up under Section B in Mutoko, where I operated with comrades Masiyambira, Cde Killer and Cde Kufa.
Next week, Cde Tsengerai will recount his involvement in many battles with enemy soldiers, including Selous Scouts and auxiliary fighters.
— Sunday Mail