LET me congratulate General Philip Valerio Sibanda for his new post as the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander.
I met Comrade Ananias Gwenzi (General PV Sibanda), in Zambia in March 1974 at the guerrilla transit base. The base commander was Cde Toddy Mpisi (Peter Ndebele). We were guerrilla recruits who had joined the Zimbabwe People Revolutionary Army (Zipra) under the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) led by the late Cde Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo.
At the transit guerrilla base, while we were waiting for the adequate number of recruits to arrive, we were doing physical training and how to operate firearms.
When the number of recruits was relatively adequate and had reached 40 we were ferried to a Zipra training academy at Morogoro in Tanzania by road via Tunduma and Mbeya. We were accompanied by our chief of training the late National Hero Colonel Elliot Masengo ( Harold Chirenda). The camp commander was Cde Sam Mfakazi.
On the first day of our guerrilla parade at Morogoro, now General PV Sibanda was selected as the platoon commander and I was selected as section commander. The company commander was Cde Carlos.
Our training was for six months. The training was very tough and it included intensive physical training and using live ammunition throughout the training period. We were trained in the use of arms, explosives like grenades, anti-personnel, land mines, booby traps, combat, guerrilla intelligence, guerrilla tactics etc. We also underwent serious political orientation. Discipline was also part of our training.
As we went through the different types of training, mixing among ourselves and involving ourselves in different discussions, I discovered that there was one comrade among us who was unique in many ways. That comrade was Cde Ananias Gwenzi (General PV Sibanda).
He was of a different character from some of us. He was a comrade of few words. He did not like to talk too much. He used to talk in a low voice. He was a principled and a man with a vision. He was a man who when a decision was reached, wanted that decision to be followed by the team. He did not like cowards. He did not believe in mission failure. During spare time in our training, Cde Ananias would voluntarily do extra training like physical training and shooting.
As my platoon commander, it became obvious that I also developed a similar character like him. The other section and platoon commanders also adopted his character. These were comrades like, the late Asafu Ndinda who died in combat in 1978, the late Goronga and the late Massacre.
The five of us formed a strong comradeship during and after training. Our leader was Cde General PV Sibanda. We planned and carried out extra guerrilla operations when we were trainees.
During and when we completed training the five of us selected a special target (unauthorised mission) that we wanted to destroy in Salisbury (now Harare). We wanted to cause havoc and terror among the enemy in the country. After the selection of the target, we agreed among the five of us that after training we would hit that target. And that target was only known to the five of us.
On the eve of a new year, 1976 (at 12 midnight on the 31/12/1975), we rehearsed how we were going to attack that target.
The five of us, used AK-47, light machine guns, (numerous rounds), grenades etc. The venue was behind the camp but directing the fire away from the camp.
The operation lasted for a few minutes. The operation was like a commando raid. The sound of the machine guns and explosives scared our instructors, the Tanzanian Defence Forces who were guarding us and fellow recruits. The fire power was just too intensive and confusing that the whole camp ran into panic, including the instructors. Again that was an unauthorised rehearsal.
On the pass out day I was instructed to stay at the camp as an instructor, Comrades Ananias and Asafu were sent to Lebanon together with one of the instructors Cde Stanely Gagisa while Massacre and Goronga sent to the then Soviet Union for further training.
After their training in Lebanon, Cde Ananias came back to join us at Morogoro in Tanzania. That was the time of the Zimbabwe People’s Army (ZIPA). ZIPA was a formation of both Zipra and Zanla. The chief of training was now Retired Brigadier Ambrose Mutinhiri (Zipra) his deputy was Cde Parker (Zanla). Among the instructors from Zanla was now General Constantine Chiwenga (Rtd), Dominic Chinenge. The late Cde Sam Mufakazi was our camp commander.
However, Cde Ananias was sent to Mgagao in Iringa, in Tanzania. That was a former Zanla training camp then under ZIPA.
When there was some disagreement to continue with ZIPA Cde Ananias Gwenzi and I along with other Zipra instructors went to open new Zipra training camps in Zambia in October 1976.
After we moved away from ZIPA, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) stopped giving us supplies, especially military hardware.
In Zambia, we opened new Zipra training camps and Cde Ananias was my camp commander. We opened these training camps under very difficult conditions. We had no guns or ammunition. We were training the recruits using logs as guns. We had no boots to protect our feet. We had very little food to eat. There was no soap to bath nor to wash our torn clothes. That was the period when more young men and women were leaving the country to join the armed struggle. Hence we had no material to support the training.
Cde Ananias showed his might and intelligent leadership by encouraging us to soldier on until victory. Our camp was 30 km from the Zambezi River. We were just at the doorsteps of the enemy. We were defending ourselves through planned deployment of our trainees and making them take defensive formations around the training camp respectively.
When finally we received military equipment and other material supplies from OAU, we increased the rate and the number of guerrilla trainees. At any given time we were training over two thousand recruits and these needed to be defended during their training. Through the leadership of General P V Sibanda, we found that the training camp had acquired military equipment like anti-air machine guns and crews to defend the camp. As we trained more guerrillas we found that we had adequate personnel and military hardware to defend ourselves. Because the training camps were organised we never got enemy attacks. Thanks to the wise leadership of Gen PV Sibanda.
Cde Ananias Gwenzi made sure we followed all the guidelines and plans when we were training guerrillas. By so doing we produced well trained fighters who were able to fight under any conditions anywhere in the country. Under the command of Cde Ananias Gwenzi (General PV Sibanda) in Zambia we also conducted short urban training courses for some of the Umkontho Wesizwe guerrillas for the ANC of South Africa.
Cde Ananias was a commander who was consistent during his command. When serious issues occurred he looked cool and calm.
For instance one day when I was on duty in a training camp where he was a commander I ordered the camp to open fire at a helicopter which was flying over our camp. I took that plane for an enemy plane yet it was a Zambian chopper where there were members of the Zipra High Command and Zambian army officers.
Fortunately the chopper manoeuvred and managed to pass through that hell of fire but was damaged. When we got the information that the chopper was a friendly plane, Cde Ananias just told me that “it was very unfortunate but you were carrying out your duty”. He talked about that in a calm voice.
And it ended there.
In 1978 Comrade Ananias Gwenzi was moved from camp commander to become a regional commander at the front. After the so called 3rd March 1978 agreement between Ian Smith and the late Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Rev Ndabanengi Sithole and James Chikerema, the war intensified. There were several both ground and air raids in Zambia by the enemy. The region where Comrade Ananias was deployed was one of the very hot spots. At one stage his guerrilla units were surrounded by the enemy. When the Zipra High Command sent in some reinforcement the enemy ambushed that reinforcement. The late army commander Comrade Nikita Mangena was killed when he went to assess the situation there.
Later we met again with Comrade Ananias when we brought in a special force to reinforce his units. As an army we had experienced extraordinary military pressure from the enemy during the period Muzorewa-Smith government. We lost many comrades including our army commander. Despite those setbacks Comrade Ananias would encourage us to soldier on until we would defeat the enemy. Comrade Ananias is a guerrilla and will remain a soldier.
By the way Comrade Ananias Gwenzi was a member of the Zipra delegation which attended the Lancaster House talks in 1979 in London.
After independence to date I have been meeting General PV Sibanda and I have noticed that his character has remained the same and focusing on the future of our country.
What is very important with General PV Sibanda is that he has not lost the direction and principles of our struggle.
On the issue of promotions in our ZDF, when I came back to Zimbabwe in 1988 I witnessed General P V Sibanda being promoted from one rank to another. Let me also make this remark to mention that for the first time in 37 years after Independence we have seen a former Zipra guerrilla being the head of our ZDF. We should salute and respect the minds behind such promotion. That must not only stop there but go across the whole Government systems both politically and professionally.
NB: I have only included mostly issues before Independence. About his works and promotions within the ZNA and him also serving in the international keeping peace missions I did not include because I have no adequate knowledge about that.
*About the writer: Dr Chemhuru pseudo name was Cde Albert Ntonga or Dr Mbeya. A holder of an MD. Havana University, Cuba, MPH. UZ) (Public Health Specialist) is a former member of the national executive of the war veterans association. He has served in the Ministry of Health as the provincial medical director for the Midlands and Manicaland provinces. He has also served the ministry as a public health specialist for non-communicable diseases.