WILFRED MAHANDA was introduced to Black African nationalism as a young boy attending school in Shabani Rhodesia in the 1960’s. The trigger for him was when his maths teacher was arrested by the Rhodesian government for subversive activities and another teacher banned. These events led him to want freedom form white majority rule in Rhodesia.
He attended a mission school in Shabani where a white liberal and ex Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Garfield Todd had taught. Todd was the founder of the mission school and was the chairman at the time of the arrests and banning of the teachers.
Mahanda was friendly with the Todd family and was influenced by Garfield and Judith Todd, Garfield’s daughter. Garfield Todd was hero worshipped by the students at the mission school and would be carried shoulder high by the students when he showed his objections to the Rhodesian Government and was held in especially high esteem when he was restricted to his farm after UDI by the Smith Government. Leo Barron a liberal lawyer and acquaintance of Garfield Todd would also visit the mission school from time to time and show his support for black African nationalism to the students.
When Wilfred Mahanda had reached the end of his schooling and was doing his A Level examinations he got into difficulties with the Rhodesian Government and Police for organising a demonstration against the Rhodesian Governments declaration of Independence from Britain. The students which included Mahanda also demonstrated against the Land Tenure Act. He was arrested by the Police and as part of his bail conditions had to report to the Police station at regular intervals. Wilfred would spend from 7 am to 5 pm at the local police station studying his schoolbooks for his forthcoming A Level exams in order to attend the University of Rhodesia which he achieved and joined in 1971. His intention at that time was to leave for the UK and study pharmacy at Manchester University.
While he was attending the University of Rhodesia Wilfred Mhanda joined an African Nationalist group ZANU, led by Ndabaningi Sithole. This political organisation was banned by the Rhodesian government, together with ZAPU led by Joshua Nkomo. The students consisted of a group of ten cadres who had made it their objective to recruit fellow students into taking up arms against the Rhodesian Government. Once recruited into the ZANU ranks the new recruits would pretend to go on holiday with the Student Christian Movement into Botswana where they would slip into Zambia to attend basic military training. Rhodesian Intelligence knew about the activities of this group and arrested Mhanda in 1971 after a tip off by one of their group who was a Rhodesian Government agent. Mhanda and four of his fellow ZANU student cadres skipped bail and escaped to Botswana. (Of that group only Mhanda survived at the end of the armed struggle. Celestine Dembure and Dzinoruwa Chirau were killed by the liberation movement another was killed in action by Rhodesian Security forces and the other by unknown causes).
Mhanda was sent to Tanzania where he became a military instructor and was later promoted to the position of political commissar eventually becoming a ZANLA Commander. He joined the ZANLA high command in 1975 and was made I/C Political and Military training. At that time they were being trained by Communist Chinese cadres and Mhanda was sent to China for further military training in China. While in China he studied under a Chinese lieutenant-general and learned about the Chinese revolution, guerrilla tactics and battles against Japan. Mhanda says that the Chinese did not teach them Marxism –Leninism as they did not trust the recruits as they were not all communists. The recruits also found the Chinese to be a cold and racist society.
The Chinese were impressed at Mhanda’s abilities and said that he was too valuable to be sent to the front line wand was to be kept back as an instructor however he managed to see action in the north –east of Rhodesia in 1974 and again for three months in 1976.
Herbet Chitepo led ZAPU at this time as Ndabaningi Sithole was in jail in Salisbury (detained for ten years for subversive activities) and was murdered in Lusaka in March 1975. The day after Chitepo was killed the Zambian government moved the ZAPU cadres to a remote area in the country. Kenneth Kaunda the President of Zambia had decided that ZANU and ZANLA were not an efficient force and would have better cohesion under the leadership of Joshua Nkomo as a united front against the Rhodesian’s.
Kaunda and Nkomo got on very well and it was no secret at the time that Kaunda wanted to see Nkomo win the liberation struggle against Rhodesia and her security forces. Kaunda also accused the ZAPU cadres of being anti-unity and of being involved in the assassination of Herbet Chitepo. The Zambians had arrested about 1200 ZANLA supporters which included 500 women children and the aged, about four hundred recruits and another four hundred trained ZIPRA terrorists. The group went on a hunger strike in protest of their removal and detention by the Zambian government and wanted to consult with Sithole on the issue.
While this was going on Robert Mugabe had staged a coup against Sithole while in prison. The Rhodesian government then released Mugabe who then led a delegation to meet up with members of the Front Line States namely Julius Nyrere, Augistino Neto, Kenneth Kaunda and Samora Machel. The Front Line State leaders were horrified when they were told that Mugabe had ousted Sithole in the coup and suspected Mugabe of being assisted by the Rhodesians. In fact Nyerere was so angry with the events that he refused to accept Mugabe demanding that Sithole return with the delegation. Sithole was returned and was also released from prison in 1974 assisting with a unity accord with ZAPU in 1975 before being re-arrested by the Rhodesian Government. There is strong suspicion here that Ian Smith was keen to promote Mugabe as the leader of ZANU.
Mugabe was keen to slip into Mocambique and to become a leader of the refugees in that country and once he had done so was placed under house arrest by Samora Machel for a while. Mhanda considered Sithole as the leader of ZANLA as these events unfolded but the Cadres were disillusioned with him when they discovered that he wanted to talk to Smith and the Rhodesians.
The Zambian security forces shot and killed ten ZANU cadres in an incident which aggravated their comrades even more when Sithole did not protest to Kaunda about the killings. He also did not take the time to visit the wounded in hospital which incensed ZAPU cadres even more. The ZAPU cadres suspected that Sithole was involved in an attempt to assist Zambian security forces in arresting them at a memorial service for tier dead and escaped into Tanzania, Mhanda being one of the group.
While in Tanzania ZAPU cadres decided to depose Sithole and back Mugabe as their leader instead. Front Line Leaders attempted to patch up the rift and the Zimbabwe People’s Army was formed ZIPA under the command of Rex Nhongo. Mhanda was Nhongo’s 2 I/C on the ZANLA side which made him number three in ZIPA command.
A strategy was worked out and military operations against Rhodesia resumed in 1976.
At that time there was still trouble in the Terrorist camps in Mocambiue which worried Samora Machel who wanted a balance between ZIPRA and ZANLA Commanders. Mugabe and Tongogara were brought up and Machel made it clear that he did not like Mugabe, however the ZANLA people did not trust Tongogara either. Eventually Mugabe was chosen as the leader.
Mhanda says Mugabe was arrogant, paranoid, secretive and only interested in power. Mugabe did not want unity and was scared of Nkomo who was the senior African Nationalist.
Machel started to back Mugabe and after returning from Geneva arrested Mhanda and other ZANLA commanders as he feared that they were plotting a coup against him. 600 ZANLA Cadres were arrested which included 50 ZANLA Commanders. Most of the Cadres were released but the majority of the commanders remained in jail for three years or so. (They were released after the UK Labour Party took up their case with Lord Carrington and they were released as part of the Independence deal).
When asked if Tongogara would have made a better leader for Zimbabwe Mhanda said: - “No. He would have been at least as bad as Mugabe, probably worse. The only man that we now think would have made a good President of Zimbabwe was Herbet Chitepo, who was really our Mandela, and just possibly Jason Moyo. Unhappily both of them are dead. Chitepo’s death remains a mystery to this day. There are those that think that Mugabe had him killed, but they have no proof of that. We are inclined to feel that the Smith forces did it, though with inside help. Many people whom we knew perfectly well were Smith agents were later recruited into the upper ranks of ZANU PF by Mugabe.
(DID WE RHODESIANS CREATE OUR OWN MONSTER?)
- Beaver Shaw
- Nairobi, Kenya
- I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011
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