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'They called me a dissident,' says Thambolenyoka

06 Dec 2020 at 07:45hrs | Views
Tennyson Ndlovu is quite an enigma. Having joined the liberation struggle at 21, he quickly became a highly-respected instructor for the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZPRA), only to be demobilised and not integrated into the army at independence. This, plus some residual treatment during the war and after it, saw him take back to the bush with several other disgruntled ZPRA comrades in the 1980s civil unrest.

"They called me a dissident," he asserts as justification enough for him to become one. And in the aftermath of the 1987 Unity Accord, which brought those disturbances to a halt, Thambolenyoka, Tennyson's trade name as a "dissident", has been voted not once and not twice, but three times a councillor for Ward 14 in Insiza South.

So who is Tennyson Ndlovu? And who was/is Thambolenyoka? These are some of the difficult questions that he has to answer in conversation with Garikai Mazara over the coming instalments . . .


Q: Probably briefly, may you let us know who Tennyson Ndlovu is?

A: I am the councillor for Ward 14 in Insiza South. I went to war in 1974 as a ZPRA comrade and we met our colleagues in Zanla in 1975 as Zipa. The leader of Zanu was Herbert Chitepo and on our side, Zapu, was Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo. Both these are late. I went to war because I wanted to liberate this country. I even represented workers because I was working for Dunlop, I was being paid little for what I was doing as a tyre-maker. I decided to join others in the bush through Botswana, Zambia and then Tanzania.

There is a lot we can talk about, this can take years, not hours, what really transpired that time.

Q: Let us talk, we have the time . . . Who is Tennyson, where was he born, to who, your childhood, your schooling?

A: This one, let me be accurate using my mother language. Mina, ngafunda eGwatemba Primary School, Plot 1, eGwatemba. These are small purchase areas. Ngafunda khona ngivela eMidlands eShurugwi. uBaba wami, he was in conflict with his young brothers and went to Midlands, Nhema. Yikhonapho engaqalisa eMadondo Primary School. Ngasengisiya eHanke Mission, then my father passed away early 1958 if I am not mistaken. Sasesi evacuator saya eGwatemba. Ngasengilandela ugrandfather wami where land was sorted out because ngangisenelisa ukusebenza ama piece job ngile eight/nine years. Ngiyelusa inkomo ngicine ngiye esikholo yiyo impilo engangiyiphila, yayinzima kakhulu. Ngiyelusa inkomo ko babamkhulu, baba omncane. Ngangilo twin brother wami uTarzen Ndlovu. Ngabatshiya sengisiya koBulawayo to look for a job eDunlop.

Q: How old were you then?

A: I was born in 1953. I had no-one to support me as my mother went somewhere to marry. I looked for piece jobs, looking after cattle with my late twin brother Tarzen. Life was so tough, I left for Bulawayo to look for work and started working for Dunlop. I worked from 1971 to beginning of 1974 when I left to join the liberation struggle.

When we got to Botswana, that is when Ethan Dube had been killed by the Rhodesian regime and we were implicated. We were tortured, beaten and asked why we had left our country. We were kept by police in prison and then left for Zambia on a chartered plane where we were received by Lookout Masuku.

From Lusaka we were taken to Mutenderi Township for a few days, then next to Chakwenga. We were then taken to Morogoro, via Mbeya. It was the Zipa time, trying to mix ZPRA and Zanla, as Zipa.

The situation then was very difficult during that time. During training we were visited by Joshua Nkomo, Ndabaningi Sithole and Abel Muzorewa at Morogoro. We continued training, the training was very tough and during that period there were lots of fighting between Zanu and Zapu back in Zambia at Mboroma. In that camp, they were put together but separately. The other camp was led by Mai Mujuru and the other by the late Stanley Gagisa. My twin brother was in the group at Mboroma.

In 1975 when we were supposed to be put together, ZPRA and Zanla, our first crew which was supposed to come for training, in ZPRA we had 137 and Zanla had 800 that was the first bunch for Zipa. There was a lot of misunderstanding, we did not finish together. The shootings took place and some comrades passed away then we were separated.

Q: A bit confusing here, you are talking of Mboroma, Mgagao, Morogoro. Where did the fight happen?

A: I am talking about the situation in Tanzania. Mboroma is in Zambia. The fighting happened at Morogoro and five ZPRAs passed away.

Q: What were the issues?

A: Political differences. Zanla were talking much about Mao Tse Tung whilst ZPRA were talking about Marxist and Leninist theories, so we could not meet there. That was this problem, and as such we had to write a petition to Julius Nyerere, who was the chairman of the OAU, that ZPRA were no longer intent on staying in Tanzania as they were not keeping us the same way as the Zanlas.

We were put in game reserves, where there were tsetse flies, those insects were too dangerous while Zanlas were put at Mgagao, in a normal situation, where they had electricity and everything. Then we were assisted by our brothers, Umkhonto WeSizwe, they carried us using their vans, they carried us back to Zambia.

Q: These differences, was the political leadership aware that there were differences between the forces?

A: They were, of course, but they had no power to come and rescue the forces there, they had no powers because in ZPRA we were led by Nikita Mangena, who was the deputy to Rex Nhongo. You are aware of that command structure? They could not help because even at the front, the situation was just as extreme as that, everywhere. He could not contain it, that was the problem.

While in Zambia, we established two camps, CTT and CGT. CTT was led by Sigoge and CGT by the present commander, Valerio Sibanda.

Q: What does CTT and CGT stand for?

A: That was a reference we carried from Morogoro. We had Square CTT and Square CGT and we had to take those references to Zambia.

Q: Which year was this now? 1975?

A: No, this was now 1976. We continued like that and thousands and thousands came. They were coming in battalions, in brigades. We trained more than 20 000.

Q: You were now an instructor?

A: When we came from Morogoro I was already an instructor. I told you that the first group we trained were 137 from ZPRA and from Zanla were 800. We continued and another group, again of about 800, came through Zanla camp. They were crippled and some of them were shot, they came for training after some of them were killed. After training these 800, we quit Tanzania. The situation was getting worse and no one could control it.

Well, there is a lot we could discuss. I remember when Zipa, 1976, late 76, at Square CTT we were visited by Simon Muzenda, he was with Solomon Mujuru. He had come to inform us about the Patriotic Front and we all agreed that we cannot continue to be separate like that. We all agreed. I am sure up to today, we cannot finish all the problems.

When you are in a revolution, there are ups and downs but the thing is, you have to be one so that it is easier to defeat the enemy.

Q: So we are at CTT, CGT?

A: The other we established was MTD, that was in 1978, after the battles on October 28 1978 at 10am where our forces fought against Rhodesian Air Force, there was no ground force. You remember those guys who shot at Chimoio camp? We were at CTT ourselves and we heard about that brutality but when they came to us, we shot those planes down. That is when Green Leader was shot down.

Q: Who was Green Leader?

A: Green Leader was the leader of the Air Force that attacked in Mozambique and other camps in Zambia as well, like FC (Freedom Camp). Our camp had well-trained forces, because we had infantry, weapons and anti-air weapons which we used. Even Ian Douglas Smith that time complained that his air force fought very dirty terrorists because we finished them. We reversed what they had done in Mozambique and Zambia.

Q: Was this before or after the attacks on Freedom Camp and Mukushi?

A: That was the time when they attacked all the camps, but when they came to us, they were repulsed by us. That was the full stop, we finished them, at Moscow Camp. It was an intelligence camp. We had left CTT camp for Moscow Camp, it was a combined ZPRA and Umkhonto weSizwe intelligence camp. That is where they were hit. We took them by surprise.

Some of the helicopters (that we shot down) are still in Zambia, but they were supposed to come here to Zimbabwe so that we show our children what we did during the war.

Q: What is stopping the repatriation of the helicopters?

A: That is up to the Government, that is Government machinery.

Q: 78-79?

A: That last group which we trained at MTD, after training, we were ordered to remove our uniforms and leave all weapons and were repatriated through Livingstone to Gwaai River Mine where most of our forces were captured and killed by Rhodesian forces. That is 1980 when we were repatriated.

Q: We are already in 1980, ceasefire? So you never went to the front?

A: I am one of those who were deploying. It was just the same, after training we would deploy the forces. It was just the same because the front could not exist without us, the rear. I recounted how we fought the planes that brutalised our people in Mozambique and Zambia. Was that not a front?

Q: When you say MTD, what does that mean?

A: It was a Military Training something like that, must be department. You can't ask me because you are still young and it is difficult for me to blast everything to you when you know nothing. I will assume not to know anything because you must assist me through questioning.

Q: I thought you would go year by year?

A: It is too much, some of the information is very sensitive.

Q: Even if it is sensitive, it is still part of our history and we need to know all that, for the sake of our generation and generations to come.

A: That will need time and not at once because Zimbabwe is still existing and people are still existing. If we discuss everything today, what about tomorrow. We will not be very tactful if I recount everything like that. It is not as easy as that.

Q: Ceasefire? You say at Gwaai River there was a massacre? Was this during ceasefire?

A: Yes, they were capturing, during the ceasefire. Well, after that one, most of the comrades were taken to assembly points and I was taken to Juliet Assembly Point in Gwanda along Mzingwane River where I was the deputy battalion commander.

After that, a lot of matters took place. I was made to train all those mujibhas who were used by comrades, trained most of them, at Juliet Assembly Point. They were the first people to be given the option to join the national army with other guerrillas, to be integrated.

After that, I was moved to Gwaai until demobilisation and most of the comrades were surprised that they had not been integrated as well. They believed that was done by that envoy from Britain, he was called Lord Soames. He did not want us to be integrated, he said we had influence, don't know which influence he was talking about. He said those ones are not supposed to be integrated.

Q: These are ZPRA guys? And how many were you?

A: Some of the forces were not integrated and commanders, we were about 40, who were not integrated. Until we were demobilised at Llewellyn Barracks.

What happened next? Well don't miss you next instalment as Tennyson Ndlovu painstakingly goes through the days of demobilisation and what became of him and his comrades.

Source - sundaymail
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