Last week, The Sunday Mail (SM) published a detailed question-and-answer interview in which Retired Brigadier-General Ambrose Mutinhiri (AM) spoke about the joint Zipra-Umkhonto Wesizwe operations known as the Wankie Battles.
Retired Colonel R. Dube-Gedi does not agree with Mutinhiri’s account of what transpired. Below we publish an excerpt of Mutinhiri’s interview followed by Dube’s full response.
SM: Can you tell us a little more about the Hwange Campaign because we understand many Zipra cadres perished during this campaign?
AM: Well, the Hwange Campaign was our first major operation. Again, I think people had not really grasped the essence of a guerilla campaign, because again the huge concentration of fighters in an area and these people were not properly equipped to defend themselves.
That’s 1967. People not equipped to protect themselves against an organised and well-equipped enemy. It was a disaster. We teamed up together with the ANC of South Africa, but it was a disaster.
SM: You think things could have been handled in a better way?
AM: Yes, yes, had we really done what we knew was supposed to be done. You know, as guerillas you know when to fight, you hit and run, you attack at will, you fight when you want, you choose the time and everything. You don’t present yourself as a target.
SM: What was your role at that time?
AM: I was still a trainer.
SM: So you were actually not there?
Response from Retired Colonel R. Dube-Gedi
It is very important that matters of history be researched in detail prior to being penned for publication or uttered to the public.
In reference to the interview of Retired Brigadier-General Ambrose Mutinhiri with The Sunday Mail of August 5-11 2012, his comments cannot be allowed to pass without being corrected. To do so would be to leave the uninformed public misinformed for a long time — or forever — over what actually took place.
The Wankie Battles were not an accident in history. They were a result of deliberate planning by both Umkhonto Wesizwe (MK) of the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa and Zipra of Zapu.
The joint Zipra-MK Hwange Battles were a result of the agreement between the two liberation armies. They became reality only after Zapu and the ANC of South Africa had endorsed this recommendation by the two fighting forces.
Contrary to Mutinhiri’s assertion on the justification of this operation, it was a well-thought-out military plan because it took account of the enemy at the country of entry into South Africa, that is Rhodesia.
If one cares to follow the Hwange Battles, he should certainly give credit to their planning and execution by the joint MK and Zipra forces against the joint forces of the Rhodesian and South African regimes.
To the doubting Thomases and those who are genuinely interested in verifying the facts, may you be referred to The Chronicle archives that covered the battles that ensued then. The execution of this plan which led to the Hwange Battles was as follows:
A contingent of 90 men was deployed.
A crossing point on the Zambezi River was selected at a point about 10-15km east of Victoria Falls.
The contingent was composed of four platoons, three Zipra and one MK.
One Zipra platoon was to remain operational in the Wankie general area, the second to remain in the Lupane-Tsholotsho area and the third was to accompany the MK platoon to the Limpopo River crossing point and assist in their crossing into South Africa and thereafter to remain operational in the Beitbridge area.
The crossing by the joint contingent was successfully achieved and the platoon that was to remain operating in the Wankie area had detached to deploy as per plan.
The two remaining Zipra and one MK platoon found themselves forced to defend themselves against the joint Rhodesian and South African forces that had detected their presence in the area. Fierce battles ensued in Sinamatela and Masue, in the Wankie area. These battles continued up to Sihubu and Mabogwane in Tsholotsho.
Ninety men were not a huge number, contrary to Mutinhiri’s assertion. Guerillas engaged in guerilla warfare, at the early stages of the war, could never bear weapons superior to those of the state army — both in quantity and quality.
Mutinhiri’s assertion of poor weaponry is illogical. It is unfortunate that our Zipra records which were confiscated by the Central Intelligence Organisation in 1982 have not been handed back to us up to now.
This operation is well documented within those records. Zipra veterans will not fold their arms quietly, when people who did not plan or participate in these operations try to downplay and distort events and efforts which cost the lives of our fallen comrades.
Bitterness at any level should not warrant such unscrupulous comments. Zipra deserves honest, accurate presentation of facts surrounding all their contributions to the liberation of Zimbabwe.