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How Colonel Tshinga Dube, General PV Sibanda were almost blown up by Rhodies

Today we conclude our series of interviews with Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube, the last Zipra chief of communications, former Cabinet Minister and chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Industries (ZDI) as well as former Member of Parliament for Makokoba.

Colonel (Retired) Tshinga Dube
Former War Veterans Minister Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube

Rtd Col Dube is also a well-known Highlanders Football supporter and benefactor, who has not shied away to come to the team’s rescue in its time of need.

In the last three editions, Rtd Col Dube whose pseudo name was Cde Embassy has been speaking to our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) about how he joined the armed struggle, his training in the then Soviet Union, being one of the first guerillas to be deployed to the front where he operated in Tsholotsho District in Matabeleland North.

His operations also saw his unit, which laid the groundwork for the Wankie Battles, a joint operation Zapu and ANC cadres overlapping to the nearby district of Bulilima in Matabeleland South.

Rtd Col Dube also gave an insight into how military communication works. Below are excerpts of this week’s interview. Read on . . .

MS: Last week you took us through the structure of your department, the communications. May you continue giving us more.

Rtd Col Dube: Before I get into that, let me add some names of the people that I also worked with during the war. Before I left for the Soviet Union in 1972, I had also worked closely with now Minister of Home Affairs, Cde Cain Mathema, he was a military communications specialist as well. Others in our department were Cde Joshua Mpofu, who is now a lecturer at Cape Town University in South Africa, Bhekuzulu Khumalo, the late Walter Mthimkhulu, who passed on last year in the United Kingdom and so was the late Matabeleland North Provincial Administrator, Livingstone Mashengele.

Our department was also jointly run with comrades from ANC’s Umkhonto WeSizwe. They also fell under my command and those comrades included Walter Mavuso, Jackie Modise, who was the wife of MK commander, Cde Joe Modise, Dephine, Maginyimbuzi, Jack they were all in the department. After independence, others I worked with now Rtd Lt-Col Mqwayi and Muleya, they were well trained and we sent them overseas where they returned armed with degrees. They were brilliant officers, very clever boys.

MS: Then take us through how communication works.

Rtd Col Dube: You see the military draw a map and put it in squares and the square is referred to by the number, for instance if it is 2, 4, 3, 2 the man you are talking to would know which square to go to, so the area being referred to, the person would get to know. Then if you don’t know and you are not familiar with that language you will never get to understand. However, as for the police they would just mention the name of the place, which is why we say they used open language.

The police would say we had a contact at such, such a place for example in an area in Tsholotsho maybe mentioning the business centre if it was a business centre. But in the military language the signals man would say we had a contact in 2, 3, 4, 8, so you know that this store in Tsholotsho for example is 2,3, 4, 8 then you log it, it’s easier to find out the general area they are operating from. You get the codes and then you interpret.

MS: So you were able to intercept the Rhodesian military communication?

Rtd Col Dube: We had a full-time intercepting station where we would listen to what was going on in Rhodesia. It was mostly run by now Retired Lieutenant-Colonel Sithabile Ndlovu, who is married to Tshuma, the Bulawayo lawyer.

She is a well-trained woman, she had her team, people like Cde Mavis from Gwanda, there was a secret room where they would listen to all the communication in Rhodesia. They would then clog in and after certain times bring it to us to analyse and then we would pass it to the intelligence guys.

MS: So it means if the Rhodesian forces were preparing to attack your camps, you would be aware of the impending danger?

Rtd Col Dube: You see, we were very worried about that because we would not always know. Among the Zambians there was a very senior government official (name supplied) who was always going to Rhodesia and coming back to Zambia. So we were worried about his travels to Rhodesia, his movements were very suspicious. We had strong suspicions that he was up to some mischief, he could have been meeting the Rhodesian elements.

A lot of people were now suspicious of him. There might have been some discussions with the Rhodesians, I am not saying he was their spy, but still there are big question marks about his movements. You see the planes and so forth the Rhodesians had infiltrated Zambia with their spies, even white spies, so they had communication, obviously.

Some of the whites were farmers there. So they would accurately determine where the camps, our camps were, the times to attack. You see in general at the camps the forces would not be together as they would be deployed around, but during feeding time they would briefly converge that were the times the Rhodesians would attack. So there was very accurate information fed to our enemy.

But what should be understood is that if you are in other people’s territory it was difficult to control things, the same applies in avoiding spies because you would not be in full control. You do not determine the movement of the people, they can only be determined by the host country. However, these bombings did not only happen in Zambia, there were bombings in Angola. Look at the attack on the girls in Mkushi right up in the northern part of Zambia.

MS: Then on the battles with the Rhodesians, which ones stand out where you can say you did well?

Rtd Col Dube: The Madliwa battle, the one which took almost five days along the Zambezi River Escarpment near Kariba. It was fought on the Zambian side. Our battalion was commanded by now Retired Major-General Stanford Khumalo, uMadliwa.

Even the Rhodesian forces admitted that it was a highly contested battle. Our troops did us proud. That was a fully fledged battalion, a regular battalion with good weapons, communication systems and so on. The Rhodesians lost quite a number of their soldiers there.

That battle happened just towards the ceasefire in October 1979. During that time the Rhodesian forces were also causing havoc on the Zambian side, destroying and sabotaging infrastructure such as bridges. They were also mining the roads and they almost got me.

MS: Colonel, you survived an attack by the Rhodesians, tell us what happened there.

Zimbabwe national army Commander Lieutenant-General Philip Valerio Sibanda is pictured after a press briefing
Zimbabwe national army Commander Lieutenant-General Philip Valerio Sibanda is pictured after a press briefing

Rtd Col Dube: We were on a routine check-up of our troops deployed at the front on the Zambian side. We were travelling in our Land Rover with the current commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Philip Valerio Sibanda, who was our chief of reconnaissance and we used to call him Ananias Gwenzi, when our vehicle drove over an anti-tank mine. By the grace of God it did not detonate. When we realised what we almost got into, I and Gen Sibanda just looked at each other and said nothing. We spoke about it after six hours.

MS: Then came the ceasefire period, where were you deployed?

Rtd Col Dube: The troops moved into the Assembly Points (APs) with most of our military hardware being kept at Gwayi River Mine. It was during the ceasefire period that I was chosen as a member of the Committee responsible integration, demobilisation and selection to form the Zimbabwe National Army.

It was a committee headed by three people, myself representing Zipra, the now late Josiah Tungamirai coming in from the Zanla side while General Jacobs was from the Rhodesian Army. We visited all the APs explaining to the troops that we were forming one army. We explained to the forces that those who were incapacitated and were volunteering to leave were going to be demobilised. It was explained to them that they were going to get all their dues.

MS: Did you face any challenges?

Rtd Col Dube: The challenges were many, the hostilities were there as there were a lot suspicions within the forces, the trust was very low. That was coming from the three sides, no one trusted each other. Also in some instances, guerillas being guerillas and just coming from the bush, some would come forward and say they were volunteering to leave and be paid what was due to them.

Then after a few days, having blown up the money probably on beer and women, the comrade would be back in the camp, saying I want to continue in the army. If told that it was no longer possible, some became very violent accusing the commanders of all sort of things. We were also in charge of disbursing their allowances.

MS: Any cases of violence that you came across?

Rtd Col Dube: There was the issue of the now late, Retired Colonel Richard Dube, Gedi as he was called during the war, who had a grenade thrown at his room at night at Mike Assembly Point (St Paul Mission) in Lupane by some guerillas who were agitated over issues to do with their allowances. Gedi escaped death by a whisker there. There was also another problem at the Juliet Assembly Point in Zezani, Beitbridge District, which housed both Zipra and Zanla forces.

You know at Zezani the Zipra and Zanla forces were friendly to each as they would drink together, look for girls together, but one day there were riots over the delay in paying them. The guerillas there, especially the Zipra guys rounded up the commanders and arrested them demanding money. One of the affected was Cde Single (Rtd Brigadier-General Kindness Ndlovu).

It so happened that I then went to Zezani during that commotion. When I got there those who were involved in that mutiny were excited as they said “nangu umuntu esivele simfuna”. They wanted to beat me up but since I had brought up some money, that brought tempers down. We then managed to persuade them to release the commanders they had arrested.

I then made a mistake when I phoned Lookout Masuku, Iittle did I realise that I was in open communication as they heard what I was saying, which was not good for their ears. They then said “kill that person.” However, the situation was saved when Masuku, Dabengwa and other senior commanders arrived with the money. They were all very happy. However, a decision was made that those ill-disciplined comrades be rounded up after getting their money, some ended up thrown into Khami Prison, from where they were released and taken back to the APs.

MS: But how was the issue of shortage of money coming up?

Rtd Col Dube: What was happening was that officers at the APs would come up with an acrol — that is a list of people to be paid. But there were other guerillas who will not be on the list as when that list was compiled they would be out of the camp. Come pay day they would be there and those were some of the issues that saw some people not being paid.

MS: After the integration where did you go?

Rtd Col Dube: I took over the signals department as the overall commander in the Zimbabwe National Army. I was appointed a full Colonel, served 10 years in the army, then transferred to the Defence Headquarters as Deputy Secretary in charge of Research and Development. After serving for about three years I took over as the chief executive of the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) where I worked there for 23 years. Sunday News