Leonard Ncube in Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls, a popular international tourism destination was once a battleground of fierce wars between freedom fighters and the Rhodesian army.
One freedom fighter that operated in Victoria Falls in the 1970s, Cde Davision Ndlovu, whose war name was Skuza, narrated some of the famous battles fought in the resort area that are hardly spoken about.
Cde Ndlovu said in one of the battles, a Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZPRA) detachment, which had just crossed the Zambezi River from Zambia in September 1979, shot down a Rhodesian army helicopter after being cornered by soldiers in Kalisosa, inside the game park on the outskirts of Victoria Falls.
The detachment had been dispatched by ZPRA Northern Front 1 (NF1) regional commander Retired Colonel Watson Tshipha to reinforce freedom fighters in the Ndlovu area.
This was one of the last battles before the ceasefire in 1979.
Cde Ndlovu said freedom fighters also fought fierce battles with the Rhodesian army on the Zambezi River in 1976, Lumbora and Mbizha in 1977, and BH57 and Milonga in 1978.
Born in 1957 in Halisupi, Gwanda, where he did his primary education up to Grade 7, Cde Ndlovu crossed the border into Botswana in 1974 enroute to Zambia to join the armed struggle.
He had just returned home from South Africa where he spent six months working at a mine after dropping out of school when Cde Jewel Sijiye, who was responsible for mobilising recruits for ZPRA in Gwanda, took him and other youths to Selibe Phikwe in Botswana before they were flown to Nampundwe in Zambia.
From Nampundwe Cde Ndlovu said they were transferred to Mwembeshi training camp during the time the then Organisation of Africa Unity (now African Union) set up the Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa) to unite Zpra, Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla) and Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe (Frolizi) freedom fighters.
Cde Ndlovu said they were briefly taken to Mgagao where they were under the command of Rex Nhongo (the late General Solomon Mujuru), who was deputised by the late Alfred Nikita Mangena, but Zipa was disbanded because of some challenges.
“ZPRA fighters were then moved to Morogoro in Tanzania where we completed training before being deployed to the frontline in December 1976,” said Cde Ndlovu.
He said he was part of a platoon of 30 that were deployed to Kazungula base near Chief Mukuni area from where they crossed the Zambezi River to make sporadic attacks on the Rhodesian army.
In Kazungula they were welcomed by Ret Col Tshipha, who was the unit commander at that time.
“We were also responsible for recruitment and would assist recruits to cross through Jambezi to our base in Kazungula. We had recruited 96 people and used an 8-seater boat to cross Zambezi River, which took us the whole night. In the morning around 9am a spotter plane spotted us and in no time, jets were flying above us spraying bullets and bombs.
“All recruits had crossed to the Zambian side and the last boat carrying 12 freedom fighters was still in the middle of the river and they all perished there. We fought with the soldiers until evening and few recruits died. That became one of our first battles,” narrated Cde Ndlovu.
He said in 1977 they fought Rhodesian soldiers in Lumbora Village where they ambushed the white soldiers and killed a number of them.
In the same year the freedom fighters faced three helicopters and another plane in Mbizha and Cde Ndlovu said they survived by using guerrilla war tactics by constantly shifting firing points thereby outsmarting the Rhodesian soldiers.
Some freedom fighters lost their lives in the battle of Lumbora while the Milonga battle saw some villagers also being killed and their homesteads torched by the soldiers.
He said villagers were punished by being forced to carry corpses of white soldiers that had been killed by freedom fighters.
Cde Ndlovu said freedom fighters depended on villagers for information about soldiers’ movement, type of weapons they were carrying and how many they were so they could strategise.
“In 1979 Ret Col Tshipha had been promoted to regional commander and I was now sector commander and he invited me to Zambia for a strategic meeting. He wanted to send a battalion to Plumtree and Tsholotsho. We were also supposed to get two detachments for reinforcement in Victoria Falls in preparation for an attack on Jambezi and Airport camps and we were recruiting more youths.
“I came back with a detachment and weapons from the meeting, while a second detachment crossed through Kazungula and was supposed to join us at the base in Victoria Falls. When they got to Kalisosa they planted a landmine and that’s how they attracted soldiers’ attention after one vehicle was hit,” said Cde Ndlovu.
He said there was a fierce exchange of gunfire between soldiers and the freedom fighters, who had crossed Victoria Falls-Kazungula road and now heading towards Victoria Falls.
Cde Ndlovu said he mobilised 30 men and set off for Kalisosa for reinforcements.
He split his men after meeting some villagers carrying some injured freedom fighters in scotch carts
“The battle was fierce and the freedom fighters had taken down an army helicopter. Unfortunately, the soldiers had local informers, who told them that I had some reinforcements and they tracked us. They caught up with us around 5am, but the men I was with fought gallantly and we managed to kill some soldiers,” he said.
Cde Ndlovu was shot on the arm during the battle while trying to rescue one of his men, who had been shot.
He was taken to Jubilee Hospital in Botswana via Pandamatenga before Ret Col Tshipha drove to pick him and take him to Kazungula Hospital where he was treated and then transferred to a Zapu health institution in Makene, Zambia.
He was one of those who later gathered at Gwayi and later Llewellin (now Lookout Masuku) Barracks for demobilisation.
His wife Cde Promise Nyoni-Ndlovu was also among the first freedom fighters to train at Mkushi camp and fought on the war front.
Cde Ndlovu is national secretary for indigenisation in the war veterans’ association and vice-chairman of the organisation in Matabeleland North. — @ncubeleon