Morris Mkwate – News Editor

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Britain’s Prince Charles shares a word with Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, while British Governor Lord Christopher Soames and the Rhodesian cabinet look on in Salisbury, Rhodesia, on April 16, 1980. The Prince spoke to Mugabe for a few moments after his arrival to hand over power to a new independent Zimbabwe at the stroke of midnight on April 17. Date: 16/04/1980

Britain’s Prince Charles shares a word with Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, while British Governor Lord Christopher Soames and the Rhodesian cabinet look on in Salisbury, Rhodesia, on April 16, 1980. The Prince spoke to Mugabe for a few moments after his arrival to hand over power to a new independent Zimbabwe at the stroke of midnight on April 17. Date: 16/04/1980

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Zimbabwe’s long struggle against Ian Smith’s regime almost came to nothing as Rhodesian elements collaborating with South Africa’s apartheid regime came close to bombing several African leaders and thousands who converged on Rufaro Stadium, Harare, to celebrate Independence on the Eve of April 18, 1980.

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The elaborate plot, which was detected on April 16 and has been largely kept under wraps all these years, involved lining explosives on routes dignitaries would use to get to Rufaro Stadium and then detonating them via radio links.

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Three SM7 missiles were positioned atop hills in Norton’s Snake Park area to deliver the killer blow to any targets fleeing the chaos in Harare by air.

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Altogether six bombs were fitted inside Rufaro Stadium, while several other explosives were panelled onto traffic lights on roads leading to the grounds.

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BOMB graphic

BOMB graphic

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President Mugabe was due to take the oath of office as Prime Minister in front of Britain’s Prince Charles and Southern Rhodesia’s Interim Governor Lord Soames; and figured alongside other targets who included Presidents Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) and Samora Machel (Mozambique).

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It is believed had the plot been successful, apartheid South Africa would have moved in to “restore order” and Zimbabwe may well have been annexed and assumed a colony status like Namibia (then South West Africa).

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In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Mail last week, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa revealed that Dan Stannard — a Special Branch operative he recruited into Independent Zimbabwe’s intelligence community in January 1980 — got wind of the planned bombings and promptly alerted his boss.

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Cde Mnangagwa was Zanu’s head of intelligence and Special Assistant to the President at that time.

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The VP said: “My message (for Independence Day 2015) is that nations remain solid because they have security protection.

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“There is no nation that can survive without solid security protection. Despite the sacrifice we had made as comrades in the war — both Zipra and Zanla — and the sacrifice of thousands of our comrades who died, the 11th hour could have been betrayed if we did not have solid security.

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“And we could have lost that goal or culmination of the entire armed struggle that night. So, our people should always be patriotic and conscious about the security of the State. Enemies will always be there.

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“There is nowhere in history where a state was loved by every living human being. Empires and states have survived on the basis of not only that of the will of the people, but that will of the people buttressed by solid security.”

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1980SOFARSOGOODVP Mnangagwa said the whole of Zimbabwe was preparing for Independence Day when Stannard spotted South African intelligence operatives dining at Jameson Hotel in Harare.

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He immediately linked them to Rhodesia’s Selous Scouts with whom he had collaborated prior to 1980.

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Stannard alerted Cde Mnangagwa, and a shadow team comprising Special Branch agents was quickly assembled to monitor the group.

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While maintaining constant radio communication with their superiors, the agents tailed the South Africans as they left the hotel in three cars.

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This took them out of central Harare, onto the old Bulawayo Road and Snake Park where the assassins pulled into a bush.

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“Our guys passed them and parked their cars elsewhere, and approached the place on foot.

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“They traced them to the top of a hill where they were studying maps — maps showing Rufaro Grounds.

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“They also had a map of how we were going to travel (with President Mugabe) from Mount Pleasant.

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“It was towards evening and they had tasked a scout to keep watch. So, the scout alerted them that they were, indeed, being followed and there were armed chaps — including a white — who were coming. These guys did not have time to collect everything.”

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Danny Stannard

Danny Stannard

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VP Mnangagwa went on: “They ran away and our chaps fired, resulting in them dropping all their papers as well as their explosives.

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“Little did we know, however, that if you crossed (Hunyani River) there was a farm with a runway.

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“There was a small aeroplane waiting. For our chaps, the (immediate) interest was not to capture them, but to get those documents.”

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The documents — according to the VP — showed views of Rufaro Stadium and routes dignitaries to the Independence ceremony would use.

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The guests — who included India’s Indira Gandhi as well as Presidents Machel, Nyerere, Kaunda and Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan, among others — were booked at Meikles Hotel.

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Prince Charles was housed at Lord Soames’ official residence.

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There was also a copy of the night’s programme, showing each dignitary’s estimated time of arrival at the stadium.

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It was later discovered that the South African operatives had placed explosives disguised as power boxes at traffic lights leading to the stadium from central Harare.

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“There were stars on the maps and we did not know what they stood for. But when we studied the notes, we learnt what these stars meant and which Head of State was to be blown. Other heads would be allowed to pass. They would detonate by radio.

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“Also, we had installed floodlights at the grounds, and they put explosives shaped like claymores (next to them). There were four bombs in the VIP section, and two others elsewhere. We were passing them without realising that they were bombs. And when we captured their material on the hill, there were three SM7 missiles.”

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The thinking was that when the disturbances occurred, the Heads of State would leave and they would shoot the planes so that it would appear as though Zanla and Zipra guerillas had done it.

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He continued: “We got this information just a day before the event, and verified it on-site. We realised then that the robot power boxes were not what they appeared to be. We had experts, so we lifted these things, and went to destroy them. That’s when we also discovered the claymore mines.

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VP Mnangagwa

VP Mnangagwa

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“We went about looking for those people after we had removed the explosives. We dispatched (search) dogs and they led us to this farm with a runway, but there was no plane. The workers there then told us that some whites, their boss’s friends, had come and later left aboard a plane. The farmer had also escaped.

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“. . . Who would have known? No one knew; not even the party leadership. It was only the President and I (who knew). Stannard: That’s the chap who tipped me. Everything proceeded smoothly; nothing happened and I sighed with relief.

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“(When the Union Jack was being pulled down and the Zimbabwe flag being hoisted) my mind was not on what was happening. My worry was: Have we missed one of the claymores? There could have been another (operative) who might have not known that his colleagues had fled.

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“Such a chap could ignite it — that was my worry.

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“From beginning to end, I had a small team. We were so alert. I gave the instruction that if anyone acted suspiciously, and I walk past, take that person down.

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“While people were rejoicing, and speeches were being delivered, we were on the look-out.

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“If anyone put their hand into their pocket, I immediately put my hand here (on the gun holster). Akabuda asina, it’s okay. (That was the routine) until the ceremony was over and the President had gone home.”

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