The journey towards the liberation of Zimbabwe saw many comrades being sent to prison for various reasons. One such comrade is Fabian Stanley Magwanza who was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment after attempting to destroy Beitbridge. Our Deputy News Editor Levi Mukarati interviewed Cde Magwanza at his home in Chinhoyi, where he chronicled his political life.
Q: Who is Cde Magwaza, can you give us details of where and when you were born?
A: My name is Fabian Stanley Magwanza. Magwanza is my war name, but I was born Fabian Stanley Mutize. I was born in Mutoko, and they say it was in 1932. I say “they say” because most of our parents would register us years after birth so the records are in most cases not a true reflection of the actual birth date and year.
But what is correct is that I was born in Mutoko, under headman Mutize and Chief Chimoyo. I was the third in a family of four – three boys and one girl. I acquired my education at Musami and later at All Souls Mission in Mutoko. I studied up to Form Two.
Q: After completing school, what did you venture into?
A: After Form Two, I went to Wankie (now Hwange) where I got a job as a general hand at Wankie Hospital. I am not sure of the exact year, but it was in the mid-1950s.
Q: The period you got employed was when black nationalists were pushing an agenda against the colonial government, what working conditions were you subjected to at the hospital
A: During my time at Wankie Hospital, black employees were badly treated, we were subjected to insults by whites. The whites in Rhodesia were not very good or accommodative to blacks at the time. As has been said over and over again, we were treated like a lesser race, we were subjected to abuse in the form of insults as we were seen as unable to live without being guided by the whites. Varungu vaive mhuka. They had no respect for the blacks and that is when I began supporting early nationalists like the late Joshua Nkomo, who spoke against white brutality and the need for us to regain dignity in the country of our birth.
Q: So did this treatment mark your entry into politics?
A: While in Wankie, I had not personally met these nationalists, but news of their cause was spreading to the areas we were and we also showed interest in what they were doing. We would constantly discuss political issues with other fellow black workers. So I should say that marked my entry into politics. It was unavoidable because we were living in an environment where if you looked at how you were being treated, then definitely politics could not be avoided. I was to leave work at Wankie around 1960 and crossed to Zambia in search of employment. I soon found a job in Lusaka, again as a general hand at a hospital.
However, I kept following political events in my home country. I can say it was in Lusaka, Zambia, where I became really active in politics because that is the time when I met Cde Herbert Chitepo. It was Chitepo who recruited me and other comrades after the formation of Zanu in 1964. Immediately after the formation of Zanu, I was to leave my job for military training. I am forgetting most of the people that I went for training with, except Douglas Mudukuti. I remember him because later we were to be given a mission together.
We went to Tanzania en-route to China for training. I was trained at Nanking Academy from 1964 to 1966. We went to China accompanied by Herbert Chitepo and John Mataure. These two were senior leaders of Zanu during that time. But in China, I met comrade Josiah Tongogara who was also trained there, as well as comrade Emmerson Mnangagwa.
In China, we were trained in guerrilla warfare.
Q: After training what happened next?
A: We returned to Zambia to join other comrades who had undergone training. When we returned from China, we were four, but when we came for our mission in Rhodesia, two of our fellow cadres remained behind. When we came to Rhodesia, Douglas Mudukuti and l joined 19 other comrades for our missions or operations.
So we were 21 in total. We had been given targets by Cde Chitepo and our mission was to carry out sabotage in various areas in Rhodesia. We crossed Zambezi River through small boats and we were assisted by Cde Mapiye. Mudikuti and l had a mission to go and bomb Beitbridge in order to cut communication and movement between Rhodesia and South Africa. We did not want the Rhodesians to get help from their fellow whites in South Africa.
Q: You separate yourself and Cde Mudukuti from the group, but there have been suggestions that you were part of a group linked to the Chinhoyi battle of 1966, can you clarify how your groups were made up?
A: Yes, I was part of the group that also included the seven comrades who later died in Chinhoyi. Let me make the story clear. We were 21 when we came from Zambia with different missions, but we were one group that was to later split for various missions. From the 21, a group of six proceeded to Umtali (Mutare), Feruka, where they wanted to bomb the fuel pipeline. There was another group of six that went to Hartley and seven remained in Chinhoyi. They later died in what we now call the Chinhoyi Battle. Then myself and Mudukuti were to go to Beitbridge. So after crossing from Zambia, we split and initially, I remained with Mudukuti in the group that was later killed in Chinhoyi.
When we got to Chinhoyi, we were nine and we then left the seven as we proceeded to Beitbridge
Q: Do you remember these people and who led the various groups?
A: There was the Gumbochuma group that was to carry out sabotage activities in Hartley and comprised of Noah Gumbochuma, Nathan Charuma, Andrew Chimuti, Charles Mwamuka, Edmond Nyandoro and Petros Shenjere. Then there was the Brown Chigwada group that went to Feruka and had comrades who included George Kanyemba, Godfrey Chinyan’anya, Fulton Muskwe, Horris Nyazika and Rex Makosa. The other group comprised of Simon Nyandoro – who led the seven heroes of Chinhoyi, then Godwin Manyerenyere, Samuel David Guzuzu, Godfrey Dube Matsikidze, Arthur Maramba, Barnabas, Christopher Chatambudza and Shadreck Sawana Mutendadzamera. Lastly, it was me and Mudukuti, the two of us destined for Beitbridge. When the nine of us got to Chinhoyi, we left the seven comrades under Hunyani Bridge as they prepared to scout the area.
Q: What weapons did you have and how was your journey to Beitbridge?
A: We had travelling problems as we were carrying explosives. We wanted to evade public transport because at that time, there were random searches by the whites. So we would hitch-hike and at times disembark from vehicles to walk through the bushes after hearing of a roadblock ahead. This delayed our journey. The seven comrades in Chinhoyi were supposed to cut power supply from Kariba.
That was supposed to be a signal for other comrades elsewhere to start the war. But like I said, we encountered problems and were behind schedule when the seven comrades in Chinhoyi began their attack, but failed to destroy the power lines.
We were unaware the Chinhoyi Battle had taken place and we were still in Masvingo when we were arrested.
Q: How were you arrested?
A: After the Chinhoyi attack, the Rhodesia security agencies increased their surveillance. The whites had seen how determined blacks were to free themselves. As you know, we were still in the early days of prosecuting the war, our strategies were not water-tight and there was a lot of selling out. I think we were sold out by someone who was not in our group, but knew what we wanted to do. This is a period where you would be given a mission, but from the leaders that gave us these tasks, there were also other people who knew of them.
It was easy for information to find its way to the Rhodesians. Again, there were a lot of Special Branch agents working for the colonial government during that time and it was easy for people to detect a stranger in their area.
We were still in Masvingo when we saw white policemen with dogs approach us. They demanded to search our bags and found the explosives. We were arrested. We did not even try to resist because we knew if we did, they would kill us and parade our bodies to deter anyone seeking to join the struggle. But I strongly suspect we had been sold out.
I do not know who did it, but we were sold out. You see, there was a lot of selling out during those days because we had blacks who did not believe we could rule ourselves. They thought our mission was a futile exercise and was meant to cause problems in the country. Thus, they believed we deserved to be stopped at all costs. We had such people and that is the reason why even up to this day, I believe we were sold out.
Q: What happened after you were arrested?
A: I was sentenced to 20 years in prison in June 1966 and served 13 years and four months after which I was released in October 1979. I served first at Harare Central Prison and later Khami Prison before returning to Harare where I was released. Prison life can never be good. We were political prisoners and classified as D class.
This meant we were regarded as dangerous and were not allowed to mix with others.
They thought we had the potential to plan even our escape if we were given a chance to group in prison. I was in a one-man cell where there were three blankets during winter and two in summer. In one corner of the cell was a small bucket to relieve yourself in. We would get just one hour each day to go out into the yard to stretch. But again, we were always under heavy guard. Apart from the seven that were killed, the bulk of our group that had crossed from Zambia were arrested before we could carry out our missions.
That is why I insist we were sold out. Even the seven in Chinhoyi had to prematurely conduct their mission because I think they had been discovered by the Special Branch and had no choice but to carry out the mission before all other groups had reached their targets. So we ended up in prison and got sentences that varied from 20 to 23 years. Our group had been confined to jail.
Q: As political prisoners, what were the conditions like behind bars?
A: Generally, our treatment was not very harsh. I can say the prison services looked after us well and we would get food or those who wanted to study were provided study material.
But being confined to a tiny cell and only allowed to go out for an hour is torture. Most of the times we were locked up. We would get information here and there of what was happening outside.
They were black prison wardens who understood our cause and they were those who were ruthless against us.
It was those that understood our cause who would relay information to us. At times I would see a newspaper being pushed under my cell door and after a while, the person would come back and knock and I would push it back after reading. We also had the opportunity to talk to some of them, who would tell us how some of our colleagues were giving their prison wardens a tough time.
Such news was encouraging and motivating for people like me, because what we had started had not died and we had brave men and women continuing our cause. So, that is the story of my life. I was arrested before my mission was complete and confined to prison until just seven months before independence.
Q: What happened when you were released?
A: Upon release, I went to stay in Harare with my older brother. These were the last months towards independence. In March 1980, the Rhodesians agreed to allow an election and the blacks won, leading to independence in April. Just after independence, I was employed at 88 Manica Road in Harare as an information officer. This is the same building that had housed the Rhodesia Front of Ian Smith. It is from this building that they planned to stop us from getting our independence. It could be from this building that my arrest could have been masterminded or the whites briefed of our arrest. It is the same building that strategised the killing of thousands others in Rhodesia and elsewhere who wanted to free themselves. But here I was, in this same building now occupied by Zanu-PF. In the same year, 1980, I was to be tasked to open and man an information office for Mashonaland West province and was to be based in Chinhoyi. The same Chinhoyi where I had left the seven who sadly lost their lives. I worked as an information officer until my retirement in 1996.
Q: Do you feel your contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe is adequately recognised?
A: In think we have a big problem as black Zimbabweans. We rarely consider what other people do or did. That is why I feel I am not considered for my contribution to the struggle. I managed to get a farm in 1998 just outside Chinhoyi, but it was not easy.
The electricity at the farm has been cut off and the borehole there is non-functional.
We just rely on the rains for our agricultural production. But the problem is that there are those who got tractors, farm implements and today continue to get Government inputs. I have never been a beneficiary of such assistance. I do not even have a Zanu-PF T-shirt. I am sick and old, but do not have the means to get medical treatment. I am hypertensive and it is a struggle to get medication. I think I should be able to get free medication as Government policy says. My first child was born in 1982, he trained as an agriculture extension officer, but he is not employed. Even those that are in the party in Chinhoyi do not even take time to just come and see how I am doing. But that is life. Look at where I live, it is just a small house or a shack, but others live in plush suburbs and enjoy luxuries.
I think life is unfair, especially after the sacrifice I made towards the freedom of this country. Imagine I had my first child at the age of 50. Do you think I did not want to start a family at a young age? People talk of the word “sacrifice”, but they don’t understand what it means.
It only takes a person who sits down and tries to understand the meaning of sacrifice to know what I am talking about. Look at the people who are being rewarded today, they have never made any sacrifice for this country and I even doubt their loyalty to Zimbabwe.
We have the opposition parties such as the MDC in this area. Their members go about campaigning by mocking me. They say look at Mangwanza and what he has done for this country, but Zanu-PF fails to look after him.
I get interviews from journalists a lot of time, but what do I get in return? If I were a person who does not have Zanu-PF heart, I would have left the party but I soldier on because I think of the suffering I went through and the sacrifice I made.