Tichaona Zindoga Political Editor
For many years, Cde Mudhumeni Nyikadzino Chivende is the oracle of the famous Chinhoyi Battle which took place on April 28, 1966, giving the world a glimpse into the engagement that marked the beginning of the Second Chimurenga.
The Battle of Chinhoyi is one of the most talked about, most revered, but perhaps one of the least documented in the country’s history.
Yet the significance of the battle is not lost, as it kick-started the Second Chimurenga, the armed and decisive phase of the country’s liberation history.
The national resistance to colonial settlers began in the early 1890s.
The Chinhoyi battle was also the first military action against the Ian Smith regime after his infamous and illegal Unilateral Declaration of Independence of November 1965.
It is perhaps not fortuitous that the very first shots of the Second Chimurenga were fired on or about the day Ambuya Nehanda, Zimbabwe’s revolutionary matriarch, was executed in 1896 but not before she uttered those famous words that, “My bones shall rise again.”
Recounting the battle in which at least seven guerrillas, Simon Chimbodza, Christopher Chatambudza, Nathan Charumuka, Godwin Manyerenyere, Ephraim Shenjere, David Guzuzu and Arthur Maramba (some accounts state that there could have been as many as 21 guerrillas) has been limited to a couple of people who witnessed the legendary skirmish.
Not even Rhodesian accounts have to date painted the full picture of the battle.
Hence, Cde Chivende and Cde Alex Nharara who witnessed the battle as they were held at a police station where they had been held for assisting the guerrillas, have been holding the key oral links to the historical day.
Unfortunately, Cde Nharara died three years ago at his home in Chinhoyi.
Cde Chivende maybe the last oracle of the historical moment.
The Herald managed to track down Cde Chivende and caught up with him at his farm in Raffingora where he is now based.
“Baba is not feeling very well these days,” explains his wife of 46 years Rosemary.
Age is catching up with the 75-year-old veteran who has had to undergo medical procedures in the last few years.
He sits, sunning himself and absorbing every word and nuance, in his quiet demeanour.
The wife is anxious about the health of her man and any repercussions of being published by the “opposition” media.
Here is a man who was appointed the first Governor of Mashonaland Central, has been a deputy minister and was recently appointed by President Mugabe to the Zanu-PF Central Committee.
The Chinhoyi 7
But the man bears no pity for himself and sets to narrate his tale — which is punctuated by thoughtful moments of silence.
He is unequivocal that there were seven guerrillas involved in the battle which came rather too early and unexpectedly for the fighters who had other plans to tackle the enemy.
“When they crossed the Zambezi River near Chirundu they were part of about four groups of combatants that were making incursions into Rhodesia as it was called then,” said Cde Chivende.
“The seven that came to Chinhoyi had men who came looking for Cde Nharara who was a well-known Zanu member in our area,” he said.
“They stayed in the bush and we looked after them for several days. They planned to destroy the power line from Kariba Hydro-power station which would plunge the country into darkness and act as a signal to other groups that had infiltrated the country in Mutare, Rusape, Chegutu and Mvuma,” he said.
It did not go according to plan, though.
“They intended to blow up a pylon at Lion’s Den, but failed and it only resulted in a minor black out in Chinhoyi,” explained Cde Chivende.
It is said that after the setback the guerrillas consulted the local spiritual leadership which conducted rituals and gave them assurances that all would be well, mission accomplished.
Only it turned out differently.
The settler machinery would be jolted into action and it descended heavily on Chinhoyi.
It so happened that Cdes Chivende and Nharara were sent to Salisbury to collect some goods which included explosives, medicines and cash from Zanu cadres with the point-man being Cde Mundawarara.
They duly went and collected the items and the cash but they saw the first signs of danger.
It was Cde Nharara who suggested that they avoid boarding a bus but board a lorry instead, which they did.
Cde Chivende said he was surprised by the number of police roadblocks on that day.
“We managed to avoid arrest and we went through Darwendale and disembarked at a place called Chaoma from where we walked the rest of the journey,” he said.
They managed to give the contraband to the guerrillas, but on their way to their respective houses, they were arrested and beaten and had their houses searched.
“We were taken to the police cells where we were again beaten and later taken to the bush where we were stripped and beaten and threatened with shooting. We were thrown into the cells and spent the night there,” recalled Cde Chivende.
He recalls that at around 9am they heard the sound of shooting and the buzzing of helicopters.
The battle had begun.
“From the cell we could see the fighting and the planes — about four — that the guerrillas brought down,” claims the witness.
“The two sides exchanged fire the whole day and the seven men stood their ground while the Rhodesian soldiers brought reinforcements.
“Our men were later overpowered after they ran out of ammunition and even then they must have been killed from the air, not by ground soldiers,” he concluded.
The battle ended at around 4pm and the soldiers were carted to an unknown place, and efforts to locate their dishonourable disposal by the racist forces, who were known to cast fallen guerillas in mine shafts and mass graves, have been fruitless.
The site of the battle is where the Mashonaland West Provincial Heroes’ Acre is located.
The number of casualties that Rhodesians suffered during the battle has never been known officially, for obvious reasons.
For their part, Cdes Chivende and Nharara were later taken to an underground cell in Harare and later to Goromonzi before being sent to Sikhombela to serve jail terms of three and five years respectively.
By the end of the tale, one is convinced of the heroism of the Chinhoyi 7.
Zimbabweans talk about the episode with pride, even if it was a lost battle.
The reason is simply because the battle showed Zimbabwe’s resolve to take on the far much superior opponent and lasted the distance to reclaim the space and glory of the people.
One of the things that is also pointed out is that the battle informed the need for change of tactics as freedom fighters could not rely on open confrontation with the well-equipped enemy.
The institutional memory of the liberation war is running out fast and Mrs Chivende believes that such tales must be documented.
Happily, the Chinhoyi Provincial Heroes Acre, which also houses a museum, is a reminder of what the Chinhoyi 7 and others went through for the liberation of the country.
A film about the Battle of Chinhoyi is in the pipeline and may be out next year.
Meanwhile, at the serene Mwala Oyera Farm, Cde Chivende looks towards the dam overlooking the majestic farmhouse.
He may as well be looking into the future.