Manicaland province: A cauldron of Zimbabwe’s struggles for Uhuru

Source: Manicaland province: A cauldron of Zimbabwe’s struggles for Uhuru | Sunday Mail (Opinion)

FOR the first time in the history of post-independence Zimbabwe, Manicaland province will host this year’s independence celebrations, as part of the Government policy of rotating such national events in all the country’s 10 provinces.

The hosting of national independence celebrations at Murambinda Business Centre in Buhera will no doubt spotlight the significance of this province’s immense contribution to the successful execution of the liberation struggle.

Geographically located on the eastern side of Zimbabwe, along the border with Mozambique, Manicaland was the cauldron of the country’s liberation struggle as it became a conduit through which hordes of Zimbabweans used to cross into neighbouring Mozambique for military training or as refugees.

The province’s population, 2 037 703, is the second highest in the country after that of Harare. It covers an area of 36 459 km2. The border with Mozambique stretches over 1 400km of the boundary covered by Manicaland province. Seven districts — Buhera, Chimanimani, Chipinge, Makoni, Mutare, Mutasa and Nyanga — and three local authorities (Mutare City Council, Chipinge Town Council and Rusape Town Council) make up the whole province.

Given the province’s proximity to Manica province on the other side of the border, and the fact that the two peoples across the border share a lot of cultural and lineage heritage, it provided multiple entry points into Mozambique.  This created difficulties for the colonial authorities to thwart an influx of people crossing into the neighbouring country.

Although a lot of other Zimbabweans disgruntled by the existence of the colonial setup crossed into Botswana or Zambia, it is the Mozambican border that had the biggest number of people crossing.

To curb the influx of young cadres going to Mozambique to train as combatants, the colonial authorities placed landmines and deployed armed security details along the border.

However, all this high-handedness failed to deter determined Zimbabweans from freeing their country through the barrel of the gun.

From Chipinge to Honde Valley, a lot of people lost their lives as they desperately tried to enter Mozambique.

Many indigenes in distant areas travelled to Manicaland determined to cross into Mozambique. However, the bulk of those who crossed the border were from Manicaland province.

Mozambique’s incursions caused a lot of distress and anxiety to the Rhodesian authorities. The number of young cadres joining the ranks of ZANLA forces based in Mozambique continued to balloon.

Out of desperation to derail the momentum of the war, Rhodesian forces sought to decimate refugee and training camps in Mozambique close to the Manicaland border. They targeted Chimoio and Nyadzonya, the largest camps housing mainly refugees, women and children.

First, the Rhodesians deployed their elite force to bomb Nyadzonya in what was code-named Operation Eland on August 9, 1976. More than 1 028 people perished as they were ambushed when they least expected it by the Rhodesian forces.

Second was the Chimoio attack that took place from November 23 to 25, 1976. Chimoio was a large ZANLA encampment that had thousands of people mostly waiting for training.

The bombing of Chimoio was a tragic moment in the history of the liberation struggle. It clearly showed the colonial regime’s brutality as it violated international law on the conduct of war by killing defenceless civilians consisting of women and children. There was international outrage over the conduct of the Smith regime. It was also clear that the ZANLA forces had been infiltrated and it called for different tactics when the rivers of blood had dried.

The attacks on Chimoio and Nyadzonya, however, failed to dampen the spirits of the freedom fighters who sought to avenge the death of their fellow compatriots. Several reprisal attacks were planned. The major reprisal attacks included what was later to be called the Battle of Rusvingo and the Battle of Mavonde.

The Battle of Rusvingo took place on July 22, 1978 and lasted for almost the whole day into the night. While several freedom fighters lost their lives, the Rhodesian forces also incurred a lot of casualties. But the decisive battle that tilted the odds in favour of the Patriotic Front at the Lancaster House Constitutional Conference negotiations was the Battle of Mavonde.

Mavonde was strategically placed, 20km from the Mozambican border, and had been designed for Frelimo fighters by the Soviets in their fight against Portuguese settlers.

It was a model military facility with a 6 000-strong ZANLA commando resident force in camp. The Battle of Mavonde lasted for about 10 days, from September 27 to October 6, 1979.

The Rhodesian forces had gathered their elite forces and had hoped to liquidate the camp, which was set up a few kilometres from the bombed Chimoio.

The Chimoio bombing had awakened the ZANLA forces to up their vigilance and training. They were much more prepared for the battle than the ambush they had encountered at Nyadzonya and Chimoio.

Rhodesian narratives always want to present the Mavonde battle as a tactical victory for Ian Smith, but the truth is that ZANLA forces incurred lesser casualties.

The Rhodesian forces lost a lot of their men, including their military hardware, and it forced General Peter Walls to concede defeat, effectively marking the end of the protracted liberation struggle. The Rusvingo and the decisive Mavonde battles were just a few of the many encounters that the freedom fighters had with Rhodesian forces in Manicaland.

After the war, freedom fighters were instructed to gather at assembly points (APs) in a ceasefire that was being monitored by the Commonwealth force, dominated by British soldiers. It was composed of 1 500 peacekeepers, including 150 Australians, 22 Fijians, 50 Kenyans and 75 New Zealanders.

The ceasefire came into force on December 29, 1979. For a week after December 29, armed ZANLA and ZIPRA freedom fighters gathered at 16 APs established in the then-Rhodesia. Foxtrot or Dzapasi Assembly Point, located about 60km south of the Murambinda Business Centre, was one such camp established by the monitoring force.

Dzapasi Assembly Point was the largest in terms of size and numbers compared to all the other camps. It contained more than 6 000 armed ZANLA freedom fighters.

It was inevitable that the camp would receive such a huge number given its proximity to Mozambique, which housed thousands of trained and semi-trained combatants.

Forty-four years after the attainment of uhuru, it makes sense to have Manicaland province hosting the national independence celebrations. It is a province that bore much of the brunt of the Ian Smith brutal regime and surely holds a special place in Zimbabwe’s national memory.

Ranga Mataire is the Zimpapers group political editor. For feedback, email