Conrad Mupesa Mashonaland West Bureau
THE Battle of Chinhoyi (1966) is arguably one of the fierce battles that freedom fighters undertook to signal the beginning of the armed struggle to dislodge the white Rhodesian settler regime.
It was the harbinger of the Second Chimurenga which ushered in black majority rule.
The narrative of what transpired leading to the death of Simon Chimbodza, Christopher Chatambudza, Nathan Charumuka, Godwin Manyerenyere, Ephraim Shenjere, David Guzuzu and Arthur Maramba is well documented, but what many still do not know is how a seven-member guerrilla infantry fought with valour, taking down a huge Rhodesian army equipped with superior weaponry.
The seven engaged the Rhodesian forces on April 28, 1966, and were only declared national heroes four years ago.
One Mr Obert Mandizha, says his friend Muketiwa Chifamba who passed on last year at the age of 83 narrated to him how the seven heroes humiliated and humbled the Smith regime, forcing it to sacrifice lives of some Chinhoyi High School senior students who were forced to join the battle.
Chifamba was a caretaker at Sinoia High School (now Chinhoyi High School) that year.
Mandizha further states that the involvement of the students was kept a secret from the world; as a way to cover up the heavy casualties.
The number of the students and that of Rhodesian forces were killed by the Chinhoyi Seven remains a secret.
“The regime, Chifamba always said before his demise that, it had to sacrifice some white senior students from the school where he worked as a general hand.
“These students perished in the one-day long war and this was kept a secret,” he narrated.
Mandizha and Chifamba being Chinhoyi senior citizens, at times shared opaque beer at the town’s famous beer drinking spots where the latter would narrate the events of the fateful day in detail.
Mandizha now a pensioner, worked at Chinhoyi Government Primary School as a general hand.
“He also narrated that heavy gunfire exchange lasted for hours forcing many indoors.
“When the news of the seven’s defeat was spread through the radio and newspapers, Chifamba told us that it was unbelievable as they believed it was a war that could have been fought by at least a hundred guerrilla fighters,” added Mandizha.
The Rhodesian forces were aided by fighter jets and helicopters but the seven held their positions forcing the Rhodesian forces to deploy all their military might including fighter jets.
They were only killed when they ran out of ammunition.
Unconfirmed reports told by the late Chifamba also suggest that the students who perished in the war were buried at Chinhoyi town cemetery and although The Herald identified one mass grave believed to be where they were buried, it failed to conclusively support the suggestions.
But could the late Chifamba’s assertions be just mere bar-talk. Another former Chinhoyi resident and Mhangura Copper Mine worker, Mr Francisco Mariano confirmed the claims saying the seven tormented the Rhodesian forces to the extent that they deployed more ground forces, some believed to be students.
He claims that some of the people who could have joined were special forces posing as teachers and other professionals.
Mandizha who lauded the Second Republic’s decision to erect a monument at the site of the battle in honour of the Fallen Seven, said the move was a sign that the Chinhoyi Battle indeed ignited the spirit of the Second Chimurenga.
Mashonaland West War Veterans Association chairperson, Cde Cornelius Muoni, a survivor of the Chimoio bombings in 1977 said the Battle of Chinhoyi was the first encounter of the Rhodesian army with the guerrilla forces that were trained to be tactical and conservative with the little ammunition they had. He said the fact that the Battle of Chinhoyi lasted all day despite the seven having limited artillery was a sign that the Seven and the rest of the liberation fighters were committed to liberate the nation.
“The Rhodesian forces underestimated the seven heroes and they had not encountered any guerrilla fight before. When we trained, we were taught to use ammunition conservatively because the enemy was so powerful.
“The seven were few while the Rhodesian forces were many and used all sorts of artillery but still they managed to hold the Rhodesian forces for hours because of the training they had received.
“A guerrilla fighter is trained to minimise the use of ammunition but use it when it is very necessary and this is what made them to fight for so long,” said Cde Muoni.
Cde Muoni who among other freedom fighters paid homage to the Seven at their grave sites six years ago before the declaration of the Chinhoyi Seven as national heroes, professed ignorance over the claims made by the late Chifamba of the involvement of students in the war.
“In 2015 we paid homage to the late Seven at their graves. Where the monument is being built is where they were killed but they were buried across the river near the Chinhoyi high density suburb of Hunyani.
“We continued to pressurise the First Republic leadership about according befitting honour to the Seven but to no avail.
“We were pained as war veterans that our brothers who ignited the Second Chimurenga were not being recognised 40 years on.
“The Second Republic has done so much in honouring these fallen heroes but, it is our wish as war veterans that the monument be completed in time,” added Cde Muoni.
He lamented how war veterans are somehow side-lined and segregated despite having brought freedom and independence to the entire nation.
“Our President, Cde Mnangagwa, his Vice President and the party’s leadership are equally troubled by the lack of our recognition.
“He has always wanted the best for us. We still query why some of us failed to get land and are not even ‘eligible’ to hold party positions as we don’t have any financial muscle,” he said.
The attack, he said, was a game changer for many young freedom fighters who had just joined the war but never participated in any fight.