‘Good evening General Peter Walls’
It was just after 8pm, and the night was still. A few crickets were chirping and stridulating, interchanging with hooting cars which were roaming the almost deserted streets of the then Salisbury industrial area.
This was the evening of December 11, 1978, when a Perrance Shiri-inspired eight-man guerrilla crack-team went for the “jugular”, embarking on an audacious and spectacular combat that knocked right on Ian Smith’s front door.
It was the historic evening that the Shell oil tanks were bombed, paving the way for Zimbabwe’s independence. Arguably one of the well-calculated and daring combats in the liberation history of Zimbabwe, a brain-child of war stalwarts — the towering Josiah Magama Tongogara, the stammering Solomon “Rex Nhongo” Mujuru, the willy but scheming Perrance Shiri and the ever courageous Constantino Chiwenga.The bombing of the Shell oil tanks was mooted at Uriri Base, Tete, Mozambique and is widely believed to be one of the catalyst attacks which forced Ian Douglas Smith to the table for the Lancaster House negotiations.
Whilst a series of decisive events took place in 1978, it must have been the courage of the Chigayo Base-trained cadres: States America Mudzvanyiri, Take Time, David “Lobo” Mushangwe, Member Hwanda, Simpson “Cde Kuvhiringidza” Mukuru Manjonjori, Brian Tichatonga and 17-year-old Norest Muhondo, that cut the final nail in Rhodesia’s coffin. Prior to the attack, a number of significant events had taken place in Rhodesia in 1978.
It was on March 3 when the Salisbury Agreement (better known as the Internal Settlement) was signed, leading to a “dubious” black majority rule signed by then Prime Minister Ian Smith, Abel Muzorewa of the UANC, ZUPO president Senator Jeremiah Chirau and ANC president Ndabaningi Sithole. On March 14, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 423, then condemned the Internal Settlement. Archie Dunaway, an American Baptist evangelist, was stabbed to death by freedom fighters on June 17 at Sanyati Mission Hospital, 228km west of Salisbury.
The Rhodesians had won over the Western Transvaal (41-9) in a Currie Cup match at Hartsfield Rugby grounds in Bulawayo.
And on August 15, probably to placate blacks, The Rhodesian Herald had been renamed to The Herald. But all these momentous events could not steal the limelight from the December bombing of the Shell tanks. It was a combination of a selfless walk of about 215km from Nyamapanda to Harare, a spirited defiance of a malaria attack and a 14-day reconnaissance camp on a mountain in Domboshava’s Zimbiru village meant that this group of special freedom fighters were destined to pencil their own piece in the history books.
Cde Kuvhiringidza vividly remembers the historic night with nostalgia: “We drove from Mbuya Hwiza’s Mbare residence in two cars. Sekuru Hwiza offered his Rixi Taxi which ferried our ammunition and we followed with two other taxis from Pfumo Taxis. Harry Muzuva was driving the other one and I took over the wheel of the other taxi from ‘Mupostori’ because we wanted to drive at high speed for we feared that we could be detected.
“‘Redemption Song’ by Bob Marley, which we had played earlier, was still echoing in my ears. I could see Cde States America Mudzvanyiriri through the rear-view mirror pouncing his chest with a clenched fist.
“He was talking vulgar, murmuring obscenities to himself to keep everyone in the mood. His words were to the effect that the oppressors had been given too long a rope and time was nigh to cut it.
“We took with us Tasi Muhwati, a son of the owner of the other house we were using in Mbare in case his parents would want to sell out. We then arrived at a bus stop along Lyton Road and parked our cars facing Rugare township.
“There was a cool breeze which was swaying the grass, such that one could mistake that for a crawling person. There was this noise from chirping crickets and one would think some Rhodesian soldiers were blowing some whistles. We then had to handcuff Muzuva after he developed panic attacks.
“It was a scary moment but we were enough in numbers to provide cover for everyone. Remember this was in town, a place which was infested with Smith’s operatives. Despite the cool breeze, almost half of the group was sweating and panting. As for me, I could feel a chill down my spine but there was no turning back.
“Norest Muhondo was very brave despite his age. He is the one who fired the first missile using an M90 rocket-launcher and it hit the target there and then. We could hear its hissing sound as it went for the kill.
‘‘For a moment, time stood still, frozen by the weight of the shot, also compounded by fear to miss the target.
“By the time we fired the second shot, a golden fireball was already in the sky, we were not so sure if the second attempt reached the target or not because the mission had already been accomplished. The attack took less than 10 minutes,” narrated Cde Kuvhiringidza.
He said after the attack, they quickly dashed into their idling cars and drove to Rugare where they joined several people who were now in the streets following the booming sound of the explosion and the golden fireball which had lit almost the greater part of Salisbury as much as it had engulfed the towering tanks.
“We drove from the scene at high speed and the other car drove towards Snake Park while we went to Rugare and joined in among startled onlookers who had been shaken by the noise of the explosion. I recall Norest was drenched in sweat, his heart pounding but he could not stop mockingly saying, ‘Manheru General Peter Walls’ (Good evening General Peter Walls).
“Everyone was ecstatic and we later retreated back to a mountain in Snake Park where we joined the other group. We stayed there for two nights before we went back to Domboshava,” he added.
The blazing oil tanks took a fortnight to put out. Additional fire fighters had to be sourced from South Africa to complement the Rhodesian Fire Brigade which had been overwhelmed by the inferno. Cde Kuvhiringidza said when they returned to Domboshava, they left Norest and Brian Tichatonga to organise an urban detachment since that was the instruction when they left Mozambique.
Because a local chief was dining with the enemy, Norest could not live longer to witness a free Zimbabwe, he was sold out to the Smith regime which captured him and killed him in front of villagers.
“There was a local Chief in Domboshava who was in constant touch with the Rhodesian Army and he sold out Norest and other comrades. He was captured in 1979 and killed in front of villagers. He could not live to see the result of his missile shot. The news was devastating when it was delivered to us in Mozambique.”
Norest was buried in Domboshava where he lay until 2017, when he was exhumed for reburial at his Mutoko rural home.
However, Cde Kuvhiringidza is a troubled soul after his comrade was denied a provincial hero status. Cde States America Mudzvanyiriri went to Canada soon after independence and he has been holed up there up to now. Cde ‘Lobo’ is still alive and is in Harare while Cde Kuvhiringidza is in Chimanimani.
“States America Mudzvanyiriri went to Canada soon after independence and has been living there ever since, Cde ‘Lobo’ is in Harare, I am in Manicaland and Brian is in Harare. Am not sure of the others but I reckon they are alive. I could have heard of their demise if it was the case,” added Cde Kuvhiringidza.
In four days’ time, Zimbabwe commemorates 39 years of independence. It is a time the country celebrates close to four decades of emancipation.
Source – zimpapers