Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
WHEN it became clear that Zimbabwe would not attain its independence through negotiations, political activists had to find other means to dislodge the stubborn settler regime.
After engaging and borrowing from other liberation movements that successfully waged wars against their colonisers, the pioneer freedom fighers resolved that the only option was to engage in an armed struggle.
It was their commitment and determination to liberate the motherland that pushed them to face the enemy head- on despite the fact that they had no army or weapons.
This is how it all started which culminated in a protracted armed struggle that brought about Zimbabwe’s independence that citizens are enjoying today.
Some of the first freedom fighters may be unsung heroes but they played an important role in motivating youths across the length and breadth of the country to join the armed struggle.
To most people the Swahili word “Chukuwa” might have no significance but to some pioneer freedom fighters it means a lot.
Chukuwa means take away and that is the stance that was adopted by Zimbabwe People Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) commanders to recruit the first young Zimbabweans to join the liberation war.
Many of these young people were gainfully employed in Zambia and were persuaded to leave their jobs and families to join the armed strugggle and at times some who were reluctant were forced to join.
The liberation ethos and ideology were imparted to the recruits who later sacrificed their lives to bring about Zimbabwe’s freedom.
In an interview yesterday, former ZPRA High Command member Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube recounted how difficult it was to recruit the first group of freedom fighters to join the war.
He said ZAPU leaders had convinced the Organisation of African Union (OAU) leaders that they had hundreds of youths who were ready to join the war. OAU through its leadership had taken a resolution to support all African countries to attain independence from colonialists and was even providing material support for liberation movements.
Rtd Col Dube said in line with OAU objections, a training camp was set up in Morogoro Tanzania but when it came to transporting the recruits that had volunteered, some developed cold feet.
He said Chukuwa was then adopted.
“In Zambia we would hold political rallies to drum up support for members of the public to join the armed struggle. We had a lot of Zimbabwean nationals working in firms in Zambia so it was easier to recruit them compared to recruiting from Zimbabwe. We agreed with OAU to provide us with transport as we had several people who had registered to participate in the war. Two huge trucks came from Tanzania to ferry recruits but when we started mobilising people to join the war, most of the registered people went into hiding while others gave excuses,” said Rtd Col Dube.
He said commitment had been made with continental leaders that Zimbabwe was ready for an armed struggle.
“We realised that if those trucks returned to Tanzania without recruits we would have problems with the OAU so we had to find people to transport to Tanzania. The late national hero (Cde Abraham) Nkiwane who was laid to rest recently led us in the process.
“He knew Zambia more than most of us. He knew where Zimbabweans stayed and could be located. We had addresses of Zimbabweans who had registered that they would join the war and we would go to the houses of those people.
“If we found them, we would order them to join the war. But most of them would come up with all sorts of excuses to avoid joining the war.
We immediately introduced Chukuwa where we would hold and throw the individual into the truck. It was a struggle, others tried to resist but that’s how most of our first recruits joined the war” he said.
Rtd Col Dube said while a few escaped from the training most of the recruits remained behind and some of them became top astute military strategists.
He however said it will not be fair to name some of the recruits who initially did not want to participate in the armed struggle.
Rtd Col Dube said the critical training that recruits were subjected to was the ideological and political consciousness training.
“We had commissars who understood politics, they would take the recruits through ideological training, teaching them about the history of the country.
“Political consciousness was prioritised and when we were convinced that they were ready for military training, we took them through the process. Some of them became commanders while others became instructors but I cannot identify them by name now,” said Rtd Col Dube.
He said the forced recruitment that was done in Zambia propelled the voluntary participation of scores of young people who were in the country.
Another Zipra instructor Cde Makhetheni Ndebele, who is commonly known by his pseudo name Cde Jeki Mpofu, narrated his experiences during the forced recruitments of cadres.
He said he was working at Ndola Airport in Zambia when the forced recruitment started in 1967.
“They were only a few people who volunteered to go to the war. Against a target of 200, those who volunteered were less than 50. So, when we realised that most people did not want to voluntarily join the war, Chukuwa was introduced. We would go into their houses and when we ask about the whereabouts of the men, their wives would tell us they were not around. But we would find some of them under their beds and take them away,” he said.
Cde Mpofu said without the armed struggle, it could have taken longer to liberate the country.
He credited military training and patriotic ideology for instilling discipline among the recruits who became inspirational for other citizens especially based in Zimbabwe to join the war.
“Those who were in the country had different motives for joining the army. Some of them were escaping after they had committed crimes, others joined the army after listening to the radio encouraging them to join the army. The radio was being broadcast by Cde Jane Ngwenya who would encourage people to come froward and get guns to fight the enemy. When they came for the guns, they were educated on the broader picture of liberating Zimbabwe and this what brought about our independendence,” he said. — @nqotshili