Story by Kenias Chivuzhe
Manicaland province was at the centre of the country’s liberation struggle as freedom fighters and the colonial regime strived to control the strategically positioned province, which provided the nearest route into Mozambique.
As the country marks 43 years of independence, attention is cast on the contribution of Manicaland Province to the success of the liberation struggle. Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique stretches for over 1 400 kilometres, with the boundary covered by Manicaland Province on the Zimbabwean side.
It was therefore no surprise that the province provided the bulk of crossing points into Mozambique for freedom fighters during the liberation struggle.
In response, the colonial regime pulled all the stops to try and handicap the struggle which turned Manicaland into a minefield.
War veteran, Cde Maxwell Masasa explains, “The colonialists planted a lot of land mines from Chipinge up to Honde Valley in an attempt to prevent freedom fighters from crossing the border and get ammunition supplies. A lot of our people lost their lives with animals dying in the process.”
Due to the intensification of the war buoyed by massive recruitment and deployment of freedom fighters, the planting of land mines escalated. The move resulted in some people being disabled while others were killed.
“Areas along Gairezi River and Ruda had a high presence of the Rhodesian Forces as they tried to prevent freedom fighters from crossing the border,” narrated another war veteran Retired Colonel Samson Mtisi. Cde Jairos Mapungwana, whose Chimurenga name was Augustine Mhere.
He joined the liberation struggle in 1973 and fought the 1977 Ruda Battle in Honde Valley where the Rhodesians were heavily defeated.
He says, “The Ruda camp battle was being led by Cde Rex Nhongo as the senior commander and Cdes Josiah Tungamirai and Lameck Temba. The battle conducted on 17 April 1977 was strategic as it was on the border, making it easier to get artillery from Mozambique. We used artillery and ammunition supplied by China.”
“We attacked Ruda Camp at night around 8pm. We had a force of 150 soldiers after getting reinforcement from Tembwe. This resulted in the Rhodesians closing Ruda Camp. One freedom fighter was injured but survived,” he added.
Known during the liberation struggle, Cde Audric Chipunza was another freedom fighter who was part of several battles in Manicaland Province including another Ruda battle of 1979.
“We crossed along the Gairezi River joining the war. On our way back after training we took the Ruda route. We had a sell-out among us who sneaked and alert the Rhodesians of our presence. This resulted in the 1979 Ruda battle,” narrates Cde Blood Chipunza.
“This mist saved the situation as it made visibility difficult thereby making it difficult for the Rhodesians from attacking easily. We were attacked after crossing the border and we were able to go into the interior and join others freedom fighters,” he added.
“The Rhodesians made it difficult to cross into the country as they knew that Ruda was used for both recruitment and deployment of freedom fighters and ammunition,” he also added.
While crossing into the war zone was the first step towards the escalation of the war, support from the masses and a constant supply of ammunition played a critical role in waging a successful battle.
Cde Chipunza further said, “The close cooperation between the masses and the freedom fighters was a determinant factor in winning the war. Military support also made a difference during the war. War Collaborators supported us as they provided information and intelligence on the enemy’s activities. They would also bring us food and clothes. It was unfortunate that some of them died while assisting us.”
The battle to control Manicaland province and the border lying areas is testimony to how strategic the province was in ensuring the success of the liberation struggle.