Story by Tafara Chikumira
THE liberation struggle was characterised by a settler regime that employed sophisticated weaponry in a bid to maintain colonial hegemony, but the freedom fighters emerged victors due to their resilience and unity of purpose.
Zimbabwe’s history of the liberation struggle will be incomplete without the mention of the famous civilian and military aircraft, better known as the Dakota.
Records from the Airforce of Zimbabwe indicate that the plane was introduced into the Royal Rhodesian Airforce in April 1974 after being acquired from Central African Airways.
Recently, the plane has been put on display at the Aviation Museum in Gweru as a way of preserving Zimbabwe’s aviation heritage.
National Museums and Monuments of ZIMBABWE Central Region Acting Regional Director Mr. Clapperton Gutu said, “This is one of the most sophisticated airplanes that was used during the fighting and is still being used in other regions to date.
“This plane has a cruising speed of 333 km per hour. It has a capacity of 21 to 32 passengers of 2700 kg of cargo. It has a range of 2400 km and can operate from short runaways. This mechanism makes it ideal for war operations,” he noted.
The aircraft participated in several internal and external operations that included attacks on the bases of liberation war fighters in neighbouring countries.
The attacks included the infamous Chimoio Massacre of 1977 which killed over 1600 people and veterans of the liberation struggle still vividly remember the anguish the plane would bring to their rank and file.
A veteran of the struggle Cde Simbarashe Rushwaya narrated, “That plane was just bad news to us the Cdes back then. Many people mistakenly think that it had guns mounted to it but alas there were the helicopters for that.”
He went on, “The Dakota would only be deployed to hunt the freedom fighters in places where the Rhodesian forces were not visible. So it will be clear that they would have gotten wind of our existence from sell-outs.”
He added, “I still remember when the plane was deployed at our base. We ended up having one of our Cdes being taken hostage by the enemy. We saw flames on that day.”
Meanwhile, another veteran of the struggle Cde Irene Green said, “The presence of that plane in our areas meant trouble for us. It meant that more often than not you would meet soldiers in the area who would demand information on the whereabouts of Cdes. As people who were now aware of their shenanigans, we would lie that they took the opposite direction so that they leave us in peace.”
Thus, the dreaded Dakota plane resembles the activities of sell-outs in the minds of the veterans of the liberation struggle.
Its addition to the aviation museum will certainly help in enriching the story of the liberation struggle.
This year’s Independence Day main celebrations will be held in Mt Darwin under the theme: Zim @43 – Nyika Inovakwa Nevene Vayo/Ilizwe Lakhiwa Ngabanikazi Balo.