REMEMBERING THE CHIMOIO MASSACRE OF 23 NOVEMBER 1977-By Steven Chidawanyika
On Wednesday the morning of 23 November 1977, Chimoio Camp, which was the pride of Zimbabweans in exile, woke up to the horror of incessant bombings and shootings, by the Rhodesian colonial regime’s special army forces, that had penetrated deep into Mozambiquean territory, in order to cause untold mayhem. It was a period of horror, pain, death and suffering, in which each individual victim, can best sum up what they actually experienced in their own words, as no individual writer, can bring out the true picture of what individuals who were present went through during those painful long hours [or couplet days] in which the camp was under brutal attack.
But first, we might need to go back to analyzing what Chimoio Camp was like before the attack, and the build up to the real day of attack –Wednesday 23 November leading to 24 November 1977. Chimoio Camp, by guerilla war or any other war camp standards, was a splendid establishment in which exiled Zimbabweans probably wanted to create a real home from home. As a military camp, everything was daily hectic, save for one or two days in the week [Saturday and Sunday], when the camp’s atmosphere, transformed into a near carnival. This, was especially so because on Sundays, usually rules and regulations were relaxed in order for the fighters to move around bases interacting with each other- males and females. There was therefore a lot of movement between bases, a thing that might have compromised the security of the camp.
Basically, Chimoio Camp, was made up of 21 bases two of which namely Pungwe 1 and 2 which were situated more than 60 kilometres away to the north. These 21 bases were The Headquarters [HQ], Matopos, Percy Ntini 1, Percy Ntini 2, Takawira 1, Takawira 2, Chaminuka , Chitepo College, Parirenyatwa, Electronics, Nehanda, Chindunduma, Zvidozvevanhu Garage, National Stores, The White House, Kumazee, National Armoury, Mudzingadzi, Tambawakachenjera, Pungwe 1 and Pungwe 2.
As one approached the camp from the southern direction, having come from the city of Chimoio, they would first come to a heavily guarded boom gate, which seemed to have sprouted from the middle of nowhere. This boom gate was the only official entrance into Chimoio Camp and as I stated, was heavily guarded by immaculately dressed young guerilla guards.It is important to understand that most guerillas were still very young having left school to join the armed struggle.
About a distance of about 800 metres to the east and the right side of the main gate, as one would be entering Chimoio Camp, was a base known as Percy Ntini 2. That base was in a heavily wooded area, which was not be visible from the main road. The baseitself was for housing fighters that had been injured in battle at the front line, as well as those that would would have returned to the rear, to pick up resupplies or for any other business, and would therefore be waiting to go back to their operational areas. Occupants of Percy Ntini 2, were not often seen around the main camp and also did not interact much with guerillas in other bases. Since most of them were injured and coming from war front, they were a bit ill tempered and preferred to stay in isolaation as they also feared to compromise their own security. We can say that they were very vigilant, as they saw the possibility of war or an attack breaking out at anytime. Because of that, they viewed other fighters as being too relaxed and lacking the battlefield experience that they had.
To the left side of the main entrance, situated at a distance of about 400 metres from the main road, was the Matopos base. This was the second of the security bases, and dealt mainly with the daily security of the main camp, as well as conducting vettings of those that were coming to stay in the camp. It also dealt with minor security issues that happened on daily basis as well as undertaking periodic patrols inside and outside the whole Chimoio Camp.
About 800 metres to the west of the Matopos base, was the Takawira 1 base. This base had been the initial training base when Chimoio Camp was first established in 1976. By mid 1977, it had been transformed into a holding base where those that were in transit to various training camps, or waiting to be deployed to the front, after completing their military training or were returning from various missions, were accommodated. It was a base for male fighters only. In 1977, it had held quite a large number of cadres that had come from Doroi and Chibawawa camps who had been cleared by the Matopos security department and were waiting to go for training at Takawira 2 or Tembwe training camps.
And again, about a kilometer to the west of the Takawira 1 base, was the Percy Ntini 1 base. This base, was where injured fighters and fighters that were coming from the front were initially housed, before they were translocated to Percy Ntini 1. The base was by mid to late 1977 being used mainly as a guarding post though I am not quite sure why its initial occupants were translocated to Percy Ntini 1, but the other reason was that commanders wanted to have better control of these veteran fighters, that had returned from the front as they were usually a bit indisciplined maybe due to boredom. At times these fighters would leave their base, without permission to go and look for goodies like cigarettes, tobacco, sweets, biscuits and beer from the Mozambiquan population that lived in the surrounding areas and yet taking things like beer, were totally forbidden during the liberation war.
A distance of about one kilometer to the north from the main entrance gate, was the base known as the Headquarters [HQ]. The HQ base was like the nucleus of the whole camp. It was situated about 200 metres just off the road to the west of the main road that cut through the Chimoio Camp going right up to Takawira 2 and was visible from the main road. Identity features of the HQ base, were a brick under iron building, which had probably been a former colonial Portuguese farm house. A distance of about 20 metres to the west was a structure that looked as if it had previously been used as the farm’s storehouse, but which was being used as additional offices by the command structure at the HQ base.
Another structure of significance at the HQ base, was a huge pole and dagga, grass thatched building, which was used as a conference hall and dining facility for the leadership. It was situated a few metres to the northern side of the farm house, and that is where the Party’s Central Committee meetings and other meetings were held.
Two huge mango trees that were a few metres apart to the south added to the common features of the HQ base. It was under these two mango trees, that leaders assembled and addressed fighters, if there was need for such gatherings. At the HQ, was a noticeable red tractor with a white roof canopy and a number of small fruit trees scattered around the surroundings.
Just across the main road about 800 metres to the south east of the HQ base, was the Electronics base. The base was anew development at the camp, and was for the purpose of providing electricity generation and telecommunications throughout the camp’s bases. By the time Chimoio camp was bombed and attacked on 23 November 1977, bases that have been electrified included the HQ, Chitepo College, Parirenyatwa Hospital, Chaminuka and the Electronic base itself, a phenomenon, which might have added to the explosure of the camp to the enemy, hence compromising security.
About a kilometer or so to the east of the Electronics base, was the Chitepo College of Commissariat. Before it was called the Chitepo College, it had been named Wampua an ideological school, from the era of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic [USSR], where notable leaders like Cho en-li of the Communist Party of China and Chiang Kai Shek, of the renaged party Kuomintang were trained. The Chitepo College of ideology, produced a big number of wartime political commissars , who were also to train other commissars throughout the many ZANU Camps.
About 800 metres down slope to the east of Chitepo College, was the Parirenyatwa Hospital at which the sick and the injured were treated. It was a quite specialized war time medical facility which also offered medical training to both male and female cadres so that they would give treatment to injured fighters as well as the masses, at the rear and even at the frontline. Parirenyatwa Hospital though being a makeshift structure of pole and dagga under grass thatched buildings, was at that time even offering specialized medical processes that are usually done in orthodox hospitals. And these are amputations and various types of theatre operations, trauma management, oral health care, pediatric treatments, gynecological services and many others, which one could not normally expect to see taking place in a hospital of that type.
A short distance of about 800 metres to the east of Parirenyatwa Hospital base, was the Chaminuka security base. This base, dealt with the more serious and specialized security issues such as interrogations of enemy agents caught whilst having been sent on spying missions by Rhodesia, to undertake espionage, reconnaissance and sabotage. The base was also an archive for highly classified security and intelligence documents before they would have been taken to Maputo, where they were deemed safer. There was also an underground field prison, facility at the base, where those awaiting interrogation, being interrogated and those that would have been arrested for breaking revolutionary laws, were detained for various lengths of periods time, depending on the seriousness of their cases punishment.
About another 800 metres to the north of the Chaminuka Security base, was the Chindunduma educational base and school. It was a base for those that were deemed too young to undertake military duties, and so an educational program was formulated to enable them to advance with their schooling. There were so many children who had joined the liberation war, and ages ranged from as young as six years. Some of these had gone to war with their parents , whilst some had been born within the war itself from cadres that had joined the war whilst already pregnant, and from those that were married whilst within the armed struggle. The educational needs all of these children ,needed to be taken care of through an institution like the one at Chindunduma. Teachers were selected from those that had been teaching back home, and those that had acquired a good education.
Whilst Chindunduma was for the young cadres who were also dubbed ‘Red Guards’ a name that originated from their counterpart in the Chinese Communist Party, the base that was about two hundred or so metres, to its west, and named the Nehanda base, was a preserve for female fighters only. Some of these female fighters had joined the armed struggle from as far back as 1973 in Zambia, and had been very instrumental in transporting ammunition to the frontline from the Chifombo base, where they had also been staying then. The other female fighters staying at the Nehanda base, were those that had joined the armed struggle during Mozambique’s transitional government period, and after its independence on 25 June 1975. These were mainly very young girls that had also left primary and the early stages of Secondary educational mainly along the boarder areas, which stretched from the south of the country, to the north, when the wave of those leaving Rhodesia to join the armed struggle, turned into a ‘critical mass’ action.
Because some of these girls left when they were still in primary school and were still children, they were housed in the Chindunduma base with the other very young boys. But those that were at that time still in their teens, [and these were the majority], were accommodated at the Nehanda base,with the older girls and with some going to Chindunduma everyday to attend school.
For the rest of other female cadres at the Nehanda base the daily programmes included political orientation, exercises, day to day running of the base, as well as undergoing training and retraining programmes. This base was specifically under the command of female commanders.
Separating the Chindunduma and Nehanda bases , from the Chaminuka base, was a dirt road, that originated from Mudzingadzi base some fifteen or so kilometers to the east of Chimoio main camp. The road cut through these bases on an east westerly direction, and joined up with the main road that cut through the camp from south to the north, near the Zvidozvevanhu garage, where it proceeded to finally end at Takawira 2 base.
Moving northwards from the HQ base along the main road, one come to Zvidozvevanhu garage which was a transport base. The base itself, which was a distance of about three kilometers to the north of the HQ base and in the centre of the whole camp, just after the point where the east west road joined the main road, was where the few vehicles that serviced the ZANU and ZANLA war effort, were kept, repaired, serviced and supplied fuel. Those that ran this establishment included drivers, mechanics, panel beaters and stores personnel that had been chosen from amongst the cadres.
The Zvidozvevanhu transport base, was to the west of the main road, just off the road itself, but in the centre of the whole Chimoio Camp. It had been regarded as a sort of privilege for one to work within the transport department,t as that would enable one to travel to many places outside the confines of the usually tough and restrictive camp area lifestyle.
A distance of about 3 kilometers to the north of Zvidovevanhu garage, at a point along the main road where the road took a sharp turn leftwards towards Takawira 2 base, was the National Stores base. The buildings of the storage base, were constructed on either side of the road just along the road itself at that very point where the road curved west northwards.
It was at the National Stores, where all logistical supplies for the war effort, were kept and distributed all over ZANU camps and the many Chomoio bases. There were about three or four huge buildings, that served as store houses, for items like food, clothing and toiletries, situated on either side of the road. And to have control there was very strict rationing and distribution of these scarce commodities, so that they could go along way in servicing the huge numbers of people that were daily finding their way into the armed struggle, as well as the whole war effort itself.
It was from the National Stores, that another road branched off the main road to the east towards the Mudzingadzi base. But, before the road reached Mudzingadzi, it first reached a base that was called the National Armoury,where the war effort arms and ammunition, were kept. The National Armoury base, was a distance of about 8 kilometres to the east of the National Stores along the Mudzingadzi road.
About another 8 kilometres to the south east of the National Armoury, and a total of about sixteen kilometres or so from the National Stores, was the Mudzingadzi agricultural base. It was at Mudzingadzi that a spirited effort for self reliance through projects ,was being carried out by the Zimbabwe African National Union [ZANU] party, aimed at producing enough food for itself before Chimoio was finally bombed.
The most important role,however, for the Mudzingadzi base, was that it was fulfilling the aspirations of what a‘complete revolutionary fighter’ ,would be, which was to be a fighting force, teacher and a production force, all in one. And it was at the Mudzingadzi base,that al of these three attributes, were being natured, so that when one got deployed to the war front, they would be ready to fight and defend the masses, as well as to teach them political orientation and lead them in the effort to produce food especially within those areas that had become semi and liberated zones.
Just about five kilometres northwards, though going down slope , from the National Stores was a secluded VIP base, on the right hand side of the road that led to Takawira 2 base. This base was the one dubbed the ‘White House’ contrary to the belief of some that the main house at the HQ was the White House. The secluded Very Important Persons [VIP],base,was situated in a heavily woodland area about 400 metres at the end of the short road that branched to the right side along the road to the Takawira 2 base. The base itself, remained unknown to many cadres resident at Chimoio Camp, as it was usualy occupied on normal days, by heavily armed guards only. It was dubbed the White House, taking the name from that of the residence of the American President, which is officially known as the “White House.”
That White House, building was only occupied by top leaders of the party, whenever they visited the camp on very important occasions. After the Chimoio Camp was attacked, a new base had been constructed to the northern side just beyond the grounds of the wooded area of the White House, though we did not stay long at that base, as the enemy had planned to bomb it too.
Right across the length and breath of Chimoio Camp, and to its extreme central west, was the base that was known as Kumazee, meaning a place of the elderly. To access this base, one had to take a left turn at the National Stores towards the west. It also was a base where elderly fighters and spirit mediums stayed. It was a base that very few people ever visited and which, like Percy Ntini 2 base, whose occupants did not tolerate interactions as they were guided by very strict cultural norms. These men and women, could just not mix with the rest of the young ordinary fighters, who probably due to immaturity,were capable of transgressing against norms.
The base itself, was in the vicinity of the old Takawira 1 training grounds ,to the south of the Takawira 2 training base. It was here, at Mazee base, that warnings were issued some days before Chimoio camp was attacked, warnings that are said to have not been heeded by those in the camp leadership anyway. It is said that the elders or spirit mediums, had warned that they had foreseen metal birds attacking the seemingly invincible camp and that the camp needed to be evacuated,immediately and they transmitted the warning to mortals who unfortunately, did not take heed.
The next base, was the Takawira 2 training camp popularly called or dubbed, ‘By the Yellow River’. This base was the furthest to the north west of the main Chimoio camp, at a distance of about 3 kilometers from the White House, just across the little bridge which was across the so called Yellow River to the south of the camp. To get to Takawira 2 from the HQ base, one had to pass through Zvidozvevanhu Garage, National Stores and then the White House.And from the main gate to Takawira 2, was a distance of about 10 to 12 kilometers.
Takawira 2 was a training base and one can imagine the hustle and bustle of training activities that went on there on a daily basis .Surrounded nearly halfway, by the Yellow River, the base itself, was more of order in chaos, as groups comingled all over as they came and went about their vigorous training activities on a daily basis.
The last of the main Chimoio Camp base, was the Tambawakachenjera base. It was situated about twenty kilometres to the north east of the camp, and had no visible approach access roads. Those that entered into it and exited it, had to use different routes each time for security reasons, so that no visible tracks could be left. The base itself was used as a strategic reserve base, where arms and ammunition were stashed in various strategic positions through out the jungles rather than in buildings. And very few people, even amongst those in leadership, had knowledge of that base.
Before Chimoio was attacked on the morning of Wednesday 23 November 1977, it had become a bustling establishment, for Zimbabweans and if not for the attack, it would have grown to even greater heights. But as fate would have it, its fall began to manifest, during those early hours when nearly all bases save for the school and hospitals, were assembling on parade as was usual . After the attacks that had covered about two days,and were later transfered to Tembwe training camp in the north west of Mozambique on the Zambezi River , those that had survived the Chimoio attack, returned to account for their losses, assist the injured as well as burry their dead . But the unfortunate and painful thing however was that the once mighty Chimoio camp had horribly fallen.
The only exceptional bases that did not suffer from the cannage that took place at the once great Chimoio Camp,were the Pungwe 1 and Pungwe 2 bases that were about 60 kilometres to the north, but which were part of the overal Chimoio Camp set up.