Independence in Zimbabwe was not a time for jubilation for most ex-combatants as some found homes they had left intact destroyed and families killed, leaving them with nowhere to go.
For the majority of Zipra cadrés, independence in 1980 was not good news as their political wing Zapu had lost the first elections to Zanu PF.
Scores of Zipra combatants were butchered or incarcerated for no apparent reason between 1981 to 1984 and some disappeared never to be seen again.
One former notorious dissident Tennyson Ndlovu, who was widely known as Thambolenyoka, told Southern Eye from his base in Fiabusi, Insiza district, that 1980 evokes pain and misery Zipra combatants suffered for liberating this country.
Ndlovu, whose guerrilla name was Hezel Magendlela, said when he returned to Zimbabwe after independence, he found nobody at his former home, but only the smell of gun powder as his family had been killed during the war.
“I had to start afresh begging from here and there. Those that were alive expected something from me, but life was just difficult for me and everybody at that time,” Ndlovu said.
He said becoming a bandit or an insurgent was not by choice, but was caused by the prevailing political situation at that time as Zanu and Zapu were at each other’s throats.
Ndlovu said after independence in 1980, he entered the country through Livingstone, Zambia, and became commander of a battalion after their leader was killed by the Rhodesia Special Branch at the border town.
He assumed command and led his men and women to the Gwayi River Mine in Matabeleland North.
While in Gwayi, the battalion was put on identification parade where some combatants were picked up by the special branch and were never seen again.
He said the remaining members of his battalion were sent to Llewellyn Barracks (present day Imbizo) in Bulawayo where others were integrated and some were sent to a camp called Juliet in Gwanda.
Some were absorbed into the Zimbabwe National Army and the rest were sent back to Gwayi.
“I got to Zimbabwe via Livingstone and my battalion commander was killed along the way and l took over the command. We proceeded to Gwayi River Mine where some of my members disappeared after an identification parade by the special branch,” Ndlovu said.
“I left for Bulawayo where l thought we were going to be integrated, but was later sent to Gwanda and back to Gwayi. I was demobilised in 1982.”
Ndlovu said he found a job at National Foods where he worked until 1985 at the height of the Gukurahundi genocide.
One day going home after work, Ndlovu said he saw a long queue of people forced to line up by soldiers who were identifying Zipra and Zapu cadrés.
Sensing danger, Ndlovu said he and a colleague he only identified as Sibindi went to the late Vice-President Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo’s Pelandaba house to enquire about what was going on.
“The queues stretched from Lobengula West to the city centre and soldiers were trying to identify former Zipra and Zapu cadrés. I and a colleague went to Nkomo’s house in Pelandaba to ask the way forward after realising the harassment and we were advised that if we had ulomklampunzi, usebenzise (a knobkerrie, use it).
“l went to Thenjiwe Lesabe in Gumtree where l was directed to go and join some revolutionaries at Silobini in Esigodini,” Ndlovu said.
He operated with 30 other ex-combatants in Matabeleland South.
“This time l was not reporting to anyone anymore, but to my conscience as l did not want to tarnish the name of Zapu and in the group l was the commissar where information was always at my fingertips,” he said.
“We fought to bring the two parties to talk and we achieved that. The type of operation was different because Zapu was responsible for organising civilians for us to get what we needed as guerrillas, but as revolutionaries we had to use money and calves stolen from the whites to get what we wanted.
“I remember one day I got to tall grass and when I was clearing the way using my hands in the Halisupi area of Gwanda, l touched an elephant which trumpeted, but it did not attack me.
“During that time, we were everywhere; you could hear of my presence in Plumtree and in Filabusi within a day.
During the operations we had to apply commando tactics whereby we operated in threes or at times individually depending on the situation on the ground. We constantly monitored the goings-on through newspapers, radio and through people.
“We also monitored parliamentary sessions up to the time of the signing of Unity Accord and the declaration of our amnesty,” Ndlovu said.
He said a total of 116 dissidents laid down their weapons in 1988 after the announcement of an amnesty and of the 30 that operated in Matabeleland South, 24 returned while the others died in action.
After the amnesty, Ndlovu integrated well into the society and held several posts in the war veterans’ association and in Zanu PF.
Presently, Ndlovu is a farmer and a Zanu PF councillor for Ward 14 in Insiza serving a second term.
Ward 14 covers Fort Rixon and Makhandeni.
He is married with 12 children and 20 grandchildren.