The man who fired live bullets above trainees

The man who fired live bullets above trainees
Published: 16 July 2017 (185 Views)
I first met Eddie Sigoge Mlotshwa at Morogoro, which was a ZPRA training Camp in Tanzania. His pseudonym was Cassius Moya. Our group was composed of young men who had volunteered to join the armed struggle.

In this group were comrades who had joined from Zambia and were coming from Zimbabwean families who had migrated to Nothern Rhodesia in the early 1950s. The group before us were comrades who had been selected from Zapu structures both in Rhodesia and Zambia, mostly from Zambia. Sigoge was one of the comrades who were from a Zimbabwean family which had moved to Zambia.

Also coming from Zambia were Josphat Zulu (Chief Litunga), Tshabalala (Gumirendebvu), Jackson, Msusva, Mkhwananzi (Sikhanda), Taffy, Cephas Pope/Chibhoyi, Gutu, Bhobho, Masamba De-Bar, and Toddy Nkomo (Billy Mzamo). The comrades were from Rhodesia and communicated with others in SiNdebele or ChiShona. The comrades who had joined from Zambia were coming from various Zambian communities like Bemba, Chewa, Lozi, Soli, Lenje and others. Although they could speak Shona and Ndebele, they always spoke in various (Zambian) languages.

During our training Sigoge excelled in most of the subjects. Our syllabus included marksmanship, topography, military engineering, obstacle crossing, physical training, first aid, GUA, tactics and security.

Because of his height, he was always at the front during our daily morning runs. As tall as Sigoge was, he was the second tallest. The tallest was Lawrence (Mwana) Ncube.

There is an incident I did not clarify with Sigoge. This happened during our training. During our training in Morogoro we conducted exercises in which we left our barracks to establish bases in the bush as we would do in Rhodesia. During the exercise we conducted various mock military operations such as, raids, demolition, fighting patrols ambushes etc. Sigoge's section C of platoon A was sent for a reconnaissance patrol deep into the Mkumi Game Reserve. This mission without fail always tested the resolve of any unit. I recall when my section was returning from this mission Gagisa (Stanely Nleya) and I had a heated argument as to who was to carry the LMG/RPD (light machine gun). Gagisa won and I carried the RPD thanks to Ben Maphosa, (Dikiza) the section commander who ordered me to. In the Sigoge case, his section coming from the mission we saw Sigoge carrying two guns. Everyone was curious to find out why. As usual no one wanted to divulge negative news of their sections, so section C kept their mouth zipped.

However, as well trained ZPRA guerrillas we finally deciphered their silence. It came out that on their return, (Sigoge and his section C) tired and thirsty, a member of the section was overcome by fatigue and decided to take an unofficial rest. He drew a ring using his rifle bayonet and declared that he was not moving an inch. Sigoge being Sigoge went out of his way and disarmed him. Sigoge should have done that at lightning speed and of course brutal force. It must have taken a lot of courage because this comrade was nicknamed Shylock. A character from William Shakespeare's plays. He had an explosive temper.

Sometime in 1974 I was tasked to take trainees to Morogoro/Tanzania and return with trained guerillas. Among those who I took to Morogoro were Fortune Moyo (Chavunduka), Watson Tshipa (Nyamupingidza), December Ncube (Rurimi), Dundu and others. Those, I was to take back with me to Lusaka, Zambia graduated when I was already in Morogoro.

The graduation was not confined to the parade square but mainly fire demonstration, mock battles and obstacle crossing.

In the ZPRA training syllabus obstacle crossing was the most difficult activity. I am sure up to today it still sends some cold shivers down the spines of those who went through it. During my training in Morogoro with Sigoge, Gagisa, Jevan Maseko, Earnest Magutshwa, Chauke, Tendayi and others we used to dread the subject if it was not torture. Every time we went through obstacle crossing our features came out distorted, burnt, hair, eyebrows and beards (for those who had some). People came out looking spooky. I was shocked on my return to Morogoro and found Sigoge and other instructors chosen from my group had added more horror for trainees. Sigoge and his fellow instructors had added explosives, firing of machine guns on top of fuelled flames. It was a nightmare.

On this occasion the recruits I had brought from Zambia watched those who had completed training as they demonstrated obstacle crossing. After the demonstration by trained guerrillas the recruits were ordered to execute the same exercise. At one of the obstacles the "High Ladder" one trainee refused to jump down. On this obstacle the trainee was supposed to go up the frighteningly high ladder and then jump down on top of buried explosives. The explosives were detonated as soon as the trainee left the spot. The requirement was for the trainee to jump and run irrespective of whether she or he is injured or not or he or she will be blown up by the planted explosives. This trainee refused to jump after seeing explosives being triggered just after trainees had left the spot, showered by the sand and coming out looking like characters from the move "LOST WORLD". Sigoge immediately went up the ladder to dislodge him. Sigoge tried to loosen this guy's grip on the ladder. The guy was screaming "ine mwana mutonga,yirii,yirii".

The Ghanian miltary expert Major Dako was also shouting "Sigoge, leave him." It was a dramatic. A former Zanla colleague once told me after Independence that when a Zanla contingent joined ZPRA at Morogoro during Zipa-1976, the ZPRA group that was undergoing training at Morogoro gave them a demonstration. During the demonstration Sigoge and his colleagues (Jack Mpofu, Gagisa, Ananias Gwenzi (Lt-Gen Philip Valerio Sibanda), Assaf Ndinda and other instructors) were using live ammunition.

Sigoge was firing live bullets above the trainees who were crawling so that they keep their heads down. During debriefing Zanla comrades asked Sigoge who was doing the De-brief on whether incidents of death were possible as live ammunition was being used. Sigoge's answer was, "when you are building a house weak bricks are better broken before they are put on the wall."

The Zanla comrades laughed thinking it was a joke, until Sigoge asked for the next question. This reminds me of when our group demonstrated for the Liberation Committee Team some years earlier. A member of the team collapsed and was rushed to hospital. He was convinced he had witnessed a massacre when it only was just the moulding of future ZPRA soldiers.

It was Sigoge and his fellow instructors who forged a ZPRA soldier that drove the apartheid South African soldier across the Limpopo, from the Zambezi banks.

In 1970 in Morogoro our group which had Sigoge and others was restless, demanding to go to Zambia and cross the Zambezi to conduct military operations. Instead the Liberation Committee sent a team with forms in which we were to declare whether we wanted to join, Frolizi, Zanu or Zapu.

This led to a confrontation with the team as we demanded clarification. We wanted to know why we were being asked to make a declaration after being trained by Zapu. It was when the team was trying to explain that Sigoge and Carlos Masuku kicked the table and the forms went flying. That is when the meeting ended unceremoniously.

Sigoge spent a lot of his time in the armed struggle managing the efficient conveyor belt that produced excellent ZPRA soldiers. When ZPRA opened training camps in Zambia in 1976, Sigoge was deployed at these camps as camp commander or chief of staff. Once travelling from ZPRA headqarters back to his camp along Lusaka-Malawi highway with Ananias Gwenzi as driver, they stopped along the way for rest and refreshments, wise waters included. After this rest Sigoge declared, "I am now taking over as pilot." Unfortunately for the new pilot the vehicle suddenly turned supersonic, missed the runaway and crush landed on a ditch. Although the truck came out looking like it had picked an argument with T-34, it, however, was able to continue with the journey and its contents (the two comrades) unscathed and crafting a story to send to the headquarters.

Late 1977 Rhodesian SAS infiltrated Zambia, Chikwenga area where ZPRA had CGT camp. Sigoge and Gagisa were camp commanders and chief of staff respectively. One of their patrols stumbled on the SAS hiding. There was a fire-fight and we lost one man. The Rhodesians had casualties which they had extracted (evacuation under fire in hostile territory). During extraction the SAS abandoned some equipment. One of abandoned items was a Rhodesian issued gas stove.

The gas stove was abandoned in the middle of cooking. The hissing of the burning stove kept the ZPRA guerrillas unit at bay. Believe it or not one of these guerrillas had seen or used a gas stove. Gagisa and Sigoge got a report of the fire fight with Rhodesian forces and the hissing sound. Hissing sounds and guerrillas mmmh! However, Gagisa and Sigoge went to the scene where Sigoge crawled and pulled the object that had stopped hissing. He threw it at Gagisa saying "nanku okuyinto kwakho," Gagisa threw it away expecting it to explode.

-The writer, Retired Brigadier-General Abel Mazinyane is a former Zipra chief of military intelligence.

- zimpapers

Tags: Army, War, Zimbabwe,

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