Ex-bodyguard bares all on Nikita Mangena

Ex-bodyguard bares all on Nikita Mangena
Published: 22 April 2018 (305 Views)
THE late Zipra commander, Rogers Alfred Nikita Mangena, was recently honoured by the Government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa by naming a cantonment area which houses Zimbabwe National Defence University after Mangena in recognition of his immense contribution to the country's armed struggle. It is against this background that we traced Mangena's only surviving bodyguard, Retired Major Ben Ncube pseudo name Charles Shava to find out what kind of a man Mangena was. Below are excerpts of the interview our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda had with Rtd Maj Ncube.

MS: Rtd Maj Ncube, we understand you worked during the war of our liberation as one of the bodyguards of the late Zipra commander, Nikita Mangena. How long were you in that position?

Rtd Maj Ncube: I was directly picked by Mangena himself in October 1976 when he came to the front after our unit, which was under the command of Rodwell Nyika (Retired Brigadier-General Collin Moyo) had fought a fierce battle with the Rhodesian soldiers in Feira near the Zambezi River. After that battle Mangena and Lameck Mafela (late Lt-General Lookout Masuku) came to assess the situation and in fact they had been there before when we were ready for deployment, but we were bombed after they left. They then came back and that is when the commander picked me to do duties as his security man.

MS: Maybe before we go further our readers might want to know who is Ben Ncube.

Rtd Maj Ncube: I was born at Sibali area in Kezi on 6 May 1952. I attended Mbuya, Gohole and Donkwe-Donkwe schools for my primary education. After that I moved to David Livingstone Mission in Ntabazinduna for my Form One and Two. Members of our community then moved to Lupane, some to Pupu, others Gomoza while my family settled in Mzola. We left Kezi to make way for the farms there and that was an unjust political move by the white settlers' regime. After school I looked for a job in Bulawayo but could not get one and at the same time I had started my political activism in Makokoba as the youth secretary for Zapu. It was in 1975 that I decided to leave the country and join the armed struggle in Zambia via Botswana.

MS: Take us through your journey.

Rtd Maj Ncube: We boarded a Suka Sihambe Bus at Renkini and there were four of us. However, we had tried before and failed, the reason being that the first time the conductor who was supposed to guide us was not there. When we went for the second time we found him. We travelled well and when we were a few kilometres from Ingwizi Irrigation Scheme in Brunapeg in Mangwe District to be precise, the conductor came to us and said we should disembark as there was a likelihood that we would find a road block at Ingwizi. So we dropped off.

However, what is interesting is that we put up for the night at Ingwizi where we were accommodated by a worker there. We woke up early the following morning and crossed the border into Botswana just before sunrise. We then walked all the way to Francistown. We stayed in Botswana for some time before we were moved to Zambia where I was trained at Mwembeshi together with the likes of now Retired Major-General Stanford Madliwa Khumalo and uBuzhwa (Major-General Nicholas Dube), who is the country's ambassador to Mozambique.

In actual fact Maj-Gen Dube and I are homeboys from Lupane, we come from the same ward. After training I was chosen to undergo further training in reconnaissance and there were 45 of us. Later some were taken for further training in the then Soviet Union, others to German Democratic Republic (GDR) while some of us who remained and we were deployed to the front for operations. I was deployed to Feira in a guerilla unit that was heading to Sipolilo (Guruve) in Mashonaland Central Province and others to BL1 and 2 enroute to Hurungwe and Kazangarara in Mashonaland West. When the unit I was in was about to cross it was attacked my both ground forces and the Rhodesian Airforce. It was after that battle that Mangena himself came together with Masuku and after getting the report from Rodwell he pointed at me and said

"I am taking this one with me". That is how I joined the team of his bodyguards. Already he had Pressman, Sam and Gorden, a Beitbridge boy. I replaced Gorden who was seconded to the National Security Organisation (NSO). So the team of his bodyguards became myself, Pressman and Sam.

Pressman and Sam were killed together with Mangena.

MS: So how did Mangena choose you?

Rtd Maj Ncube: I am not sure how but like I said he just said he was taking me with him to Lusaka and that was that. He then told me that although I was to provide security to him like the other two, I had to do other duties. He said there were going to be occasions when I would not move with him, but I would remain in the office. I was to remain looking after the office, fixing appointments and so on. He told me that I was to keep his diary, lock and open his office. I kept the keys. All appointments for meetings were made through me. The only people who did not make appointments with the commander were Lookout Masuku, who was Zipra's Political Commissar and the Chief of Staff, Ambrose Mutinhiri. Others would ask for appointments and they would do so through me.

MS: So you were crucial in the commander's daily work. You might have been left with one or two important documents I suppose.

Rtd Maj Ncube: Unfortunately all those documents were destroyed when the Rhodesians bombed the Zipra headquarters in 1978 at the Freedom Camp just outside Lusaka.

MS: Among the commanders and other comrades who was very close to Mangena?

Rtd Maj Ncube: He was good to everybody but the person who looked to be very close to him was Assaf Ndinda who was the Deputy Chief of Operations to Enoch Tshangane (the late Retired Major-General Jevan Maseko). He could come anytime and talk to the commander. The two looked to be at home in each other's company.

MS: I have heard some ex-Zipra fighters say the reason why Mangena went personally to bury those comrades who died in that ambush near Kabanga Mission, also resulting in him being killed in that landmine incident was because Assaf Ndinda was among the dead and also because that Assaf also came from near his home in Mberengwa. Is that true?

Rtd Maj Ncube: I would not say so. They might be right or wrong. What I witnessed with my own eyes was that Assaf did not have to make appointments like other commanders to see Mangena. However, what happened is that Assaf had just come from operations at the front and Mangena was not happy that the Rhodesians were being spotted inside Zambia and so he instructed him (Assaf) to go with the guerillas who were going for deployment so that they deal with those enemy forces. Unfortunately they were ambushed and Assaf was among the dead. Mangena as a hands-on and brave commander then felt obliged to go and bury them.

MS: If Assaf was such a trusted field commander why is his history being down played. Don't you think his role is being suppressed?

Rtd Maj Ncube: I also believe he has not received the attention that he deserves. Surely his name and achievements are up there with the best. He was a brilliant soldier and commander.

MS: Then when one talks about Mangena and his inner circle, his bodyguards included, like you, some former Zipra fighters say he at times had dictatorial tendencies. Some even claim you killed some of your colleagues on flimsy excuses. What do you say to such sentiments?

Rtd Maj Ncube: Those are outright lies, which even do not deserve a response as it would seem like legitimising them.

MS: What kind of commander was Mangena?

Rtd Maj Ncube: He was a brilliant commander who set targets and tight deadlines, things that are consistent with any war situation. In a war every second counts. If Mangena gave instructions that such and such operation should be accomplished by such a date and time, you did expect him to smile at a soldier who took his time and did things in his own way. I participated in our war of liberation, after the attainment of Independence I served in the Zimbabwe Intelligence Corps (ZIC) in the Zimbabwe National Army, have read and studied some military literature and I am still to come across a commander who compromises on deadlines and targets. So Nikita Mangena was not different, that man was a strategist par excellence, brave man and forward looking. He built Zipra from scratch, after the Zapu internal problems of 1971 and in 1976 after the collapse of Zipa in Mozambique. So what do people want?

MS: So all those people with such negative sentiments against Mangena should not be believed?

Rtd Maj Ncube: What I can say is that in any organisation you cannot satisfy all the people, grumbles and complaints will always be there. However, it is unfair to accuse Mangena of things that he never did. In fact those who are saying Nikita Mangena was a bad person were people who could not keep pace with his demands as a commander. These are people who were failing to meet the targets and those tight deadlines.

- zimpapers

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