Ex-Bosso player on his war exploits in Gwanda

Ex-Bosso player on his war exploits in Gwanda
Published: 21 October 2018 (215 Views)
Joko Thodlana, whose pseudonym was Hughes Mhondoro had sets his sights into turning into a football star, playing for his dream team, Bulawayo giants, Highlanders Football Club.

However, the call to free his country from colonial bondage changed that and he found himself engaged in a cat and mouse game with the Rhodesian forces in Gwanda District in Matabeleland South where he was deployed by Zipra for operations.

In today's interview with our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS), Thodlana speaks about how he was raised in a family that was politically active, a development that influenced him to join the armed struggle, leaving the country to join the war, his training in Tanzania at Morogoro Camp.

Below are excerpts of the interview:

MS: Who is Joko Thodlana?

Thodlana: I was born Jeckonia Thodlana here in Bulawayo on 18 October 1950. But people know me as Joko, so I prefer to use that name.

At first I grew up in Makokoba and attended Lotshe Primary School, but when my family in 1963 moved from Makokoba to Mzilikazi, I also changed schools and enrolled at Mzilikazi Primary.

I come from a family that was politically active as my mother, Idah Mloyi was deep into politics. We used to see cars belonging to the National Democratic Party (NDP) visiting our home. Some meetings were held at our home.

Besides my mother, one of my siblings, my elder brother, Lucky Thodlana used his music career to raise funds for Zapu.

Ubhudi uLucky and his friends started a musical group, which has lived up to now, starting off as Cool Four, changing to Golden Crooners and later on to become Cool Crooners.

They were part of the liberation struggle, although not from the military side of things.

MS: Makokoba and maybe to a certain extent the nearby Mzilikazi were the hotbed of the liberation politics, so how was it growing up there?

Thodlana: Blacks were being ill-treated, I remember when we were still very young, it was not easy to venture into the city centre and nearby suburbs such as North End. But we used to go there and if we came across white boys, sporadic fights would break out.

We would pelt them with stones and disappear. Blacks also had difficulties in a society that segregated them economically, politically and socially.

To put food on the table my mother used to cycle everyday to North End where she was employed as a domestic worker. My mother was also into dress making and we would take her products to Renkini Long Distance Bus Terminus with my elder sister, Ruth to sell them and at times with my other brother, Kennedy.

MS: Any political incident that you witnessed while growing up and is still vivid in your mind?

Thodlana: The most dramatic political incident that I witnessed, but I was still young was the 1960 strike in Bulawayo, which is well known as Zhii.

It turned Makokoba and the Luveve Road into a war zone. Property was destroyed as people went on the rampage protesting against white colonial rule.

A number of cars, especially those belonging to the Rhodesian government, were set ablaze.  It was tense in Makokoba and fearing for our lives, we left our home to seek refuge at Z Square in Mzilikazi where my sister, Lucy was staying with her family.

My sister Lucy, is the mother of the late Highlanders Football Club star striker, Nhamo Shambira. On our way to Mzilikazi along Luveve Road we saw a number of cars such as Land Rovers belonging to the Rhodesian government burning.

A shop belonging to a black businessman, Mafavuke Store was also set on fire, this was because people suspected him of being a sellout. We only returned home after the situation had normalised.

That was after a heavy deployment of soldiers. During those days people from Makokoba would group at Efusini Business Centre to listen to news broadcasts from the radio.

At times people would be told to walk barefooted and also to switch off power as political protest.

MS: Besides Makokoba being a hotbed of politics, it is also home to a majority of football stars past and present. I understand you played football yourself.

Thodlana: I was destined to be a football star, but because of the zeal to fight for the freedom of my country I had to put that aside. I was at Highlanders as a junior player and later on moved to the reserve side.

I was in the same team with people who went on to become household names such as Lawrence "Lofty" Phiri, Tennyson Mloyi, the brother to Douglas Mloyi, the Mloyis are my cousins, Zenzo Dabengwa.

The other guys that I played football with were Chris Mukahanana and Philemon Dangarembwa. Seniors at Highlanders at that time were stars like Barry Daka and Edward "Sales House" Dzowa.

Also in the Bosso ranks was my other elder brother, Isaac Thodlana who was the team's treasurer when we beat Mangula 3-0 in that memorable Chibuku Trophy Final at Rufaro Stadium in 1973.

You know football those days could earn one employment and I as well as friends also played for lower division teams to secure employment.

However, since my brother Isaac was a clerk at the Rhodesia Railways, I managed to get a job there where I worked in various departments such as carriage wagon examiners, bedding and coach cleaners.  I

worked there for some time until I left the country to join the war. Isaac also facilitated the recruitment of many young people into the railways company, many got jobs through him.

He did that for nothing, not these days when people no longer have that spirit of Ubuntu of assisting someone without looking forward to gain something.

MS: Then when did you leave the country to join the war?

Cde Thodlana: I left the country in 1975 in the company of my friend, Simon Jeckonia, whom we worked together at the Railways. We were influenced by the situation after the release of Joshua Nkomo and other nationalists from detention.

One day while we were at work Umdala uNkomo disembarked from the Johannesburg train while coming from Botswana. I was touched when he spoke to us,  that showed that he was a leader who was in touch with ordinary people.

That on its own was enough motivation for me to join the armed struggle. The other thing was the segregation and racial abuse at our workplace.

As someone who grew up in Mzilikazi and Makokoba, I could not just be pushed around, so there was a day at work when I gave a thorough beating to one of my supervisors.

When that happened we were two of us, so for reasons best known to himself he did not report me to the authorities, so I was not fired or arrested.

The person who had an influence in me joining the war was my cousin, Ndabezinhle Nkomo, we used to work together as well.

He also joined the struggle later on. It was also during that time when we would hear of Zanla recruiting hundreds of school children from boarding schools.

MS: So how did you travel?

Thodlana: During our time at the railways we also used to travel to neighbouring countries, particularly Botswana as part of our duties.

Every month there was a crew that used to travel to Botswana to service the coaches. So on this particular day we told the crew on duty that we would go with them to Botswana.

It was during the week, I remember in the evening I went to Sotshangane Flats to collect Sam.

I was dressed in a shirt with military colours, had a kit bag given to me by my nephew Thando Shambira, ubhudi kaNhamo, Levi jeans, corduroy jacket, amajombo, which we had bought from Bata Stores.

Sam was in a khakhi shirt, Lee jeans and a slumber jacket. We were all wearing polo caps. The dressing was influenced by what we used to see in movies.

From Sotshangane we walked to Happy Valley Hotel where Sam wanted to buy some cigarettes, people there looked at us suspiciously and in fear.

To make matters worse Sam was heavily bearded and people used to call him Samora. From Happy Valley we caught a taxi driven by a friend, Eba Bango to take us to the station. We stopped near Tredgold Building where there was a chips and fish shop, shouted at the Portuguese owners.

Eba then drove us to near the fly over bridge, from where we walked to the West Gate. However, when we got to our colleagues they refused to allow us into the train, I think it had to do with the way we looked.

But there was another colleague, Trevor Chiradza who was not part of that crew who told us that there was a first class coach attached to the goods train and he hid us there.

So we had a comfortable journey all the way to Botswana. We arrived at Francistown at around 4am. So we disembarked and approached those guys who had refused us to board the train, they were six of them.

MS: What did they say or do?

Thodlana: They were very shocked to see us, started accusing each other of denying us the ride. Sam told them that we would kill them after attaining military training.

In a bid to appease us they gave us food and did everything to make us happy. The train was going to Gaborone, so we dropped off at Palapye, after also threatening to kill them.

We spent the night there and the following day approached the guard on a train to Gaborone and told him that we needed transport as we worked at the railways.

The guy was nice and he allowed us in and left us at Lobatse, from there we moved back to Gaborone.

We arrived in the afternoon at Gaborone Hotel, which was near the station and then a team of Botswana Special Branch came in and started interrogating us, they asked us a lot of questions.

We told  them that we had come to join the war. We were then told that there were others who were going to school but were kept at Broadest Farm being taken care of by the Christian Care.

But thina we were taken to the prison where there were others including those from the ANC.

We stayed at the prison for more than a month, it was during that time that the prison officers tried to convince me to abandon the idea of joining the war and play for their football team.

They had been charmed by my skills as we used to play soccer, they had even drafted me into their team. I flatly refused. After that we were taken to Francistown where we did not stay long as we were flown to Zambia.

From Lusaka International Airport were taken to  Nampundwe Transit Camp.

- zimpapers

Tags: Bosso, Gwanda, War,
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