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Opinion: Remembering Rodgers Mangena (Alfred Nikita) 44 years after his death (28 June 1978)

BY BRIGADIER GEN ABEL MAZINYANE

Introduction

Rodgers Mangena (Alfred Nikita) joined the armed struggle in Zambia where he had gone to seek better educational opportunities.

He was sent to Algeria in 1963 for military training by ZAPU. After his basic military training, he was selected for further training as an officer cadet in Algeria. At the military academy, there were also cadres from FRELIMO, MPLA, ANC and PAIGC liberation movements. At the end of the course, Mangena came out the best student. No wonder the man was the best thing that happened to ZPRA.

I interacted with Mangena from 1969 to 1978 when he died. I first met him in Morogoro/Tanzania where he was a military instructor and I was a trainee (recruit). His speciality was teaching military engineering, combat tactics and judo. During a training exercise at Morogoro, l was appointed his runner when he was commander of the exercise. The exercise covered guerilla warfare, semi-regular and finally conventional operations. We were camped on the foot of the Nguria Ndege mountain for one week. I hardly slept as l had to be close by while he received reports from different sections that were returning tasks and had to run to call section commanders summoned for orders.

The man worked the trainees to total exhaustion. During that exercise, at the second base, we were visited by an OAU delegation. My section was selected to demonstrate an ambush for the delegation and l was selected as an engineer for the ambush, with a task to blow up a tree to block the path of the delegate for my colleagues to carry out a mock assault against the delegation. When the mine did not go off, Mangena came to me breathing fire. I was to trigger the ambush with my explosives, l calmly explained to him how l had laid the mine. He shocked me when he ordered that I should check my electric line to the mine while he remained with the battery. However, l was proved not to be at fault but the rain had caused the short circuit. The explosives procedure was that l carry my battery.

Mangena was a founding Commander of ZPRA with the title of Chief of Staff while the title Commander was reserved for the party president. He built ZPRA from the ashes of what was called Special Affairs under James Chikerema in exile. Under Special Affairs some military command was established in 1971 after Chikerema had left ZAPU to form FLORIZI. He patiently built ZPRA from a few remaining cadres after most had deserted. At one time there were only thirteen (13) guerilla fighters deployed to conduct operations against Rhodesia. Despite those setbacks, Mangena still believed. His command had no vehicles except for the Chief of Logistics and Chief of Operations. There was one ZPRA office at Zimbabwe House (ZH) which all members of the ZPRA High Command used including the Secretary to the High Command (Adjutant General). Here records of all ZPRA activities were kept. Interviews of recruits, training, operational deployment and other records were kept in his office. Mangena was fair, firm, courageous, decisive and a visionary.

FIRM

  • He took the bullet for ZPRA by telling the political leadership that he reported to Josh (Joshua Nkomo) and no one else.
  • He emphasised that ZPRA should be given first priority on opportunities like scholarships, and delegations to friendly countries. Probably assisted by JZ’s slogan “EVERYTHING FOR THE FRONT AND THE SOLDIER COMES FIRST.”
  • He ordered that a soldier who loses his weapon shall get another from the enemy.

FAIR

  • He held no grudge although his direct complements were very reserved. All soldiers were equal and treated the same by his command.
  • He totally implemented JZ’s instruction of “everything for the front and the soldier comes first.”

BRAVE

  • He regularly visited our Front Bases along the Zambezi to personally address ZPRA combat troops. This was very risky considering that the enemy often crossed into Zambia to conduct secret missions.
  • He always wanted to personally attend to issues that threatened to derail ZPRA strategic plans.
  • When GCB Region was under pressure from the Rhodesians who had penetrated the area and its frontage of Kabanga, he went there to discuss the situation with the Regional Commander who is current CDF (General Sibanda). I went there with him. On return to ZPRA HQ, he ordered the formation of a battalion to go and clear the enemy in that area of Kabanga Mission/Zambia.
  • When Rhodesians crossed into Zambia and attacked a ZPRA base near the Kariba wall, l drove with him in the early morning hours to attend to the incident. As we turned off the Kariba Road towards the attacked base, a Zambian Army vehicle had been blown up by a land mine. An axle of the vehicle and a leg of a Zambian soldier was hanging on a tree. Mangena ordered us to proceed further towards the attacked base to bury our comrades. The base was a few meters from the Zambezi River.
  • When Mangena got injured at an ambush near the gate to FC we found him having repelled the attackers with his bodyguards. He ordered us to stop firing as our fire was affecting them.

LOYAL

  • Mangena before joining the armed struggle was a member of the ZAPU Youth in Kitwe, Zambia.
  • He refused to dump the party (ZAPU) where there was a call for a third force during ZIPA. He took a stand that he was only loyal to his party and the people of Zimbabwe.
  • ZPRA’s first port of call inside Rhodesia was the local party leadership (ZAPU)

VISIONARY and MILITARY GENIUS

  • ZPRA strived to make the Battlefront favour them and disadvantage the enemy.
  • At inception with a few fighters and outgunned, ZPRA only conducted night operations and mine warfare.
  • He and his command launched an operation (Old Woman) east of Luangwa/Zambezi confluence towards Mukumbura.
  • He sent people for an officer cadet course to Somalia in 1976 and MILTEZ /Zambia in 1977. In 1977 some were sent to the USSR to train as Battalion commanders and company commanders. This was all in preparation for the formation of big units, as he always said guerillas need to capture ground.
  • He started a ZPRA bulletin the “ZPRA Combat Diary” this was to bring the ZPRA operational activities to the public. ZPRA had nothing to hide.
  • The death of Mangena seemed to have paralysed ZPRA thrust briefly.

Brig Gen Mazinyane was the last ZPRA Chief of Intelligence.

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