Op Stronghold - Shamva
Nick Baalbergen was a Intaf regular who was involved in these operations from the beginning. He wrote this article on request and all copyright belongs to him.
Some published material covering this subject, refer to the Madziwa operation as "Operation Overload Two". As far as Intaf was concerned, the simultaneous relocation of the population of the Madziwa Tribal Trust Land into 10 Protected Villages was "Operation Stronghold", as confirmed by our notice of re-deployment dated 23 August 1974, which lists the ten names involved. Although Sean Hundermark was selected for re-deployment, he did not move onto "Operation Stronghold" and was replaced by another person.
The Madziwa Tribal Trust Land falls within the Shamva District, lying to the east of Chiweshe and like Chiweshe is long and narrow, running roughly south to north. At its widest point it extends about 20 kilometres east to west and about 40 kilometres south to north. To the west of Madziwa lies the Mtepatepa farming area, to the south is the town of Bindura and to the north, the town of Mount Darwin. The road between Bindura and Mount Darwin passes through Madziwa, roughly bisecting it. Immediately east of the Madziwa TTL lies the Madziwa Mine and the Umfurudzi Wild Life Area. The District Commissioners Offices are located in the town of Shamva, to the south east.
It is recorded that prior to the start of "Operation Stronghold", concerted security force operations had been carried out in the Madziwa TTL, to eliminate the immediate ZANLA threat to the relocation of the population into protected villages. It is understood that this had been largely successful.
We were transported to Madziwa and briefed at the base, located near Bradley Institute. The briefing was given by DC Ian Thom, whom I had worked with in the Umtali District two years earlier, before his promotion to District Commissioner. Bradley Institute was a Salvation Army complex near the southern boundary of the Madziwa TTL, on the Bindura / Mount Darwin road, at approximately mid point. Unlike Chiweshe, Madziwa did not attract as much media attention. This was probably due to two factors, it was not as accessible from Salisbury and the Salvation Army staff at Bradley Institute appeared to be more inclined to being supportive, rather than confrontational.
The plan for Madziwa, was for the construction of ten Protected Villages, numbered from "1" in the south to "10" in the north. Some time into the operation, an eleventh PV evolved naturally around Bradley Institute, as it was already a business centre. Preparation of the sites had begun at the same time as in Chiweshe, from about the beginning of July. When we were deployed to our specified PV sites, the extent of the preparation was immediately apparent. The earth walls of the "keep" had been bulldozed into place - they were significantly more substantial than those in Chiweshe, being 3 to 4 metres high all round. The security fencing had been completed, consisting of the PV perimeter fence with gated entry/exit points and an interior security fence enclosing an area around the "keep". This second security fence, an improvement on the Chiweshe design, had one gated entry/exit point, leading into the "keep". The fact that there was considerably more preparatory work at a generally better standard than in Chiweshe, can be attributed to two factors. The Chiweshe operation was carried out within an unrealistically tight time schedule, dictated by security concerns, the extent of preparatory work was therefore constrained by both the time available and logistical/financial limitations. Secondly, the extent of the preparatory work carried out in Madziwa can largely be attributed by the efforts of Andre Ferreira, the AO had been tasked with the planning and ground work. I had been stationed at Inyanga with Andre Ferreira before the start of my national service.
We were deployed to our allocated PV sites on essentially the same basis as in Chiweshe. One of us was posted to each of the PV sites, with a contingent of DAs and an army national serviceman. In the initial stages of the operation, a PDO or FA and his team would be allocated to each PV site to carry out the construction of "keep" infrastructure and the installation of basic services to the village. The short term security support function, carried out by Quebec Coy SAP in Chiweshe, was carried out in Madziwa by detachments of Air Force guards posted to each PV site. As with the SAP contingents in Chiweshe, the Air Force detachments seconded to the Madziwa operation were strictly deployed in a support role. They were not to take part in daily activities, other than those of a defensive/security nature. The six man detachment of Air Force guards deployed to my PV site, were totally self sufficient, arriving in their own Land Rover with their own tents and provisions. They had their own reporting structure, although they operated under the "keep" standing orders. In our various Madziwa locations, as in the Chiweshe environment, a diverse collection of individuals would have to learn to work together as a cohesive team. Several months into the operation, once the village had been occupied, the "keep" manpower component was supplemented by deployments of members of the RHU (Reserve Holding Unit) on their routine six week call-ups, on the basis of one per PV.
I was deployed to the"Goora" Protected Village site (No 7). Goora PV was located near the north eastern boundary of the Madziwa TTL, east of the Bindura / Mount Darwin road. About ten kilometres due north of my "keep", was Pfura mountain, which lay on the Shamva / Mount Darwin district boundary. Pfura mountain was named Mount Darwin by early inhabitants of the area, who established the settlement of Mount Darwin within sight of the mountain, to the north. Pfura was a permanent backdrop to Goora PV. A total of 21 DAs were posted to Goora. Unlike in Chiweshe, the Madziwa contingent of DAs included Lance Corporal Philemon, it was therefore already structured and there was no need for the assessment and promotion process to build a structured unit. John Meintjes was the national serviceman posted to Goora. A PDO and his construction team joined us, as did the six man Air Force guard unit. We were ready to get going!
From the outset, Madziwa differed from Chiweshe. Madziwa was planned to be a much more paced operation, not pressured by unrealistic time constraints. The movement of the Madziwa community into their ten designated Protected Villages, was to be carried out over a period of 3 months, as opposed to 3 weeks in the case of Chiweshe. This allowed the PDO to construct the "keep" infrastructure properly and to have the village basic services in place before people started moving in. People would start moving into the village within a few weeks, initially constructing their houses in predetermined areas within the fenced area, while continuing to live in their original homes outside the village, until construction was complete. Clearly Madziwa was a logistically less demanding task, having approximately a third of the population and half the number of PVs, but lessons learned from Chiweshe resulted in an ulimately more successful operation in Madziwa.
For the first month our accommodation consisted of canvas sheeting, except for the Air Force contingent, who had their issue tent. Water was tankered in and pumped into our future water storage tank, temporarily mounted on loose concrete bricks. Pumping equipment would shortly be installed at the river, about 800 metres from the "keep", to supply water to the village. Temporary cooking facilities and rudimentary showers had been set up.
Initially we carried out patrols into our immediate area to orientate ourselves and become familiar with the location of existing kraals etc. Once the patrols had covered our area of responsibilty, we concentrated on the construction of the "keep" wall walkways. The walkways, called "catwalks", were cut into the inside of the four earth walls surrounding the "keep" buildings. They were lined with sandbags, filled with a mixture of sand and cement, which would harden to form a permanent wall. A guard box constructed of poles, with sandbagged walls and roof, was constructed at each of the four corners. The "catwalks" were used primarily by the night guards and as firing positions in the event of an attack on the "keep".
The construction of permanent buildings within the "keep" was well under way. Unlike in Chiweshe where the buildings were wooden structures, the Madziwa "keep" buildings were of concrete brick construction. This would support a suitably sandbagged roof, which we felt was a necessary precaution. The plan was for two DA barrack blocks against one wall and opposite them, against the opposite wall, two similar blocks, one as a communications / administration centre and the other as my accommodation. Between the two sets of buidings, against the third wall, would be the DAs shower and toilet facilities, a kitchen and the water storage tank / boiler. The "keep" interior would remain open, as the buildings would be arranged against three of the four walls. The fourth wall included the entry point into the "keep".
During the initial phase of construction, we had the use of prison labour, the result of a local arrangement between DC Ian Thom and the Prison Service. They proved particularly useful in the construction of the "keep" soak away system, when truck loads of rock had to be placed and covered over with corrugated iron sheeting. The PDO was the hands on type, operating both the bulldozer and JCB during construction. The availability of this heavy machinery, hired from the private sector, made our construction team totally self reliant, an improvement on Chiweshe. The logistics covering the delivery of building material ran very smoothly allowing the PDO to work unhindered and to his full potential.
The first week of October saw the withdrawal of the detachment of Air Force guards - they had completed their support duties. The PDO and his team were able to return to their home stations a few weeks later, when the planned infrastructure construction had been completed. We now had a well designed and constructed "keep" and village area.
Into November, the construction of houses inside the village was proceeding smoothly. There was a steady, daily movement of building material being brought in by carts and houses were being thatched. We had instituted entry/exit gate controls, carrying out searches. This would be one of the routine task carried out by the DA contingent. By the end of November, before the onset of the heavy summer rains, the relocation of the Madziwa population into PVs was complete. We were now into the business of running a Protected Village. Routine night patrols inside the village, checking the security fence for breaches and any signs of material being either moved in or out, over the fence. A dusk to dawn curfew had been in place for some time, so any signs of fence breach were followed up. The maintenance and running of the water pumping installation at the river was a daily duty. Running "keep" security and maintaining standards amongst the DA contingent was routine. Cpl Philemon carried out morning drill and parades. Weapons cleaning, maintenance and inspection was part of the daily routine.
A system of communication had been set up using UHF radios. Each "keep" had a communications centre and we followed standard radio protocol. We were allocated our own frequency and call signs, although we had access to the frequencies of the other services, should the need arise. The daily communications routine consisted of morning and evening "SITREPS" at regular times, so that our base at Bradley could remain updated and we could pass on any requirements.
The summer rains were welcome, clearing the very dusty environment. The rains that year were fairly heavy and all of our building passed that test with flying colours. The "keep" walls stabalised and the sanbagged "catwalks", were now rock hard, through both regular use and the hardening of the sand/cement mixture. The rains brought a new and unexpected problem. During the construction of the "keep" walls, depressions had been left in the area around the "keep", these filled with water which could not drain away. The result was a heavy infestation of mosquitoes, until control measures were taken and the water drained. The once dry and dusty land had turned green within weeks.
I celebrated my 21st birthday at "Goora". Given the location and circumstances, it was a subdued affair. We were joined by Dave Amos in December, he was attached to the RHU (Reserve Holding Unit) on his six week call-up and in civilian life was a Customs Officer. All of us received Christmas "goody bags", very welcome and a nice touch. DC Ian Thom regularly visited us and on one occasion, his quick response when a number of us were ill as a result of poorly treated drinking water, had him make an emergency trip with prescription medication, not available in our medical kit. Peter Jackson (Jacko) was based in the area as an AO national serviceman. He was an old school friend and was now farming the Wedza family property.
During my time in Madziwa there were no serious incidents. There were several landmine incidents and occasionally, at night, the sounds of a distant "contact" could be heard. The most serious incident in my PV was an AD (accidental discharge). A District Assistant on entry gate duties discharged his rifle through his boot and foot. He made his way back to the keep, with the help of his colleagues, where we removed the remains of his boot and sock. The immediate area was cleaned up as best we could. Our medical supplies included a bottle of alcohol, used for sterilisation of instruments etc. This was poured, neat, over and through the wound - he passed out! We got him to a medical facility for the necessary treatment. On one night, in November or December, the keep of an immediately adjacent PV was "revved". This happened about an hour after evening "SITREP" and we were able to follow the unfolding action over our UHF radio, as communication was maintained. As I remember, there were no injuries or serious damage and the routine follow up action was taken.
During my last month in Madziwa, I got permission from DC Ian Thom to keep my car at Bradley Base, so that the occasional R&R could be fully utilised. During the month of November some of us were fortunate enough to receive a most welcome invitation, via the DC Shamva. The Managing Director of the Jameson Hotel in Salisbury had specifically invited men serving in our area, to three days, bed & breakfast, at the Hotel. This was the most marvellous morale booster and really made us feel that our efforts were appreciated. I made full use of the offer.
The population of the Madziwa TTL is reported to have been 13500. The number of Protected Villages initially constructed during "Operation Stronghold" was ten. A further PV evolved naturally over time, around Bradley Institute.
District Commissioner Ian Thom was awarded an MLM and Agricultural Officer Andre Ferreira an MSM for their work on "Operation Stronghold".
There is no information available on the costs of "Operation Stronghold", although the widely accepted average cost of $35000 to $45000 per PV, would probably apply. Certainly at that cost, the end result in Madziwa was superior to the average Chiweshe PV.
The End Of My Time
The end of January 1975 marked the official end of our period of national service, started a year previously at Llewellin Barracks.
The official notification of completion of national service from Intaf, dated 23 January 1975, listed 27 names. Sadly one name, that of Colin Penton, is missing. Colin died in a landmine blast on 4 September 1974. The Colin Penton Barracks at Chikurubi was named in his honour. Rob Curruthers, died KIA in an ambush in 1978.
Our "Time" ended without fanfare. Most of us were again stationed to Districts throughout the country, some of us stayed on for a while longer, as for me, I was posted to Bindura for the next six months. The Bindura District included areas which lay between both Chiweshe and Madziwa. My time in Bindura allowed me to get an insight into "The Big Picture", as it was the location of JOC and DC Chris Green regularly attended meetings. He would brief me on the latest developments in Chiweshe and Madziwa. I was transferred back to the Inyanga District during July of 1975.