The Order of Mendi for Bravery in
Profile of Cletus Mzimela
Cletus Mzimela was born on 4 March 1936. As a young man he took part in the Wankie Campaign, a joint military campaign of MK and the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), an armed wing of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU). Mzimela fought alongside James April, Joseph Nduli, Chris Hani and Basil February among others.
In 1952, he joined the ANC and was recruited into MK when it was formed in 1961. Mzimela left the country in May 1963 to receive military training in China and in 1964 he went to the Soviet Union for further training. He is a veteran of the Wankie Campaign, where he served as one of the commanders of the MK/ZIPRA forces. In the harsh terrain in Botswana, Mzimela and the late Chris Hani dealt with Askari infiltration and circumventing imminent arrests.
Using the military and survival skills from his Soviet Union training, Mzimela and his team managed to stand their ground and turned the tables on the Rhodesian Platoon led by a fearsome Lieutenant Smith. They held the fort until they gained access to the platoon’s well-stocked bags of food and clean water. In doing so, Mzimela saved his comrades from sure hunger and the muddy waters they had to drink to avert dehydration.
He is known among his comrades as remaining calm under pressure and acting with precision where action was called for.
After serving a sentence in Botswana, Mzimela returned to Zambia. In the late 60s, he was sent to the Soviet Union and to East Germany in 1970 for intelligence work. During this time, he lost contact, which made it extremely difficult to work and he eventually had to make his own way back to Durban.
He was later sold out by an Askari whom he had met in East Germany. He was arrested in 1971 and in November 1972, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was released on 23 November 1987.