Freedom Mutanda and Sifelani Tonje Post correspondents —
As we head to 2017, The Manica Post team comprising Freedom Mutanda and Sifelani Tonje will continue to hunt for the unsung heroes and heroines of our times and show how people, especially the youths, can benefit from their selfless exploits before and after independence.
We believe it is people who make history whether they are ‘’ordinary’’ or ‘’extraordinary.’’ Maxwell Mbandure from Wengezi, wrote: ‘’Thank you comrades Freedom Mutanda and Sifelani Tonje nekubudisa nyaya ya Cde Epson Chigebengwa in The Manica Post of 23-29 December 2016.
What an XMAS PRESENT for residents of Wengezi area! The Wengezi convoy attack is a clear testimony that you write some true stories about the unsung heroes and heroines of our struggle. Only a month after writing to you asking for some information on what happened pa ‘’Butcher’’ Cde Chigebengwa just did that.
To you, I say, keep up the good work and to Cde Chigebengwa, ndinoti I am happy that pavakomana nevasikana vakaita basa rakakosha kudai in our area, you are still alive. We thank you all. Rambai muchivaudza chokwadi.
We hear you Cde Mbandure and we thank you for being a regular reader. We appreciate that. It is from the horse’s mouth that we pluck this information for posterity to empathise with the gallant sons and daughters of this beautiful land who did duty for the nation when they were called upon.
Machocho from Mhakwe says: ‘’Cde Chigebengwa! I got overjoyed to read an article in The Manica Post (23-29 December 2016) describing your bravery and sacrifice at the war front. Of interest, you operated in my home area and that you are alive.
I may not know you physically but kungonzwawo kuti Mhakwe and Nhedziwa makes my skin tingle. Mukoma, am happy to read about the good work ramakaita. Up to this day, ini I have great respect to all Freedom fighters. Vana mukoma, we loved the pungwes tichiimba. I am a full supporter of our freedom in Zim. I was still a young mujibha.’’
Felix Mulema from Chibuwe says: ‘’Your stories puts one into the heat, tense and electric moments unlike history that gives a narrative and informative story though it lacks empathy.’’
There were a number of comments that came from our beloved readers but let’s take this last one and reserve the others for next week. It comes from Tawanda Mhlanga.
“Cde Chigebengwa’s story on the Wengezi attack is like a movie script. 60 comrades doing such damage to a powerful and well resourced army were just brilliant. The story is action packed. First, the training they received was hard. Then, after nine months of serious training, they were deployed. A few lessons can be learnt:
For someone to be an expert in any field, training is needed.
After training, he was sent to Chimoio soon after the infamous massacre. Our colleges and universities can learn something. It is very important for students to undergo attachment. Half-baked graduates who don’t have experience are a liability to the nation.
Cde Chigebengwa’s team success at the Wengezi ambush was due to specialisation. Our colleges need to take a cue from that. Imagine if we could have specialist farmers for maize, tobacco and so forth, our country will have enough food and forex.
Lastly, Cdes, you are doing an awesome job. You deserve an Oscar. We can only say, “thank you for the words of encouragement.’’
Ken Flower (1987:244) gives an insight into the shenanigans of settler soldiers towards the end of 1979. He says: “News from home was that our security forces were striking with apparent recklessness…’’
Against such a background, a chimbwido during the war, Eliza Gapa Mutsemi, gives us a blow by blow account of the Mamini massacre that occurred when the ceasefire agreement had been signed by the Patriotic Front and the Rhodesian authorities with the British playing a midwifery role. Such callousness on the part of the security forces may be an indication that civilian authority on the army had slackened.
Sifelani Tonje and I visited Eliza Gapa Mutsemi who lives at Chibuwe but her home area is Guruve formerly Sipolilo. She was born in 1954 at Mamini village. Here is her story in her own words. She was a chimbwido during the war.
It was late 1979; we heard that the political leadership of our boys and girls had appended their signatures to the ceasefire agreement. Comrades knew that time was up for the Smith regime as most of the Mamini area in Sipolilo was a no-go area for the security forces it being a liberated area.
On the fateful day in December 1979, comrades and others were at Mamina in a jovial mood as it were. Kutorasa muswe zvavo. I had gone to collect my son from our homestead built on a mountain top and Mamina village is on the plains.
From Dande valley and through Kaminza Township, the droning sounds of war aircraft announced their presence. Two Dakotas, an arumanya that sliced through the still sky and six helicopters hovered into view. The air force planes appeared headed for Sinoia (Chinhoyi); when they arrived at the township, they changed formation. They fanned out. Villagers were ensconced in the middle.
The helicopters performed a war dance above the people’s heads. I took in the battle from my vantage point at the top of the hill. Villagers moved into the middle of the mini township and I sensed danger as goose bumps came out of their hiding places and my hair stood on end as if I had seen a ghost.
Villagers were in a trance, lethargic and the comrades in their midst took up firing positions although they were puzzled that the enemy was in breach of the ceasefire agreement hammered out at Lancaster. I guess it was an instinctive manoeuvre. Comrades had light rifles as they had left heavy machine guns at the base thinking that the war had ended.
A helicopter turned in the air provocatively; a guerrilla released a salvo of bullets at the helicopter which spun to avoid a direct hit; it was a sign that the battle had begun. The other helicopters joined in. What ensued were flashes of flames and smoke as the mortal enemies engaged in a fierce death embrace.
Death spewed down from the skies. Guerrillas returned fire with fire but evidently, the comrades were bound to be out-gunned. In the crossfire were collaborators who had been enjoying their moments in the sun following the news of the ceasefire agreement.
Ordinary villagers who were minding their own business were not spared the eternal war dance pitting freedom fighters and the enemies of democracy and freedom. Collaborators were unarmed and devoid of the survival skills except to take cover. However, there were no trees or bush to take cover at that moment.
As the battle raged on, the Dakotas dropped a fuel drum onto the huts and as the drum was about to reach its destination, helicopter guns caught it midway and it exploded into balls of fire, searing and scalding as they hurtled down onto the bewildered villagers who, terrified, screamed and scampered for cover. They ran helter-skelter as terror numbed them. It was a tale from hell.
The arumanya released the portent napalm bomb at one of the huts; two female guerrillas who had recently joined the section had gone into the hut; apparently, the pilot had spotted them enter the hut after the battle had started.
The hut caught fire. Tongues of flames devoured the hut in no time. A muffled cry was heard and silence reigned supreme. As the naked flames consumed the little hut, we knew the female combatants had no chance in hell of surviving.
From where I stood, I cried tearlessly; something had died inside me. Why were these soldiers charging at us yet there was a ceasefire? Does that mean the comrades had been betrayed and lulled into a false sense of security?
A comrade ran on the plains ostensibly to get cover and a helicopter flew low obviously intending to bully him and use him as a play thing. Suddenly, he fell down and the helicopter passed the place where he had fallen. He remained in that position as the copter whizzed past.
Convinced that they had wiped out all the comrades, the regime air fighters gained height and went in the Sinoia direction. To the gunners in the helicopters, it was mission accomplished.
Screams from those who got injured in the melee attracted those who had survived to be galvanized into action. I got down from my vantage point and ran to the plains sure that a huge number of people had been victimized.
Sure enough, Bhejai Gapa, Ephraim Chiweshe and six boys had died in the exchange of fire. With tears slowly and silently trickling down my cheeks, I cradled Bhejayi; he was my brother and a fellow collaborator. I looked at the motionless boys and cursed the Rhodesians silently.
As PC of the collaborators, I had told them the war had ended but how do I explain to their parents about this apparent breach of the ceasefire by the regime?
Ten guerrillas died that day at Mamini village. Two of the dead were from Chibuwe village in Chipinge; they were the Masunungure brothers. They were very far away from home but they had died for the freedom of the motherland.
That night, Cde Happymore and I collected the dead bodies and put them in one hut. I stopped crying the moment I realised the enormity of the task at hand.
The whole frame of my body shook violently when I looked at the bodies of the two female comrades, burnt beyond description. I never knew that when one is burnt, the breast wilts and seems to be pushed back into the body.
These were the daughters of the soil who decided to be part of the liberation of Zimbabwe but they had died and no one would know where they died. Somewhere in Zimbabwe, a family does not know the grave where its daughter or son is interred.
The following morning, other comrades returned. We buried the dead in shallow graves at Mamini village. We sang “ropa rangu uchariona pasi pemureza we Zimbabwe,’’ as we lowered them into their final resting place.
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