Freedom Mutanda and Sifelani Tonje Post Correspondents
Mutoko was one of the areas where guerrillas penetrated as the long-drawn-out liberation war went to its home stretch; among the villagers were dip tank assistants. This is the story of a mujibha who saw it all as he remained patriotic right up to the ringing of the bells of independence.
Here is the story of Peter Johannes Kamonera.
I stayed at Kapondere, Mutoko, before it became known as Mudzi district after independence. Chief Nechombo presided over the area while Nehoreka was the regional spirit medium. I was born in 1948; the liberation struggle came when I was old enough to make a decision to be part of it. Mountains and hills were a constant feature and according to our ancestors, they were spirit enclaves and the freedom fighters confirmed that notion as they would accompany the spirit mediums in their induction soon after arrival.
I went as far as Standard 2 as I grew up in the Bromley area; my father worked at one George’s farm where the brutalities of the regime were brought to the fore.
Comrades arrived in the area around 1975. It was about that time that white officials forced people to acquire ID cards.
Village head Nyamukacha sold out and he was killed immediately; some comrades had taken the IDs and they were infuriated that one of their own could betray them like that. As the guerrillas killed him, the povo sang “kapirikoni.’’
Tichatonga George, Taurirai Pasi were some of the guerrillas who made an impression on me.
In an effort to stem the rising tide of the guerrilla success, Rhodesian soldiers culled dip assistants as they were sure that we supported the guerrillas covertly. Soon after I left my job, I became a collaborator. Comrades loved the intimate knowledge I had of the area. To that end, I went as far as Kazozo in Nyanga to carry war materials.
Our major base was at Gozi. We operated in the Takawira province which went up to Nyadire. I vividly remember our song which acted as a galvanising agent: “bhunu raenda kapirikoni, chenjera.’’
In September 1978, we were at Kamungeremu homestead along with other collaborators and the freedom fighters; we were chilling. Suddenly, we heard the unmistakable sound of the arumanya. We had been singing and dancing. We never expected an attack as the Rhodesians always performed nocturnal attacks. It was broad daylight.
As the arumanya whizzed past, helicopters followed. Comrades had been taken unawares but they braced for the attack as they fired at the war vampires. One helicopter dropped a bomb which exploded close to where the majority of the guerrillas were firing at the dragon flies of death. Nails pierced the guerrillas and finally, seven comrades lost their lives.
The bomb had iron nails which cut through the bodies of the combatants. Soon, the sell-out was fished out and the law of the jungle was instantly dispensed upon him. At the following all-night meeting, Cde Taurirai Pasi reminded the people that for the successful prosecution of the liberation war to occur, there was every need for everyone to pull in the same direction.
‘’We have a sell-out amongst us and what do you think we must do with him?’’ he asked the povo.
People began to sing, ‘’Smith, gura musoro azoziva. Mutengesi, gure musoro azoziva.’’
He paid the ultimate prize for going against the will of the people. The war wasn’t anyone’s war but a collective effort of peasants, workers and intellectuals who wanted to reverse the injustices which had been troubling Zimbabweans since 1890. For someone to be a stumbling block because of a few pieces of silver was abominable and nauseating.
A similar bomb exploded at Zavedo and we buried the dead at Kamutotora.
We used codes during the war. Rhodesians had made sure that they had spies among us who would filter the information to the regime soldiers. “Cabbages’’ referred to beef taken from the white farmers’ heads of cattle. Remember “Gandanga haridye derere’’ (guerrillas do not eat anything which is not meaty.)
On that fateful day, we had gone to collect “cabbages’’ from a farm owned by a white farmer. We were armed with grenades; yes, I could use a grenade as the guerrillas had trained me to be self- sufficient defence-wise.
We bombed Chifamba water pump as a way of forestalling the rapid pace of erection of protected villages at Kamutotora.
Helicopters and Dakotas came into view. An arumanya acted as a reconnaissance plane. Soldiers disembarked from the two Dakotas.
They attacked; as we were really hemmed in. There appeared to be no way out; we were out-numbered; if we fought the enemy that would be military suicide. We jumped into the Nyamutsanzara River.
I remained in the water barely breathing as helicopters circled overhead. Fortunately, there were trees close to the river which camouflaged me when I eventually left the safety of the water way. We met the other comrades an hour later. No one had died or suffered injuries.
Denford and I accompanied other collaborators to take cattle for the comrades at Kamhiripiri farm. We took 85 cattle and herded them towards Gozi camp for safe keeping. We would slaughter them for beef. These cattle had bells strapped on them; the sound made by the bells as the cattle moved sold us out. Rhodesian soldiers followed us discreetly. We had no guns on us; they fired at us and we knew we were done for.
I sprinted in no known direction for I was confused. I saw a crevice and hid there with my heart thumping like a grinding mill. A soldier passed very close to where I was hiding. I held my breath; he passed; I prayed silently. Was it God or the ancestors who had made escape narrowly from the jaws of death? I didn’t answer that question. I surmised that it was a combination of both.
Later, in 1979, I was trained to help nurse injured comrades who did not necessarily had to go back to the rear to recuperate.
Ceasefire came but Kamutondo was already a liberated area.
I will never forget Cdes Derera and Nyerere who were shot at Rukawo. Cde Nyerere stole Phineas, a bull; for that, Rhodesian soldiers displayed his corpse on a rock at All Souls Mission; it was a pitiful sight.