Freedom Mutanda and Sifelani Tonje Post Correspondents
Each area had its heroines during the liberation war. Just like women in the First World War, female fighters and collaborators travelled the hard road to independence with a stoic demeanour. These are the people who are the unsung heroines of our time whose stories must be told for posterity to appreciate their role in the nation’s journey to Uhuru. Over the weekend, The Manica Post team comprising Freedom Mutanda and SifelaniTonje, caught up with 64-year -ld Juliet Chinaa Mlambo nee Muteya Sithole, at her humble abode in Sakuinje Village, a place which is bereft of good soils and water sources deep in the Musikavanhu area in Chipinge. She had interesting incidents of the war that she recounted to the team. She was a married woman during that time but her political consciousness is gratifying and edifying to the interviewers and presumably the readers as well. Hot on the heels of the independence celebrations held last week, this week’s piece is underlying the importance of women in the liberation war narrative which cannot be ignored. Due to the heroic deeds of women, we find a number of them interred at the national shrine among whom we have Sally Mugabe and Victoria Chitepo. Read on. These are the excerpts of the interview.
MP: Who is Juliet Mlambo?
JM: I was born in 1954 at Chikore as a member of the Muteya clan and I later got married to Chinaa Mlambo who made us go and stay at Mabhiza. During that time, the Lowveld was frowned upon by many people who lived in the eastern side of Chipinge. However, in good years, we obtained very good yields. I went to school as far as Standard 5 and stopped going as my parents could not afford the fees and they opted to send my brother instead. Thus, I had to stop the education process.
MP: When did you come into contact with comrades?
JM: I got married to Chinaa Mlambo and we went to have our own homestead at Mabhiza. Villages close to us at that time included Mwanyisa, Manzvire, Shiripinda, Madhuku and Mariya. We used to hear about the comrades who operated in the north-eastern side of Zimbabwe but we had never seen them mumadzisoedu.
Then, one day, as we worked in our maize field, we saw young men herding cattle into our fields. As one with a short fuse, I headed towards them hoping to give them a piece of my mind and give them a tongue lashing. To my horror, the young men were unmoved by my tantrums. Instead, they said, ‘makadiiamai. Musatyahenyu. Tisuvanavenyu. Tinokumbirawosadza.’ It dawned on me that indeed these were the ‘boys’ we had heard so much about. By that time, my husband had reached the place where I was talking with the guerrillas.
MP: Did the soldiers know you had hosted the comrades and what was their reaction?
JM: That very night, the stillness of the night was shattered by a rude knock on the door. A gruff voice shouted, ‘magandangaamapachikafuaripi?’ That question was a bolt of lightning and we exchanged glances without communicating anything to the soldiers. What followed was a thorough beating of my husband and I. We were at sea as to the person who had told the security forces that we had met and fed the comrades.
MP: Are you saying that out of all the people who attended the mini-pungwe, you are the only ones who were beaten-you and your husband?
JM: It beat me at the time but the following day, the skeleton was let out of the bag. We had heard a scream that came in the direction of our neighbour, Magwegwe. We rushed there and a gruesome spectacle met us. Magwegwe lay in a pool of blood, dead while his family wept uncontrollably. The open wounds stared accusingly at the sky. Along the cadaver was a message written on a cardboard box, ‘vatengesitinouraya.’’ We later heard that Magwegwe had nicodemously gone to the soldiers and told them about our interaction with the comrades resulting in their coming to beat the living daylights out of us.
MP: How can you describe your life in the Protected Village?
JM: To be honest, life in the keep was claustrophobic. We hurriedly made pole and dagga huts as our first shelter was a rectangular hut which we called jarata. There was no decent partition. Moreover, the guards took liberties with our women. It was excruciatingly painful to see a married woman being taken advantage of and we felt powerless to stop the debauchery which was out of sync with African culture.
MP: Did you stop supporting the war due to your near incarceration in the keeps?
JM: We devised methods to circumvent the guard forces’ methods of curtailing support for the guerrillas. We smuggled those goods to the comrades. At times, heads such as Tobias Matanga of Manzvire School would come and talk to us as parents yet they were conduits of information sharing. Out of the keep, there were fields and as we went there, we would make sure there was something for the comrades.
MP: Was there any incident in the keep which comes to your mind whenever we talk about keeps?
JM: Yes, there was this guard who fell in love with a woman who lived close to our homestead. He came at night and knocked on our door. My husband queried him and he could not provide a satisfactory answer whereupon my husband clobbered him.
He muttered, ‘uri guard force urikugedhiukokwetepamuzipangu. My husband thought the man was coming for me and it was not unusual for these men to rape women. Notwithstanding the protestations from our neighbours, Chinaa continued to beat up the man who lost consciousness. Fellow guards came and took him to the local clinic.
MP: Did he survive?
JM: He could not make it. We heard the cocking of guns. I looked over the window and saw scores of guards advancing towards the hut. In fear, I relieved myself. My husband asked me where the smell was coming from. I signalled him to come and see what was outside. To say we were thoroughly beaten is an understatement. My backbone never recovered. We were later saved by a soldier who argued that my husband had been provoked and did what any normal man could have done under the circumstances.
MP: Were you compensated for your role in the war?
JM: We haven’t been compensated but that is beside the point. We did what we did for our fatherland. If the economy allows, who wouldn’t like to get a token of appreciation. Hopefully, there would be a peaceful election as Zimbabweans yearn for peace and prosperity.
MP: Thanks for your time comrade.
JM: You are welcome. Any time comrades.
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