TALKING to many war veterans, the name Cde Felix Rice Santana (Felix Mpunga) kept coming up with some former freedom fighters describing him as Zimbabwe’s own version of James Bond.
Besides being among the few who bought and brought Zanu-PF’s first guns from Congo, Cde Felix Rice Santana went on to contribute a lot during the liberation struggle. His name will continue to feature in interviews that are yet to be published.
To get a full picture of who this James Bond was, our Deputy Editor Munyaradzi Huni interviewed one of Cde Felix Rice Santana’s children, Shupayi Mpunga who broke down in tears describing her father and narrating the story of their lives.
Shupayi talks about a loving dad, she narrates how they ended up staying at a children’s home and proudly says that, “I have everything going on well for me now.”
Read on …
MH: Your father’s name has been mentioned several times during my interviews with war veterans. I know your father passed away when you were quite young but from what you remember, what kind of a father was Cde Felix Rice Santana?
Shupayi: I think I describe him now quite differently from the experiences I had of him to some extent. When you hear about him now, you say oohh, my goodness, how come he never told us that? I guess he just wanted us to have a normal childhood, so for all of us, he was just a dad. A really cool dad. We used to play soccer with him and we used to play dunhu with him.
My sister remembers a little bit more because she is a little older than me. She says he was a person who never showed any fear. She says the time she remembers it was during the times of curfew and you weren’t allowed to be out in the streets certain times, but once in a while you would hear a knock on the door. She says dad would at times ask her to open the door while he sat on a chair facing the door. Hanzi he would say come in wonzwa vanhu vachitiza panze. Surely, who does that? Sitting there and saying come in to strangers, then people run away just like that?
Hanzi sometimes he would say to the person knocking just open the door and come in. Who does that? But my sister says she remembers all this.
For us, he was just a normal dad.
MH: Where did you guys grow up?
Shupayi: My earliest memories, I guess we were living in Zambia. So in our family there was Godfrey, dad’s first born son. Then George who was mom’s son. Then the four of us who were born to mom and dad, that’s Naani who is in the US, Nyasha who lives here, myself and then my brother Hezvo who is the youngest. He is in Canada.
I think we were living in Chilenje and mostly we were with mom because we would hear that dad is in China, dad is in this and that place. And whenever he came back home he would come with this huge sweet that was like a rock. You almost had to use a screw driver or something to break a piece off. I have no idea what that was, but we used to enjoy it.
I remember we then moved to (Rhodesia then) Zimbabwe. I only remember because my sister Nyasha got lost at the airport. We couldn’t find her for a bit and then she came with this white woman holding her hand. I think this white woman had bought her a packet of sweets.
I think we moved back to Zimbabwe in 1978. I don’t know exactly why we moved back to Zimbabwe in 1978.
MH: In Zimbabwe where were you staying?
Shupayi: We were staying I think its Queensdale or Cranborne. Most of our neighbours were whites at that time.
MH: What kind of lifestyle were you living when you came back to Zimbabwe?
Shupayi: I think it was an interesting lifestyle because I don’t remember feeling poor although most of our neighbours were whites. I can picture a black leather couch, I can picture my dad’s alcohol cabinet or whatever it is called. We seemed to have an okay life. Three bedroomed home, beautiful garden that mom took good care of.
MH: What was your father doing when you moved back to Zimbabwe? Was he working somewhere?
Shupayi: I think he was secretary of Zanu or some other party. I think so because some people from the party would come home and have meetings. He was politically active but not that I understood.
MH: And mom? Was she just a house wife?
Shupayi: No. Mom was a secretary somewhere. She worked an 8 to 5pm job.
MH: You guys went to which schools?
Shupayi: At the time, there were segregated schools. Although we were living in Queensdale or is it Cranborne, we couldn’t go to the schools there. We went to St Peters Primary School in Mbare. I remember during the first days, communication was a bit of a problem because we spoke Nyanja. I remember later dad getting us to transfer to Queensdale school. But mom had said we couldn’t go there because it was an all white school.
Dad had gone there and had words with them. He challenged them that you can’t deny my children to come here. I think when the school authorities first heard the name Felix Rice Santana, they thought he was white. On seeing him they tried to say no, but he would not take that.
MH: He already had dreadlocks by this time?
Shupayi: Yes, he had dreadlocks. Natural dreadlocks.
MH: So, your dreadlocks, are you being like your dad?
Shupayi: I don’t know. I really don’t know.
MH: We hear of Felix Rice Santana in Zambia then you came back to Zimbabwe. Where are you originally from in Zimbabwe?
Shupayi: My dad was raised by his mom, not by his dad’s family. We recently got to know this, but this is another story for another time. So the surname Mpunga is from his mom’s side of the family. I think kumusha kwavo kuBocha, but some of them moved to other areas in Manicaland. So we didn’t really know.
I remember we went kumusha when we were young once and I loved going kwasekuru Sithole (Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole) and aunt Phike.
My mom was from Tanzania.
MH: So you are related to Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole?
Shupayi: I don’t think we were related as such but we were raised as part of that family. So his daughter, aunt Phike, she is like a mother to us. And uncle Tobias Chizengeni was married to Phike Sithole.
MH: Now, when your father passed away, how old were you?
Shupayi: My father and mother passed away in 1981. I think I was 7 or 8 years.
MH: Do you know what really happened?
Shupayi: I remember being told that my parents were involved in a car accident. Some accident nesome Lobels van in the late hours or early hours of the morning. I remember that afternoon we were playing dunhu namom and dad because we used to do that a lot.
That evening he got a phone call from someone who wanted to borrow money or something of that sort. I remember tete’s son was there. I can’t remember who else was there, but I remember he was there because I remember when the police came the next morning, he and I are the ones who went to the gate.
But dad got a phone call. As he was preparing to go we said to mom, ahh, go with your husband. As mom was going to the car, she just turned around and said “Shupi be good,” and they left. And that was that.
MH: We now know your parents died in a car accident, but do you know exactly what happened?
Shupayi: I don’t know exactly. I don’t even know where they were coming from and I don’t even know whether they had reached where they were going. Uncle Tobias would know exactly.
MH: Did your mom and dad all die on the spot?
Shupayi: They didn’t all die on the spot. One of them, my dad died on the spot then I think mom died the next day. This maybe explains the differences on the death certificates. Mom died the following day but I think in the early hours like 3am. So maybe the accident happened around 11pm and mom died around 3am some hours later.
MH: When this happened do you remember some of the big names from Zanu that came for the funeral?
Shupayi: I remember Sekuru Sithole because kwandiri he wasn’t a politician. He was just Sekuru. I remember uncle Tobias being there, aunt Phike being there. The people who used to frequent our house. I can’t remember the people exactly.
MH: By the time of his death, which political party did your dad belong to? It doesn’t seem like he was still in Zanu.
Shupayi: I think it was Zanu. I am not sure, but I remember Sekuru Sithole was like part of family.
MH: Now, after the death of your parents, what happened to you, the kids?
Shupayi: Things changed. Things really changed. Dad had a sister, she is now late. She looked after us for a year but things were never going to work. I think there was an arrangement where ana sekuru Sithole and aunty Phike would look after one aspect of our upkeep and social welfare. I think social welfare was paying mortgage so that vana sekuru would pay for our upkeep.
Mom and dad passed away in August 1981. Tete came for the funeral and never left. She looked after us until November the next year, but it was never going to work. It was so, so different. Mom and dad were so cool. Of course dad was a disciplinarian, but he was a fun person to be with.
On the other hand, tete was quite an angry person. I think she was trying to do the best she could but it was just not working.
MH: Where you not spoiled?
Shupayi: Do you think a man who would do what my father did going all over the place would spoil his children? No, I don’t think we were spoiled. Our parents were our good friends but there was a line we could not cross. I have done that with my kids.
With dad when it was time to play, we would play but we knew where to draw the line. He valued things like education and so on. He wanted us to do well and I don’t think he spoiled us. Tete was just too strict.
MH: During the interview with Cde Chizengeni he said at some point you were staying at some children’s home. Can you shed more light on this?
Shupayi: We lived with Tete for just over a year until November 1982. It was just too difficult. Very difficult. After a year, I remember the lady from social welfare coming to talk to us and we told her we would rather go to a children’s home. We didn’t know what that was but anything sounded better than tete at the time.
MH: You mean you chose a children’s home than staying with your aunt?
Shupayi: Yes. We didn’t know what a children’s home was like but we thought it was better. We didn’t know what an orphanage was like.
So the four of us from mom and dad went to stay at the Harare Children’s Home in Eastlea. It was Naani, Nyasha, myself and Hezvo.
By that time we were going to Queensdale Primary School. I remember we continued there for a short while.
You can imagine we were at this institution where many of the children were whites, speaking English. When we got there we were like, what the hell is going on here? So we were all put in the same house.
I think after a month or two, we hatched a plan to go back to our house. So after school when the driver was not watching, we all went back to our house. We stood at the gate hoping that someone would come. No one came.
I can’t remember how things went but around past 5pm, we were picked up and taken back to the Children’s Home. Social welfare then told us that we could not go back home any longer.
I was at the Harare Children’s Home for I think ten years.
MH: You serious, 10 years?
Shupayi: Oohh, yeah 10 years.
MH: How was the situation at the Children’s Home?
Shupayi: Imagine yourself being at a military barrack at that young age. This was in terms of structure and timing. We woke up at the same time, did lots of activities together, ate together, inspection whether you wearing proper uniform. It was all really programmed and timed.
MH: There must have been very few blacks at the children’s home during this time?
Shupayi: Yeah, there were many whites. I remember there was a girl called Margaret Makoni and I think Mary Pakati was also there. There were lots of white children at the time.
MH: So how was the treatment?
Shupayi: I think it was okay. I never felt issues of racism. Most of our matrons were definitely British, some were Irish and some were Welsh. It was a white administration. Black people were our maids for each of the houses. Then we had the sekurus who polished our shoes and looked after the gardens and so on.
MH: So this tete was this kind of tete, but why couldn’t you go and stay with other relatives? You said Reverend Sithole was like family?
Shupayi: Tete was like the closest relative from my dad’s mom side. My understanding is that she wouldn’t tell people where we were. I know that when mom and dad died, Godfrey who was dad’s oldest son, he was a young adult and maiguru is still there, but tete made it seem as though tiri vana vavo and we couldn’t go stay with anyone.
When we went to the children’s home, tete would come and visit. We never saw any of the other relatives. Godfrey would come. He lived in Bulawayo at that time. Vana sekuru Sithole, uncle Tobias and auntie Phike, those ones would come and take us for holiday.
Tete didn’t want people to know where we were, but you know what, if a relative was to try and block me from seeing children belonging to my relative, I would beat the living hell out of that person kusvika ataura kuti vana vari kupi. So I don’t buy this thing yekuti people say we didn’t know where you were. No.
MH: So from your father’s side, who do you know?
Shupayi: We all knew this tete from my dad’s maternal side. She had three children. At the recent unveiling of my parents’ tombstone, we met a few relatives. We met sekuru nambuya but am not sure of the whole relationship. We recently met some relatives from dad’s paternal side. I don’t know much about them.
MH: It looks like there was a complete disconnection with his real family. Was it because your family was living in Zambia?
Shupayi: I think partly it was because of that. My dad wasn’t here for a very long time.
MH: You were at this orphanage for 10 years yourself. How did you leave the orphanage?
Shupayi: At the time when you turned 18, you had to leave the home. I think they had an arrangement with Emerald Hill Children’s Home and the St Joseph House for Boys. I think these three orphanages are linked or they used to be linked. If you were a baby you would come to Harare Children’s Home. Like when we arrived my brother Hezvo was like six or seven years. He stayed at the home until he was around nine years because it’s mostly for girls. Boys are allowed up to about nine and ten years.
From there they transferred him to Emerald Hill. So Hezvo was split from the three of us. He was at Emerald Hill until he finished his Grade Seven. Then when you get to Grade Seven, you go to St Joseph’s House for Boys. He lived there until he left to come and live with me because we were now grown ups.
I was there for ten years, did my O-levels and prayed hard kuti God I have to pass because I want to leave this life here. You see it was rough growing up at a children’s home. It wasn’t easy. You had everything. I probably had a more luxurious life than most average children today, but there was no love. Mai panana love pachenyu.
And you can imagine coming from a mom and dad who were loving and all, you live with tete for one year then you are now at this orphanage where they give you everything but love. We weren’t allowed to speak Shona. We started speaking Shona later in life and people were saying he he musalad what what and I am thinking, you don’t even know me so don’t judge me.
Some people could not understand kuti you could be black and you could be Zimbabwean but you don’t speak Shona. So they would ask, how come you don’t speak Shona? I would say I grew up at a children’s home and people would be surprised kuti how did a black person go to a children’s home.
Whenever people were asking this, I would silently ask myself kuti but how come vanhu vekwedu havana kuti tsvaga? Up to now I don’t understand.
For my primary education, we all had to go to Admiral Tait in Eastlea and then for my secondary education I was as Roosevelt Girls High. Throughout our life, there was no one to encourage us to do well in anything. We had to figure out things on our own.
Because of this, a lot of children at the children’s home failed, but I said no, no. Some people expect me to fail and I can’t do that. So I pleaded with God kuti God please help me. So I passed my O-levels and went for my A-level.
I wanted to study journalism and I said two years studying journalism, no ways. I then did a secretarial course then worked for Zimbabwe Council of Churches. After that I went to New Zealand.
MH: And the other family members?
Shupayi: Hezvo did what he did and he is now in Canada. As a family we worked together and assisted him to leave the country in 1998. I left in 2004. Naani left four days before me going to the US. Nyasha still lives here. My brother George has always lived in Tanzania. We met him in 2001.
MH: There is something that I still don’t get. It’s like we are going back again. Tell me why would Felix Rice Santana’s children end up at a children’s home? Was it that your father was now no longer active in Zanu and you were now living with Reverend Sithole?
Shupayi: This is what happened and we lived past it. Like I told you, I didn’t know much about politics.
For a long time I didn’t know the role that my father played. When you hear the stories now, you like ooohh, really. To us he was just a loving dad.
MH: While talking about your dad, you sometimes shed tears. Why?
Shupayi: He is gone. They are gone. And we went through all this. For what? Life wasn’t easy.
If you read the words we wrote on my day’s tombstone you get our point. I am actually the one who coined the words. The tombstone reads: “Not only a hero to the nation but an awesome dad to his kids.”
MH: So many people are asking, your parents passed away in 1981, why the unveiling of the tombstones now?
Shupayi: The unveiling of the tombstones was on the 27th of December last year. My parents were buried at Warren Hills.
Why after all these years? As I told you, all of us were in a orphanage. So no one could do that. You know also for me, for quite a long time, I thought mom and dad vachadzoka. I thought they were somewhere and they wanted us to experience this life.
The other thing is that after going to the children’s home, we didn’t grow up within the African culture so we never felt the need to unveil the tombstones.
Nyasha was the one who came up with the idea to unveil the tombstones and we all agreed with her idea.
MH: Some people would say maybe you had to because you were facing some problems in your lives?
Shupayi: My life is great. My life is really great. Like I said we didn’t grow up in Shona culture so there is never a day that I say this has happened because of mom and dad. Hatina zvinoyera. We don’t understand any of that.
The only reason we put the tombstones is because we just wanted to mark the graves. All of us, I don’t think we live a hard life. We are okay, I think.
God has been good to me. I have found a man who loves me and I have two awesome children. Hapana chinhu chandingati dai chikagadzirika. No. I am blessed.
MH: All this straight from an orphanage?
Shupayi: Yes and we are proud of that. We never forget where we came from. We have been to the children’s home doing things there. When I talk about nyaya dzekuti kumusha, I am talking about the children’s home. Ndiko kumusha kwangu.
I hope my story will inspire kids who are growing up under tough environments. I was always telling myself that its going to be okay and it’s okay now. I worked very hard and had my children when I was young. I had to look after the children as a single parent but here I am. I made choices and those choices have taken me to where I am today.
Being at a children’s home is not the end of life. Its just the beginning. Its just a chapter in your life and you say I don’t want to go over that chapter again.
So yeah, this is the story of Felix Rice Santana’s children – he was just our dad.
The interesting story of our own James Bond has come to an end for now. Hope you enjoyed it. Next week, The Sunday Mail brings you yet another fascinating story from another war veteran from the early days of the liberation struggle. The narrative of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle is in stages and your favourite Sunday paper will give you all the stages in chronological order. That proper history is finally being told. Enjoy and learn from it!
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