Chronicles of a 13-year-old detainee

In 1979, in the twilight stages of the liberation war, the struggle heightened leaving most rural schools closed as teachers and headmasters were killed in the wind.

As such, a lot of young people found themselves with too much time to spare after they had dropped out of school.

Many started joining their fathers, brothers, mothers and uncles in political meetings, listening to political lectures on colonial injustices and how the war was to be won.

Among them was 13-year-old Ernest Madzure who, despite his tender age, was later detained and tortured for four months in Nyazura having been found with arms.

Madzure, now 53, narrates how he was left drenched with human fat after he was made to pick up pieces of burning and decomposing flesh while in detention.

He talks about how he sustained back injuries following heavy beatings for refusing to disclose information about freedom fighters to the Rhodesian police.

Madzure narrates his story.

“I and some older boys from our village in Zviyambe near Dorowa were coming from what was then called GP, meaning gathering point for the masses and freedom fighters,” he says.

“The meeting was in Wedza which was many kilometres away from home so we had to sleep there. It was while we were on our way home the next morning when I got into trouble.”

Just a few kilometres into their journey, the young Ernest bumped into ammunition which had somehow been dropped by some freedom fighters.

Being the brave one and in the presence of older but cowardly boys, Ernest took it upon himself to return the equipment to its owners, the freedom fighters.

He, however, instantly paid for his bravery as he was arrested some five minutes later.

“The items included loaded magazines for AK47 rifles, a few hand grenades and a carton of cigarettes,” says Madzure.

“I still don’t know how the comrades had dropped such weapons but then, acting as a child, I just picked them and my sole mission was to return them.

“I didn’t know that I had carried things which would get me arrested five minutes later.

“We had barely left the place where we found the lost equipment when we were intercepted by a group of Rhodesian forces.”

Upon being found with the ammunition, Ernest was arrested while the rest of the group was released.

He then spent the better part of the day marching from Wedza to Makarara in Zviyambe, a distance of about 50 kilometres, carrying heavy weapons.

“When they saw that I was carrying ammunition they got very angry and they were torturing me all the way to Makarara, demanding that I tell them where the other freedom fighters were,” says Ernest.

“On our way they got hysterical, arresting everyone they suspected beginning with a girl who had just gone to the well to fetch water.

“We continued the journey mostly under the cover of the bush and rivers until we reached Makarara almost at sunset.

“By the time we arrived at Makarara they had arrested one more girl and I still don’t know what their motive was in arresting these innocent girls.”

From Makarara, Ernest together with the girls were taken in an army truck to a police confinement centre called Gwangwava in Nyazura.

The following day they were transferred to Nyazura police station and it was there that the real nightmare started for Ernest.

“When we arrived at Nyazura, the two girls were put in witness’ houses while I was locked in the cells as they said I was a terrorist. They didn’t care about my age despite my pleas, what they only focused on was the weapons and they didn’t believe me when I told them how I got the ammunition.

“So every day during parade they would call out my charges and beat me heavily such that I sustained injuries on my back. As time moved the conditions seemed to improve as my mother and one of the girl’s uncles started visiting.

“But all along other people were being released while others were taken for hanging at a place called Joka in Rusape.

“I believe that their intention was to take me to that place.”

Ernest says the food was unbearable as sadza was often served with rotten beef bones while the cells were infested with lice.

But still the worst was yet to come.

“One day a white policeman called Peacock called me together with another boy who was already in detention when we arrived,” says Ernest.

“We were ordered into the back of the truck. We didn’t know where we were being taken but I got so frightened because in the back of the truck there was an aluminium coffin.

“After some hours of travelling we arrived at a dam called Mutikwiri where we found two bodies floating on water.

“Peacock then shouted ‘‘ngaipinde itore mumwe wayo’’ but myself and the other boy we refused to get in saying we couldn’t swim. So they had to call guys from the sub-aqua unit in Mutare and we waited there for a long time before they arrived.

“When they finally arrived they took out the bodies which were in an advanced stage of decomposition.”

To their horror the young boys were ordered to lift the decomposing bodies into the aluminium coffin.

“The bodies were very heavy for our age and as we tried to lift them the flesh was coming of the limbs because of decomposition. The skin and hair were sticking in our hands and maggots where all over, not to mention the stench.

“I think the bodies belonged to the comrades who were killed before being thrown into the dam.

“So we removed all the ammunition they had around their waists. We searched their pockets because the white policeman wanted information.

“Finally we managed to get the bodies into the coffin and we returned to Nyazura police station.”

Back at the camp the work was not yet done for the young boys, they had to burn the bodies and what followed was another episode of horror.

“When we arrived at the camp there was a big pit which had been dug just away from the houses.

“We were instructed to throw the bodies together with the ammunition into the pit also pouring 400 litres of jet fuel in it. I lit the fire almost getting burnt myself because the jet fuel formed a huge fire ball just as I tried to run away from the pit.

“After some minutes of burning the bullets started discharging, going in all sorts of directions and causing fires around the pit.

“Peacock then said we should put out the fires which were starting outside the pit and it was scary because bullets were flying everywhere.”

Ernest says it was a miracle that they survived the bullets but another series of explosions marked the beginning of yet another difficult episode.

“As the bullets subsided grenades started exploding throwing out large chunks of human flesh outside the pit.

“It was a ghastly sight my brother because we had to hand pick those chunks of flesh and throw them back into the burning pit with our bare hands.

“By the time we finished I was drenched in human fat all over my clothes and the body.

“I couldn’t eat for several days and I never ate meat until I left the camp.”

Ernest’s hell in detention continued until the police were satisfied that he was not a freedom fighter.

After four months in detention he was released around October that year and had to walk from Nyazura to Zviyambe.

But as soon as he arrived home there was more bad news.

“The comrades had just discovered that my older brother was a private in the Rhodesian Army and they were threatening to kill everyone at our house.

“Luckily my mother had prepared traditional beer for the comrades so when they got drunk they all forgot to talk about the issue and that is how we survived.”

After Independence, less than a year later, Ernest went back to school passing with flying colours.

He now has a family of three children and a wife and is also working for an insurance company in Mutare.

His regret is that he didn’t get proper counselling after restriction and the visions sometimes haunt him in his sleep.

Ernest has also not been compensated as ex-detainee status is given to those who were restricted for six months and above.

He believes there are many people like him and as the country reaches 38 years of independence on Wednesday, he says it should not be lost on Zimbabweans how our hard-won our Independence was. “It didn’t come on a silver plate,” he concludes.

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