IT started as a journalistic duty. But today I have to confess: It’s now an obsession.
It’s an obsession that is killing me softly and slowly. But it is the kind of death I am prepared to die again and again.
I am a willing victim.
The over 70 war veterans I have interviewed as part of the “Chronicles from the Second Chimurenga” series have left me drained and traumatised.
Their stories of torture have tortured me. Their stories of pain have pained me. Their stories of death are killing me. But their ultimate triumph is the reason why I continue to criss-cross the country in search of more stories.
A few years ago I went to Mt Darwin to interview Cde Wereki Sandiani, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Philip Gabela.
He told me of how Rhodesian forces captured him and did to him what not even animals do to each other.
“The interrogation by the CID continued before I received treatment. When they started treating me, that’s when I saw the cruelty of the white man. Instead of amputating my right leg just above the ankle, they decided to amputate it just above the knee. I was not given any sedative to kill the pain.
“They amputated my right leg while I was watching using a hacksaw. It was as if they were cutting a tree . . .They chopped my leg using the hacksaw, wrapped the piece that they had chopped off in a cloth and put that piece into my mouth saying, ‘Come on, eat your flesh.’”
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
This is just one of scores of horrendous stories I have heard over the past five years.
The interviews have changed how a appreciate pain, how I look at war veterans, what I think about our Independence.
My heart bleeds when I hear the ignorant belittling war veterans. My blood runs cold when I see the foolish belittling the liberation struggle.
Let me take this opportunity to thank Cde Norman Bethune and Cde Joseph Khumalo.
These two veterans of the Second Chimurenga have offered immeasurable assistance in locating and identifying former freedom fighters.
The two have always been available when we needed to cross-check facts because, naturally, some comrades’ recollection of the war is not as accurate as it could be. These two comrades are my guides, leading me down forgotten paths of Zimbabwe’s history.
They now call me “Cde Huni”, which I take as an honour.
Of course, I have to also thank Kuda Hunda, who has captured these amazing stories with his gifted lens; while ZBC’s Forget Tsododo and my sister Tendai Manzvanzvike are fellow sojourners in this journey of self-discovery.
This journey has taken me to Tanzania to speak to Former President Benjamin Mkapa and the great Cde Hashim Mbita.
The talk with Cde Mbita is like the old scar that one scratches in a bitter-sweet way.
The man was dying. And he vouchsafed to me information that he said could only be published after his death, or that of a certain senior political figure here in Zimbabwe.
We duly did that when Cde Mbita breathed his last. And it was to have quite an impact on the internal politics of Zanu-PF that led to the fall of the Joice Mujuru cabal.
I have also been to Namibia to talk to the Founding Father of the Land of the Brave, Cde Sam Nujoma. And what a font of wisdom he is!
“Soon, we will all be gone and you won’t find this history anywhere,” he told me. And that too drives me to push on through the mental anguish caused by the stories I record.
I have made a “new family”, the foremost member being Nyaradzo Tongogara, who spent much time convincing Mai Tongo to open up.
Mai Tongo wept as if General Josiah Magama Tongogara had just passed away as she narrated their journey during the liberation struggle.
She is my mother now..
I also have a new brother in Dr Dennis Magaya, who has for years traversed Zimbabwe in search of the place where his father, Cde Soul Sadza, was buried.
How can I forget the journeys to Zimunya where Cde Shambakumanja took us through some horrific hours with Cde Soul Sadza?
Mukoma Dennis’s determination through heartache spurs me on.
I will tell him now what I always tell him when we meet: “Don’t get tired Mukoma Dennis.”
Cde Chemist Ncube, a veteran of the struggle who survived death by a whisker during the Badza-Nhari rebellion, has also made a lasting impression.
As we prepared to interview him, he said: “Regai nditange ndakumbira my fellow comrades vakarara kwese kwese kuti vandibvumire kutaura nemi.”
Then he sprinkled snuff on the table and appeared to fall in a two-minute trance.
I can now sing that touching song, “Ropa Rangu Ratsidza Kufira Zimbabwe”. I can now feel the almost spiritual attachment our veterans have to this land.
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