Female freedom fighter at 13 years old

COMRADE Esther Munyaradzi (born 1959) whose Chimurenga name was Cde Steria Dube was forced to joined the liberation struggle in 1972 when she was 13 years old. Cde Steria was born in Guruve but grew up in Muzarabani.

In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Steria talks about being given the responsibility to look after the armory at Chifombo despite her young age. She narrates her chilling encounter with Cde Badza and Cde Nhari as they arrived at Chifombo in 1975 to capture some of the Zanla leaders in what became the Badza-Nhari Rebellion. Read on …

SM: Comrade, thank you so much for your time. As we start, can you briefly narrate how you joined the liberation struggle?

Cde Steria: I was forced to join the liberation struggle when I was 13 years old in 1972 on 14 September. We had accompanied our big sisters who had gone to one of the bases to deliver food to some comrades. So we went takatakura migomo yemvura. When we got to the base, we were all told kuti hamuchadzokeri kumba. We could not even ask why because the comrades were carrying guns and for most of us this was the first time to see a gun. We were about 13 girls. About five of us were grown-ups and they are the ones who had asked us kuvabatsira kutakura mvura. All these five comrades are now deceased. I remember Cde Sarudzai vakanga vakura. Vakatosiya vana vavo. Cde Christina, Cde Orippa, Cde Nyemudzai, Cde Itai and Cde Claris were among this group revasikana vakuru.

When we were told that we were not going back home, it really pained me because at that time my mother was not around. She had gone to Karanda to see her big sister who was not feeling well. I actually told the comrades kuti ndirikuda kudzokere kumba but they said that was no longer possible. I cried a lot but the comrades ignored me. We were the first group of female recruits to be taken to Chifombo. The comrades just told us that tiri kuenda kubase. We started walking that night until 6am when we got to a base kwaChamboko in Mukumbura. This was torture because I wasn’t used to this.

SM: Who are some of these comrades who took you to join the liberation struggle?

Cde Steria: There were Cdes Vhuu, Badza, Ziso, Tireke and others who along the way remained under cover. As we walked during the night, there was stone silence. When we got to Chamboko base, we were ordered to sleep. It was only when we woke up that we discovered that there were many armed comrades at this base. Some of the leaders here included Cde Chimurenga, Cde Chidhakwa and others I can’t remember. In the evening, we started walking again.

SM: You were 13 years old and the hardships had already started. What was going through your mind?

Cde Steria: I still wanted to go back home. On the way, I kept on telling the comrades that I wanted to go back home but they refused to listen to me. Cde Dennis Mazvimbakupa and Cde Tichazvipedza would always tell me kuti chikanganwa zvekumba. As we were walking, Cde Chimurenga ordered that all of us should go to another base, Kakwidze to bring some materiel. We went and brought the materiel which comprised zvimakasha zvemabara nemaland mines and hand-grenades. Some of the comrades started teaching us how to assemble a gun.  We spent two weeks carrying materiel from Kakwidze to Chamboko. This wasn’t easy because of the long distance and the heavy load. Some comrades would carry the materiel from Chamboko deep into Rhodesia. We walked until we got to Zambezi River.

SM: We hear that as you walked you were with some spirit medium?

Cde Steria: Yes, we were with Sekuru Chipfeni. I was still young but I know that before the comrades started the war, they went kunopira to these spirit mediums kuti tava kuda kutanga hondo. I can’t speak much about this because I was still young. When we got to Zambezi River, before crossing we were told kuti kana une any mushonga siya pano. Kuvakadzi kana une chuma bvisa pano. We then started crossing Zambezi. It took us about four days for all of us to cross the river. However, chimwadiya chaiva naCde Humba chakarohwa nemvuu. In this chimwadiya there was Cde Thandiwe and two others. Fortunately, they were rescued by other comrades. After crossing Zambezi, we rested for a while then resumed the journey again.

SM: Let’s pause for a while. We hear that when you were taken from your village, Rhodesian soldiers later came and tormented people?

Cde Steria: Yes. Remember these were the early years and there were so many sell-outs. When we left, I was later told that mai nababa vangu nasekuru vakatorwa vakaendwa navo kuMusengezi Mission. Sekuru ndiko kwavakafira ikoko (tears falling down). I am told vakarohwa vachinyikwa in a drum full of water. They were being accused of supporting freedom fighters. I am told they tried to explain that there were not aware of what had happened but the Rhodesian soldiers would not listen. That’s how my sekuru died. He died a painful death.

SM:  Tell us what happened after you crossed Zambezi River?

Cde Steria: We walked until we got to Mapapaya Base, which belonged to Frelimo comrades. We spent about two days at Mapapaya then continued the journey. It took us weeks to walk to Chifombo. We had to walk in the evening for security reasons. When we got to Chifombo we found people like Cdes Bethune, Chigohwe, Josiah Tungamirai and Gava. As female recruits we were taken to our own base but still at Chifombo. We were the first group of female recruits at Chifombo. Taigara mudzimba dzemapango, those makeshift houses. Later we were put in tents. The male comrades who were assigned to look after us were Cdes Chimurenga, Gava, Patrick Mupunzarima and Bethune. Also at Chifombo, there were comrades from Frelimo who were staying at their own poshtos (positions).

When we got to Chifombo, after walking for weeks and several kilometres, we heaved a sigh of relief and it was at Chifombo that we realised that there was no turning back. I remember the day we arrived at Chifombo, some male comrades including Cde George Rutanhire were taken to Tanzania where they got their military training. One of our biggest tasks at Chifombo was to carry materiel to Zambezi River. We carried materiel to Zambezi River countless times. After receiving military training in Tanzania, all male comrades would pass through Chifombo and we would assist them to carry materiel to Zambezi River. When we got to Zambezi, the male comrades would cross into Rhodesia and we would go back to Chifombo.

Also while at Chifombo, we were taught the basics on political orientation and how to assemble a gun. We got inspiration from some female comrades from Frelimo who told us that they had already gone for military training. We admired them and because of that we didn’t look back. We were ready to go for military training. Actually, we couldn’t wait.

Some of us were later taken to Luangwa just as another group of female recruits arrived at Chifombo. This group comprised Cdes Mationesa, Dadirai, Lucy, Loice, Apronia, Pronica and others. During those days, Luangwa was referred to as ZZ, meaning Zambia-Zimbabwe. We were taken to Luangwa in trucks and were taken to a base called Rumeze. From this base, we continued carrying materiel to Zambezi River. Later we were taken back to Chifombo. This was still in 1973 and I was still 14 years old. I was assigned to the armory department were our duty was to offload ammunition from trucks and make sure that by dawn all the ammunition would be in the armory. It was also our responsibility to go to the armory and bring the required materiel to the comrades who would carry it to Zambezi. Very few people knew where this armory was located for security reasons.

SM: You were still very young but you were given all these responsibilities?

Cde Steria: Age didn’t matter anymore. There were tasks to be carried out and that was my only concern. Of course, sometimes we would think about home but it was never about wanting to go back home.

SM: We hear that before taking the ammunition to and from the armory, there is a ritual that you conducted. Tell us briefly about this ritual and its significance?

Cde Steria: We would take the required ammunition from the armory and then conduct the ritual. Taiwomberera tichiti; “Ambuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi, zvinhu izvi zvava kuenda tungamirirai mhuri. Itai itakure zvinhu izvi zviende zvakanaka.” Our leader in the armory department Cde Tawuya would lead us in conducting this ritual.

SM: At 14 years, who had taught you all this?

Cde Steria: Like I told you, age was no longer an issue. Unenge uchinzwa zviri kuita vamwe. The task at hand can make you grow up fast. Unokura. In addition, the political orientation had hardened us. There was no time yekuyema. Just the thought that the colonial regime was oppressing our parents back home was enough to makes us grow fast. You know when I look at 14 year-olds of today, I see a very big difference with 14 year-olds from my generation. There is a big difference. Maybe the 14 year-olds from my generation understood kuti taiva munhamo which no one but ourselves could deal with. Today’s youths vakagarika saka it’s difficult for them to understand some of these things. Kana zvinhu zvese zvakanaka there is no need to think hard or to make any sacrifice. That was not the case during our time.

SM: So you were at Chifombo for how long?

Cde Steria: I was at Chifombo until March 1974 when I went for military training. Initially, when we went for military training, we were 74 female comrades but one of us got sick and passed away while the other was discovered to be pregnant. She was sent back to Lusaka, Zambia. So we went for military training at Nachingweya in Tanzania. Before the training even started, our instructors from Zanla, Cde Elias Hondo and Cde Joseph Khumalo together with some Frelimo instructors told us that as the first group of female comrades to receive military training, on completion of training, we were going to be instructors with the responsibility to train other female recruits Cdes Dadirai, Loveness, Loice, Sarudzai, Itai, Nyemudzai, Orippa, Jesca, Retia, Erica, Andy, Lucy, Fungai, Pronica, Catherine, Georgina, and many others.

SM: You remember the names of these comrades as if you were with them yesterday?

Cde Steria: It’s all still in my mind. These are comrades I spent several months with as we went through rigorous training. Taive and we remain shamwari dzeropa that’s why I remember them. We were taken through all the drills in military training and we were given political orientation. This was like torture. The training was intensive but we were determined to finish the whole course. I can tell you that I was a top sharp shooter. Izvozvi ukandipa pfuti inorira.

Our training was for six months. The late Mozambican President Samora Machel took us through our drills during our pass-out parade. Like you have been told, Samora akadada nesu. He was very impressed by our group because of our discipline, commitment and ability to master the training. When we left Nachingweya, Samora actually said to us; “don’t disappoint me wherever you are going.”

From Nachingweya, we were taken to the Zanu farm which was near Lusaka. After a day at the farm, we were then taken to Chifombo where we were assigned to different bases and camps. I was assigned to be a medic and I remained at Chifombo. While at Chifombo, that’s when group yanaBadza and Nhari came vachibva kuno kumusha. I remember the day they came I was actually coming from one of the clinics which was called Mwanjavandu where we used to get medical assistance. When I saw this group, I didn’t know what was happening so I started greeting some of the comrades I knew. Cde Badza then called me saying “Steria!” He paused for a while then said; “Stupid!” He was my commander so despite what he had said; I walked towards him, saluted and stood at attention. I then said; “Ndauya comrade.” He then said; “Unofanirwa kuti comrade officer.” I then said; “Handina kunge ndazviziva.” He then said; “Get away from here.” I saluted him and walked away. Later that’s when we discovered that Badza, Nhari and his group had come with the intention to arrest the Zanla leaders.

SM: You continued saluting someone who was showing you disrespect?

Cde Steria: He was my senior and my commander. Ndiwo waiva mutemo wacho. So after this I walked back to my base. After this that’s when we heard that this group had arrested Cdes Gava, Takawira, Tichazvipedza, Simbi and other Zanla leaders. It was only in the evening that I heard about these arrests. One of the Frelimo comrades told us all that had happened. I was shocked. The next day, Badza, Nhari and his group came saying munhu wese ari kudiwa kuHQ. We went to the HQ and ikoko ndiko kwataka shungurudzwa. Vaiti makasara musina kuenda ku war front kureva kuti ndimi maidiwa nemashef. Maisara muchiitei vamwe vachienda kuhondo? They said a lot of things and vakatishungurudza. We tried to explain our situations but they would not listen. They were on a mission and nothing was going to stop them.

I think as all this was happening, some Frelimo comrades alerted their colleagues that things were not well in Zanla. Frelimo started mobilizing against this group.

SM: Do you know why Badza and Nhari were doing all this?

Cde Steria: It was about leadership. They wanted to take leadership of Zanla. Vakanga vatogovana zvigaro kudhara. They were saying as the commanders at the war front, they were supposed to be the leaders of Zanla. Badza, Nhari and Ndanga were leading this group. This was in 1975. If I am not mistaken, this group was later disarmed at Kaswende by some comrades with assistance from Frelimo. The group that disarmed them was called Gukurahundi. This group came in the middle of the night and captured all the comrades who were in support of Cde Badza and Cde Nhari. In the commotion, we were also captured as the comrades under Gukurahundi was accusing us of failing to repeal the Badza-Nhari rebellion. We tried to explain that these comrades came armed and there was nothing we could do but the comrades would not listen to us.

SM: You are saying you were being accused of failing to repeal this rebellion. What is it that you did to show that you were against the Nhari-Badza rebellion?

Cde Steria: We didn’t know what was happening exactly. I remember we were later told that one of the female comrades, Cde Chipo Mafararikwe is the one who escaped from Chifombo and alerted leaders like Rex Nhongo and Mayor Urimbo about what was going on. I personally didn’t know what exactly was going on.

SM: But you actually saw some of the Zanla leaders who had been arrested by Cde Nhari and Badza?

Cde Steria: Yes, I saw some of them at Teresera base. They were tied to some trees. But when they left Chifombo I remember vakanga vakasungwa netambo one.

SM: How did you go to Teresera where these leaders were being kept by Nhari and Badza?

Cde Steria: The leaders of this rebellion actually took us to Teresera. They were saying “we want to show you what we do to sell-outs.” When we got to Teresera, the one comrade I managed to see at close range while tied to a tree was Cde Josiah Tungamirai. After a while, we were taken back to Chifombo.

SM: Who are some of the comrades you were with who were against this rebellion?

Cde Steria: Umm, there were many. I remember many comrades were wondering what was going on.

SM: We still don’t understand why you didn’t do something if you were against this rebellion?

Cde Steria: The biggest problem was that while in our bases, many of us didn’t know our way to Lusaka. We only got little information from the Frelimo comrades. Remember this was a rebellion and this group was showing that it was ready to even kill. They had arrested some of our leaders and this instilled fear in us. Also, as comrades we now didn’t trust each other. We could see something was wrong but we couldn’t do anything about it.

SM: When you were taken to Teresera base, what was the condition of the captured leaders?

Cde Steria: It was bad. I remember Cde Silas Chamisa, who later died together with Cde Chitepo could not even walk when he was rescued.

SM: After the rescue what happened to Badza and Nhari?

Cde Steria: I don’t know.

Don’t miss your copy of The Sunday Mail next week as Cde Steria talks about the country’s biggest sellout during the liberation struggle Morris Nyathi and the massacre at Chomoio..

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