How two-month baby fought colonialism

On April 18, Zimbabwe celebrates 37 years of independence. As part of honouring the heroes who fought for Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, The Sunday Mail will focus on the roles and experiences of women in the fight against independence. Last week, The Sunday Mail’s Chief Reporter Kuda Bwititi spoke to one of the founding female nationalists Cde Idah Murape. She was detained alongside her two month old baby who miraculously survived the harrowing experience.

My name is Idah Murape (nee Chiromo) I was born in 1928 in Chief Mangwende’s area in Murewa. My father was a sergeant at the native commission district offices in Murewa where he worked for 45 years.

I did my schooling in Murewa as well as Nyadire Mission up to Standard Six before getting married to my late husband Joskey Benson Murape.

We married in 1947 and wedded at Murewa Mission.

We moved to Harare in the 1950s.

I started my political involvement in 1959. My major inspiration of getting into politics was that my father had worked as a sergeant for the native commission’s district office for 45 years but he received a meagre pension. He was not able to do much with the pension except to buy a bicycle.

I was disheartened that after working for so many years, this was all that my father had to show for the loyal service.

This experience enlightened me on the heartlessness of colonial rule. They did not care about us and they treated us as slaves.

So in 1959 I was living in Highfield and I was secretary of the Rate Payers Association in the area.

The leader of Malawi Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda came to Highfield to address a meeting in which he spoke against white segregation.

He inspired us to resist oppression by the whites. That meeting was attended by other nationalists such as James Chikerema, George Nyandoro, Morris Nyagumbo, Robert Marere and others.

After the meeting, Dr Banda encouraged us to form our own African National Congress (ANC). So the executive of the ANC was formed at that meeting.

The executive included nationalists such as George Nyandoro, Chikerema, Madzimbamuto, Marere, Morris Nyagumbo and others. On the women’s side our chair-lady was Evelyn Mushonga who was wife to another nationalist Paul Mushonga.

I was made Treasurer of that executive.

ANC was banned in 1960 and after that we formed the NDP in 1961. At the formation of NDP, I was made the women’s league chairperson for Harare province as our activities were mainly concentrated to suburbs in Harare such as Mufakose, Mbare and Highfield.

I worked closely with Robert Marere who was the chair of the main wing and Robert Mugabe who was the publicity secretary. One of the unforgettable moments I recall in the fight for Zimbabwe’s liberation is in 1961 when, as leaders of NDP we called for a demo at Cecil Square.

The demo was in protest over the pronouncement by the settler regime that we would get 15 seats in the legislature.

We disputed this because they wanted to appease us with just 15 seats against our call for one-man one vote.

So I was one of the leaders of that demonstration and picketed with my two month old Hatikundwe-Nemabhunu (Hati) strapped on my back.

Things turned ugly when we were arrested for demonstrating and taken to Central Prison. I was put in the same cell with Cde Sally Mugabe who was at that time Secretary for the Women’s League.

I and Sarah were the leading figures in mobilising women to take part in the demonstration so the settler regime wanted to punish us severely. After our arrest, many female comrades who were part of the demonstrations were freed upon payment of a fine of three pounds.

I and Sally refused to pay the fine because we wanted to send our message to the colonial regime that we were serious in fighting against repression.

At one time, Cde Victoria Chitepo asked to pay the fines on our behalf but we asked her not to because we wanted to hammer home our point.

So they made sure that the punishment we received was worse than that which was meted to others.

Cde Sally Mugabe and I were put in the same cell.

This cell was deemed to be the worst at the prison because its previous occupant had died in it.

It was a condemned cell and inhabitable.

Unlike other cells which had proper sleeping places, our cell only had wood poles, which were our beds.

It was very small and it had no toilet like other cells. These conditions made it very difficult for Cde Sally and myself.

Hati was only two months and he constantly cried because such the little baby could not handle such conditions.

Cde Sally was very helpful and she helped in a big way to help little Hati to cope with the conditions of the cell.

She would cuddle him and play with him and make the baby smile even in those dreadful conditions.

The only respite we had was that we were allowed to go out of the cell for our meals into the prison’s open area. This was the only time we would get to breathe fresh air and get some relief from the tough conditions in the cell.

To make matters worse, the cell was hunted. We hardly slept at night. We would hear strange noises.

We would see flying objects that would emerge from nowhere. It was a scary experience and we would later learn that the ghost was that of the person who had died in that cell. So we were deliberately placed into that cell because the regime knew that it was haunted and they wanted to break our spirit. Baby Hati was sensitive to all this and he would cry all-night long.

The food was pathetic so Hati would naturally go hungry because as the breastfeeding mother, I was not able to lactate because of the poor diet.

One night, after spending a couple of weeks in the cell, Hati could not take it anymore and his condition deteriorated.

He cried unbearably. He cried for several hours without stopping until Cde Sally called out to the prison warden that it was now an emergency. Hati had grown visibly pale, he was not the usual bubbly baby, his eyes were dreary and he was losing weight.

Even the prison warden could see that the baby was in critical condition and agreed to allow us to see a doctor.

Luckily Doctor Parirenyatwa attended to Hati and he survived. After he had received treatment, the regime wanted to continue detaining us but my husband and Cde Sally’s husband, Cde Mugabe came to the prison and paid our fines, leading to our release. Hati was very strong and I believe he fought death even at that little age.

He fought the evilness of the Rhodesians who wanted him to die to destroy my spirit in fighting against their brutal regime.

As a mother I am proud that I have lived to tell his story because I was with him all the way as we fought against the brutal regime in the fight for our Independence.

 Interview and Transcription by Kuda Bwititi.

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