‘I’m still haunted by Chimoio’

Hon Irene Zindi —
I joined the liberation struggle in 1975 when I was 13-years-old. I had quit school after learning about the death of my hero, Zanu Chairman Cde Herbert Chitepo, a fiery leader of the liberation struggle.

Our school head, Mr Chipangura, broke the news at assembly and that motivated me to want to fight Ian Smith and his acolytes.

An article in the pro-establishment African Magazine referred to Cde Chitepo’s death as the “downfall of a terrorist”. That hurt.

My hero had died, and all the settlers could do was rub salt into my wound.

The horrendous pictures which the magazine published did nothing to soothe the pain, only serving to accelerate the fire that was burning in my bosom.

These were pictures of beheaded comrades, some of whose body parts had been severed – a strategy to dissuade would-be guerillas.

The article on Cde Chitepo’s death was on one of the pages, and that confirmation left me drenched in tears.

I was enraged enough to take on Smith head-on. Where was his lair? Where was he hiding.

I had had enough and wanted to settle the matter with him pronto.

Linking up with the combatants was not a problem: The long walk to Mozambique was.

I had never imagined joining the war being so excruciating, but some girls from our school were also baying for Smith’s blood and this helped strengthen my resolve.

We were ill-prepared, with no extra clothes to change and food to eat.

We walked for weeks, going for days without food.

But thank Providence, we eventually reached our destination in one piece.

Mozambique had celebrated its independence from Portugal on June 25; something I wished for my own country.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to deal with Ian Smith’s regime.

That’s why I was elated when we arrived at Vila De Manica, the first base we got to.

We stayed there for a while and then relocated to Nyadzonia and later Chimoio.

I received military training in the months that followed, becoming a full-fledged combatant. I later became a military instructor, and Cde Monica Mutsvangwa was one of my trainees.

My worst and most unforgettable experience of the war came at Chimoio camp.

One day, I slept late.

I was suddenly awakened by the unmistakable sound of bombing as fighter jets flew over the place. This was followed by shrieks and wailing. Smoke billowed as missiles rained on the camp.

Rhodesian forces were attacking the camp, I quickly realised.

I immediately removed the red top I was wearing as we had been taught that bright colours were easy picks during airstrikes. Topless as I was, I evaded the missiles that were now targeted at our barracks. I ducked and dived, ran and crawled. But the situation worsened when snipers were introduced.

One of my commanders, Cde Dambadamba, was close and I jumped to his side, reasoning that it would be easier to dodge bullets as a duo. To my utter shock, Cde Dambadamba told me that he had been hit.

He said, “Keep moving; I have taken a hit. I am going to die here and I don’t want you to die with me.” His last words were: “Please remove my T-shirt and wrap it around me because I am going to die.”

I was numb, but somehow kept crawling out of the enemy radius.

I could see the Rhodesian soldiers advancing with bayonets, shoving them into the stomachs of those who had survived the bombing.

I had to think fast.

My life and darkest hour stood face-to-face, and that split-second decision would determine which one would prevail. I decided to play dead.

Hundreds of comrades had been killed, so I covered myself with their corpses. Footsteps. Then silence. The Rhodesians were determined to kill every survivor. I only realised that I was “the one that got away” several hours later.

Smith’s forces had gone, satisfied that the job was done.

In an open battle, comrades shielded each other from enemy fire. The comrades who died in that massacre protected me, even in death. That day remains vivid in my mind. I suffer from a condition known as tinnitus which makes one experience all-of-a-sudden loud ringing sounds. It gets worse if I watch images of war.

The sounds can be unbearable and cause severe headaches.

I still have nightmares of comrades who were killed at Chimoio, becoming emotional whenever the experience crosses my mind. Other veterans and I certainly need post-war trauma therapy.

After the war, we quickly became part of society without proper reintegration. I am fortunate that I can manage this trauma, even though it haunts me.

However, other comrades have not managed it well. Some have become mentally challenged while others are irritable.

What is clear is that images from the war are still vivid in our minds.

I have managed to suppress this condition, but some of my peers’ lives have been affected by post-war trauma for good.

Honourable Irene Zindi is the Zanu-PF National Assembly representative for Mutasa South. She was speaking to The Sunday Mail’s Chief Reporter Kuda Bwititi last week.

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