BORN in 1954 Cde Emelda Musanhu whose Chimurenga name was Cde Suzan Rutanhire joined the liberation struggle in November 1972 soon after her wedding to a catechist George Rutanhire. Cde Suzan, from Mt Darwin, under Chief Matope went to Chiunye School in the area. While many newlyweds go for honeymoon to places like Victoria Falls or Zanzibar, Cde Suzan joined the liberation struggle for her “honeymoon.”
In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Suzan narrates how her wedding gifts were sold by her husband and some comrades as they walked to Chifombo Camp in Zambia. She narrates how she later separated with her husband and was part of the first group of female Zanu comrades to go for military training at Nachingweya. Cde Suzan reveals that she was part of female instructors at Chimbi-chimbi training camp in Zambia who later trained Cde Joice Mujuru. Read on …
MH: Comrade, thank you for your time. As we start, can you briefly tell us, how did you join the liberation struggle?
Cde Suzan: I joined the liberation struggle soon after my wedding.
SM: We thought newlyweds are supposed to go for their honeymoon, not go to war?
Cde Suzan: After our wedding, my husband, George Rutanhire who was a catechist in the Roman Catholic Church went away for a little while kubasa. Then he just came back and took me. I didn’t even know that he was taking me to join the liberation struggle. I thought I was accompanying my husband kubasa kwake. He just came and said let’s go tava kuenda kunogara kubasa. I packed my belongings and along the way, zvinhu zvangu ndizvo zvakanga zvavakutengeswa on the way so that we could get something to eat together with some comrades we had joined on our way to Mozambique. I wasn’t even aware that my clothes, my pots, cups and spoons were being sold. Most of the things ndakanga ndapihwa pamuchato. In my mind I was thinking kana tasvika kwatiri kuenda, ndichasviko gara pamba pangu with my belongings.
SM: Your husband was a catechist where exactly?
Cde Suzan: He was working in Mkumbura. So when he came I thought we were going to Mkumbura. What happened was that he came home one night with some comrades and he ordered me to pack my belongings. The comrades were carrying my belongings. As we were walking, at first I was made to believe kuti tichasvika kubhazi, yet they were saying kubase. After walking for quite some days, I realised that uummm, hapana kubhazi kwatiri kuenda. We kept on walking and walking. I then started asking my husband kuti “ko nhai mufundisi, hatisviki sei?” He would just say, “no tinosvika.” On the way, we were joined by other comrades and the group kept growing. One of the comrades who came to take us was Cde Khumalo.
SM: You are saying your husband was a catechist, can you briefly tell us how life was during these colonial days?
Cde Suzan: Like I told you, ndakanga ndichangotanga kuwanikwa. What I can tell you is that my husband was earning very little. I think it was about seven pounds per month. So life was difficult.
SM: When your husband came to take you, had he already received military training?
Cde Suzan: No, he had not yet received any military training but he knew quite a number of comrades. Sometimes he would actually go to their bases and assist them in carrying their materiel. He later told me that when the comrades told him that they wanted to go with his to Mozambique, he told them that he could not leave me. That’s how he came to take me. By this time, I had never seen any comrade and I wasn’t even aware that they were in the area.
SM: Why didn’t he just tell you that you were going to join the liberation struggle?
Cde Suzan: I think he was afraid that if he told me, I would freak out. So he said anozozviona kumberi. So went on this long and tortuous journey and like I told you on the way, my husband and these comrades were selling my belongings to villagers to get food. They did not even tell me that they were selling my belongings.
SM: So were you the only woman in this group?
Cde Suzan: Yes, I was the only woman. We had not yet met other female comrades. After crossing Mkumbura River, my husband, vaRutanhire vakarumwa nenyoka pagumbo. It was during the night so we didn’t even see the snake. I was very worried. The comrades told us to take some rest while they went to nearby villages to see if they could find mushonga wechibhoyi to apply parumwa paya. One of the elders from the village asked them kuti arumwa papi exactly. He told the comrades that they should find something to tie his leg so that the poison could spread throughout the whole leg. I took my belt and tied his leg. Now I want you to listen to me very carefully here. One of the comrades, I think he was called Cde Nicho or something, went to this elder in the village. This elder asked him to show him kuti vaRutanhire vakanga varumwa papi exactly. He showed this elder the position and this elder akabva atemera Cde Nicho ivavo mushonga at that spot he had shown him. After atemerwa mushonga, Cde Nicho came and when he arrived, akabva aita zvekunombora mushonga from paakanga atemerwa achibva akwizira pagumbo ravaRutanhire. In no time, gumbo rakabva ratoserera during that night.
SM: You said, you were not told the truth where you were going, when exactly did you realise that you were being taken to join the liberation struggle?
Cde Suzan: As we walked I could hear what the comrades were saying and I knew kuti hapana kubhazi kwatiri kuenda. As the group, grew I realised we were going to join the liberation struggle. After Mkumbura, we were joined by some women.
SM: Who are some of the comrades who you later knew from the group that came to take you?
Cde Suzan: Like I told you, there was Cde Khumalo, then later I got to know Cde Chimurenga. I remember on the way, Mai Mutandarika and her husband joined this group. There was also Cde Wairesi and many other women who joined this group. There were even some children because on the way, the comrades would get to a homestead and just order all the people to join the group. I think some of the villagers near the border knew that they were going to join the liberation struggle because most of them didn’t resist. In the end, I think we were around 40 people.
SM: When you finally realised you were going to join the liberation struggle, did you talk to your husband about it?
Cde Suzan: There was no time for that. Even zvekuti he is my husband didn’t matter anymore. I couldn’t even ask about my belongings because it was obvious what had happened. As we walked, the talk now was we are going to Zambia to join the liberation struggle. My husband, even came and told me that shamwari tava kuenda kuhondo. I told him that there was no return totoenda tese. Paafira ndipo pandaizofira. By this time, I was still calling him mufundisi. We walked until we got to Chifombo Base. Just before arriving at Chifombo, that is when men and women were separated. I said ‘ahh, ko zvava kufamba seiko apa?’ There was no one really to ask. I just accepted because there were other women who had their husbands who didn’t question much. So we were taken to different bases, but the male comrades would come to take their food from our base. As these comrades came to take their food, I would ask them kuti ko mufundisi haasi kuuyawo sei and they would assure me that he was at their base.
After about three weeks, vaRutanhire and other comrades were taken for military training. No one even told me that they were going for military training. I think in a bid to make me not worry too much, the comrades gave me the responsibility to welcome other female comrades who came after us. I was like the leader of the group. At Chifombo, we were later given the responsibility to carry materiel to Zambezi River. At the same time, we were given political orientation, but just the basics. From Chifombo to Zambezi River, at first it took us a week, but later it would take us about three days. Besides carrying materiel, we would carry stuff to cook on the way. So you can imagine carrying heavy materiel together with things like mealie meal and so on? Musana waisvuuka. We would rest for a few days and go on this long journey again. The idea was that by the time the male comrades finished their training, we would have carried materiel enough to start the war.
SM: When did you change from Emelda Musanhu to Suzan Rutanhire?
Cde Suzan: While at Chifombo, we were told that we were supposed to change our names. That’s when our names were changed. We would choose the first names and the comrades would give us the surnames.
SM: So during this time as you carried materiel to Zambezi, did you have any encounter with the Rhodesian forces?
Cde Suzan: No, not the Rhodesian forces. But at times we would see Portuguese fighters in Mozambique and so whenever we got to what we used to call Bhinya Road, we would send some comrades for reconnaissance first. On many occasions we walked at night so that we would not be detected.
SM: You told us that on your way to Chifombo, you were joined by some families that had young children. As you were now carrying materiel to Chifombo, what would these kids be doing?
Cde Suzan: There were at Chifombo together with some women who were too old to carry materiel to Zambezi.
SM: We hear that some comrades were of the belief that women who were having menstrual periods could not carry the materiel. How far true was this?
Cde Suzan: What I can tell you is that all the women during this time, whenever they crossed Zambezi coming to join the liberation struggle, they would stop going for their periods.
SM: According to you, what caused this?
Cde Suzan: I am not sure, but we thought mudzimu. We just realised that we were no longer going for our periods. We spoke about it as female comrades.
SM: We have heard so many comrades saying the liberation struggle yaiva hondo yemudzimu. What exactly do you mean by this?
Cde Suzan: This war was led by vanaMbuya Nehanda and I remember homwe yaMbuya Nehanda yakatozonotorwa and it was brought at Chifombo. We were with Mbuya Nehanda paChifombo. While at Chifombo she told macomrades mhiko dzekuita like kuti musarare nevakadzi. She said if you fight in a battle after sleeping with a woman, waigona kusara ipapo.
SM: So you were at Chifombo for how long?
Cde Suzan: We arrived at Chifombo in 1972 and we were there until I think in 1974 when we went for military training. By this time, I had already accepted that my husband had gone for military training and there were chances that we would never meet again. But I had faith that we would meet again. Also by this time, zvehondo zvakanga zvava kutondinakidza. From Chifombo we were taken to the Zanu farm which was near Lusaka. We were getting ready to go for military training at Nachingweya. Later we were taken to Nachingweya and we underwent military training for six months.
SM: You said your husband was a catechist, as you were now going for military training, did you continue on the Christian path or you started kuita zvevadzimu as you said the liberation struggle was about vadzimu?
Cde Suzan: Just the situation at Chifombo and what was going on told me that tombomira zvechitendero pano. There was no one to pray with. Before carrying the materiel from Chifombo to Zambezi, our leaders would conduct some rituals vachikumbira kuvadzimu kuti vatitungamirire. I never heard anyone praying to God.
SM: How many were you when you went for military training at Nachingweya?
Cde Suzan: We were 74 female comrades. It was later discovered that one of the comrades was pregnant and she was taken back to Lusaka. This comrade actually volunteered information that she was pregnant before the training started.
SM: Who was responsible for this pregnancy? Do you know what had happened?
Cde Suzan: What I know is that this comrade akaita nhumbu I think at Chifombo. This person who had made this comrade pregnant was Cde Rex Nhongo (Cde Solomon Mujuru).
SM: What was the name of this female comrade?
Cde Suzan: She was called Cde Tichahwina.
SM: So this means some people were falling in love and having sex during the war?
Cde Suzan: These two were not married but it just happened. I think mwana wavakaita from this pregnancy was called Maidei.
SM: So when you got to Nachingweya, take us through what happened?
Cde Suzan: When we got to Nachingweya we were told that we were being trained so that we would train other female comrades. Nachingweya was in Tanzania and we were sleeping in barracks. This camp belonged to Frelimo but that is where we were taken to receive military training. We were taught marching drills, how to assemble a gun, how to use the gun, how to take cover under attack and political orientation. Our instructors were Cde Khumalo and Cde Elias Hondo. There were two instructors from Frelimo, a male and a female. These Frelimo instructors could speak Shona fluently.
We would wake up very early in the morning around 2am and go for parade. At parade, we would count each other to make sure we were all present. We had uniforms. After parade, we would go for quite a number of kilometres tichimhanyiswa. On return, we were taken through marching drills, then we were taught how to assemble a gun. Later we would go to the ranch for shooting. In the afternoon, it was mainly political orientation.
SM: Tell us briefly what political orientation was all about?
Cde Suzan: We were taught the ruthlessness of the Rhodesian regime, the discrimination against the black majority, how whites had taken our land, the ill-treatment of blacks and that for us to get out of this situation, we had no option but to fight on our own.
SM: Who are some of the comrades you trained with?
Cde Suzan: I actually have a book were I wrote the names of some of the comrades. There was Cdes Dadirai, Mavis, Mationesa, Sarudzai, Spiwe, Chipo, Angela, Serbia, Tracy, Gladys, Ketiwe, Georgina and others whose names I couldn’t remember. This training turned us into real comrades. We now fully understood why we had to fight the war and the training instilled courage and bravery into us. My favourite gun was the sub-machine gun. Ndaiti ndakaibata ndainzwa kuti yaaa, bhunu rinochema chete.
We were taken through our pass-out parade by the former Mozambican founding leader, Samora Machel. Samora was really happy to take us through the drills on this day. Akadada nesu because we were disciplined and we were all good at what we were doing.
SM: Your group was the first Zanu group of female comrades to receive military training. How did this make you feel?
Cde Suzan: As pioneers, this made us feel so good and proud of ourselves. I think that is one of the reasons why we performed to the best of our abilities. Zvaida kuti uwone tichifora, waiona kuti macomrades aya azvipira and they are enjoying themselves. On the night before the pass-out parade, we spent the whole night singing and dancing. It was as if we had qualified to go for a party, yet we had qualified to go to war. We were singing revolutionary songs. I particularly liked the song that goes;
“Nyika yedu yeZimbabwe ndimo matakazvarirwa
Vana mai nababa ndimo mavari
Tiinoda Zimbabwe nehupfumi hwayo hwese
Zimbabweee! Tinoda Zimbabweee!
Zimbabweee! Zuva rayo rasvika!”
The excitement was just too much. I will never forget this day. Whenever we meet with some of the comrades, we talk a lot about this day.
SM: So after training, where did you go?
Cde Suzan: From Nachingweya, we were taken to the Zanu farm near Lusaka. At the farm, that is when we went separate ways as we were assigned to different bases and different tasks. I was one of the comrades, who remained at the farm. I was assigned as an instructor to train other female comrades. Some of female comrades like Cde Dadirai and Cde Mationesa were sent to the war front in Rhodesia.
I remained at the farm with Cde Loveness and others. From the farm, as instructors we were taken to Chimbi-chimbi training base. One of our task was to train even some of mashef edu who were in Lusaka who had not received military training. We trained Cdes Hamadziripi, Mukudzei Mudzi, Richard Hove and others. We also trained Cde Teurairopa (Mai Mujuru). Cde Teurai joined the liberation struggle way after us. When she arrived at Chifombo, she got sick. She had malaria. That’s when she was taken to Lusaka for treatment. After the treatment, she didn’t go back to Chifombo. She was staying in Lusaka. So from Lusaka she came kuChimbi-chimbi and we trained her together nemashef, but ivo she was not our shef. She just happened to be staying in Lusaka. She was just a recruit who had gotten sick and was taken to Lusaka for treatment.
SM: How many instructors were at Chimbi-chimbi?
Cde Suzan: There was myself, Cde Loveness, Cde William Ndangana and a few others. It was not easy training mashef but there had been told to listen to us because they didn’t know anything about military training. There were told that they had to receive military training because at some point there were supposed to go to the war front or to meet other freedom fighters. Mashef aya were just politicians without military training and so there were ordered to receive quick military training. This Chimbi-chimbi training was just for three months. I was at Chimbi-chimbi for four months then I left. I went to Luangwa then to Chifombo where I was responsible for receiving recruits from Rhodesia. While at Chifombo, we would take the recruits through basic military training and political orientation. By this time, many female comrades were now joining the liberation struggle. I think our group inspired many other women to join the liberation struggle because they now knew that even women could participate in the war as freedom fighters. We were the torch bearers. I think I was at Chifombo for about a whole year.
SM: All this time after training, you still had not met your husband?
Cde Suzan: He had gone for military training and came back while I was still at Chifombo. This was before I had gone for military training. I remember when their group came back, Cde Rex Nhongo asked me kuti “ukaona murume wako uchamuziva here?” He then took me to the base where Cde George Rutanhire and other comrades were based. When I arrived, there were on parade being briefed about their deployment into Rhodesia. I was asked to spot him and in no time I spotted him. I remember he was on the second line of the parade. I was so, so happy to see him. Ndakamumbundikira but as someone who was on parade, he didn’t move much. He was also holding his gun. We then greeted each other for a very short while and that was it. From then on he was deployed to the front and I remained at Chifombo then I went for military training.
SM: We understand you were at Mboroma when some unfortunate incident that led to the death of some comrades occurred. Tell us more about this incident.
Cde Suzan: While at Mboroma, we were staying together with comrades from Zapu. So while there, our relations were strained most of the times. Later, we were separated and were staying at different bases but still we would meet when we came to collect food. This food was distributed to us by the Zambian Regiment. So one day, I really don’t know what exactly happened but it must have been about unfairness in the distribution of food. Some Zanu cadres said they wanted to go and inquire why we had not gotten enough of our ration. I joined these comrades and we drove to this base where we used to get our food. To our surprise, when we got to this place, Zapu comrades started attacking us. We fought back throwing stones and sticks. There was serious commotion.
In that commotion, the Zambian Regiment started shooting at us. At first I didn’t realise what was going on. I just saw some of our comrades lying down dead. I was shocked. I think about ten comrades from Zanu were shot and killed. I don’t know what happened to the Zapu comrades. We just carried our dead comrades and left. After this incident, our leader then, Reverend Sithole was told about it. Sithole said he had no time to attend to this issue because one of his daughters in America was not well. This infuriated some comrades kuti hooo, munokudza mwana wenyu kupfuura macomrades? That’s when some comrades started saying “pasi naSithole.” Instead, VaMuzenda is the one who later came to look into the situation. But he came after the dead comrades had already been buried.
SM: When some comrades started saying “Pasi naSithole” how was this issue resolved?
Cde Suzan: I am not privy to the details, but from then on Sithole was dumped. From Mboroma, I was taken to Tete Province in Mozambique. We actually flew to Mozambique. From Tete that’s when I was taken to Chimoio. At Chimoio we were assigned to different bases.
Next week Cde Suzan Rutanhire will narrate how she survived the attack at Chimoio and how she later met her husband Cde George Rutanhire. This is a fascinating love story in the middle of pain, blood and death. Don’t miss your copy of The Sunday Mail for the full story.
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