Alexander Kanengoni had his way with words. Reading any of his works was like a lesson in English Simplified.
Having read Vicious Circle in high school, I always carried a mental note of the novel wherever I went. So when, years later, I was to meet him during his days at ZBC, I asked him if he was not doing the nation a disfavour by not writing much.
With the usual laugh, he said there are a number of works that he had written, Echoing Silence, he especially recommended. Here and there, when he really felt the urge, he wrote pieces for either this publication or The Herald, to remind the nation of the arduous journey that was the liberation struggle.
So whenever the name Alexander Kanengoni popped in the papers, it was a must-read. One such piece was his narration of the Nyadzonia attack which was in The Sunday Mail, must have been in 2004 or thereabout.
Here is part of his recollection of Nyadzonia: “A small girl of not more than eight whose chest had been ripped open by a machine gun with part of her lung now exposed asked me as she calmly sat in a donga: ‘Do you think I will survive comrade?’ Strangely, all through that nightmare, I had not cried, not a single tear. I stood up, looked away and wept for something that was much, much more than the tragedy of the little girl.”
I could not help the flow of tears, equally, when I put my paper down that time. This was one of the most moving and touching recollections of the liberation war that I had come across my entire reading life. Nothing could have been more graphic.
And it is this image, of the little girl with her lung exposed, that I mentally carried into Nyadzonia a fortnight ago. The picture had been painted vividly by Kanengoni that by some stretch of imagination I hoped to see the little girl crouching somewhere, crying out for help. Crying for freedom.
But somehow, collectively as a nation, we have conspired to forget that little girl — and many other little boys, women and men — whose lives were lost in that merciless attack in August 1976.
Preparing for the journey to Nyadzonia I reached out to Google and I was not exactly surprised when my search for Nyadzonia, either the place, river or even distance from any known Mozambican town, yielded nothing. Nyadzonia wouldn’t mean anything to anyone sitting in Silicon Valley.
After getting directions from a veteran of the liberation struggle, whose information was correct to the kilometre, we set out for the journey of re-discovery, of re-collection of the country’s rich history.
Just like in Chimoio two years ago, my heart sank on arrival. Maybe I had carried too much expectation. My expectation was suddenly overcome by sadness, sadness not of not seeing the little girl with her lung hanging out. Sadness by how we seem to have forgotten the little girl or Nyadzonia, collectively.
Even John Bhera, who was soon to be our guide on the tour of the shrine, could not have captured the sadness more subtly: “There have been talk that a school will be built here, in honour of those lying here, as well as a way to thank the local people for the sacrifices they made during the fight for your liberation, but this just has been talk. Nothing has been done.”
Nyadzonia, which doubled up as a refugee camp and military base, was hit by Rhodesian Selous Scouts on the morning of August 9 1976. Morrison Nyathi was a Zanla commander within the camp, who turned sell-out.
Together with the Selous Scouts, disguised as Frelimo soldiers, he entered Nyadzonia camp under the pretext of announcing a cease-fire. When he left the camp, Nyathi had lied that when he returned he would be bringing in the Zanla High Command for an inspection and such all the guns should be disassembled and cleaned.
So all guns that morning were being cleaned and Nyathi knew exactly when to strike. As per usual tradition, he sounded a whistle on arriving and soon as a highly expectant crowd gathered around the assembly point.
Then the madness began.
But then, who better than Kanengoni to give a graphic description of what he saw: “I was not at Nyadzonia when the Rhodesians attacked it. I was at Chimoio. But I was among the platoon of 30 that was dispatched to the camp soon after the news of the attack was received.
“Thus, I will tell the story of the massacre not as a survivor but as one of the first people who got to the scene immediately after the massacre. There was nothing to understand. Then there were the flies. Swarms of swarming heavy, green bombers. They hovered from corpse to corpse, their laden stomachs bulging to bursting point. In two days’ time, the worms would begin to appear on the corpses decomposing in the sun but for now, it was just the nauseating green flies. Yes, in two days’ time, the fat, wiggling lethargic worms would begin to appear.
“And then there was the stench of the decomposing corpses that filled the air. But like all the other things, the stench would slowly disappear from our noses and by the third day, it would have completely disappeared.”
With such a depressing description, a drive to Nyadzonia would be richly expectant. And rightly so.
But then there is the sun-beaten sign, whose message has been lost to the weather. The flags, that is if the cloths lying on the ground are meant to be described as such, add to the sadness,
Here is one of the saddest chapters in the country’s history being slowly obliterated from our collective memory.
But I will leave it to Kanengoni, who sadly passed away on the eve of last year’s Independence celebrations, to summarise what could be killing Nyadzonia from our collective memory: “To most of us, Heroes’ Day has become synonymous with the National Heroes’ Acre. Each year, on the solemn day, thousands of us gather on the sacred national shrine to remember those who shed their blood for the liberation of the country.”
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