The Sunday Mail
Kuda Bwititi Chief Reporter
IN 2011, the nation was engrossed in shock when mass graves were discovered from a disused mine shaft at Chibondo, Mt Darwin in Mashonaland Central. The discovery led to a mass exhumation by the Fallen Heroes of Zimbabwe Trust, culminating in the reburial of the unsung heroes of the liberation struggle who were mercilessly butchered by the brutal Rhodesian Government.
Young children and women numbering 750 were reburied at Chibondo as the atrocities committed by Ian Smith’s colonial regime were laid bare. Events at Chibondo captured both local and international attention at that time, but five years on, the nation seems to have forgotten about the area. A visit to the area by The Sunday Mail last week revealed that Chibondo is in a sorry state, unbefitting of the historical significance the place carries.
Although the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe accorded the shrine a class one national monument status, much of Chibondo is covered in virtual forest. Wooden grave crosses that were erected as temporary structures are now being plagued down by termites.
Some of the wooden crosses have fallen off, making it difficult to identify the buried bodies. After the area was accorded national monument status, it was said that a museum would be built to preserve the rich history of the site but the plans appear far-fetched if the prevailing situation is anything to go by.
In an interview last week, one of the volunteer caretakers at the site, Cde Christopher Gochera complained bitterly about the sorry situation at Chibondo.
“I am very worried that there is not enough attention being given to our area. We work here as two volunteers who are tasked with maintaining the area.
“It is a tough job because we are not regularly paid. We are calling on authorities to give attention to this area,” he said. Cde Gochera challenged authorities to fulfill promises to develop the area.
“Besides the billboard that was outside, there is nothing else that has been done since 2011 to develop Chibondo. Promises were made that a museum would be constructed but there is nothing that is taking place and we do not know if those plans are still on course,” he said.
Cde Gochera said more reburials were expected at Chibondo amid indications that there could be thousands of bodies in other disused mine shafts.
“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done here because you have to bear in mind that the 750 that were reburied were drawn from a single shaft. There are three other shafts which are yet to be opened and we suspect that there could still be thousands of bodies.”
National Monuments and Museums of Zimbabwe executive director Dr Godfrey Mahachi said lack of funds was hampering development of Chibondo into a national monument. He, however, said the NMMZ was sensitising the public on the important history of the area.
“The long term plan we have for Chibondo is to build a monument that is just like the National Heroes Acre. However, lack of funds is hampering this project and we continue to appeal to both the Government and the private sector to assist us to develop the area.
“Despite this, a lot of work has been done. We managed to mark all the graves so it is now easy to identify the individual graves including the names of some of the victims of the genocide. We have also fenced the area to ensure that the infrastructure is not vandalised.
“Another thing is that we have submitted Chibondo for monument listing under the liberation war category,” he said. Dr Mahachi said the National Heroes Acre gallery was hosting a Chibondo exhibition which gives the full story. Resident curator at the National Heroes Acre Ms Rumbidzai Bvira said evidence from Chibondo shows some of the worst forms of genocide.
She said some of the evidence gathered shows despicable forms of torture such as use of macro-burn incinerators, bandaging of the head and damaging of bones to kill people.
“Evidence shows that war collaborators who refused to divulge information on the whereabouts of freedom fighters were killed by having their faces covered in bandages. Having your face heavily bandaged means you will not be able to breath, thus suffering a long and painful death,” said Ms Bvira.
The idea behind such torture was that you would die in silence if you chose not to reveal information about the combatants. “We also have evidence of sawn off bones which shows that these people endured the most extreme forms of torture as their bones were crushed when they were alive,” she said.
Ms Bvira said the attempt by the Rhodesia forces to conceal evidence of the massacres underscores the genocidal nature of the atrocities. “One of the measures they used to conceal evidence of the killings was exploding grenades into the mineshaft and drenching the bodies in acid so as to dissolve all bodies beyond trace. Unfortunately, the acid and water in the shaft helped to sterilise the environment and inhibited activities that lead to decomposition and as a result, the evidence remained intact until the discoveries in 2011,” she said.
For Zimbabwe, therefore, it is important to never forget Chibondo – the site that carries evidence of the brutality of the white settler regime.