The Sunday Mail
LAST week, Cde Esther Munyaradzi whose Chimurenga name was Cde Steria Dube narrated how she joined the liberation struggle in 1972 when she was 13 years old. She went on to speak about the Badza-Nhari Rebellion.
In this second part, Cde Steria speaks to our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike about how the leaders of the Badza-Nhari Rebellion were dealt with. She narrates how she survived the attack at Chomoio Base and how a little boy died in her hands soon after the attack. Before breathing his last, this little boy narrated a gruesome story that still haunts Cde Steria up to this day. Read on …
SM: Thank you Cde Steria. Let’s continue your fascinating journey. We are very curious to know what happened to Badza and Nhari when they were captured by the Gukurahundi group.
Cde Steria: Handiti ivo vakanga vaurayawo vanhu. Kuchera gomba. Ndonzi Steria chera gomba rako. Ndochera gomba. Ndonzi pinda. Ndopinda ndiri mupenyu ivo vofutsira comrade ari mupenyu. They did this to quite a number of comrades. So vanhu vakadaro vaifanirwa kuitwa sei?
SM: So you are saying because they had killed some comrades, they were also killed?
Cde Steria: Yes, they were also killed.
SM: Who killed them?
Cde Steria: I don’t know. What I know is that vakaridzirwa pfuti and they were killed. When I heard that they had been killed, I was relieved because they had put us in lots of trouble. We were punished for what the Gukurahundi comrades called liberalism — kwanzi makaregerera these comrades to destroy the party.
SM: You said when this group, Gukurahundi came to rescue the Zanu leaders who had been arrested, you were bunched together with those who were supporting the Badza-Nhari rebellion. How were you treated?
Cde Steria: We were beaten up. The Gukurahundi comrades were accusing us of not doing anything to fight the rebellion but clearly there was nothing we could do. Badza, Nhari and his team were armed and they came determined to wrestle power from the leadership. They were also accusing the leadership of tribalism. You know there are some comrades who supported and participated during the Badza-Nhari rebellion who are still alive today.
SM: Who are some of these comrades?
Cde Steria: Ummm, that won’t be a good thing to name them now, but variko. Quite a number of them. Vakaregererwa nemusangano. I think the party later discovered that vamwe vanhu vakangopindira munyaya dzavakanga vasingazive.
SM: After the Badza-Nhari rebellion, where did you go?
Cde Steria: After this rebellion, I was assigned to Luangwa from Chifombo. While at Luangwa, that’s when we heard about Cde Chitepo’s death. Some of the comrades I was with at Luangwa include Cde Teurai Ropa (Mai Mujuru), Cde Gutura and Cde Cuthbert Chimedza. We were at Luangwa for about three months. After this, we were taken to Tembwe Base in Mozambique. In 1976, I was taken together with Cde Suzan Rutanhire, Cde Retia, Cde Fadzai, Cde Alexander Kuparadza, Cde Morrison Nyathi, Cde Brackson Tenson, Cde Kufakunesu and others were taken to Chibawawa. We left Cde Teurai at Doroi.
SM: By this time what was Cde Teurai Ropa’s rank?
Cde Steria: At this time, Cde Teurai was just a nobody while I was already a member of the General Staff. I was with David Tondlana, Cde Joshua Misihairambwi and others.
SM: Can you briefly describe to us what kind of a person Morrison Nyathi was?
Cde Steria: I was working at the security department when I worked with Morrison Nyathi. I had been transferred from the medical department after my promotion to become a member of General Staff. Morrison Nyathi was just like any other comrade, but when he was ordered to go to the war front, that’s when he changed. He got to the war front akabva apanduka that’s when he came back akawuraisa vanhu. You know after the massacre, during ceasefire I met Morris Nyathi and I asked him what really transpired and he told me kuti hameno mweya wakandipinda. I remember Morris Nyathi akazobatwa paMbare atovawo munhu zvake achitambura. As for what went on to happen to him, I don’t really know.
SM: So from Chibawawa where did you go?
Cde Steria: In 1976, I was assigned to Chimoio Base. Later, we were given instructions to go with some comrades to Gaza for reinforcements. On our way to Gaza, we had a car accident at Gondola and my leg got injured. So I was taken back to Chimoio. Our leaders at Chimoio were Cde Rex Nhongo (Cde Mujuru), Cde Mayor Urimbo, Cde Ndangana, Cde Manyika, Cde Gava, Cde Tongogara and others. Most of these leaders were staying at the HQ at Chimoio while others just visited once in a while. However, the base commander at Chimoio was Cde Norman Bethune. I worked with Cde Bethune for a very long time. Takatozoparadzana tatora nyika. As you know, there were many smaller bases at Chimoio. There was Takawira base (for training), Zvidozvevanhu (garage), Chaminuka (for security), Parirenyatwa (hospital), Chitepo (for political orientation), Chindunduma (for children) and others I can’t remember. I was at Chaminuka base because like I told you I was now under security.
SM: Under the security department, who are some of the leaders you were reporting to?
Cde Steria: Some of our leaders included Cde Emmerson Mnangangwa and Cde Gava. We would compile reports on security matters and we would forward them to Cde Mnangagwa. I started working with Cde Mnangangwa around 1977 after the Chimoio attack.
SM: Let’s talk about the Chimoio attack for now. When Chimoio was attacked, where exactly where you?
Cde Steria: I was at Chaminuka base.
SM: As people under the security department, it was your responsibility to make sure that there was security at all the bases?
Cde Steria: Yes.
SM: So why didn’t you warn the other comrades about the attack?
Cde Steria: Remember Chimoio was a very big base with thousands of people. Hakuna aiziva kuti kugara kwatakaita kune vanokwanisa kutengesa. The attack for me was so, so sudden.
SM: But we are told that before the attack, some spirit mediums who were at the base warned of an imminent attack?
Cde Steria: Yes, it’s true the spirit mediums gave out the warning but like I told you takanga takawandisa. So some people decided to heed the warning but others chose to ignore the warning. The spirit mediums told our leaders about the attack but some of our leaders chose not to tell us. The warning was not relayed to other comrades in time. I remember some of our leaders always insisted kuti garai muri mucover but not many of us listened. The other thing is that many people doubted that the Rhodesian forces could cross into Mozambique to attack us.
SM: Now take us through how the attack happened.
Cde Steria: I can’t remember the exact time, but we went for parade. About 10 minutes at parade, takanzwa kandege kuti hwiiii! Just as we were trying to understand what was going on, the bombardment started. I am talking of serious bombardment here. Close to where I was staying, there was an anti-air machine gun. When the bombing started, I tried to rush back to my room because ndine zvinhu zvandakanga ndasiirwa naCde Mupunzarima kuti ndizopa Cde Rex Nhongo. So when I started running towards my room, the Rhodesian forces threw a bomb close to the anti-air. I immediately changed direction. The commotion was just something else. I just found myself running towards Chimoio town. After running for a while, I took cover under thick long grasses. From that position I could see Rhodesian jets throwing bombs over the bases. I later crawled out of my position, got to some river where I met some comrades. These comrades informed me that there were some Rhodesian soldiers, ground force, who were coming on foot.
We continued the escape. I remember I met Cde Timothy Kurai who was a medic at Parirenyatwa. To my surprise, he told me that I was running towards the base. I think I was now very confused and panicking. I had lost sense of direction. We sat down in a ditch as I tried to gain composure. We sat in this ditch until sunset. The last Rhodesian helicopter which came to finish off those who were still alive yakadarika very close with where we were hiding. We could actually see kuti uyo mubhunu uyo vakanongedzera pfuti pasi.
After a while, Cde Timothy said he was proceeding to Chimoio town. For some reason, I still was thinking about zvinhu zvaCde Rex Nhongo zviya zvandakanga ndapihwa naCde Mupunzarima. I told Cde Timothy that I wanted to go back to the base and before he left me in that position, he advised me against going back. A few minutes later, Cde Chivivito came together with Cde Takawira. They also advised me not to go back to the base. We then started walking to Chimoio town.
As we were walking, takasvika papovho tikaona pane kamwana kakanga karohwa padumbu nebara kachichemera mvura. I got a blanket from one of the povho hoping to take this child to hospital in Chimoio but a few minutes later, this child died. Kamutoto (small child) ikako kaibva kwaMutare. Before this child passed away, he said “after ndapfurwa ndaona mukoma Ronny. Vanga vavakuda kundibaya nezibanga ndikati mukoma Ronny, vachibva vanditora vakandisiya pasi pemuti.”
SM: What are you talking about here?
Cde Steria: I concluded that this little boy’s big brother was part of the Rhodesian ground force that came after the bombing to finish off the survivors. Remember there were blacks in the Smith regime.
SM: You are saying kamwana aka kakanga kava kuda kuuraiwa nemukoma wako?
Cde Steria: Yes, that’s what he told us before he died.
SM: This coincidence, are you really being honest here comrade?
Cde Steria: Kamutoto ikako kakatoti mukoma Ronny ndivo vakandisiya pasi pemuti pandakazotorwa nepovho. When we arrived where this little boy was, someone had tried kumupa mvura and yaibuda nepadumbu paakanga arohwa nebara. I still hear that little boy’s voice and he still comes to my eyes.
We spent about three days walking and on the way, we came across many comrades who were injured. It was a sorry sight. Vamwe taitoona vafire pasi pemuti vamwe pazvigwenzi. It was terrible. We assisted some of the comrades, but we couldn’t do much. Some of the comrades died on arrival at Chimoio hospital. It was bad.
SM: Tell us briefly of what you saw as you left Chimoio?
Cde Steria: There are no words that can describe what I saw. As the bombing continued, people were torn to pieces and there were bodies all over the place. After every few metres, you either saw a dead body or body parts. Ruoko uko, gumbo uko, musoro uko. Kuona hura hwema comrades wakazara pasi. You see, some comrades ran straight into the Rhodesian ground force and they were killed like flies. Up to this day, I don’t really know how I managed to escape. It’s definitely not because I was clever or because I was well-trained.
The visions of what I saw at Chimoio still come into my eyes today. I will never, ever forget (tears falling down). I can’t forget what I saw. I remember ndakaona umwe comrade who called me saying “Cde Steria, ndakuvara.” I said to him, can I carry you and he said, “uummm ndakuvara zvakanyanyisa hapana kwandichakwanisa kuenda.” I tried to carry him but I discovered that matumbu ese akanga ava panze. He said “Cde hazvichaiti, imimi kana muchikwanisa kubuda chibudai.” Cde iyeye died, ndakatarisa.
Then I remember Cde Maidei. She was shot just below the stomach. I managed to carry her to safety. She is still alive this comrade. Whenever I met her, she always say “Cde Steria makandibatsira” and I always tell her kuti yakanga iri nguva yacho. Ndizvo zvinoita hondo. Takanga tiri hanzvanzi, mukoma muning’ina. These visions trouble me up to this day, but I console myself saying that’s what war is about. People die, people get injured.
SM: So after the attack at Chimoio, where did you go?
Cde Steria: I was taken to Mudzingadzi Base where I continued working under the security department. Others were taken to Pungwe Base. From Mudzingadzi I was assigned to Pungwe. I was at Pungwe Base until 1980.
SM: How did you come into Zimbabwe?
Cde Steria: We came via Mutare and went to Goromonzi Base Two. From Goromonzi, I was taken to Manyene, Enkledon. That’s where I was given my de-mob. From there takabva taendeswa kumusha.
SM: Cde Steria, you were among the first Zanu female comrades to receive military training and you later became a member of General Staff. How come you were just demobilised after the attainment of independence?
Cde Steria: I really don’t know. I remember kwakanzi each and every department ngaritore vanhu varo rivape mabasa. I wasn’t given any job. Instead takapihwa ma5 dollars ekuendesa kumusha and taisagona kuramba. There was no one to ask. Zviripo is what we took. We were demobilised and that was it.
SM: Don’t you think most of you comrades from the early years of the liberation struggle, you quickly gave up on fighting for positions in the new government?
Cde Steria: We tried. We went to several offices but they told us mabasa hakuna.
SM: But some were getting into the army and so on?
Cde Steria: Yes, we saw that but there was nothing we could do. From that time, I don’t want to lie to you, war veterans are looked down upon. Very few people today vanotikoshesa. You hear people saying all sorts of things, but personally I say, let them say whatever they want, this is the freedom we fought for.
SM: Don’t you also think some people look down upon war veterans because when you came back from the liberation struggle, you didn’t open up on the hardships you faced?
Cde Steria: It was not for us to come forward and say we want to talk. Izvozvi as we are talking, tisu here tawuya kwamuri kana kuti ndimi mauya kwatiri? Look, we played our part and mwari nevadzimu know we did our best. Up to this day, I can’t understand why you are interviewing us today. From 1980 up to this day? Why? I sometimes say, vanhu ava kuda kungotishusha zvavo. Chazokosha nhasi patiri chii? We should have narrated our stories long back when the memories were still vivid.
SM: But you could have spoken through the war veterans association?
Cde Steria: Eeehh, totaurawo papi kwakunzi kunodiwa vakadzidza.
SM: You also had Mai Mujuru who rose through the ranks to become a Vice President. Why didn’t …
Cde Steria: Eehh, ndisiyeyi zvangu. I remember some time ago, I approached her together with Cde Retia. I went to her and said; Cde minda tinayo but dambudziko chekurimisa hatina. She told me in my face kuti endai munorima nemombe. I never expected that from her. You know when she was made VP, some of us were very happy kuti munhu wekwedu kwakatanga hondo is now VP. We were very happy saying dambudziko redu rinoreruka, asi suddenly kwaVP Mujuru kwakanga kusisa svikike.
SM: Are you not saying this just because she has now formed her own party?
Cde Steria: Not even. You can even ask her. I am sure she still remembers me. You have interviewed quite a number of female comrades, is there anyone of them who told you she got help from Mai Mujuru? You see, we talk about these issues and we know. It looks like shamwari yeropa, comradeship died in 1980. Munhu avakuita zvake. Even vana vedu vanongotamburawo. That’s the price we paid.
You know when I came back from the liberation struggle, I found my parents dead. Ndini ndasviko tanga kuita baba naamai mumusha. I am happy kuti mudzimu yangu yakanditungamira kuti ndidzoke ndiri mupenyu.
SM: You said you worked with Cde Teurai (Mai Mujuru) for a long time. Are you surprised by the decision she has taken to form her own political party?
Cde Steria: If we look back in history, it’s not something that surprise me. This started way back. Vanhu vaingorasika kubva during the liberation struggle.
SM: As someone who worked with her during the liberation struggle, did you ever expect her to do what she is doing today?
Cde Steria: No, I never thought she could go against Zanu-PF one day. You know when the talk that Mai Mujuru was planning to remove President Mugabe from power started, ndakazviramba ini. I said no way but I later realised that indeed it was true. Much, much later especially at the congress. Up to now I still can’t believe what Teurai is doing. However, from my experience working with her, I know for a fact that she can’t lead on her own. She will need quite a number of people to prop her up so that she can make it in politics.
SM: Are you bitter?
Cde Steria: (laughs) Isu takatadza kuenda kuchikoro nenyaya yehondo. It’s our fault and let’s leave this issue ipapo. Like I told you, I joined the liberation struggle when I was 13 years old. Imi makagarika and that’s fine. Some of you here, Cde Huni, handiti makasvika kumba kwangu you know how I am living. Today mukanzwa kuti Steria afa, chinokunetsai chii?
SM: No, comrade …
Cde Steria: I am not talking about you personally. This is the attitude generally among Zimbabweans. Munongoti hameno afa ayenda. You know I only got married in 1982, two years after the attainment of independence? That’s the price I had to pay. I got married to a fellow comrade, Cde Kid Maron’goron’go. Unfortunately he later passed away.
SM: How did you meet Cde Kid Maron’goron’go?
Cde Steria: We met during the liberation struggle but we only got married in 1982 when he was now a teacher in my rural area.
SM: As we conclude, you joined the liberation struggle when you were still very young. What message would you want to give to today’s youths, especially the girl child?
Cde Steria: Like I told you, one of my responsibilities during the early years of the liberation struggle was to make sure that our ammunition was safe. During that time, we stopped going for our periods because kwainzi you can’t go for your periods wozobata zvombo izvi. So I, together with many other girls stopped going for my periods for a long time after mudzimu yedu conducted some rituals. Many started going for their periods around 1978 from 1973. I remember Cde Mayor spoke to Cde Tongo around 1978 saying “Cde hondo yavakuda kupera, endai munotaura nana Sekuru Chidyamauyu kuti vana vagadzirwe ava.” After this, that’s when most of us started going for our periods. This is the sacrifice we made. Can today’s youths sacrifice like this? Are today’s youths prepared to sacrifice?
When we started going for our periods, there were no pads. Taitsvaga madhende topfekera. Sometimes madhende acho aishaikwa and ropa raiyerera mukakumbo and you would squeeze the legs kusvika rapera. It was not easy and there was no time to say pane mukomana saka ndonyara. Pakanga pasina zvekunyara. Some male comrades would actually say “iwe waspoiler bhurugwe rako tora shirt yangu uvhare ropa.” There was nothing unusual about it.