Honouring the war spirit

06 Sep, 2020 - 00:09 0 Views
Honouring the war spirit The Second Republic of President Mnangagwa is erecting a statue in the capital, Harare, in honour of Mbuya Nehanda, the heroine of the First Chimurenga

The Sunday Mail

Ambassador Christopher Mutsvangwa

COMRADE Muchazotida, born Sekai, was a member of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, better known as ZANLA.

She died during the 1977 Chimoio Attack by the army of racist Rhodesia.

Sekai deserves special mention from among her many comrades that joined the ZANLA-ZIPRA wings of the national liberation movement of Zimbabwe in the 1960-70s.

It is now four decades into Independence and 43 years since Sekai perished in a blanket of scalding napalm dropped from a Rhodesian air force bomber. Sekai’s memory holds special among those of her wartime comrades who survived the human sausage machine of carnage that was Chimurenga II.

Her spirit lives through a much-loved song from the war. Indeed, Sekai is the original composer of the Chimurenga classic “Mbuya Nehanda . . . Tora Gidi Uzvitonge”.

Professor Fred Zindi — my much-respected guru of Zimbabwe’s urban music — innocently attributes it to the Harare Mambos.

Hats off to Greenford Jangano and his wife Virginia Silla, Clancy Mbirimi, Friday Mbirimi, William Kashiri and all other members — late and living — of the famed Harare Mambos Band. Their recording of this sleek, soft and soulful tune immortalised this song in the Zimbabwe mind.

The song indeed serves as an unofficial national anthem.

It timelessly evokes that inner and enduring legend of Zimbabwean military heroism; its nourishment in modern times.

There is a topical poignancy and relevance.

The Second Republic of President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa is busy erecting a statue in the capital, Harare, in honour of Mbuya Nehanda, the heroine of the First Chimurenga.

We are fortuitously in the season of Black Lives Matter. The global conscience is raging against the scourge of racism as directed on the African Diaspora in USA as well as Africana in general.

All this thanks to the martyred George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Earlier this year, the black American male was a victim of racist white policemen and their callousness.

It is also a season of the critical appraisal of the European imperial depredations against Africa in the 19th Century.

The Belgian king has had to issue an apology for his ancestor’s atrocities as King Leopold II plundered rubber from the Congo.

Germany is grappling with the vexatious issue of compensating Hereros and Namas for the 1903-1907 genocide in Namibia.

Close to Zimbabwean hearts, Britain is engaged in an embarrassing undertaking to restore the severed heads of a raft of Zimbabwean heroes and heroines of the First Chimurenga.

These unlucky heads were taken to London, the imperial capital, to be presented and exhibited as ghoulish war trophies to the conquering monarchy of England.

Sekai, a.k.a Comrade Muchazotida, joined the Chimurenga II armed struggle.

She was one of the huge influx or recruits of the Samora Machel-Soweto Generation of the 1970s.

These youths were inspired by the 1974 earth-shaking victory of Mozambican and Angolan guerrilla armies of FRELIMO and MPLA, respectively.

The two heroic African nations had wrought defeat on the army of imperial and fascist Portugal.

This mighty victory added credence and potency to the fledgling guerrilla warfare within Zimbabwe.

News of the successful implantation of permanent guerrilla presence in the north-east of Zimbabwe by Chairman Chitepo and General Josiah MagamaTongogara had been steadily permeating into the populace nationwide.

I met Sekai as one of the political cadres of Intake Two of the Chitepo Ideological College in 1977.

It was then still called Whampoa Party School.

On my part, I had been wounded in a difficult battle on the banks of the Nyangadzi River in Chief Tanda area.

The Rhodesian army had launched a counter offensive during the 1976 Geneva Conference.

Wounded in the knee from bomb shrapnel, I was redeployed to rewrite and update Mwenje Two.

The booklet was the ZANU party guiding light that each political commissar carried to the war front to teach the fighters and masses about the People’s War.

Other war veterans still alive from the war front in the Chitepo College training course included Ambassadors Thomas Mandigora and Mark Marongwe.

It was at Chitepo College that we came face-to-face with the singing girl from Mbare, then National, an African suburb of Harare.

Comrade Muchazotida had a gifted voice and a good ear for music.

She would join the Party Choir with the likes of Comrade Vhuu.

Singing was as much a vital act of political mobilisation as any other.

After the victory in 1980, Professor Kahari did a compilation of the repertoire of “The Songs that Won the War”.

These were composed to mark every facet of the roller coaster events of the people of Zimbabwe and their courageous guerrilla army as they prosecuted the war.

Sekai was a well-framed woman with a broad and beautiful face.

She carried with her an air of dignified grace, bold confidence and steely conviction about our righteous fight to victory.

Her wide, generous and infectious smile reminded of the midnight brilliance of the stars of the Southern Milkway on the clear sky of an October month, well ahead of the onset of the cloudy torrential rains.

Sekai had an amazing voice.

Her urban upbringing had nurtured both gifts to another level.

Juke boxes, blaring gramophones and radiograms had done good with her wonderful ear of music.

There were also the variety of music groups and the pop festivals that were a hallmark of the Swinging Sixties and Rocking Seventies.

Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones had taken the Black American music of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, BB King to a global audience.

The heavy rock music talents typified by Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin were playing to multitudes in open-field concerts.

Tamla Motown was delivering throbbing rhythm and blues and heart-touching soul ballads from the likes of Aretha Franklin and Steve Wonder.

These were the musical traditions that all left a mark on Sekai.

She could scat to the delight of Ella FitzGerald, holler like Mahalia Jackson and lilt her voice to the envy of Billie Holliday.

Done with her routine choir practice, she would end up at Zvido Zvevanhu Garage Camp for an impromptu and improvised sing-along with the boys and girls there.

Zvido Zvevanhu was a camp with a free-wheeling atmosphere and a touch of urbanity.

It was the transport nerve centre of the war.

Those comrades who were drivers and mechanics back home were organised into ready-made regimental skills that kept the wheels of war rolling along the 1 000km war frontier of Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Recruits had to be delivered to training camps, the newly trained deployed, deployed to the battle zones, the wounded from the war “contacts” evacuated, food had to be supplied to camps teeming with thousands upon thousands of swelling war ranks.

Most crucial, guns, ammunition and war material had to be carted to eagerly expectant fighters.

This hub of movement saw Zvido Zvevanhu as the premier source and clearing house of information about the exciting progress of the war effort.

It gave the Chimoio Camp a non-published newsletter called “Quaratera News.”

It carried grapevine gossip and news.

It roughly translates Portuguese language to “Cantonment News.”

Conversely, it would reveal who among guerrilla ranks had been lost in combat.

This informal information nerve centre was also awash with bootlegged liquor, cigarettes and other rare goodies associated with deprivation that is the hallmark of war.

This scarcity all the more ravaging in deprived Mozambique.

It is on the top list of the poorest countries.

Yet the plucky nation had assumed the burdensome duty of African solidarity in the fight to rid the sub-region of the scourge of colonialism, racism, apartheid and settler minority rule.

Such was Zvido Zvevanhu.

It became a honeypot to those with a knack for music.

Improvised banjos playing on discarded oil cans, occasional guitars, tom toms and tin drums were common.

Whenever and wherever they can, musicians find ways to express themselves.

I remember Jonah Kay, then another young man from Mbare.

He would die in an ambush of the wartime scum that was ‘Selous Scouts’ Special Forces.

They were being infiltrated into Mozambique.

His truckload of ammunition, mortar bombs and other war material burnt down.

There was also Shaft Mhlanga, brother to acclaimed guitarist, Louis.

Such was the Zvido Zvevanhu setting that gave Sekai a chance to sing for her fellow comrades right in the midst of an ongoing and expanding war.

That is the atmosphere that made her compose the much-loved “Mbuya Nehanda . . .Tora Gidi Uzvitonge” Chimurenga classic.

It is a song that captures the urban aspect of a war enveloping the nation.

The guerrilla forces were advancing upon towns and cities as they chased racist Rhodesia from the rural zones.

The horizon of the rule of the racist settler minority regime was inexorably setting down.

Alas, the cruel and dicy realities of war came to menace that incidental spirit of Zvido Zvevanhu Garage Camp.

Suffering punishing blows within Rhodesia, Ian Smith’s racist charges decided on naked, aggressive raids into Mozambique.

Chimoio, ZANLA’s headquarters, was targeted for carpet bombing and massive assault.

Sekai fell in battle.

By then she had been promoted to ZANLA General Staff by none other than General Magama Tongogara.

She was commanding Mbuya Nehanda Camp of the Woman Combatants.

A friend and survivor told of her last moments.

She was commanding the retreat from the beleaguered camp.

General Staff Officer Sekai was directing the retreat and sought cover from the next clumb of trees.

That movement was noticed by the hovering spy plane.

Clearly aware of her leading role, a bomber bearing drums of napalm dropped the payload on the tree giving her cover.

Comrade Linda Mutandori, aka Concillia, says she saw the stomach of Sekai, aka Comrade Muchazotida, cooking in scalding porridges of napalm.

Cde Sekai was killed by a napalm bomb.

Among many of the victims was Comrade Chademana, the Party representative in Botswana.

The scalding and smouldering liquid had burnt all his body save for his brains and mouth.

He barely survived till he later died in Chimoio Hospital.

The napalm bombs were supplied by USA. Washington had used it during the Vietnam War.

In 1980 the United Nations would ban the heinous weapon of war.

Cde Linda was that lucky.

She managed to escape from the killing bag of the enemy forces.

Linda is a lifelong diplomat who is now Pretoria-based.

She has also been to Stockholm and Bonn.

There is a reassuring twist to the urban spirit that is captured in Sekai’s song.

General Magama Tongogara tasked the late General Perrance Shiri with a fateful mission.

Cadres with an urban background were diligently selected.

They then underwent strenuous commando training at our Tembwe Guerrilla Military Academy.

By 1978, these commandos with the urban outlook had infiltrated into the ramparts of Salisbury, the capital city of racist Rhodesia.

Not long after, the Southerton Fuel Storage Tanks would burst into giant flames belching out huge plumes of smoke.

The war had united the whole country from rural districts to urban zone, pronouncing the death sentence upon Rhodesia.

President Mnangagwa and his Second Republic is working hard to record the history of Chimurenga II.

The Harare statue of Mbuya Nehanda is a pointer.

It joins that of Dr Joshua Nkomo in Bulawayo.

The Harare Mambos Band were a Mbare band.

Most of the members are now late.

Its formation and endurance were also another form of defiance.

Rhodesia was by nature a barren cultural desert. It ruthlessly suppressed the identity of the African majority whilst they were a tiny but domineering white speck in a sea of blackness.

Respect to Virginia Silla.

Hers was such a sweet melodic cover of Mbuya Nehanda.

I am sure Mbare would love to find a way to honour Sekai, their wartime songstress and her immortal tune “Mbuya Nehanda . . .Tora Gidi Uzvitonge”, the revolutionary iconic song.


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