‘I struggled to adjust to life in the bush’

17 Oct, 2021 - 00:10 0 Views

The Sunday Mail

THE narrative of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle is often viewed by many as disproportionately focusing on the heroic exploits of men and largely ignoring the invaluable contribution of young women and girls who gave their all during this difficult period. For the next couple of weeks, we are going to feature Cde Jacqueline Mukanganyama Tutani, one of the brave girls and women who not only forfeited their studies, but abandoned the comfort of their parents’ homes to live in the bush. The 60-year-old Cde Mukanganyama Tutani, whose Chimurenga name was Lavender Pirai, narrates to our Senior Reporter TENDAI CHARA how the liberation war robbed young ladies of their adolescent years. She chronicles her trials and tribulations as a young cadre who played an important role in the liberation of Zimbabwe.

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TC: Cde Mukanganyama Tutani, if you can introduce yourself and give us your brief background.

JC: My name is Jacqueline Mukanganyama Tutani. I was born in 1960 at the Confinement Centre in Mbare, Harare. I grew up in Highfield. My parents passed away in 1975. By then I had secured a place to study at Mutambara Mission in Chimanimani. While I was in Form One, young people, especially school children, started to cross into Mozambique to join the liberation war. I, together with six other students at Mutambara, decided to abandon our studies and join the war of liberation. I left school with my colleagues Mangudya, Evelin, Edith, Tonde and Tawanda and crossed into Mozambique.

TC: What pushed you to go to Mozambique?

JC: It was peer pressure. I was 14 years old. We were very young and did not understand what it meant to become a liberation war fighter. Stories about how other students from other schools were crossing into Mozambique to join the liberation struggle were filtering through and we felt the urge to do the same. I didn’t know then what lay ahead of us. We did not understand what war meant. We were just excited to do what others were doing.

TC: You can continue . . .

JC : From Mutambara, we crossed into Mozambique through Cashel Valley. After crossing the border, we arrived at a place called Rutanda. That was the first base as we got into Mozambique. We discovered that some teachers and other students from Mutambara Mission were at the base. We stayed at this transit base for three weeks. We were then taken to Zhunda for military training.

We met a lot of other young people who were coming from different parts of the country. I remember meeting some girls who I had known in Harare. The late former President, Cde Robert Mugabe, at one time passed through this camp. We stayed at Zhunda for two months. Cdes Chris Mutsvangwa, Oppah Muchinguri and Nyasha Chikwinya were also at this camp during this period.

A group of 75 girls was selected to go for military training at Tembwe in Tete province, which is further north. We stayed at a transit camp called Battaliao as we waited for trucks that were to take us to the Tembwe training camp. That was in 1975 and was during the détente period when military training and other activities had been suspended. We were then trained for a period of four months at Tembwe Base One. There were many bases at Tembwe.

Some of the bases accommodated children, the other ones the elderly, with the other bases being used for logistical purposes. We were first given political orientation through lessons that explained the purpose of the war. These lessons opened my mind. We were then given light infantry training, as we were taught to use the rifles and machine guns. Others were selected to specialise in heavy machine guns. I was among the cadres that were tasked with opening a new base called Chare.

TC: Before you go any further, tell us about the training. Were female trainees treated the same way as their male counterparts?

JC: The training was very hard. Also, the training was done immediately after détente, so we had no proper clothing and there was a shortage of food. Imagine doing those rigorous training sessions on an empty belly. Due to the shortage of blankets, we could sleep while covering ourselves with sacks. We could spend three days without having a proper meal. The training was the same for both male and female combatants. I was later trained to become a medical officer.

TC: As young women, how difficult was it to undergo training sessions especially at times when you experienced your monthly menstrual periods?

JC: Like I said earlier, we were facing critical shortages. During our menstrual period, we used tree leaves since we had no sanitary pads. We also used pieces of clothes that would have been dumped at the logistics department. As a young girl, it was a difficult time for me and the others. We had no one to tell. It was rare for us to get sanitary pads.

TC: In your case, you were coming from Highfield, which is an urban setting. Was it easy to adjust to the rigours of life in the bush?

JC: When we arrived at the training camp, we realised that we were in a different setting altogether. When we were being taken for training, we were asked where we were coming from and why we had decided to come for training. Those that were coming from urban set-ups were often beaten up as they were suspected of having been sent by the enemy to infiltrate us.

They would ask us why we left the comfort of our homes in the city to come and live in the bush. I had to explain on several occasions the circumstances that led me to join the war.

TC: You were narrating about your selection to be part of the group that was tasked with opening a new base.

JC: Yes, the new base was to be set right in the middle of nowhere. The base was to be located between mountains and getting to and from the base was physically challenging. We could fetch water from a long distance and we had to deal with the terrain. We could go and cut thatching grass and we could also use sticks to prepare the land as we also grew our own crops.

As a girl who was accustomed to town life, I struggled to adjust to this new way of life. In one incident, I was punished after I failed to conduct some chores that the other girls who had grown up in rural settings had easily done. The base was later abandoned as it was seen to be unfit for human settlement.

TC: So you had to learn some of the basic things in life under these difficult circumstances?

JC: Yes! in my case, when I  went to Mozambique, I was a little girl and had not started my menstrual cycle. When I first experienced my cycle, I did not understand what was happening to me. I had no aunt or mother to ask.

TC: Did you not think about returning home?

JC: No! My parents had died so I could not return home. I told myself to be brave as my Chimurenga name Pirai implied. There was no turning back. I was trapped between a rock and a hard place.

In our next instalment, Cde Pirai will take us through her journey at the war front. She will narrate to us how her group would navigate the landmine-riddled Gonarezhou National Park to transport supplies to the war front.

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