The Sunday Mail
AROUND 1975, many people left the country for military training to fight the Ian Smith settler regime. Among these recruits was Cde Christopher Mawomberere (CM). The former freedom fighter chronicles to our reporter Norman Muchemwa (NM) his journey to Mozambique where he joined others for military training with the aim of fighting for Zimbabwe’s independence.
NM: We are told that you were one of the armed war section commanders who led fighters against the Rhodesian regime or settler government. But before we get to the period of your direct confrontation with the British colonialists, can you briefly tell us about your early life?
CM: Christopher Mawomberere is my name. I was born at Mutambara Mission Hospital in Chimanimani District on March 5 1957. We were eight in our family – five girls and three boys – in which I’m the seventh.
For my primary education, I attended Matendeutse Primary School between 1965 and 1972, when I completed Grade 7. During those days, it was common for most children not to proceed with studies upon completion of primary education.
It was a result of failure by our parents to raise high school fees. It was expensive to proceed to high school and, in most cases, parents who had some form of wealth, such as cattle, would sell these and channel the proceeds towards school fees.
But in my case, my parents were poor, hence I only studied up to Grade 7. It was also normal for us, at that age, to get employed as farm labourers.
I worked on a number of farms surrounding our home area. The farms were being run by white farmers, the same people whom we were trying to take back our land from through an armed war. But my father was against my working on these farms. As one of his youngest sons, he preferred that I stayed at home to herd cattle, goats and help with other chores such as gardening.
During the 1970s, there was a lot of political activity in Chimanimani owing to its proximity to the Mozambican border where comrades were crossing to join the liberation struggle.
We had become accustomed to unfamiliar faces in our area, as such, we knew of their mission. For many people who crossed into Mozambique from our home area, it was rarely an issue of being recruited, they would just leave their homes to join the fighters.
I also happened to be one of those who, with some friends, decided to follow the path most people were taking in a bid to confront the settler regime.
As such, in November 1975 I ran away from home after an incident with a white livestock inspector and crossed into Mozambique for military training. There, I changed my name to Cde Extra Samusha.
NM: You were aged 18, a fairly young age to decide to join a war whose consequences involved death, what drove you into making such a decision?
CM: There was a day I went to the dip tank for a routine cattle dipping. During the dipping, one of the livestock inspectors, who was white, arrived to monitor the process. While my cattle were being counted, he started mocking the hardy Mashona breed and the poor health of the beasts before insinuating that I looked like an ox.
This joke did not go down well with me; I was infuriated, but managed to control myself because I knew that I would get into trouble if I had taken physical or verbal action to express my displeasure. After that, I gathered my cattle in preparation to go home. As I did this, a bull fight erupted and the same inspector ordered me to stop the fight, but I could not do anything.
He then threw a stone at me saying: “You have failed to stop your relatives from fighting.”
I boiled with anger and that was the point I developed hatred for the white people. This saw me decide to join the war, to revenge. By the time I arrived home, I had made up my mind, but could not tell my father that I had decided to go and join the liberation struggle.
I later confided in my elder brother’s wife that I wanted to go to join the war, but she told her husband who became furious at the idea. He tried to discourage me from proceeding with my move.
My brother even explained how people were being killed for trying to fight the Rhodesians, but that did not deter me. I then realised that the only way to go ahead with my plan was to leave without saying goodbye to my family.
A few days after the cattle incident and having organised with two other boys from our village, we left for Mozambique.
NM: Who were the two accomplices and can you detail your experience crossing into Mozambique?
CM: I left home with the Dosipani brothers, Wallace and Ketai. We were almost the same age. Ketai, at one point, had doubts over our mission. But we had to persuade him to come with us because we feared he would inform our parents and derail the plan.
After convincing him, we left home in the afternoon and arrived at Mutambara Mission School around sunset. There were some shops near the school.
We found a place to sit at the shops and began smoking some newspaper-rolled tobacco or chimonera pondering our next move. This looked more like a normal visit to the shops and no one suspected our mission.
While at the shops, Ketai engaged in a conversation with some students from the Mission and unbeknown to us, he sold our idea of crossing into Mozambique. Interestingly, the students expressed their desire to join us and asked Ketai to pick them up from the school later.
We had another argument with him on why he had told these students about our mission. There was high risk that we could be sold out and fail to leave for Mozambique.
We then agreed to pass through the mission and it was around 7pm when we went to knock at the dormitory for boys. I am the one who actually knocked at the door.
I asked for the captain, who was the head of the boys, and told him about the conversation we had with some boys earlier on. He then called out a group of older boys and told them of our mission.
But most of them looked suspicious. I could tell they were thinking we were officers from the Rhodesian Special Branch. Many students had left the school to join the armed struggle. It had become a recruitment ground and the Rhodesians were frequently visiting to stop such acts.
By this time mweya wehondo wanga watopinda mandiri, I then threatened the students that we were going to deal with them upon return from Mozambique for refusing to join us.
We then left in a hurry, fearing that we were going to be sold out.
NM: Tell us what happened from Mutambara Mission School where you acted as if you were already a fighter. From your account, you had not had a personal experience or relationship with any freedom fighter?
CM: By this time, we were yet to encounter any freedom fighters, even though the talk was that they were now in the area. We left via the mountain around Mutambara Mission and passed through Nyambeya area and walked until around 1am when we crossed into Mozambique.
We never experienced any difficulties crossing into Mozambique as this was not a new terrain for us.
We walked until we arrived at a place painzi paChirodzo now Rutanda in Mozambique.
To be continued next week