The Sunday Mail
Just over a year short of celebrating a century on Earth, Sekuru Michael Sinisirayi Nyamayaro continues to defy Father Time.
Though his eyesight has somewhat given in, his voice projection, hearing and memory make a mockery of the fact that he turns 100-years-old in November 2018.
With the help of a walking aid, he wobbles into the decently furnished lounge of his home in Old Highfield, Harare.
He sits and turns to The Sunday Mail crew that has visited him, exclaiming: “You have disturbed what I was doing outside; how can I help you?”
More of a demand than a welcome remark without much regard to the need to exchange pleasantries.
Born on November 4 1918, Sekuru Nyamayaro says he arrived in Harare — Highfield, more specifically — in 1943, and literally witnessed the growth of the capital.
And years later, he was among the “boys” who sacrificed a lot during Zimbabwe’s liberation war when Highfield became the hotbed of nationalist politics.
“Oh, you want to hear about what went on during the war?” he enquires, the wary smile indicating he does not exactly trust us — likely a hold-over from the war years when inquisitive strangers could be agents of your death.
“How do I know your intentions are well-meant?”
Though not really at the forefront of the growth of nationalism back in the day, Sekuru Nyamayaro remembers vividly, and with a sense of nostalgia, the late ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s, the formative years of rising dissent against white supremacy in the then Rhodesia.
“It all started with (Godfrey) Huggins’ Federation. He insisted on combining us (Southern Rhodesia), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi) into one country.
“If he had not insisted on his Federation idea, maybe we could have had our independence a bit earlier without going through what we went through,” he proffers, rather resignedly.
Sekuru Nyamayaro says he was there when nationalist leaders such as Cdes Joshua Nkomo, Morris Nyagumbo, George Nyandoro and Robert Mugabe held meetings at Highfield’s Cyril Jennings Hall, popularly known as kuCJ.
He was one of the “boys” who went around mobilising support.
“It was an effort not without its dangers. I was employed in government, working at Andrew Fleming Hospital (now Parirenyatwa Hospital). Being involved in mobilising political support was a great risk because once word got out that you were sympathetic to nationalism, that was the end of your job. Plus, there was further humiliation for you and your family. Those whites were ruthless.”
Among the many injustices that blacks suffered at the hands of whites, Sekuru Nyamayaro says, was that Standard Six signalled the end of a black man’s education.
“Remember, blacks were not allowed into university, so whether you passed or failed your Standard Six, that was the end of your education.
“And imagine even walking in the streets; blacks were not allowed to use the sidewalk. There were restrictions regarding where black people could walk. The colour bar was just too much. Blacks were also not allowed to drink clear beer, and when we went shopping, we bought items through a window.
“Those injustices drove most of us to be conscious that something was wrong with the system. So, when these nationalists came with their message of wanting to free the black people, we easily identified with their message because it was something that we saw and experienced everyday.”
The rising sense of nationalism in Highfield saw the colonial establishment erect an electric fence around the suburb, recounts Sekuru Nyamayaro.
“There was only one entry and exit point into Highfield, which was by the probation centre. On exiting, either going to work or visiting, say Mbare, one would have an ‘X’ marked on their palm, a mark which they had to show on returning.
“If you didn’t have that mark, you were not allowed into Highfield. That is how insecure the white regime had become because of the growing resentment towards its system.”
But the more repressive the regime became, the more determined Sekuru Nyamayaro and his compatriots became.
“I remember engaging Samson Dinhidza, who owned a Zodiac vehicle to drive nationalists when they came to Highfield for meetings. He used to drive Nkomo around a lot.
“And to make sure he did not get into trouble, we told him if he was to be caught by the police and questioned, he would just say he had been hired and didn’t know the identities of the people who had hired him. But fortunately, we never encountered any problems.”
Besides mobilising the masses to attend meetings, most of them held at CJ, Sekuru Nyamayaro says financial support was also critical to winning the liberation war.
“Every month-end, we would make collections and remit these at either Mushandirapamwe Hotel or Mwayera’s store. They are the ones who knew how the money got to the people who needed it. All we did was make collections.”
And then the colonialists jammed radio stations.
“There came a time when the white government did not want us to know what was happening around us, so every time you tuned in to the radio all you could hear were bells. So, for news on what was happening at the war front and in our country, we had to tune into Radio Tanzania or Radio Moscow, sometimes as late as midnight.”
The resistance movement in Highfield came up with codes such as “mwana wevhu” (son/daughter of the soil).
“When you heard someone saying ndiri mwana wevhu (I am a son/daughter of the soil), you instinctively knew something was up. Either that was a call to go and block certain roads leading into town using bricks and stones, or it was a call to get into beerhalls and spill those beer mugs so that people could attend meetings. We just spilled beer; we never beat up people. That way, we encouraged people to attend meetings.”
It is striking that Sekuru Nyamayaro is good with his dates and incidents.
He narrates his story, rather stories (they became intertwined as the conversation warmed up) without confusing one incident for another.
As the discussion slowly drifts from the colonial era to life in general, Sekuru Nyamayaro says he is looking forward to his centenary celebrations.
And on November 5, he starts his journey into the 100th year, fully aware that he was one of the “boys” who helped liberate Zimbabwe.