The Sunday Mail
Sharon Munjenjema, recently in Chiomoio, Mozambique
At about 6am daily, Martin Agushto (32) wakes up and usually dresses in a worn-out t-shirt, an equally old pair of shorts and sandals, before heading to work.
The Mozambican is one of the two wardens at Chimoio Shrine – a place that epitomises Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle history.
More than 3000 liberation fighters and children were massacred, in cold blood, by Rhodesian forces in 1977 at Chimoio Camp.
Despite the absence of any supervisor, Martin and his fellow warden – Fernando Francesca (32) – conduct their duties diligently.
When The Sunday Mail visited the Shrine, Martin and Fernando were chatting away, sitting on a stoep of the flag post, watching the entrance.
During this time of the year, they revealed, their work is restricted to being watchmen and tour guides, as there is no rapidly growing savanna grass and bushes to cut.
“When people come here we show them around. Some people come and they don’t realise the significance of this place, some think the history we tell them are folklores,” said Martin as he adjusted the copper wire keeping his sandals together.
“Some even make fun of us for the work we do here,”
In spite of the work-related challenges the two face, such as lack of protective clothing and even work tools, Martin and Fernando, do not anticipate leaving the job because they believe the comrades buried at the shrine are guardian angels in their lives.
“The comrades take care of me, so nothing anyone can say will move me. Whatever I wish for in life I go there, ask and in a few days I see results,” said Fernando while pointing at one of the 20 mass graves at the shrine.
At one point the two did not receive their salary for over six months, due to logistical challenges at the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ), their employer.
Martin and Fernando say when in difficult times, they usually stand near the graves and ask for help.
They claim that it is a result of the buried comrades that visitors to the shrine give them money or food hand-outs.
They further say when they face ridicule from people passing-by, they go and complain to the ‘comrades’
“People should respect this place, we have seen many things happen to people who did not show respect,” he said.
Despite the importance of the place in the history of Zimbabwe, the shrine remains in a sorry abandoned state 39 years after majority rule.
The perimeter fence is falling off.
Besides the mass graves and flag post, a solitary building serving as the museum stands in the middle of the shrine.
There is no electricity or proper ablution facilities, save for one pit latrine on the verge of collapsing.
An organisation founded by a group of war veterans, the Zimbabwe Heroes Shrines’ Services and Education Trust (ZiHSSET) is on a drive to look for well-wishers to rehabilitate the place.
ZiHSSET founder Mr Washington Bangalila appealed to the business community and individuals to donate towards the upkeep of the shrine.
“We are working together with the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe to look after the shrine,” he said.
“We have mass graves here, but there are no toilets yet a lot of people come here to see the mass graves. We kindly ask the business community to help with funds to rehabilitate this place.”
It is understood that local business man and founder of Nash Paints, Mr Tinashe Mutarisi has donated a borehole for the shrine.
A local businessman, Mr John Manjengwa, who is an administrator of Earth Moving Machinary Brokers Africa (EMMB), a training hub for industrial vehicles also pledged funds towards the rehabilitation of the shrine.
“I am disheartened that a shrine that holds such an important place in our history is in this state. We will provide funds for the construction of ablution facilities initially but we plan to develop the place further if given the opportunity,” he said.
As stakeholders realise the need to safeguard the mass graves, Martin and Fernando soldier on in being selfless sentinels of the shrine.
NMMZ executive director, Dr Godfrey Mahachi said the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe is devoted to rewarding the loyal wardens.
“Money to pay the wardens has always been there, but it was matter of it existing in a currency they did not prefer,” he said.
“The time they are referring to is during that time when the US dollars was becoming scarce in Zimbabwe, but now we have a new arrangement which is working for them,” he said.
He said NMMZ is engaging various stakeholders in sprucing up Chimoio mass graves.