The Sunday Mail
Comrade Badmiles Shingiraivatema (BS) abandoned school in Form Two to join the liberation struggle. The former freedom fighter chronicles to our reporter Norman Muchemwa (NM) the horrors of the Chimoio attack.
NM: We hear that at age 17 you left the country for military training to fight the colonial regime in Rhodesia. Before you tell us about your war experiences, can you give a brief account of your childhood?
BS: My name is Gerald Chigwededza. I was born on May 12, 1959 at Mount St Mary’s Mission Hospital in Hwedza.
We were 12 in our family and I am the eighth child. I did my early education at Payarira Primary School and later went to Mount St Mary’s Mission School for Form One and part of Form Two in 1976.
I say part of Form Two because that is when I left school to join the liberation struggle in Mozambique. In Mozambique, I was to assume the war name Cde Badmiles Shingiraivatema.
Most people still refer to me by that nom de guerre.
NM: What made you abandon school to join the liberation struggle?
BS: During that time, there was clear racial segregation. Vachena vaibata vabereki vedu neseri kweruwoko.
For some of us who had gone to school, we could understand that the whites were in our country to oppress us.
I was faced with the realities of parents who did not have enough money to pay for my education.
This was a result of unequal economic opportunities between blacks and whites in Rhodesia, where the settlers enjoyed a good life.
When I enrolled for secondary education, the Roman Catholic Church, through a bursary, paid my school fees.
There were comrades operating in our home area and I had many encounters with them during school holidays, as they interacted with our parents. We also had some comrades staying with us in the villages, but disguised as relatives or cattle herders. I had become accustomed to their operations. I had a brother who had crossed the border to join the liberation struggle in Mozambique.
With other young boys, we used to go to the base of these comrades and get various assignments. During one such visit, the comrades gave us a task to block one of the dip tanks kwainzi kwaNyamhembe.
This was to prove our loyalty to the liberation struggle.
We gathered ourselves, including other older boys, and went to fill the dip tank with stones.
Asi macomrades akanga atitaurira kuti imhosva yataipara uye kuti masoja aSmith aigona kuzotitsvaga.
They had planned to launch an ambush on the soldiers.
The comrades further said in the event of an ambush and killing of white soldiers, whoever managed to bring them the enemy’s gun would prove his or her bravery and was fit to join the liberation struggle.
NM: That was tantamount to suicide. Do you still remember some of the comrades who gave you the assignment?
BS: Cde Sobaya was the commander and he is the one who gave us that assignment, yekunonhonga pfuti after the ambush.
There was also Cde Tafirenyika who was always armed with a bazooka, Cde Mike Mutare and Cde Longway Pedzai who was the political commissar of that section.
We went for the task with, among others, two friends Patrick Chako and Paul Wasiya. In our group, only Nobert Chatukuta managed to bring two FN rifles.
Isu vamwe pakangorira bazooka, since it was our first time to be that close to combat, takabva tatiza.
Nobert was older than we were; maybe that is why he managed to complete the task. The incident occurred in Chirinda area. For some of us who had failed the task, the comrades labelled us unfit for war.
I was devastated because I wanted to fight. However, I did not despair. I devised a plan to evade the comrades and join another group that I knew was ready to go to Mozambique.
Ndaiziva kuti paiva nevamwe vakomana kusanganisira mumwe wataiti mukoma Choto who were planning to leave the country for Mozambique to join the armed struggle. I met mukoma Choto and he agreed to tag me along. We left for Mozambique — myself, mukoma Choto and three other boys including one called Patrick. I have forgotten the names of the other two. We passed through Gandanzara in Rusape, where we met some comrades.
Ndopatakazopiwa ainzi Cde Onyango, who led us until we crossed into Mozambique. It took us 10 days to reach Mozambique, takapinda nekuMachipanda and went through kwainzi kuChigayo and finally Doroi.
NM: You seem to imply your journey to Mozambique was without challenges?
BS: We had a smooth journey in Rhodesia. The situation changed when we reached Mozambique. We could not get food to eat and a nice place to sleep. When we arrived paChigayo, which was a transit camp for those going for training and others to the war front, I remember trying to shave my hair. As I asked around for a razor blade. One of the girls asked me to inspect her hair carefully.
I noticed she had lice and she said: “Iwe urikutsvaga razor, kuno inda ndidzo dzinotigera.”
There were no permanent comrades paChigayo. We left the camp heading for Doroi, which was a refugee camp, but with some trained comrades.
NM: At that time Doroi was well known for food shortages, how was your time there?
BS: Doroi was a refugee camp. At that time, it had more than 15 000 people and the situation was bad.
To be continued next week . . .