Beaven Tapureta Bookshelf
Last year a number of books that heavily draw on Zimbabwe’s war of liberation were published in form of biographies and autobiographies and one of them was “Rega Zvipore” (Midlands State University Press). It was written by the late Ambassador George John Mayowe.
The story of the liberation war will always remain a proud part of Zimbabwean people, a story that stands out high in history because of the values for which our parents, brothers and sisters lost their lives.
Although the story carries different insights for different people, it has been told over and over again in fiction and nonfiction but using English language, a foreign language, thus limited to a few. A break with this English language somehow makes “Rega Zvipore”, an autobiography, a story with such an indigenous wealth of ideas which young people in particular, regardless of their political beliefs, will forever cherish. The title itself is a fragment of the Shona proverb “rega zvipore akabva mukutsva” (a burnt child dreads fire/ experience is the best teacher). Or the title on its own can literally mean “let it cool”.
Picking up from the days when he was a 23-year-old student activist at the University of Zimbabwe in 1975, already planning to leave the country with four other friends and join freedom fighters training in Mozambique, Mayowe launches an excellent narration of the journey he walked with other sons of the soil, through trials and tribulations, until Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980 and afterwards.
The generosity with which the author opens up with his controlled, at times humorous Shona language, the patience with which he explains in detail his observations and insights, enchant the curious reader with a certain freedom of thought, and sometimes tenderly, you are carried to certain heights of fulfilling reflection about the meaning of discipline, sacrifice and performance in general.
One of the greatest intentions of this book is to educate and share observations about the reality of the liberation struggle. The Second Chimurenga is told in a well-arranged, multi-layered story of brevity. Brevity is not forced upon a person but one just “be”, especially when confronted by a bigger force.
As for Mayowe, the bigger, negative force was Rhodesia. Ian Smith’s Rhodesia had given itself the model of the “puppeteer” and black people its “puppets”, thus the need to liberate themselves ran hotly in the blood of the sons and daughters of the soil some of whom, like Mayowe, could not take any more the biased public lectures at the University of Zimbabwe.
Student protests they tried but it helped nothing. Black heroes were being assassinated. Home no longer sufficed. Mayowe and four friends give up family and education. Stealthily, they cross over to Mozambique to join others who have made up minds to bring about change to their situation.
It was Mother Theresa who said, have faith in little things for in them lie your strength. The little things that history books have missed about Zimbabwe’s liberation war are the uncut gems that Mayowe presents in his autobiography, the strength Zimbabwe needs at this hour. Through his book, he seems to be saying the war was not only about the guns, the prisons, blood and death, which other books have overwritten about, but it was something like a seed of great insight that was being sown to germinate later and feed the future.
Through minute descriptions of daily life in the camps such as Nyadzonya and Chimoio, vivid pictures come to mind. You are taken there to the camps and live with the freedom fighters. For instance, Mayowe describes one of the training scenes at the Nyadzonya, “Pamunodzoka mukamba munenge muchimhanya, muchiimba zvinoratidza kuti muri kuzvifarira. Vanhu vondopaka/voparadzana zvino vondogara pasi pomuti, pamumvuri, iyo miromo yachena namabhindauko uye nekumhanya. Waizoona zvino vati rakata kuvata vakamirira kudanwa kusadza ramasikati. Kuzomuti munhu sadza rako iro, unoona kudzungudza musoro kutaridza kuti aisarida achingoda mvura yokunwa yoga.” (Page 43).
Mayowe has his facts, actual incidents and examples that support his ideas, and anecdotes that reveal characters of those with whom he came across in his tour of duty. He uses comedy to present some desperate situations but in handling the serious contradictions that were in the liberation movement, he provides his facts and examples with the knowledge of a historian.
Mayowe is personal in his tone. This makes him a likeable storyteller! Autobiography of this nature which deals with such a serious issue in carefully woven humour and rich language will surely make local history an inspirational subject rather than a foreign-made “automaton”.
Admiration for the known liberation war heroes like the late Josiah Tongogara, Herbert Chitepo, Rex Nhongo, and many others living today, including President Mugabe, is ignited as Mayowe captures them at various times and in various places in the camps or elsewhere as they interact and go about their business.
The book also exposes the betrayal and hypocrisy not only from outside but within the liberation war movement. A camp commander by the name Bombardiare exerts unnecessary power over the trainees and ends up abusing the girls in nearby refugee camp.
A protest against him results in the suffering of many, including Mayowe’s two friends with whom he left university to join the struggle. John Dube and a few others are spies for the Rhodesian army but they have found their way into the camp and Nyadzonya is bombed to the ground because of this infiltration by black men who are mentally emasculated by the enemy. High echelons of power also fall prey to bitter disagreements which spill over to other African countries/leaders.
What one takes from Mayowe’s life is not only knowledge about what happened in the liberation struggle, but the insights he chronicles which he gained from his duty as a representative of the struggle as he traveled in and outside the country during those tense years.
The autobiography, published as recent as last year, connects the past, the present and the future. In some way, “Rega Zvipore” could be a leading example of what “telling our own story” means. The 327-page book has also bonus photographs exclusively taken during the war and after.