Cde Mavis Mhlanga: An epitome of heroism

Cde Mavis Mhlanga

Cde Mavis Mhlanga

Hildegarde The Arena
SELFLESSNESS is a virtue found in very few people, especially when the wounds of the war of liberation need closure. This is the picture that 60-year-old Cde Mavis Mhlanga (Mrs Esnath Mufoya-Seda) displays. Hers is a unique case, but it is her approach to the war narrative that is baffling. Her rationality and principled stance are difficult to understand considering the pain and suffering she has endured since she joined the liberation struggle in October 1972.

You are left with an open-ended question: Can we normalise pain and long suffering? When one contributed that much and also lost a lot, is using the group think approach a self-serving way to healing?

The following is just a fraction of Cde Mavis’s story recounted in an interview with Tendai Manzvanzvike, Munyaradzi Huni and Forget Tsododo on November 5, 2015.

Her father, Thomson Mufoya, employed in Salisbury (Harare), was a war collaborator working with the spirit medium Sekuru Chipfeni and others to transport war material and food supplies to the freedom fighters in Mozambique.

Each time he visited his rural home in Muzarabani (Mt Darwin), he assisted the freedom fighters who were already operating in the area.

In October 1972, Mr Mufoya (nom de gurre Cde Phineas) made a radical decision to move the whole family of nine — wife, Cde Mavis together with her siblings Wallace, Tambudzai, Elias, Chipo, Chengetai and others — after the brutalisation of his wife by Rhodesian security forces, following accusations that he was recruiting young people to join the struggle.

He had resolved that if the security forces were to return, his whole family would be killed. Cde Mavis said some villagers had sold out their father telling the soldiers: “Thomson ndiye anoziva nezvemagandanga . . . Ndiye anoziva kuti vana vedu akavaendesa kupi.”

She also recounted, “There were eight of us children, but later there were nine plus our mother and father. We also crossed into Mozambique with one Mr Greya and his two wives.”

The war completely altered this family unit because the majority of the Mufoya family, save for their mother joined the struggle. Cde Mavis was among the first 72 young women to receive military training at Nachingwea Camp in Tanzania.

However, after the end of the war in 1980, five survivors from the family of 11 made it back home. Her mother never made it, although she was not a fighter. At the time of writing, Cde Mavis said there were now two survivors — herself and a brother who was nine years of age when they crossed into Mozambique in 1972.

She spoke philosophically about this scenario maintaining: “That’s the meaning of war. Other comrades returned to find that their parents and relatives had died during the course of the war.”

Cde Mavis said she separated from her mother in 1975 after Cde Herbert Chitepo’s assassination. “I separated with my mother in 1975 at Mboroma Camp (in Zambia). Handina kuzombozovaona futi.

“We never said goodbye, and I did not have the feeling to say goodbye because I saw myself as being fortunate since I was there with my mother. Other comrades had left their parents back home. I was also fortunate that I managed to be with her for nine months (upon return from Nachingwea). How about those who did not have the chance to be with their mothers, comrades who actually took my mother as their own?

“Thus it did not bother me that I had not said goodbye. It was not significant, because there were important tasks at hand. I was more concerned with the new assignment I had been given,” she said.

Unfortunately, that was the last time to set eyes on her mother.

“Kubva ipapo, handina kuzofa futi ndakavaona. It’s only now when I look back that it pains me, because chief among the problems is that I never saw where she was buried. I also don’t know the cause of her death. Munoziva, amai ndiamai, havana kufanana nababa.

“Some of my mother’s relatives (uncles) have accepted that she was among the people who died during the war, but there are others, our aunts who seem not to understand this. Vanoratidza kuti vakatsamwa,” she bemoaned.

This has affected the traditional rituals that the family wanted and still wants to perform. She said this year, they approached them, and pleaded: “Mainini, honai tapera. Kwasara inini naMike chete. Tambirai zvinhu zvenyu zvokuroorwa kwedu. But, they won’t accept! What they fail to understand is that this was a war situation, and it was not just our mother who died during that war.

“Many people lost their mothers during the war. It was also not just their sister/aunt who died. In our family, five of us perished, my two sisters and three brothers. Thus it was not just our mother. My brother in 2013 told them, ‘Kana musingade kugadzira hama yenyu, regerai’.”

We asked Cde Mavis whether she was not anxious to know where exactly her mother had died and she said, “It bothers me, but I later learnt that she died at Mabvudzi, but I don’t know whether it was due to natural causes because when she died, I was at Chimoio Camp. They would not directly inform us that your mother has passed on. Ukataurirwa, chii chinoitika iwe uri muhondo? Handiti unorwadziwa? I would tell myself that, that was the same way other comrades were losing their mothers back home.

“Wakangozozvionawo nyika yasununguka kuti munhu haana kuuya. Many parents faced that predicament when their children never came back. During the ceasefire period, they went from one Assembly Point to another searching — Dzapasi, Manyene, Goromonzi, etc — but it was in vain. Ukamushaya woziva kuti mwana wangu akafa. Ndizvozvowo!”

Does this give her sleepless nights? Cde Mavis said, “You mourn, but you do so with hope, because you also realise that many people lost loved ones. Ukati cheme-cheme wozoti, ‘Was she the only one? Many died including people like Cde Mupunzarima, Cde Viola and others’.

“Was it possible that a family of 10 would go to war and all come back? Was that possible? It was not! If you also think of the thousands that perished, we actually consider ourselves fortunate because our father, and four children made it back. Kune vamwe vakaenda vari five vasina kudzoka vese. Ndosaka ichinzi hondo. Zvatopera. And zvechokwadi ndosaka ichinzi hondo!”

Maybe the best way to describe this level of understanding or rationalisation is that Cde Mavis Mhlanga is a brave cadre, who takes pride in fighting for Zimbabwe’s Independence: “Hondo haisi right. But on second thoughts, it is alright because we fought and got back our country. If we had not taken up arms to fight the oppressor, we would never have repossessed our country. We would still be reeling under oppression.

“And, I take pride in being a freedom fighter or war veteran, who liberated this country despite the fact that I never benefited,” she said.

She also has vivid memories of the brutal massacre of thousands of cadres when combined air and ground Rhodesian security forces attacked Chimoio and Tembwe camps from November 23 to 25 in 1977. She escaped death by a whisker despite losing many of her comrades in that genocidal attack.

“The camp (Tembwe) was heavily fortified and I never thought that they would succeed, and if they did, I never imagined that the attack would take long,” she recalled.

She said when the bombardment started, she fled towards the female barracks. When she got to the kitchen where there were many female comrades, the Rhodesian forces were already there. “I instantly took a prone position. Then I saw Cde Chasakara, one of the female comrades I had trained. I liked her a lot . . . A black Rhodesian soldier approached these comrades, and shot them all. I was later relieved that it was much better for the comrades that had been shot dead, because when they got to Cde Chasakara, they just lifted her up and threw her into a large pot of boiling porridge. Kumukanda mubhodho resadza raikwata, ndakatarisa, haikona kuita zvokutaurirwa nemunhu.

“Cde Chasakara’s death pained me, and still does. It’s one of those ugly incidents that I will never forget, because everything happened before my very eyes, and I almost became a victim of such a painful death,” she said with tears in her eyes.

One of Cde Mavis’ greatest fears was that of being captured by enemy forces. During the interview, she made reference to the term “capture/being captured” a dozen times.

She said she always told herself that it was better to be killed by enemy forces, than to be captured and then tortured, a situation that would force her to sell out: “Inini panguva yehondo ndaitoti kuuraiwa kwakanaka, pane kukepichwa. Chinhu chinonzi kukepichwa, handichidi. This was not part of my training, but I did not want to be captured. Period!

“You must have heard some comrades narrating that they were captured in the Musana area, and the soldiers would cut their body parts, roast the flesh and force them to eat it. If they had been shot dead, they would just kick their bodies, and then leave them. Then the people would come and give them a decent burial. But they were captured!

“I would always tell my friend Cde Loice Moyo (Mrs Loice Chuma) that I didn’t want to be captured. I would rather be killed. She also felt the same.

“I also told my brother Edward that I didn’t want to be captured by enemy forces, and he echoed similar sentiments.”

This conviction gave her the resolve that if captured, she would blow herself up with a hand grenade, if she had one in her possession.

This is different from the suicide bombers of today, for hers was a mark of allegiance to the struggle that remains an integral part of her life, a struggle that has defined her being as a woman fighter, wife and mother.

The mark of a true heroine!

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