Hildegarde The Arena
EVER noticed that when war veterans are on their own, it is as though they are in their own world, as they recall events that happened to them more than three decades ago? They do so as if the event has just taken place.
There is also something about the way they remember, recalling even the names of other comrades.
This week, the writer explores this distinctive characteristic, which is far from forgetfulness, for if that had been the case, the Chimurenga chronicles team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike would never have interviewed more than 30 war veterans, from the 1960s and early seventies. During this first batch of interviews, some comrades’ narrative is more than 30 hours.
What is their secret? Is it passion?
They call each other “shamwari yeropa” (blood friend), for the covenant that binds “shamwari yeropa” has an eternal shelf life. Although unwritten, it was a military agreement between guerrilla fighters who sacrificed all for Zimbabwe’s bloody revolution in order to bring about Independence.
When they called themselves “shamwari yeropa”, they were not merely saying that they are comrades-in-arms who had signed their death warrants for the national cause (vanhu vakasaina kufa muhondo), but that theirs was a bond of comradeship, a covenant with continued relevance meant to contribute toward Zimbabwe’s vision and national identity.
As Cde Kenneth Gwindingwi quipped, this comradeship was borne out of an understanding that with the exception of the Lord Jesus, “who wants to die for you?”
Despite the myriad of challenges they faced, and the skewed nature of how they benefited or never did from their supreme sacrifice, the war veterans feel that they were and are still their brother’s keeper.
While they call themselves, “shamwari yeropa”, the people also gave them varied names: “vanhu vepasi”, “vana vevhu”, “vanhu vemusango”, and “vana mukoma” — all of which meant freedom fighters waging a struggle guided by in the country’s spiritual realm.
They also submit to one another irrespective of what their stations during the struggle were, calling each other “comrade”, and if their junior yesterday is now a senior, they call him/her “chef”, although some of these seniors would know that they passed through the hands of these pioneer men and women.
The following excerpts from the Chimurenga interviews held with Cdes Gwindingwi (KG) (John Gwitira), Ignatius Dzvotsvotsvo (Noel Museredza), Dadirai Wafawanaka (Juliet Chitsungo) and Steria Dube (Esther Munyaradzi) reveal the depth of “shamwari yeropa”.
Cde Dzvotsvotsvo went to war towards the end of 1972 after being recruited by Cdes Rex Nhongo, James Bond, George Rutanhire, and he was trained at Mgagao Training Camp, Tanzania in 1973, together with Cdes Edson Gurupira, Sipanera, Dhumadhuma, Evaristo and others.
He said a large number of the war veterans have a sharp memory about the struggle and that they were so close and called each other “shamwari yeropa” because, “what happens is that the person you live with, munhu waunofunga nguva yese, and if you miss him, you want to know where he is or what happened to him. Unotoda kuziva kuti nhingi ambori kupi, aita sei.
“He is like an animal you are taking care of on a daily basis — kumuka kwake kana kurara kwake. You would even want to know where he has been deployed, and you are also keen to know whether he is alive and well,” he explained.
Cde Dzvotsvotsvo also said love between them was the binding element: “Paive nesungano yakakurisisa. If you miss him, you would ask yourself where he could be.
“Even now, when we meet, there are some comrades whose whereabouts we inquire about. The moment you know and get their contact details, you call and talk. When you call, and he tells you that he is alive, you get shocked to know that he is still alive because since the war ended, hauna kumbonzwa zita rake.
“When you say to him, ‘uri mupenyu’, he gets surprised, and also asks you: asi waida kuti ndife?
“It’s natural that sometimes when you don’t see a person who was close to you, you think that they might have encountered some mishap, asi kwatiri isisu hazvivhundutse kubvunza mumwe wako kuti uchiri mupenyu, wakafamba sei?
“When we meet, we go down memory lane, sing liberation songs, and remind each other that you knew that when comrade so and so got angry, he would sing a particular song. Even the commanders! Sezvakaita (Cde) Tongogara, ange aine nziyo dzake dzaaimba, woziva kuti nhasi chakachaya!
“When Cde Tongogara sang ‘Soja rababa tora uta hwako tiende,’ he would be deploying fighters. Even during parade time, you would know that nhasi hapana kumira mushe,” he said.
Cde Dzvotsvotsvo said it’s easy to communicate amongst themselves and not tell their experiences even to family members because “the problem with some people is that if you tell them the history of the liberation struggle, they think that it’s useless and a waste of their time.
“We were taught about all these attitude problems, so why should we waste our time telling our story to someone who is not interested? Ndakasafa ndega, ndikadzoka ndega, nanhasi ndichiri kusafa, saka why waste my time? Some of these people are also provocative. They are the ones who say: “Enda undosungirira nyika yacho.”
“When provoked like this, you might end up behind bars, warova munhu kana nedanda. You ask yourself what the person is implying regarding the challenges you endured. In my case, I spent eight years ndisingaoni maparents angu, ndisina hama. My closest family was my gun and these other comrades I was with.”
Asked to elaborate, Cde Dzvotsvotsvo said: “Yes, hama yangu yange iri pfuti nacomrade ari padhuze neni. Ndiyo yange iri hama yangu! This is why I can’t forget the comrade who looked after me. He was my bodyguard, and I was also his bodyguard. That is why in Zanu we said, ‘Iwe neni, tine basa.’ That is what Zanu means — comrades being their brothers’ keepers.
“In war, there was nothing like professors. We worked as a team, and if you don’t see your colleague, you felt it. If he is sent to Romania for training, you feel that someone is missing.
“We were very united, zvisiri zvokunyeperana zviye izvi, sezvave kuitika muno muZimbabwe. That’s why you see that our pioneers do not talk about their experiences, because they don’t have that time, because pane kuenda kwokuti ndakaenda. Ehe wakaenda ukaona mafirimu, but kuiona chaiko chaiko, unenge usina kuiona. Yomufirimu, yasiyana nehondo yokurwa. Some imagined and saw themselves in Mozambique and/or Zambia.”
He concluded, “Zvinowanikwa zvokutaura zvisiri practical zvokuti ndange ndiriko. Ehe, wange uriko, asi zvinoda kutaura chokwadi nehistory yehondo. Hondo chinhu chinourayaka. Pamuri kuenda kuhondo hamusi kundouraya, asi kuti muri kundourayana.”
Cde KG, who was among the first 45 fighters to open up the Nehanda and Chaminuka Sectors in the north eastern region in 1972 recalled their training at Mgagao, and how the “shamwari yeropa” covenant was inculcated in them using the gun as a symbol.
“After political orientation, that would be when you would be allowed to hold a gun, a wooden gun, to purely appreciate it. (After that) then, you would be able to handle a real gun without live bullets, for fear of the unknown,” said Cde KG.
He added, “You would be told how to dismantle it. Then you would be required to know that gun like you know your fingers, the aim being that when you are in war, your nearest companion is something called a gun, so, you must respect your gun.
“Apart from the other comrades you are fighting with, your maximum defence was your gun. You had to know that the gun is next to your God. You should never lose your gun, never, because the gun repulses the enemy who also has his own gun.
“So, the more you understand it and know it to perfection, your chances of winning the war were very high. As we all know, mabhunu vanga vaine zvese. They were coming from a superior infrastructure.”
It is clear from Cde Gwindingwi’s narrative that war veterans had two friends: their guns and fellow comrades. The gun as a weapon of war and causes bloodshed, the blood of these fighters. It was like a love-hate relationship.
Cde Dadirai said, “In a war situation, there was no one you could really say was close to you, because the person you are with at any given time is your friend. If there is an exchange of fire with the enemy, the person next to you can defend you. He or she can repulse enemy fire. If I am injured, he/she will be the one who knows kuti comrade vakuvarira papi. Wese comrade ishamwari yangu . . .”
But Cde Steria had a different perspective. She said the bond among war veterans was deep because when they were in Mozambique or Zambia, they were taught to look out for each other’s interests.
“Tiriko zvainzi ndinofanirwa kuona kuti comrade adya here! That was comradeship, but sadly, when we returned, that comradeship disappeared among some of us. Shamwari yeropa hakusisina. Munhu aakuitawo zvake. It should not have been like that.”
If the liberation struggle is the foundation of nationhood, so too is comradeship! The covenant that binds this comradeship must never be broken. The choral group Zimpraise, led by Sharon Manyonganise, stresses that in “Sungano”:
He-e varume, musaputse sungano
Sungano yacho ndeyaMwari
He-e varume, musaputse sungano
Vana mhamhawe-e, musaputse sungano
Vasikanawe-e, musaputse sungano!