Evoking memories of our departed comrades Alexader Kanengoni
Alexader Kanengoni

Alexader Kanengoni

Dr Sekai Nzenza on Wednesday

The stories I hear about the real experiences of the war are hard and painful. They are also full of heroism. But I cannot tell other people’s stories.

This week we celebrated Zimbabwe’s Independence Day which came on April 18, 1980. I remember the day well because Bob Marley came to play at Rufaro Stadium. I did not go to the show because my sisters and I were too scared to venture into Mbare the night that Bob Marley played. We did not know Harare well, apart from the streets of Glen Norah where we stayed in a two-bedroomed flat. But there was much celebration all the same in Glen Norah and everywhere.

Back in the village, they also celebrated. The war was over. Maiguru, my mother’s sister, waited for her son Kuda to come back from the war.

She prayed that he would have gone to the assembly point with all the other freedom fighters when the war ended.

But Kuda did not come back.

When we were growing up in the village, we often spent time in Maiguru’s village, near Murambinda. “Ndinopika nemwana wangu naKuda!” Maiguru always said.

Freedom Nyamubaya

Freedom Nyamubaya

By this, she meant, I swear by my son Kuda. Whenever Maiguru swore like that, it meant nothing was going to stop her from doing whatever she wanted to do at that particular moment.

Everyone in my mother’s maiden village knew that Maiguru loved her son Kuda more than any of her other children. He was the last born in a family of eight children, seven boys and one girl.

I remember my cousin Kuda as a tall handsome young man. During visits to Maiguru’s village, our cousin Kuda looked after us out in the valley when we herded cattle. He was good at making whips, fishing and hunting rabbits and mice. During the dry season late night dances, Kuda often disappeared with a girl. Maiguru scolded him, saying he should be careful because he was now old enough to produce a child.

He was probably 17 or 18 when the war for liberation war came and the moon- light dry season dances stopped. My sisters and I were sent off to Salisbury. We heard that Kuda had disappeared and crossed the border into Mozambique to join the freedom fighters. But another cousin, Jairosi, from near Maiguru’s place, had joined the Rhodesian forces. Back in the village, they whispered that one day Kuda and Jairosi will fight against each other. They said Jairosi was not even a real soldier but a member of the notorious Skuzi Apo, the guys who impersonated the freedom fighters.

This mural at the National Heroes’ Acre in Harare is dedicated to sons and daughters of the soil who paid the ultimate price during the liberation war

This mural at the National Heroes’ Acre in Harare is dedicated to sons and daughters of the soil who paid the ultimate price during the liberation war

We heard that ma Skuzi Apo came to the villages at night and talked about the need to fight for land, the right to vote and the right to freedom. People believed they were real comrades and they fed them. Then one night, the Skuzi Apo came accompanied by white Rhodesian soldiers and they killed many people.

When the war ended, Kuda did not come back. Some people said he died during the Nyadzonia or Chimoio raids where many Zimbabweans were massacred. We do not know. Maiguru stopped saying, “Ndinopika nemwana wangu na Kuda.” Many years later, they had a ceremony to remember Kuda, but they did not do the kurova guva ritual to bring Kuda’s ancestral spirit to the village. They could not have done that because no one knew where Kuda’s body was. If they had an idea, it may have been possible to go and collect soil from that place and bring the soil home. Through another ritual, the soil would have been buried at home and Kuda’s grave created with his name on it.

A few years after independence, Maiguru came to our village to mourn and help bury the bones of my aunt, Tete Emma, her husband and two sons. It was whispered that they were killed one night, during the war of independence. Their bodies were thrown in a cave overlooking the Save River. There are many different stories as to who killed them and why they were killed. But the common thread in the story is that Tete’s oldest son, Munhu or Person, as he was called, might have belonged to the Muzorewa or Sithole faction. Maybe. Or maybe they were killed by Jairosi and a group of the Skuzi Apo.

Each person has a different way of telling the story of death, traitors, heroism and memories of the liberation war.

As we remember independence, we think of the many who perished, those who survived and those who are now dying from natural causes.

Last week, my friend Alexander Kanengoni died. He was a freedom fighter during the liberation war. Alexander or Zanda, as the writers group affectionately called him, was a great writer. He wrote many stories about his experiences during the liberation war. He used to call me on Wednesdays after reading one of my stories in this column. Whenever I answered his call, he did not say hello at first. Instead, he burst out in his loud warm laughter. The laughter of a very tall man. He usually read to me one of the lines I had written. Then he would ask me the same question that another writer, Memory Chirere, has asked me before: “Do you read yourself?” Zanda’s questions and comments made me read again what I had written. Then he gave me more ideas, recalling his own experiences growing up ku St Barnabas, in Chikomba, before his family moved ku Matenganyika when he was a young boy in the same class with my brother Sidney.

One time Zanda called and said, “Shamwari, ko sei usinganyori zvekuhondo?” meaning, my friend, why do you not write about the war. I said, I recall some aspects of the war but I did not fight in it. I can only write from memory, what I know and what I saw. The stories I hear about the real experiences of the war are hard and painful. They are also full of heroism. But I cannot tell other people’s stories.

Alexander “Zanda” Kanengoni was the deputy editor of The Patriot. Among his books about the experiences of the liberation war were “Echoing Silences”. Some years ago, the publisher, Irene Staunton, asked me to review Alexander Kanengoni’s book titled “When the Rainbird Cries”. It was a haunting and insightful inside story of the war.

Then I had another friend called Freedom Nyamubaya, who was a poet and she wrote about what she saw and what she knew. I first met Freedom in Australia, when she was giving a talk at a writers’ meeting. She also died suddenly late last year. In one year, the freedom fighters I knew very well as my friends departed this world.

After the war, in our village, and within the family, we did not talk about who was doing what with who and on which side. There was silence. There are some stories buried in our hearts and memories that may one day need to be told. Perhaps, one day.

In my extended family, we are still separated from some of our aunts, uncles and cousins who fled the village after Tete Emma and her family members were killed. They settled in Muzarabani more than 37 years ago. The questions as to how they died remain. At some family gatherings, like this week’s Independence Day celebrations, I heard that some of my relatives told stories of the war with painful humour and sadness. But there was also much celebration of heroism, healing and reconciliation.

My cousin Kuda, Zanda and Freedom are just a few of my friends who fought for liberation and have now joined the ancestors. We all belong to the soil and to the soil we shall return. Pasi panodya. Pasi harigute.

Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic.

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