Fungai Lupande Features Correspondent
IT was love at first sight the moment Zimbabwe National Army Colonel Kenneth Chihumba, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Joseph Maposa as he laid his eyes on Sibukani Hove while she was bringing food to the base where freedom fighters were camping.
What followed was an intriguing story of love in the heat of the liberation struggle. It led into a blissful marriage after Independence until death separated them recently.
Sibukani recently succumbed to cancer of the pancreas and was declared a provincial heroine.
She was laid to rest at Bindura Provincial Heroes’ Acre. She left behind her husband Col Chihumba, four children and two grandchildren.
Narrating their love story, Col Chihumba said they met in 1977 when he was among the first freedom fighters deployed in Zvishavane.
“She was staying at Shabani, Masunda Sasula in Muzeti Village with her sister. We were the first comrades to arrive in that place. She was among female war collaborators who brought food to our base,” he said.
“The chimbwidos and mujibhas were girls and boys who we used to send on errands. The girls would supply us with information, food, water and wash our clothes. When they arrived we asked them their names and she said her name was Sibukani.
“I was attracted to her because she was smart and sociable. She was outstanding among other girls.
“We were not allowed to be intimate with girls during the liberation war because it was taboo. All I could do was to tell her that I loved her because abstinence was a strict rule that we observed.”
As the war progressed, the comrades did not stay in one place. At the end of 1977 Col Chihumba was transferred to Chivi, but carried Sibukani in his heart.
“I was the detachment commander and in 1979 I was sent to Mberengwa. It was a large district under Chiefs Matarusa, Muposi, Mapiravana, Bvute and Chingezi. Freedom fighters were already there and as the commander I went to Muposi,” he said.
“As the routine girls came with food and as the norm we asked them their names. Among them was a girl called Lyna she came from the same village with Sibukani. By this time the war collaborators had also changed names that they could not identified by the British.
“After telling Lyna my name, she said her sister knew me. I asked her who the sister was and she said her name was Priscilla. I did not recall anyone with that name. She was not among the group that had come that day.”
A close comrade had some idea about the girl.
“One of the freedom fighters reiterated the story about the girl by the name Priscilla who said she knew me and that I was her boyfriend. I did not recall her, and this was coupled with the fear of being accused of having a girlfriend during the struggle, I denied knowledge of anything of that sort,” Col Chihumba said.
“After several days I took a walk in the area with my colleague, Cde Munetsi Chimedza, and we came across two girls who were coming from the stream. They were carrying water and we stopped them. We wanted to get information on the movement of the Rhodesians.
“I recognised one of them, it was Sibukani. I then inquired what she was doing in Muposi and she said that this was her rural home. She said she was in Shabani in 1977 seeking refuge from the war.”
Col Chihumba and his comrades set up a camp there and although they continued with the struggle and went in different areas, he would always come back, to where his sweetheart was.
“I was deployed to Gwatemba and people in that area spoke Ndebele. I was not conversant with Ndebele and Sibukani who spoke the language taught me how to communicate with the people,” he said.
“We would use a tape recorder and she would explain to me later. Gwatemba was not far from Mberengwa and as the detachment commander I was now frequenting Muposi, where Sibukani was staying.
“In 1979 we were ordered to go to assembly points. Our assembly point was Zezani in West Nicholson after Gwanda. We were not sure of the ceasefire process as we feared that if we all went at the same time the enemy would massacre us, so we did not go together at once.
“A few went to the assembly points while others remained behind in villages because we were afraid that the enemy might bomb us. We stayed with people that we knew supported the liberation struggle. I stayed with her family.”
When the war was over and the freedom fighters were no longer bound by abstinence, Sibukani became pregnant.
After a while, all freedom fighters were ordered to go to assembly points and Col Chihumba left his sweetheart and went to Zezani.
Col Chihumba added that during the ceasefire period freedom fighters impregnated many girls because during the war they held on to the belief that promiscuity brought bad luck and calamities to them.
“The first election was held while we were still at the assembly points. I voted and we won. We left the assembly points and we came to Harare. I didn’t manage to go back and see her,” said Col Chihumba.
“In Harare, we were integrated into the Zimbabwe National Army in 1980 and I was promoted to the rank of captain. I was always thinking about my sweetheart. I was part of the army battalion that was sent to Matabeleland in Kezi.
“I attempted to go for commando training, but the thought of my wife and child made me want to go back to Mberengwa. I went to my rural home in Rushinga and told my father that I had left a woman and child in Mberengwa during the war and I wanted to marry her. I managed to marry her and she was accepted into our family. We were never separated until now.
“She was a good wife to me. Due to psychological and emotional trauma I was very violent, but she is the only person who could control me until I was able to integrate into civilian life. If I did not marry her maybe I would have married 10 wives.”
Their story is a special one in the history of the country’s 1970s war of independence. It captures the love, hopes, fears and desires of freedom fighters and war collaborators alike.
It’s an amazing romantic story with a military touch.