Sekai Nzenza on Wednesday
”By this, she was telling me and my cousin Piri to hurry up and walk home before it got dark because any delay would result in us meeting the ghost of the Boer soldier by the mutsamvi tree.Ngatifambei iyezvino. Kukasviba tichiri pano tinosangana neBhunu pamutsamvi wepa Perapera,” said my sister Mai Munyaradzi.
We were attending a funeral at Chiwara Village last month.
Earlier in the morning, a group of us women had walked in single file from our village, crossing two rivers, Chinyika and Chidzikisa to Chiwara, a small village near the huge granite rocks in Chikomba East.
The funeral was led by elders from the Bethesda Church of Bishop Loveless Manhango.
Mai Munyaradzi reminded us again to leave Chiwara before it got dark. But Piri said the ghosts of the liberation war had since left. After all, the war happened so many years ago.
There was no Boer ghost still coming back to the big mutsamvi tree at Perapera. But several women and a few men said the ghost of the Boer soldier never left the place where he is said to have died during the battle between liberation war fighters and the Selous Scouts, a notorious branch of the white Rhodesian army named after British explorer Frederick Courtney Selous.
These white soldiers were trained as mounted infantry and walked on foot.
We used to see them walking through the villages with pointed guns.
Their scary faces were painted black as if they were black like us.
Apart from the Selous Scouts, there was also the ruthless Grey Scouts, another branch of the settler Rhodesian Army that operated in our villages as well.
Instead of letting us leave the funeral, the people at Chiwara Village started recalling events of the war for Independence.
One elderly man called VaMuroyi said he remembered the battle at Perapera very well.
The Boer, who is now a ghost, is said to have shouted these words before he died, “Zima light tifile mulima!” Switch off the lights so we die in darkness! He had lost both his legs, but he managed to call for help before he died.
VaMuroyi said you sometimes see the ghost of the Boer soldier smoking cigarettes, sitting on a rock with his amputated leg stumps resting on a log.
We started the 9 kilometre long walk to our village. It was getting dark. We stopped talking as we got closer to the mutsamvi tree. When I saw the tree, I decided to take some pictures.
But Mai Munyaradzi quickly pulled me away and said, “Aiwa, Mainini, musatore mapikicha. Pane mapfupa evakarara apa vasati vachengetwa.”
She was telling me to stop taking photos because there were bones here that had not been collected or buried properly. I obeyed and we walked in silence for a while.
After we crossed the river and were quite some distance from the mutsamvi tree, Mai Munyaradzi said there were a few places around Chikomba where ghosts from the liberation war still walk around.
Some of them are black soldiers whose bones were never collected because they fought on the wrong side.
Many of these black soldiers were conscripted by force. As long as you were a policeman, soldier or public servant, you were forced to go on call up in the Rhodesian armed forces.
As a result, there were black soldiers who fought against their own people and many died, fighting for Rhodesia.
They should have been buried properly, the same way white soldiers were buried. But that did not happen. We recalled seeing helicopters picking up white injured soldiers first before they came back to collect the black soldiers.
Mai Munyaradzi then reminded us of the battles between liberation fighters and Rhodesian forces at Perapera, Homa, Mangoti and Gwirarenzara in Chikomba East. After these battles, the black soldiers were left to be eaten away by wild animals or to be buried by local villagers.
The war came to an end and we celebrated the right to vote. Freedom came in 1980. After the war, we heard so many stories about the ghosts of fallen comrades and other people who died during the war for our Independence.
The most prominent ghost was that of Edzai Hondo.
Edzai Hondo came from the Eastern Highlands. We did not know his real name because the freedom fighters were called Comrades or Vanamukoma.
Edzai must have been six feet or more tall, slim built and very light skinned with freckles on his nose and deep set eyes that were often red. I first saw him in December 1976, when he arrived one night at Chisangano Primary School.
Edzai was accompanied by a younger guy called Kenny. They carried guns on their backs.
It was raining. Their guns were hidden under my sister Munyengetero’s bed together with pamphlets about the war.
Edzai gathered everyone in Headmaster Godfrey Kurebgwaseka’s house and secretly briefed the teachers about the war. They stayed the night in one of the teacher’s houses.
The following morning, Edzai climbed a big rock near the teachers’ houses.
I have vivid memories of him standing tall, wearing a big hat with words written, “Kufa kana kurarama, tinofira Zimbabwe.” To live or to die, we die for Zimbabwe. He turned and saw me standing there, holding a flat metal tray full of ashes. I wanted to prepare a fire and make tea for him.
Edzai looked towards the Hwedza and Mbire mountains. Then he turned to me and said that there were beautiful mountains in the Eastern Highlands of Nyanga.
The Europeans call Nyanga their Scotland. One day, this Scotland of theirs will belong to the people of Zimbabwe.
That same day, at night, Edzai and Kenny disappeared as they often did.
A week or more later, we saw helicopters circling Homa Mountains and we heard gun shots.
Later on, the news spread through the villages saying that a big battle had occurred near Homa.
A number of soldiers died and some comrades as well. They said among the dead was Edzai, and that Kenny had been captured alive. But other people said no, Edzai survived. Three or four days later, the white soldiers brought Kenny in a sack and arrested Headmaster Kurebgaseka.
Others say, no, Edzai Hondo did not survive. He was killed at Bhunga, near Chinyamungororo hills. The real place where Edzai died is unknown.
A few years after Independence, some people from Bhunga Village said they saw the ghost of a tall light skinned man walking with his AK gun.
Those who had met Edzai as I did in December 1976 recognised the ghost as that of Edzai Hondo. But I have often wondered why Edzai would become a ghost.
He believed in the liberation war of Zimbabwe from the colonial settlers. He died a hero.
Maybe Edzai became a ghost. Maybe he did not. But what I know is that we do not walk around the Chinyamungororo Heroes Acre at night because we fear his ghost and that of others as well.
Edzai was possibly buried well. He has no reason to be a ghost haunting the villages.
The people haunting us should be the black African soldiers because they died for a cause they should not have been supporting. Their ghosts roam the valleys around Chikomba. Sometimes they present themselves as big lights perched on top of the granite hills of Gomo Remapere, the Hyena’s hills in Mushipe.
“The unburied soldiers’ ghosts are asking to be mourned and buried properly,” said Piri.
But Mai Munyaradzi said we cannot possibly honour the black soldiers who came to us disguised as liberation war fighters.
They were fed and treated well. Then they suddenly turned against us and called the notorious Grey Scouts, who were possibly hiding nearby. The Grey Scouts massacred people.
We have painful memories of the war. Sometimes when we begin to forget, the ghosts of the dead help us to recreate what happened during the war for the liberation of this country from colonial rule.
The ghosts of the past may just be another way to help us understand and keep the history of our war experiences alive.
Today, the mutsamvi tree at Perapera stands strong with bones of those who died during the war still lying entangled in its roots.
One day we must visit this tree at Perapera and place a monument that speaks of the blood, the pain and suffering endured by many of our people who perished there.
Their ghosts have not rested.
Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic.