Man with a rare calling
“My wish is to ensure that everyone who died in the liberation war gets a decent burial. It is not good that people see skeletons of people who were our comrades-in-arms,” said the Zimbabwe Heroes’ Trust deputy chief exhumer Cde Anyway Chinyani.
He has been in the business of exhuming liberation war heroes and heroines buried in the shallow and unmarked graves during the struggle of independence.
Though exhumations started on a low note, the numbers have risen and more mass graves have been identified across Zimbabwe. He has handled skeletons in various conditions, shapes and sizes.
Cde Chinyani has met them all, skeletons of mothers buried with babies strapped on their backs, and blown off torsos.
He has come across the remains of people whose hands and legs were tied together with barbed wire and even bullet-riddled bodies. He has exhumed burnt skulls and remains of people whose skulls bear gunshot holes.
Cde Chinyani says all these people require proper burial as an honour for their sacrifices which has brought the peace and liberty enjoyed in Zimbabwe today.
“I have been doing this since the early days of independence. Exhumation of fallen heroes really occupies my life. I eat my breakfast here, lunch, supper and sleep in the forests. I rarely spend a night at home as the visions of the late comrades keep appearing in my dreams asking me to take them to proper burial places.
“Even my family now accepts my way of life. I briefly go home to help with land preparations. Some may think this is paid work but no, it is voluntary.
“We get nothing from Government. Once in a while we get help from well-wishers. The spirit of the dead forces you to do this work. I identify shallow, unmarked graves and exhume the comrades for proper burial at different heroes acres or at their homes,” he said.
Cde Chinyani, who is his late 60s, says at first people used to regard the exhumations as fake but after some time they are beginning to understand the mission of the Zimbabwe Fallen Heroes Trust.
The work is voluntary and is not pushed by political parties or political agendas.
While some of the graves sites were identified by people who witnessed the burial during the war, most of the remains and graves were identified by relatives of the fallen fighters possessed by spirits of the departed.
“The spirit would demand that they be taken to homes or get proper burial. Some even possess children as young as three years old before they are brought here. Sure we have had to verify whether the spirit is true or not but in most cases such revelations have come true.
“I have no holiday or weekend as demand for my services has gone up. Probably it’s the publicity that the exercise has got in recent years. Everyone wants his or relative to get a decent burial.
“Even those with relatives who went missing during the war frequent the area to inquire of their brothers. Some, we have helped but others we have not. We understand their plight and we will help in as much as we can,” he said.
As Cde Chinyani relates his work, a family of six, four women and two men, arrive at the exhumation site. One of the men is holding a four-year-child in his hands.
The baby is behaving unusually. He has some froth in his mouth and speaking in an inaudible voice. Our attention is drawn towards the group. I want to know what has brought these visitors to Rusape Castle Camp exhumation site.
I feel this is not a place for young children, particularly a mere toddler, as the places smells of death. The horrors of the places are not good for such youngsters.
To get our attention, Cde Chinyani croaks his voice and continues.
“This is common sight for us here. We deal with many of such cases. Some of the children brought here are as young as two. You will be surprised that they have helped identify some of the graves bearing remains of the fallen heroes.
“That is how serious our job is. We have to be patient otherwise we will not get the vital information. We understand no one will leave his home for this place without a problem. These comrades are speaking through children and demanding that they be properly buried,” he adds.
“My job has been made difficult by increase in publicity that has seen many people getting knowledge of the existing of the Fallen Heroes Trust. I think people now know more of the Trust and that it is a genuine volunteer organisation that has nothing to gain from its work,” he adds.
ZFHT seeks to afford Zimbabwe’s fallen heroes a decent burial.
To date the trust claims to have exhumed between 5 000 and 6 000 bodies since independence and hopes the figure would increase as more mass grave sites are discovered.
A lot of tales have been written and said of the dead.
In some instances, house owners have deserted them alleging mysterious events during the night because they were located or built near grave-sites. But how do they survive?
“I have to do it because this is a calling. I can’t leave it for anyone else. We are appealing to all Zimbabweans to have a unity of purpose. Let us all come together and give our sons and daughters proper burial. It is taboo and not African to have mass graves. We need to correct that anomaly.
“Every family, whether supporting Zanu-PF or MDC, lost a relative during the struggle for our independence. So this is neither a Zanu-PF or MDC project but a project for Zimbabwe. Every child requires a decent burial,” he said.
He said they worked well with Zanu-PF as it was the party of liberation but their work should never be seen as a purely Zanu-PF.
Cde Chinyani said the war of independence had brought about liberty, empowerment and peace. These, he says, knows no political party.
“The independence we enjoy now is for everyone. It does not recognise political differences. These exhumations are not being done to garner support for President Mugabe as others are saying. What makes me happy is that I am contributing in the reburial of Zimbabwe’s liberators. These people brought us Zimbabwe and are relatives of Zanu-PF, MDC, MKD, Zapu and Zanu Ndonga.
“Zimbabweans should come together and provide motor vehicles, coffins and other resources so that we can accomplish the task ahead of us. Let us work together as a nation,” Cde Chinyani said
The beauty of Cde Chinyani’s work was that he has the support of chiefs and the traditional leadership nationwide as they share the same feeling that Zimbabwe ought to give the freedom fighters honourable burials.
“I pray that Zimbabwe will remain united. War is not a pleasant event. Just imagine the restrictions, curfews, beatings and the killings and these should never be repeated. Let us work to develop Zimbabwe,” he concluded. Sure this land is pregnant, pregnant with products of heartless murders of the Rhodesian army.
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