Mt Darwin, a befitting venue for Independence Day celebrations
A book written by Chris Whitehead and Nick Russell called “Darwin Days” describes the horrific things that the residents of Mount Darwin went through during the liberation struggle.
The book, a compilation of essays from farmers, police officers, soldiers and public workers who spent some time in Mount Darwin during the liberation war, sheds light on the crucial role that the residents of Mount Darwin performed throughout that struggle.
It describes how the people of Mt Darwin turned into “water” to protect the comrades (fish) from the enemy’s piercing bullet.
Thus, when it was announced that Mt Darwin would host the 43rd Independence Day festivities, it was not a big surprise.
It was appropriate that Mt Darwin served as the host district for this year’s national Independence Day celebrations because its citizens still bear the physical scars of the independence war.
Cde George Rutanhire, the late national hero from Mount Darwin, once described how the Rhodesian Forces became increasingly cruel and turned to attacking the helpless populace as a means of letting off steam after realising they were losing the battle fast.
Innocent peasants in communities like Chesa, Kandeya, Mutungagore and Dotito were attacked indiscriminately by these Rhodesian soldiers, who also destroyed their homes and sources of livelihoods.
It is well known that Mt Darwin district served as one of the earliest metaphorical “waters” where freedom fighters found refuge while laying the foundation for a protracted war of liberation.
Like the fish swim in the water, the freedom fighters needed to be the populace to sustain the war.
If one gets time to interact with people of Mt Darwin who witnessed the war, one would concur that the Government’s choice of the area to host this year’s national Independence Day celebrations was not accidental.
The choice was informed by profound considerations from our war of liberation, which conceived the Independence Day we annually commemorate and celebrate.
It was in Mashonaland Central that the second and most decisive phase of our liberation struggle was launched, marked by the first shots which were fired at Altena Farm in Centenary.
Eye witnesses and historians both agree that from around 1973, Mashonaland Central and Mt Darwin district in particular became an intense battlefield with some of the most heroic battles being fought on its soil.
The worst atrocities by the Rhodesian racist regime were experienced in Mt Darwin’s Chibondo area.
In early March 2011, exhumations of hundreds of bodies from a site in Monkey William Mine/Chibondo Mine in Mt Darwin district were carried out by members of the Fallen Heroes Trust led by the late Cde Rutanhire.
The Chibondo area became a grim site where hundreds of bodies were retrieved from several disused mine shafts.
The exhumed bodies belonged to victims of Rhodesian atrocities during the war of liberation.
The bodies were left there by Rhodesian forces after carrying out cruel and spiteful reprisals on helpless people whose sole transgression was to support the fight for Zimbabwe’s independence from colonial rule by foreign settlers.
So, celebrating Independence Day in Mount Darwin would be a fair tribute to the sacrifices made by the locals in that area.
Like other Zimbabwean settlements, Mount Darwin’s residents were herded into what were then referred to as “keeps” during the war.
These “keeps” more closely resembled Adolf Hitler’s concentration camps, where prisoners were treated cruelly.
The major reason for incarcerating the residents of Mt Darwin was to isolate freedom fighters by preventing them from interacting with the communities that offered them support and assistance.
Consequently, on this year’s Independence Day, the residents of Mount Darwin will have the chance to consider how the government of Ian Smith imprisoned them in concentration camps behind barbed wire in an attempt to end the war.
The people of Mount Darwin are probably looking forward to this year’s Independence Day because it would be a chance to commemorate and honour the unwavering spirit of resistance they exhibited while supporting their liberation fighters and the fight for independence.
Mt Darwin is again a befitting place for this year’s Independence Day celebrations as it is from that area that revered national hero Cde Wereki Sandiyani, whose Chimurenga name was Philemon Gabela, hailed from.
During the liberation struggle, Cde Sandiyani encountered the enemy in a fierce battle and was shot on the right leg, leading to his capture by Rhodesian forces whereupon he was taken to Jock Mutoko Military Camp for torture.
A butchery meat cutter painfully severed both of Cde Sandiyani’s legs after subjecting him to horrific torture.
It is again in Mt Darwin where revered liberation war heroes such as Cde Rutanhire, Cde Joice Mujuru, Cde Max Kaseke whose Chimurenga name was Chinodakufa, and Cde Onias Garikai Bhosha also known as Cde Gabarinocheka, among many others hailed from.
This shows that Mt Darwin’s sons and daughters sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Zimbabwe.
It further shows that Mt Darwin residents were not spectators during the war, but were active participants.
As President Mnangagwa will light the Independence Flame at Chibondo shrine, the country should applaud the role played by the people of this area as it contributed immensely to the independence of Zimbabwe from British colonial rule.