Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Manicaland Bureau
For decades, their bones have lain, one on top of the other, in mass graves. Their souls wander around, waiting for the day they will “come back home”.
The remains of thousands of gallant sons and daughters who were massacred and butchered by Rhodesian forces during the liberation war that freed Zimbabwe remain in foreign lands, 43 years later.
Chimoio, Nyadzonia, Mkushi, Doiroi, Tembwe and many other places in Mozambique, Zambia and other countries, carry the graves of these heroes and heroines.
Some are marked, others remain unknown, but they exist.
Year after year, war veterans and other officials make trips to these shrines such as Chimoio in Mozambique, sometimes they go as far as Nyadzonia, to pay their respects to the people who sacrificed their lives for the country to be free.
But that might not be enough, according to war veterans in Manicaland.
Over the years, the graves have fallen into a state of disrepair which takes away the dignity that such places deserve.
While government has made efforts to create decent shrines at Chimoio and Nyadzonia, there is still a lot that needs to be done.
Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association Manicaland chairman Cde Gift Kagweda says although there have been plans to rehabilitate the shrines for some years, nothing has happened until now.
The fences have fallen, leaving the graves open for animals to move freely.
With little attention, the grass has grown to cover some of the graves. There is little to talk about in terms of dirt roads that link the numerous graves at Chimoio.
The caretakers can only do so much, especially considering that they are practically working with no pay.
The situation has worsened now because no one can travel to see what is happening there due to Covid-19 lockdowns in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, they can only rely on the caretakers’ reports.
“In Mozambique, nothing has happened so far,” says Cde Kagweda. “The challenge is that there are no funds to carry out the maintenance work needed. But the state these shrines are in is really worrying, especially at Nyadzonia.
“The graves have fallen in, there are no flags and the caretakers have really given up and do not carry out their duties anymore.”
Caretakers at the shrines have no motivation to do their work since they are not being paid enough and on time.
Cde Kagweda says there is need to take seriously the need to give the fallen heroes some semblance of dignity by maintaining the graves.
“For us to be here today, those people had to die,” he says. “They died in a ghastly manner and were given an undignified burial. Why then would it be difficult to give them back that dignity now?
“There is no excuse for such neglect, we should have a budget for these shrines.”
The Chimoio shrines are the resting place of more than 1 000 cadres who were buried in mass graves following a massacre by Rhodesian security forces on November 23, 1977, at the height of the liberation struggle.
That the Chimoio shrines are sacred is not a secret.
Strange sights and sounds have been reported at the site.
Liberation war fighters are said to have been seen and heard marching and singing, flags are said to have been brought down mysteriously during the night and a visitors’ car has been burnt beyond recognition.
Another visitor has been attacked by bees after expressing some negative sentiments about the place.
Blood has been seen oozing from one of the graves and most of these incidents usually have a connection to incidents that will be happening back home in Zimbabwe.
Cde Kagweda says such sacred places deserved to be well taken care of.
War veterans are prepared to volunteer to take care of the shrines on a rotational basis as it was a way of preserving the sacredness of the shrines.
“The shrines are currently under the Ministry of Home Affairs, we need them to be brought under the Ministry of Defence and War Veterans as soon as possible,” says Cde Kagweda. “This way we will have a direct say on how they are maintained.
“We can have a budget for them and if it cannot be done, we as war veterans can volunteer to go there and take care of the shrines. We currently have Mozambicans doing this and their salaries are not coming regularly and they are just working out of the goodness of their hearts. We need to take ownership of our shrines.”
Besides the maintenance and upgrading of the shrines, a bigger question lies unanswered.
Is it not yet time to bring the remains of the liberation war heroes back home?
Some African countries have done it; they have repatriated their fallen heroes. But then, again, with thousands of people lying in hundreds of graves, Zimbabwe might have a tough time to accomplish it.
But, eventually, according to Cde Kagweda, it will have to be done.
“Other countries have taken their heroes and heroines back home for a proper and decent burial,” he says.
“We need to start considering doing this as well. They fought for this country and they died while freeing us, why can’t we bring them back home?
“If we cannot do it now, then let us make sure that their resting place shows that there lies important people.
“Let us not neglect them so that their souls do not continue to be disgruntled. Their souls should rest in peace!”
As Zimbabwe celebrates and enjoys the fruits of independence, it is important not to forget that there are people who sacrificed their lives for the freedom.
Most of those in foreign lands will remain unknown, their spirits wandering, seeking a place to rest.
They remain an important part of Zimbabwe’s independence. Even after four decades!
Lest we forget!