The Herald

The story of Mutekedza Chiwashira

Stanely Mushava Features Correspondent
Acharging regiment closes in on Mambo Mutekedza Chiwashira’s stronghold, gunning for the wartime leader’s head. The settler forces demand the surrender of the warrior-chief of Vuhera, short of which they threaten to kill his captured heir.

Chiwashira emerges from his underground tunnel and surrenders to the white soldiers to avert further crossfire.

The warrior has been placed on death row by the British Overseas Military Administration (BOMA) for leading the resistance against settler rule.

The chief is tied to a horse like a trailer and dragged by the galloping stallion to the colonial prison at Fort Charter, where he arrives dead.

The atrocity plays out in full view of the Vuhera people, to strike fear into them and make them docile subjects of the enemy.

A few days after, he is beheaded along with other iconic leaders of native resistance to white settlers including Mapondera, Chingaira, Mashayamombe and Mashonganyika.

The heads are taken as trophies to Britain, where they are to this day, and put on display as relics of settler victory over black people.

During the same time, thousands of blacks imprisoned at Fort Charter are burnt to death on stakes, and their charred remains interred in a mass grave, known as Dhorongo. To date, the mass grave at Chikomba (translated pit) is an indictment on the evil imperialist dispensation, that ironically wants to be credited for ushering in civilisation.

The Herald tracked down senior descendants of the decapitated chief in Harare and Chikomba for a reconstruction of Chiwashira’s wartime experiences and their response to the display of the chief’s head in a British museum.

The official allegation posthumously levelled against Chiwashira at the settlers’ kangaroo court, however, is that he took a white man’s wife, a charge his descendants refute as colonial conspiracy to disfigure the memory of a Shona hero.

Tichadii Ziwenga Chiwashira (61) believes the first fraud was the distortion of Chiwashira’s biography by the settlers: “Revisionist history alleges that Chiwashira was a rapist who forcibly took a white man’s wife, but that is nowhere near the truth,” Ziwenga said.

“Chiwashira’s real ‘crime’ was that he stood up against the British plunderers and successfully waged two battles against them at Nhororiya and Zuru in 1896, before falling at the third one.”

The slain hero was also known as Masarirambi, a name which spoke to his heroic attributes as a warrior. The name was a combination of masirira (left behind) and impi (for raiders).

He had defended his land against his invaders while his brother Nyashanu moved to present-day Buhera.

“Before the coming of the British and Dutch settlers, he traded with the settlers so he had firearms which enabled him to resist the white colonialists. They fought him three times and brutally killed him at the third battle,” Ziwenga said.

As to where the white-woman rape account came from, Ziwenga argues that it is a maliciously twisted version of what actually happened.

“A white man left his wife in the chief’s custody while he went about exploring the land. At that time the whites had lied that their only purpose was to hunt and return to their land.

“While the white man was roaming, his wife was bitten by lice and asked for help from others at the kraal. The chief’s people shaved the woman’s head bald to eliminate the hair which harboured the lice.

“Upon return, the white man wrongly accused the chief of violating his wife but could not take any action against him since Chiwashira was a feared warrior. The rape account only took force as a posthumous justification of why he was killed,” Ziwenga said.

Ziwenga wrote a letter to the British Queen, dated June 14, 2013, demanding that the head of the chief be repatriated from Britain to Zimbabwe, compensation be made to Zimbabweans whose wealth was plundered and that an apology be made for black women who were raped by British settlers.

Another descendant of Chiwashira, Chief Mutekedza, born Andrew Zhakata 43 years ago, believes that Chiwashira, along with other heroes of the First Chimurenga, must have their place at the National Heroes Acre.

“We have been claiming artefacts from former colonisers because we acknowledge their importance to us as a people,” Chief Mutekedza said.

“However, as long as our ancestors are not repatriated, it is wrong to give priority to objects no matter how important they are.

“We need to bring these heroes home from the wilderness and give them the homage they deserve. They first kindled the fire of resistance and, therefore, they have an irreplaceable stake in our history as a people,” he said.

“We are happy that Government has begun the process of bringing back those heads. That is what should have been emphasised from the beginning. If a son dies earlier than the father, when the family builds memorial tombs for them, they start with the father, even if he passed on later,” Mutekedza said.

“How then can we have later heroes being given homage when we are in danger of losing the history of our earlier heroes and are not in possession of their remains? What the whites did was to disempower us and rob us of our history. When we won back the country, we must have also done everything in our power to reclaim our identity,” he said.

Another descendant of the slain hero, Enoch Mandengu (91), said the First Chimurenga heroes exhibited incredible courage considering that the invading foreigners were incomparably better equipped.

“The closest most of our ancestors had to the Maxim were improvised guns which they used for shooting birds and squirrels. Their traditional weapons such as spears, bows and arrows were no match for the enemy’s guns and horses.

“To stand up against such an enemy was the ultimate show of courage. Even though the heroic ancestors were brutally taken out by the enemy in the most inhuman way possible, they are victors in that they refused to cede their dignity to foreigners.

“They were touchy about their honour and would not be other men’s mules. We honour their sacrifice and their example. They also won because they were the inspiration behind the Second Chimurenga,” he said.

Naison Regis Marimira (67), who also traces his genealogy to Chiwashira, said he was a collaborator in the Second Chimurenga, not only because of the unacceptable living conditions of the colonial era, but also because of his ancestor’s example.

Marimira said heroes like Mambo Chiwashira had a special place in the history of the country and failure to acknowledge them means ceding our identity to colonial conspiracy.

Kumire Musasiwa (89) said the whites had maliciously branded blacks as savages in order to cover up for their own atrocities. He appealed to historians to rehabilitate heroes like Masarirambi and give them the place they deserve.

The elders among Chiwashira’s descendants said they needed the remains of their ancestor back and want the Government to give him a place at the national shrine among his contemporaries.