Village girls reunite with their families 44 years on
Isdore Guvamombe Reflections
As the evening slept away in Watsomba, two teenage girls bade farewell to their parents and left Nyakatsapa Village to feed freedom fighters holed up at a base on the mountain foot.
With baskets of hot food delicately balancing on their heads and five-litre containers of water on one hand, the two friends Emilia Mangere and Susan Chamburuku sauntered bravely past stunted bush shrubbery on the edge of the village then fox-trotted past savannah grasslands, a deep valley and up a ridge.
A galaxy of stars helped the moon light the night. For some strange reason or the other, the stars kept their distance as if to respect and give space to their senior — the moon.
All the same, they combined well and dim-lit the way for the girls. Since this night in 1976, Emilia and Susan were never seen by their parents and relatives, again. At independence in 1980, when other freedom fighters, war collaborators and detainees trooped back home from assembly points and jail, Emilia and Susan did not return.
Their expectant parents counted days, but the days turned into moons and moons into years, years into decades, but they did not come back.
They were swallowed by the war. They were swallowed by their country. Zimbabwe!
It was only three weeks ago that Emilia’s mother Clara Mangere, now a frail 84-year-old granny, received unexpected emissaries from the Fallen Heroes Trust, police and National Museums and Monuments.
“I was shocked to see these people at my home. After some greetings they announced that the remains of my daughter Emilia and her friend Susan had been exhumed from a deep shaft at Adwell Mine in Chiwere, Rusape together with 298 other freedom fighters, war collaborators and villagers.
“Instead of crying, I was overwhelmed with joy. It brought closure and finality to her whereabouts. I did not want to die without knowing what happened to my daughter,’’ says Gogo Mangere.
Indeed, the exhumation of 300 remains of liberation war victims at Adwell Mine, brought relief to Gogo Mangere who for the past 44 years did not know the whereabouts of her daughter.
Even death could not separate two friends, Emilia and Susan. The two were positively identified as they were carrying their Rhodesian national identity cards.
“My daughter and her friend, Susan, were in Grade Seven at Nyakatsapa Primary School and were also liberation war collaborators when we last saw them doing their war errands in 1976.
“Over the years, I have lost my husband and two sons, but the pain of not knowing where my daughter was buried was continuously giving me nightmares.
“Even if I am to die today, I will rest peacefully in my grave because I would have seen her getting a decent burial,” she said while sitting next to the coffin carrying Emilia’s remains.
The two were buried at Nyakatsapa Village last Friday, bringing closure to the mystery behind their disappearance and subsequent deaths.
The pair’s remains are among those that were recently retrieved at Ardwell Mine in Chiwere with the assistance of the Zimbabwe Fallen Heroes’ Trust, Department of National Museums and Monuments, traditional leaders, war veterans and Destiny of Mineral and Agricultural Consultants.
The exhumation process was arduous as it took more than two years to complete. Evidence from the exhumations shows that the Rhodesian forces used the shaft to stash bodies of freedom fighters, collaborators and villagers they captured.
There is evidence of some of the victims having passed through hospitals and clinics before being stashed there.
The brutality is very astounding as some had their hands and legs tied together by wire.
At one time, the process had to be abandoned after 107 bodies had been exhumed due to policy flaws as well as lack of resources.
Among the remains, 128 were successfully reconstructed and were buried in different graves, while the remaining 172 were buried in a mass grave.
Chief exhumer, Mr Anyway Chinyani said they were guided by the spirits of the departed cadres to help them positively identify and reconstruct the remains.
He said some of them even provided contact details of their relatives, who were also part of the reburial gathering.
The latest reburials bring to 397 the total number of fallen heroes that have been buried at Matumba Six near Mutare, prompting calls for the shrine to be given national status.
Manicaland Provincial Affairs Minister Dr Ellen Gwaradzimba says there is need to accord the shrine national status as part of preserving the liberation struggle’s history which is slowly dying with those who participated in the struggle.
“We need to document our history of the liberation struggle for the sake of our children.
“We are still expecting more reburials here and we call upon the responsible authorities to accord this shrine a national status.
“We are grateful that some families have managed to reunite with their loved ones after so many years of trying to get leads of where they were buried,” she said.
To date, there are many Zimbabweans who wish to see closure and finality on their relatives who died during the liberation struggle at the hands of Rhodesia.
The fallen Heroes Trust is overwhelmed and needs support in terms of policy and indeed in terms of resources to execute more exhumations.
The wounds of the struggle can only be healed when finality and closure are reached.