Back home at last

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Finally it was time to come home. Amai Chitepo had come through from Tanzania and we had spent the last few days packing party materials that we were to take home.

It was time. We boarded Leneas Areas De Mozambique, the Mozambique national airline on the morning of June 8, 1980. It was not just I and Mai Chitepo, a number of comrades were on the plane, all of us going home.

It was magic, I was numb with joy; when you are too full of joy and it overwhelms you, you become too deeply quiet.

We did not say much if anything… the plane took off,  west bound. We were quiet, arrested by the impending fulfilment, feeling perhaps the way the groom waits for the bride to arrive for the wedding vows.

We did arrive, the plane circled Salisbury Airport preparing to land, then it touched down, touched the soil of Zimbabwe. It was electric, unbelievable, but all this remained inside us, it was not possible to utter anything. As it came to a stop, before we were instructed to unfasten our seat belts, one comrade stood up, and walked down the aisle singing;

We are going

Heaven knows where we are going

We know we will

The airline attendants had to let him be; they could not interrupt the joy and ecstasy of a comrade come home.

And then the joy exploded in us, this was the trigger needed to liberate the joy that was arrested in us.

We started congratulating each other, talking to each other and then we disembarked. Our feet touched the soil of Zimbabwe; it’s not possible to describe the feeling, we could have ululated but the moment still overwhelmed us.

There were no relatives on the balcony to wave and welcome us home, it was ZANLA coming home, there were party officials to meet us and take us where the party had decided we should ensconce, our ‘Assembly Points.’

We were taken to a building on Enterprise Road, 130 Enterprise I seem to remember. There were many comrades at this residence; at least 30, this was to be our new home, until further notice.

There was life here, we were so happy, we soon merged with the rest of the comrades at this party residence and started our life in Zimbabwe as ZANLA still.

There was no anxiety or worry about when to meet our families. We were still ZANLA cadres, encamped at the party’s behest, waiting for orders from our commanders. We were home yes, but still forces on duty.

A week or so later, I was assigned to a new ‘Assembly Point’ a party residence close to Chisipiti Shopping Centre. Party officials would visit us at these residences but each residence had its own line of command as in the camps; the overall commander, the commissar, the medic, the logistician and so on. We organised ourselves in teams to clean and cook, everything ran smoothly as it had always done in the camps. We were used to the collective life, this was just a different location. We were in camp and we stayed there, awaiting orders from the party, we were at peace as soldiers should be.

We were not counting the days wondering when we would meet our families, we knew we would meet our families sooner than later, but we were forces on duty, we would await orders.

A few weeks went by while we continued thus with our new life in Zimbabwe, and then one early evening I got the surprise of my life. 

I was told, Ropa you have visitors outside. I went outside and there before my very eyes was my dream come true… My father was there in the company of another gentleman. I flew into my father’s arms. It’s not possible to describe how I felt.  I greeted the other gentleman who was then introduced to me as vaSandura (he was Advocate Wilson Sandura).

I asked my father where my mother was. She had remained at the Sandura home in Harare with Mrs Sandura and family my father told me. This was rather strange, my mother and father always did everything together, and one would expect that in respect of such an important occasion as the coming of their daughter home from the struggle they would be together. They were always together that friends and relatives had nicknamed them ‘Solo naMutsai’. In the family we often said they would die together since they never separate.

I was puzzled how my father and Comrade Sandura had known where to find me, which ‘Assembly Point’ I was in but I should not have wondered too far… Comrade Muzenda had contacted my parents through Advocate Sandura who was friends with my parents. Comrade Muzenda had briefed the two about my location. I thus had been cleared to leave the ‘Assembly Point’. I informed the ‘camp commanders’ and said goodbye to them and to the rest of the comrades I had befriended in those few weeks, collected my ‘kit-bag’ and left with my father and Comrade Sandura.

When we got to the Sandura home, my mother was there with Mrs Sandura and their children. She ululated, embracing me, there was so much joy but nothing could be said for a while. When I asked my mother why she had not come to collect me with my father and Comrade Sandura, she said that she did not believe it was true I was still alive. She thought they could not tell her directly that I had died in the struggle so she had told my father and Comrade Sandura to go and collect my coffin, she could not face it. These had been excruciating moments for her but fortunately for her, it turned out her fears were not necessary, but what about the thousands of mothers who anxiously waited for news of their sons and daughters, and the many who never received good news about their children, it is a traumatic chapter in our history.

The Sanduras had prepared a beautiful homecoming and reunion with my family. Mrs Sandura had prepared a sumptuous dinner, we celebrated and feasted late into the night. My first drink of choice that night was half a glass of Chibuku topped with Coca-cola, it was quite nice. 

We stayed in Harare for some days as guests of the Sandura family, it was a special time; the Sandura family did everything to make this the grand home coming for a guerilla girl. During this time we had a chance to visit Comrade Muzenda at his home. My parents expressed thanks for everything the party had done for me during the struggle and the part Comrade Muzenda had personally played in my life in the struggle. Comrade Muzenda recounted the Denmark treatment arrangements and expressed satisfaction that the treatment the party sought had been very successful. Those were happy moments.

After this beautiful first stage of reunion with my parents, we took the bus home to Gutu, Bhasera T/Ship, where I had grown up. My parents ran a General dealer’s shop at the T/Ship. 

The rest of the family was there, Clemence, Vero, Conie, Joe, Tenderoyashe, Andrew, Fungai and Leopold Memory Pfungwa. Mary and Matilda were at nursing school in England. Mkoma Leornard, Innocent, Nicholas, Michael and Fabian and their families joined us later.

My father slaughtered an ox to celebrate my home coming, to thank the Lord for my safe return, it was a joyous time. Fr. Augustine Urayayi, the priest whom I had written to inform my parents that I had left for the struggle also joined us, and he said a thanksgiving Mass.

The celebrations went on for days, for weeks, the family could not believe I had survived and I was back with them, I was still in a state of ‘shock. Relatives, friends of the family would stop by and join in, they would bring presents. It was like being a bride for the longest time.

Soon word came through that there was a demobilisation allowance for all comrades. We went back to Harare with my mother and father. We still ensconced at the Sandura home.

The Assembly Point where we were to report to was quite some distance out of Harare. When I got there around 10 a.m., there were masses of comrades who were lined up to collect their demobilisation allowances. I wondered if I could get through before the end of the day.

However, as I approached the gate, Comrade Rex Nhongo, who was at the gate with other comrades called out to me: “Here is my friend, my little sister, come.” He took me to the front of the line and I received my allowance and soon. I was on my way back to Harare. He had made it very easy for me. I re-joined my family at the Sandura home.

Because of the war my parents had closed their shops, both the one at Bhasera T/Ship and the one at Dabwa T/Ship.  

The supplies in the shops had been used by the family in supporting the struggle. I therefore gave my parents the 700 dollars demobilisation allowance to restock the shops so they could generate income to look after the family and pay school fees for my younger siblings who were all still at school except for Fungai (6) and Leo (4).

Everything was special it was wonderful to be home.

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