By Dr Irene Mahamba
IN 1979 a few of us from the Research Unit, including Comrade Kudzai (Taini Mundondo), a member of the General Staff, were sent to Denmark with a group of 40 teacher trainees at the invitation of the DAPP, the Danish Aid From People to People.
The 40 were to pursue a six-month teacher training course.
The Danes were to help us with training in the teaching of practical subjects such as mechanics and agriculture in line with our philosophy of basing teaching and learning on practice and production.
While comrade Kudzai was the most senior Party official and was therefore overall in command of the group, I was overall in charge of teacher training with the Danish assisting us with the practical side.
I was in charge of the teaching of Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology, Pedagogy and, most fundamentally, the ideological orientation of the Teacher Training Programme, our position as ZANU Education Department.
My studies at the University of Botswana (Bachelor Arts Degree and Concurrent Certificate in Education) as well as my work in the Research Unit at the Headquarters of the party’s Education and Culture Department at Gondola and Matenje, as well my work as Comrade Dzingai Mutumbuka’s personal assistant in Maputo had prepared me for these responsibilities.
The group was split into pairs, each pair being assigned to a secondary school where they observed classes, taught classes, and took classes in the teaching of practical subjects.
I was assigned to Twind Secondary School together with comrade Tamisai Mhandu.
Twind was an idyllic setting as it was by the sea, and our arrival in Denmark in April, towards the end of winter, was the best timing; it was possible to enjoy the sea.
Our students were most happy to recreate with us by the sea but most deeply meaningful and exciting was their eagerness to work with us to repair second-hand vehicles that would be shipped to Mozambique to be used as ambulances.
Mechanics was a first for comrade Tamisai and myself but our students and the teachers we were seconded to were excellent teachers; in the shortest time we were able to work with them on the vehicles.
This was a classic example of the superiority of practice and production-based teaching and learning.
We did not only do theoretical course on what an engine looks like, we opened up engines. We had to discover what was not working, understand its relationship to the rest of the engine and worked on the repairs in that context. We fitted in new parts when we decided nothing could be repaired and we proudly restored each vehicle to a working condition and felt very good about it.
We learned the ‘education with production’ way. The Danish teachers and our Danish students were our colleagues. As Paulo Freire would put it, we were not objects in this process but subjects in the teaching and learning process, teaching our students and aIso learning from them.
In the course of the practical training, we repaired several trucks which were later shipped to Mozambique to be used as ambulances. We thus were being trained for an education based on practice and production after independence. After the practical training at Twind, I separated from my group for about three weeks.
Unbeknown to me, the Party had another purpose to my mission in Denmark.
Concurrent with assisting with teacher training, the Party had decided I had to get medical attention to my left leg (which was affected by polio in early childhood as I have mentioned in previous articles).
The leg had been severely strained by life in the camps, mainly the constant harassment by jet bombers causing one to traverse miles to safety.
I had never said anything to anyone about my leg, I just took it as a matter of course, but the party had made its observations and made its decisions.
I later understood that was why the Party had moved me from Matenje to Maputo in late 1978 and for the same reason combined the teacher trainer mission in Denmark with medical treatment.
The DAPP officials did their best. They took me to Arhus Hospital for specialised orthopaedic assessment.
Fortunately, the hospital still had one chief surgeon of a generation of orthopaedists who had direct experience with polio. The scourge of polio had long been eradicated in Denmark.
He told me I was lucky there still was one who could attend to me from direct experience with polio as all his fellow surgeons at the hospital had never seen cases of polio; all they knew about polio was from books.
For his juniors therefore, this was a one in a lifetime chance. Each time he was attending to me the junior surgeons were invited to watch and learn.
The chief surgeon decided to operate on the leg to fuse the ankle joint with a screw (metal) to eliminate friction in the joint under any form of stress, thus eliminating pain. In technical terms the operation was called triple arthrodesis and transfer of perennial tendon.
The operation was three-and-half hours long and the younger surgeons were invited, they were ecstatic about the experience.
So, soon after the operation, before I could leave the recovery room, the surgeon peeped in, beaming, to tell me in my so drowsy state that the operation was very successful.
He was the best doctor one could wish for; it was not just his experience and expertise but also that he truly cared and wished the very best for me, to heal and make life easier from then on.
I was happy, indeed the operation was very successful. 41 years later, the leg never hurts. Indeed he was a specialist orthopaedic chief surgeon.
I stayed in hospital for 10 days and another two weeks at a special convalescent centre which really was more like a holiday resort. The care I received at Arhus Hospital was world class; the DAPP comrades did a splendid job, their very best, I am still able to serve Zimbabwe because of their kind intervention.
It was time to go back for the second component of teacher training as a whole group. It was not just the 40 of us, another group of 40 teacher trainees had just joined us, and they were to have the theoretical component of the teacher training with us, so that they would just be left with the practical training after we left.
This was the time for me to give courses in Educational Foundation grounded in our educational ideology as ZANU, as I described above.
It was a most wonderful time for us, particularly because we were preparing ourselves to be cadres to lead the transformation of education after independence.
We had many discussions among us about teaching and learning in the context of the struggle and our goals for a liberated Zimbabwe.
As we were in this final session for the first group, but first session for the second group, in September 1979, we had a most spectacular visit.
Lancaster House talks had commenced on September 10. Comrade Simon Vengesai Muzenda, the Party’s Vice-President took a break from the talks to visit us while we were thus assembled. It was unbelievable but he did! It was the greatest morale booster for us. He briefed us about the talks at Lancaster, and we felt very positive about going home soon.
Soon after we departed for Mozambique, we had been in Denmark for six months, the second group was to continue with the training in teaching practical subjects.