The legacy of Matenje

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By Dr Irene Mahamba 

THE physical structures were now in place at Matenje Base in Mozambique during the liberation struggle. 

We set out to continue with research, teacher training, curriculum planning and development as well as teaching the young comrades.

Matenje Base, the headquarters of the ZANU Education and Culture Department was headed by Cde Dzingai Mutumbuka, secretary for education and culture and deputised by Cde Sheba Tavarwisa.

Cde Tavarwisa was the founder of the ZANU Education Department at the rear, at Chifombo Zambia. 

Both Cdes Mutumbuka and Tavarwisa were members of the Central Committee. 

The camp commander was Cde Chiridza; camp commissar, Cde Morris; camp security, Cde Zizi, the late liberation war hero Honourable Mukanduri; and the camp medic was comrade Mashayamombe.

Cde Mushatagotsi, aka Ephraim Chitofu, the current director of the Zimbabwe Foundation for Education with Production (ZIMFEP), was the chief research officer, deputised by Cde Fay Chung. 

The school head was Cde Machokoto. 

The teacher education department fell under the Research Unit, so did Curriculum Development. 

There were many of us; research officers, Cde Gale Kanyau aka Mupfururirwa, Cde Paul Rusunguko, Cde Tichatonga aka Stephen Nyengera, Cde Mike Munyati and many others.

I was a research officer with responsibility for curriculum development. 

I continued with my research on Rhodesia’s colonial education system. 

By this time I was much into the topic and had so many discussions with the comrades. 

At this moment, the correlation between the political goals of Rhodesia and its education system shocked me with staggering clarity. 

It became unequivocally clear to me that education had a critical role in fighting colonialism and building a liberated country, a new Zimbabwe. 

I fell in love with education for good.

Early in the morning, we would go for a bath at the river and then it would be time for the 4 am parade. 

After the 8 am parade, we would disperse for classes and other duties. 

That meant going out of the camp, at least three kilometres out of the camp radius, in order to be safe from bombardment by the jets of the Rhodesian terrorists.

My constant companion, when we went for cover each morning, was Cde Kanyau. 

Comrade Kanyau was a trained school teacher, the school playwright and an excellent one at that! 

She was responsible for superb revolutionary plays such as ‘The People are Invincible’ and ‘Black is Beautiful’. 

She not only wrote the plays but produced them with the students, and her productions were masterpieces. 

‘The People are Invincible’ was performed for delegates to the Non-Aligned Meeting in Maputo in late 1979. 

The audience was spellbound. 

Cde Simon Muzenda, the Vice-President, also the Party’s secretary for external affairs, later told us that after the play, the British complained to him that the play exaggerated the brutality of the British, but Cde Muzenda told the British that the students portrayed the reality with the cruelty that it was.

It was during this period of starting over at Matenje that I began writing my first novel, Woman in Struggle, which was later published by ZIMFEP in 1984.

What was going on in my mind at this moment – that the struggle was the answer to the problems bedevilling our society and in this particular moment, I was thinking about this girl, whose life seemed at an end, but the struggle answered her distress call. 

At the back of my mind was what I had been taught all my life; that prostitution was vile, an anathema, thus one of the things that made me fall in love with the comrades at the front was their zero tolerance for prostitutes, male or female.

I was at home with the combatants; not only did they sing with the masses, “Tisaite choupombwe muhondo yeChimurenga!” but they actually punished the prostitutes physically. 

The heroine fell in love with the struggle, because it stood for principles that were so close to her heart; she inevitably joined freedom fighters to protect and pursue a lofty cause.

On ZANU holidays, such as Chitepo Day on March 18 or ZANU Day on August 8, we relived the history of the struggle. This so rejuvenated us and the youngest comrades became ever so ardent in the revolution. 

They understood more deeply each thing that resolutely brought them to the struggle. 

It was a time of awe, as each important development in the struggle was revealed to us. 

Sometimes senior comrades would visit us to give updates on progress at the front. 

These were unforgettable times.

The work of the Research Unit was vibrant. 

Teacher training activities progressed and revolutionary books were produced. 

These books, if read today in our classes, have the capacity to imbue each child with the spirit of Zimbabwe; who they are and what Zimbabwe is all about. 

Cde Kanyau’s plays were masterpieces. 

Cde Simon Matsvai’s political economy book Upfumi Navashandi, which has also been translated into Ndebele, would give our young an excellent grounding in political economy.

The masterpiece, The New Teacher, a compilation of essays from various research cadres on teacher training, is a must-read textbook for our teacher training institutions. 

It is an exceptional ideological radar for our education and nation. 

The classic readers Zimbabwe Is Our Country series Books 1-5, and Svinurai 1-5 were also produced during this period.

We did think through so much. 

We spent so much time planning and preparing what we would do to transform Zimbabwe through education once we got home, after independence.

Some of the books produced during the liberation struggle can still be found at the ZIMFEP Directorate in Belvedere, Harare. 

No doubt ZIMFEP has also, since independence, published many books on the education legacy from the struggle; books such as Schools in the Struggle.

And The Patriot, through this writer, has drawn many articles from the legacy of the struggle – the legacy of Matenje.

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