Chimoio, Viscounts and Sylvester …remembering war atrocities


SOMETIME between late 1978 and early 1979, Sylvester, a 12-old-boy, was shot dead for sport by a couple of bored soldiers on a kopje overlooking the family’s maize fields in Unyetu.
Sylvester was, together with his mum and siblings, weeding a maize crop.
All the family recall was Sylvester going down in a ball of dust to the accompaniment of gunshot sound.
As the shocked and grief-stricken family wailed, the Rhodesian soldiers delighted in their marksmanship.
By the evening, Sylvester had joined Combined Operations Headquarters statistics of terrorists killed in action.
Meanwhile Sylvester’s family groaned in helplessness and bitterness.
A year later in 1980, new Prime Minister Cde Robert Mugabe announced the policy of national reconciliation.
Inspired either by this or the yoke of forgiveness and magnanimity that our culture imposes on us, Sylvester’s family moved on into the independence dispensation without any hard feelings.
Maybe they left Sylvester to fight his own battles.
Maybe Sylvester eventually disposed these two Rhodesians of their looted farms.
Maybe yes.
Of course Keith Nell, author of Viscount Down, an emotive and commemorative book on the 1978-9 Rhodesian Viscount downing by ZIPRA forces would not be aware of the cold blooded murder of Sylvester.
Or if he was, for many a Sylvester met this fate, he would not put a black murder at par with murder of a white.
He writes:
“In a cruel twist of fate, the miracle that there were crash site survivors turned into one of the most heinous acts of barbarity known to mankind.
“When the SAS parachuted into the crash site the following morning, a grizzly scene awaited them.
“Nearby the wreckage lay the bodies of women, children and a baby who survived the crash landing, only to be bayoneted, and shot to death.”
Neither would have Kate Hoey known or cared about Sylvester.
In 2013 Kate Hoey, as Labour MP in the UK, moved a motion for February 12, the day the plane was shot down by ZIPRA fighters, to be given official commemoration day recognition.
Predictably, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu warmed to the idea and sent a short prayer and message of goodwill for the 2013 memorial service.
While Keith Nell, Kate Hoey and Desmond Tutu many never have heard of the cold blooded murder of Sylvester, they certainly came across the story of the Chimoio massacres that took place on November 23 1977, just over a year before the downing of the Viscount.
That piece of news skipped me in the village, but was all brought to life in a moving account on national television by the late Eddison Zvobgo.
His sobs and the gruesome pictures of the heinous act perpetrated by Rhodesian soldiers on refugees and the infirm, more than anything else, converted the hearts and minds of many neutrals against Rhodesians and their puppets.
Whereas Keith Nell has sought to create and immortalise Rhodesian victimhood and quest for justice, a son of the soil, Rtd Brigadier General Dr Felix Muchemwa, in his soon to be launched book, The Struggle for Land in Zimbabwe, walks us through some of the atrocities that make the Viscount downings pale in comparison.
The following excerpts put into context Zvobgo’s public sobs:
“The tour of post-attack Chimoio was a doctor’s nightmare.
“The carnage was worse than Nyadzonia.
“The majority, over a thousand, had died on the parade grounds from high velocity shrapnel from the bombs.
“The bodies were mangled, with injuries to the head, neck, chest and abdomen resulting in blown out chests and eviscerated bowels.
“Ghastly traumatic amputations of limbs were also common among the dead and almost all survivors of the bombing had shrapnel injuries to limbs.”
Keith Nell and kin are moved to tears by reports that a baby that survived the downing of the Viscount was hacked to death by guerillas.
Conveniently they will not recall what happened to children at Vatoto base during the Chimoio attack:
“At Chindunduma Base hundreds of children had been caught by both cluster and napalm bombs while they were still on morning parade.
“Around mid-day, the SAS quickly advanced towards the tented base and children who had survived the morning bombing had rushed towards them, crying for help, and almost every one of the children had got a pistol bullet between their eyes.”
Surely Kate Hoey, there can never be a worse war crime than such cold blooded murder of defenceless toddlers.
I had seen the trait in the two soldiers that gunned down Sylvester.
As if the Chindunduma atrocity was not enough the Rhodesians moved to a base of disabled combatants.
Muchemwa recalls:
“Most of the amputee comrades at the Percy Ntini base could not move quickly enough away from the parade ground and had therefore been decimated by the initial cluster and napalm bombing.
“Around 0800 hours some of the disabled survivors had run into an RLI ambush and were all killed.”
May someone please tell the ‘good cleric’ Desmond Tutu that Rhodesian genocide prefaced the Viscount downing?
The Viscount tragedy is made in heaven compared to the brutality displayed at Parirenyatwa Hospital base, again captured by Muchemwa:
“Hundreds of patients at Parirenyatwa Base Hospital had been burnt to death while still inside their barrack-rooms by both ordinary fire and napalm.
“During their sweep, the SAS who passed through Parirenyatwa Hospital Base had found an ambulance which Dr Muchemwa had intended to use to carry patients to Beira that morning.
“The patients were still squashed, hiding inside the ambulance, believing they would be spared since the ambulance was clearly marked with a Red Cross emblem.
“All of the patients were shot mercilessly inside the ambulance.”
To those that downed the Viscounts yours was small drama compared to the Chimoio massacre.
At Nehanda Base, Muchemwa notes the following:
“The major drama had taken place at the Nehanda Base where one of the thatched barracks had survived the fire from other barracks.
“Female comrades, most of them fully dressed, had crowded inside the barrack for cover when the SAS found them.
“The SAS had literally executed the young girls and women, one by one.
“Hundreds of them!
“For almost one hour, from around 1400 hours, their M16 rifles had been heard firing non-stop.”
The hacking of the Viscount baby is comparable to the shooting of Sylvester.
The massacres and atrocities at Chimoio is the sort of stuff that should interest the gentlemen at The Hague.
Our spirituality tells us all these comrades did not suffer and die in vain.


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