THERE is an elderly whiteman in his 70s in Bulawayo.
He moves from one street to another begging for food.
Like others do, at times I throw some coins in his hat.
He gets drunk from some cheap spirits, but as I passed by him last week I saw him reading a copy of last year’s issue of The Patriot.
I was curious so I stopped and threw some coins in his hat as usual.
This time he was not drunk but was deeply engrossed in the paper.
I asked him what he found interesting.
He looked up to me and said everything in the paper was so interesting.
He pulled a jute sack next to him and I was shocked to see more than twenty copies of this newspaper.
I offered to buy him a small bottle of brandy and he kindly obliged but after I told him that I wanted to know about him.
I shall call him Marshal (not real name).
He was born in South Africa of British parents. He came to then Rhodesia in 1969 and was conscripted in the Rhodesian army in 1972.
He was a captain and he crudely admitted to torturing and killing black people with Selous Scouts.
Ironically, the veranda of the building he sleeps on leads to David Coltart’s offices.
Marshal was married to an artiste who worked at the Bulawayo Club and they had four children.
He does not remember what went wrong although he guessed they were somewhere in the UK or South Africa.
“I never thought life would be so miserable,” he said.
“Soon after the war, I was demobilised and I bought a house in the suburbs, although most of my former friends went out of the country.
“Somehow I felt safe here.
“If I had gone outside this country, I would not have survived.”
Marshal sold his house to an employee of the National Railways of Zimbabwe and spent all his money on booze and women.
His wife and children left him but he did not care to follow them as he spent most of his time hanging out with some ex-Rhodesian soldiers at the Legion Club.
“The forgiving and hospitable nature of black people still gives me hope because the majority of them gave me shelter and food and up to now all the people who seem to care about me are blacks,” he said.
“Whites just taunt me and ask me to go back home, but I want to die here in the streets of Bulawayo I know I will be decently buried.”
Marshal regrets what he did to the people who now care for him.
“I think black Zimbabweans in particular are so forgiving,” he said.
“After what we did to them during the war, I don’t think there would be a single whiteman remaining in this country.
“I wish I could see President Mugabe personally to apologise for what we did to blacks during the war.”
The whiteman spends most of his time in the Centenary Park during the day, where he hangs out with some of his coloured friends.
I left Marshal to mind his own business as there were a number of curious pedestrians who had gathered to listen to what we were talking about.
But from the 20 or so minutes I spoke to him, I saw a man troubled and haunted by his past.
I also learnt how forgiving we are as a nation.
Marshal, together with other former white Rhodies were the flip side of the liberation struggle and they massacred thousands of innocent people and dumped them in mass graves around the country as it became inevitable that they were losing the war.
The victims were villagers and supporters of black nationalists killed by special units such as the Selous Scouts of the former white minority Government.
Marshal admitted the Smith regime’s soldiers were entirely responsible for the deaths of thousands of Zimbabweans now lying in some of the 218 mass graves around the country.
Poisons were often introduced by the Rhodesians and enemy agents into both refugee and military camps. Many people died from poison soaked in jeans and T-shirts which caused bleeding from the nose, mouth and ears.
It was later discovered there was a unit experimenting with poison in Salisbury (now Harare) and that tests were conducted on captured guerillas in Mount Darwin and elsewhere with an unknown number of causalities.
Perhaps that explains the 72 mass graves in Mashonaland Central Province.
The effects of the poisons are still being felt and are still killing former liberation war fighters 37 years after Independence.
Questions were also being raised by some missionaries and a large section of the African population about the conduct of the Rhodesian forces in a number of incidences where people were being killed, including the murder of four Dominican nuns and three Jesuit priests at St Paul’s Mission near Musami, some 50 kilometres north east of Harare.
A deserter from the Rhodesian Army, Gordon Thomas Wood, told a British newspaper that it was in the interest of the Rhodesian that missionaries should be stopped from helping blacks.
It was common knowledge that Selous Scouts wiped out the missionaries at Musami. He produced his army boots, the soles of which matched the footprints of the killers as shown in the press photographs.
Wood had spent seven months in the army and said he left because of his atrocities.
He said he had killed 16 people.
“One soldier called me a murderer for shooting two black men who turned out not to have weapons. But they were out during curfew and you can’t say ‘excuse me do you have a gun or grenade?’ You shoot first and ask questions later if you want to continue living. Even so, its all wrong. The curfew begins in daylight hours, 6pm when people are still working. Dozens of innocent people are knocked off during curfew hours. The army puts it to ‘terrorists’ running away,” recalled Woods.
THERE is an elderly whiteman in his 70s in Bulawayo.