By Emegencey Mwale-Kamtande and Gamuchirai Mugadzaweta Recently in Gweru
AMONG the mangled bodies of children, lives cut short before their prime, dreams snuffed before they could be realised, were inconsolable parents.
The Highfifeld Massacre of March 18 1975 was a barbaric act, one that would lead the world to condemn the illegal Ian Smith regime.
No-one in his/her right mind or those who purported to promote peace and justice would remain silent in the face of such brutal murder.
But who would be the voice of the voiceless?
Who would have the courage to stand up against the Rhodies and demand justice in that space which was wholly defined by injustice.
A fearless African fellow, a barrister, Eddison Chisingaitwi Sithole, became that man who the parents of the victims turned to.
According to Agatha Madamombe, who today resides in Lower Gweru, the massacre was one of their lowest points in the then Rhodesia.
She lost a brother, Marko Madamombe, during the massacre.
He was only 19 years old and in Form Four at Highfield Community School. He was an intelligent boy and the pride of his family.
The still bitter Agatha said she passed through Machipisa Shopping Centre about two hours before the attack and everything seemed normal, with groups of young boys and girls milling peacefully around the shops.
“I passed through Machipisa Shopping Centre on my way home just two hours before the attack. When the attack took place, I was already home and I remember hearing sounds of gunshots but I never suspected it was the harmless and unarmed children being attacked,” said Agatha.
It was only later that we knew what had transpired; the sad turn of events; what was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration ended up a bloodbath.
“And when Marko did not return home that day, the whole family was thrown into a panic. We searched for him all over Highfield in vain. Marko was nowhere to be seen. I accompanied my mother to Highfield Police Station where we were advised to go to what is now Harare Hospital Mortuary.
“The police officers at the station were rude. They told us we were at the wrong place. The ‘terrorists’, referring to the children who had been killed, had been taken to the mortuary. Imagine calling schoolchildren ‘terrorists’.
“I knew then my brother had been murdered. My mother was already in tears.”
Agatha said they proceeded to the mortuary and were among the first people to arrive looking for their children.
“I was shocked when the mortuary was opened. Corpses of young boys and girls were heaped in an undignified manner. We struggled to locate my brother. The process of identification still haunts me to today.
“It took me about 20 minutes of searching to identify my brother. I recognised him through the clothes he was wearing on that fateful day. I could not believe what I saw; muviri wake wakanga wakabvarurwa nemabara epfuti.
“I still can’t understand why the Rhodesians opened live fire on these young boys and girls,” said Agatha.
It is during that bleak moment that the parents decided and vowed that the Rhodesians would not get away with this murder most foul.
That is when the parents approached Sithole, who was not just a fierce black lawyer, but a fiery nationalist.
Sithole, who was in his prime at 40, was a no-nonsense revolutionary.
Having agreed to represent the parents in their quest to seek justice, Sithole planned to engage the international media.
Sadly, the veteran lawyer and nationalist was abducted together with his secretary Miriam Mhlanga on October 15 1975 while leaving the Quill Club at the New Ambassador Hotel, after an interview with some foreign journalists, never to be seen again.
The journalists who had interviewed him revealed that Sithole had vowed to fight for justice for the innocent victims of the Highfield Massacre.
He had said he would lead a commission of inquiry which promised to leave no stone unturned.
But hope for justice was blown to smithereens on that fateful October 15 1975 when Sithole was abducted and was never seen again.
“All grieving parents and relatives wanted the Rhodesians to at least give an explanation as to why they had opened live fire on young boys and girls who were peacefully demonstrating over the death of Chitepo. The only person who could force the Rhodesians to speak about this was Eddison Sithole. The news of his abduction was another devastating blow.
“There is no prize for life; all we wanted was an explanation or at least an apology from the perpetrators,” said Agatha.
Marko’s mother, Eustina Madamombe, could not stand the trauma of the attack and decided to relocate to Gweru.
She said when Advocate Sithole was abducted, the hope for justice was lost.
“The cruel death of my son still haunts me today. I still pray for those children who died at the hands of the Rhodies. Ndinonamatira mweya yevana ivava zuva nezuva kuti mweya yavo iwane zororo. Handikwanisi kudzokera muHighfield nekuti ndangariro dzezvandakaona dzinobva dzadzoka,” she said.