In tears at Freedom Camp

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Recently in Lusaka, Zambia

A CONVOY of five buses left the ZANU PF Headquarters in Harare last week destined for Freedom Camp in Lusaka, Zambia.
It was no ordinary delegation.
In an interesting twist of events, many war veterans’ and collaborators’ children are suddenly keen to know the struggles their parents endured in the process of liberating the country from brutal white colonial rule.
Calling themselves the ‘vanguards of the revolution’, the Children of Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (CZNLWVA) and Zimbabwe Liberation War Collaborators Association (ZILIWACO Trust) organised themselves for this historic trip.
The Patriot was part of the delegation.
During the liberation struggle the Freedom Camp primarily hosted Zimbabweans that crossed the border into Zambia to receive military training.
However, Freedom Camp although in Zambia is dear to Zimbabweans as much as Chimoio, Nyadzonia, Tembwe and Doiroi in Mozambique or Morogoro in the then Tanganyika, now Tanzania.
It was on October 28 1978 in Zambia when Rhodesians through an air raid killed over 400 Zimbabweans at Freedom Camp, a farm that former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda had given to liberation movements including FRELIMO, SWAPO and ZAPU, among others.
However, by 1975 the camp was run by ZAPU’s military wing ZPRA.
Currently Zambian national Amos Jirira owns the farm where Freedom Camp is located.
Freedom Camp is now a shrine and the mass graves are there for all to see.
There is also a list of the victims who lie at the shrine.
The children of war veterans wanted to see all this and were given a perfect chance last week.
One could see their curiosity as they jostled to see names of their fallen heroes.
On the list are the likes of D. Ngwenya, G Ncube, J. Magadlela, L. Nkomo, K. Magaya, M. Siziba, M. Mlauzi, M. Moyo, M. Mlilo, M. Mpoko, E. Tshuma and D. Matenga among others.
So engrossed were the children such that they ‘forgot’ about the delay at the border caused earlier largely by the national chairman of the CZNLWVA, Innocent Mhlanga who had ‘vanished’ with our passes only to eventually show up drunk.
We had arrived at Kariba Border Post on Saturday morning, but regretably because of Mhlanga and his accomplices, we ended up crossing the border into Zambia at 8pm.
We eventually arrived in the wee hours of Sunday.
Somehow I felt agitated, but at home.
My grandfather left Zambia in 1930, as a young man in search of greener pastures in the then Southern Rhodesian (now Zimbabwe).
He never returned to Zambia.
Then my father, Martin Mwale passed through Freedom Camp before going for military training at Chimbi-Chimbi Camp in Zambia.
Fortunately he came back home after the war, but tens of thousands died at the hands of Rhodesians, a people who were not prepared to let go of the land that they had stolen in the first place.
Zambia has changed and one thing you can’t help, but notice about Lusaka is the massive infrastructural development, from the roads to the buildings.
And like Zimbabweans, Zambians are peace-loving.
Perhaps that is why one vendor I came across, Mary Mwanza was quick to criticise South Africans as violent people unlike Zimbabweans.
“You are Mwale-Kamtande, a Ngoni from Chipata,” she said.
“Now see how these Rhodesians separated us, we are one people, but their fence separates us.”
Other vendors who heard of our visit to Freedom Camp, began singing songs praising President Robert Mugabe.
“We love President Mugabe, he is the President of Africa,” they said.
On our way to the Zimbabwean embassy we got lost.
We sought help at a police station, but something interesting happened.
Having informed the police we were headed for Freedom Camp, one officer took me to his office and showed me an old shocking and disturbing 10-minute video clip of the Freedom Camp attack.
“Lusaka Tower, this is Green Leader,” one Rhodie in a plane about to commit a genocide shouts.
“How do you read?
“This is a message from the Rhodesian Air Force to Mumbwa Air base Commander.
“We are about to attack ‘terrorists’ bases.
“This attack is against Rhodesian dissidents.
“Rhodesians have no problem with Zambians, and I repeat, Rhodesians have no problem with Zambians.
“We therefore ask you not to intervene or oppose our attack.”
Scores of bombs are then released from the bellies of the Canberas, leaving behind a trail of disaster.
We left the police station in a huff with directions to the embassy and were taken to Freedom Camp by the Zimbabwean Defence Attaché at the embassy Colonel Conrwell Jiyani, a survivor of the air raid.
He gave us the history of Freedom Camp and narrated the Rhodesian air raid on October 28 1978.
Everyone was left in tears.
Apparently many people at the camp on the fateful day had come from Namupundwe and Victory Camps for medical check-ups before proceeding to Angola for military training.
“Rhodesians attacked the camp at exactly 8am,” he said.
“Six Canberas flew across the camp from the north-east direction dropping bombs.
“The Canberras were followed by helicopters that finished the job.
“The Rhodesian Air Force was done in about 15 minutes.”
People died because they were defenceless, said Col Jiyani.
“When the Rhodesians attacked it was no longer a training camp,” he said.
“It was now a transit camp.
“Female recruits would pass through on their way to Victory Military Camp on the west side of Lusaka.
“Male recruits would also pass through enroute to Namupundwe Military Training Camp.”
Col Jiyani said after the gruesome raid, the Rhodesians flew northwards to Old Mukushi, a female base with only a few male soldiers for security.
“At this base the Rhodies killed almost all the female cadres and men who were there,” he said.
“Only a few cadres were spared and for three days, female freedom fighters were raped,” he said.
“The Rhodesians left Mkushi Camp on November 23 1978.
“There are also mass graves there where our brave female cadres were buried.”
The secretary-general for ZILIWACO Trust, Gabriel Togarepi said it was crucial for the Zimbabwean Government to safeguard Freedom Camp.
“This shrine is our heritage and we must protect it so there is every need for us as a country to maintain it because as you can see, unlike in Chimoio our National Flag is even missing here,” he said.
“This is the evidence of Rhodesian brutality and as we celebrate Heroes Day in a few weeks’ time, we must also remember those who lie at this shrine.”

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