Priscilla’s father: The forgotten hero

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IN my last article I promised I would write more about Priscilla’s father who was incarcerated at Whawha and Gonakudzingwa during the 1960s and 1970s.
I also said Priscilla was a pseudonym in respect of the family’s right to anonymity. However, this week Priscilla said I could continue to write her father’s full story.
The name of the forgotten hero, however, is known to The Patriot.
Priscilla is currently in America where she is attending the Black History Month, where, ironically, she sees how African-Americans celebrate and honour their civil rights heroes such as Martin Luther King Junior.
Priscilla decided that she should also tell her father’s story.
I (SC) caught up with Priscilla (PC) over the phone and this is what she said about her father.
SC: Can you tell me about your father.
PC: My father’s name was Peter Chingono* (pseudonym).
I don’t know the date and month he was born, but he was born in 1924 in Manyene, his mother’s birthplace.
However, he later relocated to Mhondoro where his father came from.
He went to school in Manyene, but I have forgotten the name of the school.
He was related to the late Enos Chikowore, so they were influencing each other in terms of politics.
My father came from a very poor family, as most African families in Rhodesia. He worked for his school fees and paid for his education.
He taught briefly at St Johns Matarutse in Mhondoro before he went to Salisbury where he worked in factories.
I don’t know why he left teaching, but it was during his work in Salisbury factories that he became more politicised, conscientised.
He met members of the ANC and later joined the ANC.
He also met Edgar Tekere, and Enos Chokowore again, Hebert Chitepo, Josiah Chinamano and other nationalists.
They joined ZAPU and became very politically active.
That’s when the family ordeal started, the incarceration.
He was in Whawha Prison sometime just before 1966, but in 1966, he was transferred to Gonakudzingwa.
Gonakudzingwa was a political restriction camp in the middle of a game park where there were lions, hyenas and other dangerous animals so that prisoners would not escape.
SC: So how did this affect your mother, in particular?
How many children did she have at the time?
PC: It affected her very much.
1966 was probably the worst year for her.
My father had a child before he married mother.
So in 1966 mother was caring for two children on her own, her first born, a daughter and my father’s own.
They were both going to school.
She did not get any help from relatives.
Mother said she would buy a blanket and cut it in two so that both children would share, a piece each.
She couldn’t afford to buy two blankets.
She worked in people’s fields, vachiita maricho.
She couldn’t get a job.
After the children went to school, she would go and work in other peoples’ fields.
Her brothers wouldn’t help her.
No one wanted to help her because they did not want to be involved.
Helping her would have attracted the wrath of the Rhodesian Security forces on them.
SC: So did she get a chance to visit your father?
PC: Yes, she did.
The wives of the prisoners were allowed to visit their husbands, but mother said they could not afford the train fares so she would go here and there, when she afforded the train fares.
She told us that boarding the goods train, which took them to Gonakudzingwa, was an ordeal on its own.
They called the goods train ‘Sarahura’, meaning ‘kufamba wakabatira ura mumaoko’, because if you fell from the train that would be the end of you.
You would be killed by the hungry animals.
At the prison they would be allowed to see their husbands.
Whatever they discussed with them, it had to be in English because the prison guards wanted to hear everything.
They would also be allowed to spend a ‘night’ with their husbands, but there was no privacy.
It was during one of the visits and one of those nights that my brother, who was born in 1966, was conceived.
He will be 50 this year.
My mother named him ‘Masango’, meaning the ‘one conceived in the bush’, or it could also mean one who was born in the bush.
I don’t know.
Masango is like father.
He became a father figure to all of us.
SC: When was he released from Gonakudzingwa?
PC: He was released some time in 1967.
He was in prison on and off.
I was conceived during the time that he was released, most of the children were conceived in between his incarceration and release, but he was now very ill.
He was tortured in jail and never shared his experiences with anyone.
He lost one of his eyes.
He later got cancer, multiple-myeloma, a kind of skin cancer (bone marrow cancer), and he died in 1978.
We don’t know if he caught it as a result of the torture, but he died.
All I know is that in his 40s he was already using a walking stick as a result of repeated and prolonged torture by Rhodesians.
My father’s struggle was not just in prison, but outside as well.
We lost our house in Mufakose because my parents did not want to continue living in a house that was under the watchful eyes of the Rhodesian Security Forces.
He died in March 1978.
It was painful.
He was buried in a home-made coffin that was painted black.
SC: Didn’t his family help you?
PC: His parents died when he was in prison.
His brothers did not help.
They were also scared of the security forces.
Actually one of his brothers was in the Rhodesian Police force.
He actually changed his surname to disguise the link to my father.
He did not want to be involved.
It was like fighting against your own.
We practically looked after ourselves and when one child got a job, he or she would pay fees for the others.
SC: Your story, your father’s story is very sad.
After independence, did you or your mother get any help from the Government?
PC: (Chuckles). Help?
We did not get any help from anyone, not even recognition.
My sister once met Enos Chikowore after independence and he asked if she had a job.
She was already working so it was not important.
My father was never honoured by anyone.
My brother once met Edgar Tekere in the 1990s, but he was fighting his own battles so he couldn’t do anything for him or us.
This is one of the stories of Zimbabwe’s forgotten heroes.
Priscilla felt so inspired by the way African-Americans honour their heroes that she decided to tell her father’s story.
There are many more people in Zimbabwe who were directly or indirectly affected by the war.
Families were torn apart, mothers were ‘widowed’ when their husbands were incarcerated and left to fend for the families on their own.
I am writing this story so that Zimbabweans, home and abroad, should be reminded about how our independence was attained.
Priscilla’s father played his part to liberate the country, however, he did so at the expense of his wife and children.
He did not do it for money, but to help end the unjust system of the Rhodesian rule.
Fortunately, though, for the family, Mr Chingono’s children did very well and they are all professionals.

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