Revisiting the Second Chimurenga


By Alexander Kanengoni

THERE are many things about the war that got lost in the dust and din of the celebrations for independence in 1980; such as the significance of spirit mediums, the spiritual dimension in general of our war for freedom.
Last week, The Patriot visited Mt Darwin to find out the circumstances surrounding the story of Gerald Hawksworth, how he was abducted by the guerrillas on January 11, 1973 – one of the incidents that marked the launching of the north-east offensive – and we walked straight into a frightening spiritual dimension about the war that has almost disappeared from our accounts and narratives about it.
As we sat listening to Obert Gwerevende, whose home was where they abducted Gerald Hawkesworth and killed two of his colleagues, it looked as if the war had started all over again.
As if we had travelled back to that day the guerrillas abducted Hawkesworth and killed two of his friends.
VaGwerevende had surprised us at the beginning of the meeting by introducing us to Comrade Chinodakufa, the guerrilla fighter whose unit abducted Hawkesworth that Sunday afternoon in January 1973.
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“We had been advised by a spirit medium called Reza in Mozambique to come to his home because there was a bigger spirit medium there,” said Comrade Chinodakufa.
For nearly a year in 1971, the freedom fighters had camped at vaGwerevende’s home, stashing arms, doing political mobilisation, preparing for the time when the war eventually started because the permission to start it had been sought and granted at Njelele or Mabweadziva several months before.
There is an old black and white photograph from the early 60s of youngish-looking Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo and other early nationalists, crouching and clapping their hands in front of a spirit medium somewhere in the rural areas.
It is this dimension about our struggle that we stifled and killed when we became independent.
And when you elevate this dimension for everyone to see, you begin to notice the frightening similarities between the First and Second Chimurenga.
Mbuya Nehanda was not a chief or a military commander; she was a spirit medium.
And yet her name overshadows all others when the story of the First Chimurenga is told because she was the driving force behind it. It is documented that the day she surrendered to Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company police, the wires to London were hot with the jubilant messages to relatives in England that the Mashona war had ended.
There were moments as you listened to vaGwerevende when you found his story incredible and difficult to believe.
Such as how his entire family abandoned their home and hid in a cave for months while outside, the Rhodesians hunted them down like wild animals; how the children cried for food because they were hungry and how it pained him because there was nothing that he could do; how some family members were killed and others got arrested, tried and hanged by the Rhodesian regime and always shielding oneself from the question that seemed to worry the whites most: what is the name of the spirit speaking through the woman at Gwerevende?
The whites feared the involvement of spirits and spirit mediums in the bloody war that stared them in the eyes.
They had not forgotten the devasting role a woman called Nehanda had played in the First Chimurenga in 1896.
And how he, vaGwerevende, was eventually arrested and missed the gallows by a whisker and instead sentenced to 30 years in prison. The whites understood the importance of ancestral spirits in our daily lives perhaps more than most of us did.
They understood that our strength lay in our formidable belief in the power of ancestral spirits over our lives.
That is why Cecil Rhodes subjected us to the most humiliating, indeed, the ultimate form of desecration: getting himself buried at our most revered shrine at Matonjeni or Mabweadziva or Njelele and turning the place into a Heroes Acre for the white settlers.
That way, there was no way we could communicate with our gods without passing through him.
That is the point where the white settler killed and buried us.
So that 30 years after our war to be free, no one among us has sat down to document that defining story, that is the reason an entire generation born after the war has a hazy picture about that horrible experience.
That is why Morgan Tsvangirai can dare us to return the country to the white man.
Our story is in danger of being swept to the dustbin and get forgotten.
We are in danger of an entire generation beginning to question the wisdom of that war, why we couldn’t accept and live with the wise leadership of the white man.
According to vaGwerevende’s account, he had been sent to Njelele sometime before the guerrillas came to his home, to go and seek permission to start the war for freedom that was lurking behind the horizon.
He had been sent there by the spirit, Tumbare, who spoke through one of his sisters: there was a big and horrible war coming behind the horizon, Tumbare prophesied.
At Njelele, when his day to enter the shrine arrived, the spirit singled him out of the crowd and called out his name and revealed where he had come from.
He was promptly told the permission he had come to seek had been granted. And a few days after he had returned from Njelele, the first armed men arrived at his home; the war had come. It was crazy.
“Before we went to Gwerevende for an audience with Tumbare, we had come through the spirit medium of Mutota in Guruve, Nyanhewe in Mt Darwin, Nyamapako in Rushinga and Nehoreka in Mutoko and they had all kept pointing fingers at someone else ahead,” Comrade Chinodakufa said.
VaGwerevende told us the spirit of Tumbare that had come to his family went away and has never returned since 1980, probably because its major task had been completed: the war had come and freedom had been achieved.
No matter how much we might deny the existence of the spiritual dimension in our private lives, when things get really bad, we lock ourselves in our room, put the Bible aside and plead with our ancestral spirits not to desert us.
There are several things about the war for independence that got lost in the magical celebrations of the independence of the country in 1980, but perhaps the most serious is how we have belittled and ignored, almost forgotten the role that our ancestral sprits played in our war against British colonialism.
Gerald Hawksworth was eventually released into the custody of the International Red Cross at a press conference in Dar Es Salaam in 1978 and he is believed to be living in Australia.
Next week we will look at the history of Njelele/Mabweadziva/Matonjeni.


  1. Very informative for all of us who want to have an authentic understanding of our history and the role of ancestoral spirits in the Chimurenga. Thank you very much for this.


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