The Alexander Kanengoni I knew


WHEN my phone rang around mid-day on April 12 2016 to inform me that Cde Alexander Kanengoni was no more, I was in the middle of writing an article on the significance of the recent meeting which took place between war veterans and their patron, President Robert Mugabe.
It is strange that this particular area of focus, unlike many other areas which I had written about before, had been suggested to me by the Deputy Editor of The Patriot who, in this instance, happened to be Cde Kanengoni.
He felt strongly that the meeting was of national significance and deserved more analysis from our newspapers.
He had this knack of identifying key issues of national importance, always revisiting them and reviewing them to make sure we kept our eyes focused, always, on issues that mattered, those issues which could have a bearing on our future as a nation.
Thus the news of his death plunged me into a personal crisis as I kept on trying to fathom the significance of his departure and the big gaping hole that he left us staring at.
The more I thought about his unexpected and sudden departure, the more I realised that The Patriot in particular and indeed the nation as a whole had lost someone who as a trained teacher, an editor, a superb fiction writer and above all, as a freedom fighter had done all that could be done to become one of our heroes.
Below are some preliminary and therefore unstructured reflections on Cde Kanengoni, the man I came to know as a colleague and a friend.
Outstanding in some of the discussions we used to hold as colleagues are short painful stories he used to revisit time and again as if the content of these mini-stories were a kind of grid for our guidance, a map of some sort which we needed for navigation into our future.
The first mini-story that I recall vividly is about his experiences at Nyadzonia Camp, soon after the Rhodies had massacred thousands of Zimbabwean refugees.
As one of the guerillas who had been sent out to handle the bodies which lay scattered all over the camp in preparation for their burial, he kept on recalling a scene which seemed to haunt him.
It concerns the fate of a small girl, barely 10 years old, who initially appeared as a survivor of the Rhodesian genocide.
The girl, whose stomach had been split open by bombs, kept on asking him as she leaned against a tree: “Cde will I make it — will I survive?”
And she would ask these questions repeatedly while holding on to her entrails which were spilling out!
Instead of responding to the repeated questions, Cde Kanengoni turned his head away, crying, and by the time he looked back at the girl, she was dead.
This tragic story seemed to haunt him for a long time!
The second mini-story relates to the time he came back from the war after many years of fighting for liberation.
Cde Kanengoni would always narrate how he found it extremely difficult to tell the truth about the death of a colleague during the war.
Family members of the colleague, those who lived in Harare kept on coming to him, asking about the whereabouts of his (dead) colleague.
First, came the sister desperate to know whether her brother had survived the war, but the unprepared Cde Kanengoni found it easier to feign ignorance about the fate of her brother; put simply, he did not have the courage to tell her the truth, notwithstanding the fact that he had faced many horrors of war and waded through the many tragedies which accompany such wars.
Second, ca/me the parents of the same deceased colleague, desperate to identify the Assembly Point where their son was.
Again Cde Kanengoni found it difficult to tell the truth, but when the sister came back to him for the second time, he betrayed the grim fate of her brother when he broke down crying.
From then on he felt obliged to visit the family and to explain as best as he could the circumstances in which his colleague died.
Cde Kanengoni would always insist it was one of the most difficult moments in his life – that is, having to narrate before a desperate family gathering how their son had died at the battlefront.
The third mini-story is about Nelson Mandela, the freedom fighter who became the darling of the West soon after becoming the first black president of South Africa.
Cde Kanengoni wrote about how Mandela flew over one capital city of a North African country where the African Union (AU) heads of state were meeting to chart the future of the African continent.
Cde Kanengoni found it difficult to fathom how Mandela could fly past and well above the capital of that North African country heading to London for his birthday celebrations!
How Mandela the freedom fighter could prioritise his trip to London to celebrate his birthday with his erstwhile enemies instead of joining his colleagues who were planning the future of Africa which he had fought for for more than 27 years!
Or, as Cde Kanengoni would agonise from time to time, why did Mandela not simply, celebrate his birthday with fellow Africans, even at that AU meeting?
Cde Kanengoni would always end this mini-story with a warning to all of us: “Africans should not be surprised if Mandela’s newly found Western friends decided to bury Mandela in London instead of Africa.”
Years later, when Mandela died and was buried at his ancestral home at Qunu, Cde Kanengoni would always sigh a mischievous sense of relief saying: “Thank God, African wisdom prevailed on this one: we would have been ashamed to lose him for good by surrendering him to the West.
“Now he remains ours forever!”
What links the three mini-stories to each other is the struggle by Africans to liberate themselves from colonial bondage, the sacrifices which such liberation demanded and which had to be made and whose memory had to be preserved and passed on to generations who follow.
As an individual, I found him to be a sincere person, always keen to listen to what others thought about the country which he, together with other fighters, fought for and won hands down.
Always willing to listen, but always holding on to his beliefs and to his vision that one day all of us would make Zimbabwe a prosperous country.
He loved farming and we talked out it endlessly because I suppose the farm that he obtained during our land reform process represented something concrete, an outcome of the war he had fought for with others and won.
Working the land came to represent to him something honest, something that one could do to enrich oneself without being corrupt as some of us have turned out to be.
Cde Kanengoni looked simple and unassuming from the outside, a humble and immensely likeable person with a memorable presence and a wry sense of humour.
Always searching for and grappling with the meaning of our struggles for liberation, confident that in the end we would ultimately triumph in that ongoing struggle.
I have no doubt that he was loved by many and shall be missed by equally many.
May his soul rest in eternal peace!




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