The spirit of ’kuno crossa’: Part One ‘…how I left my pen for the gun’

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The story of Alex Makotore aka Cde Bruce Lee Taparara

WHEN the conversation first came to my ears, l thought it was some movie. Boys dzakabaya ‘kuno crossa’ (The boys crossed into Mozambique).
This was what I heard friends talk about as early as 1975 at school.
When in late 1976 l heard girls vana Anatolia who were in Form Three had gone – where? I wondered where they had gone to.
Vana Anatolia nanaJune nanaMethias Jibha and most of my school friends had disappeared.
On one hot afternoon at Highfield Community School, a group of friends, Abel Chimombe, Didi Mandizha, Philip Musonza, Kizito Kwaramba, Joseph Nyemba Chagadama and myself went to consult one Bla Standa (Stanley).
He was a member of the People’s Movement, a shadowy wing of ZANU which was operating clandestinely after the ban of ZANU.
Standa was this frail man in his late 20s who smoked heavily (chimonera – Settler Tobacco).
He addressed us under a tree at his work place at Egypt Municipal offices, kwaSuperintendant, where he worked as a rates clerk.
He told us we would go to Mozambique via Umtali (Mutare) and would join the liberation army.
At first l thought it was a joke until the following day he actually told us to prepare to leave over the weekend of November 24 1976.
Back at school, we could not concentrate on our lessons because of the fever that had gripped us.
The spirit of kuno crossa – once it hit you, you would not look back.
I remember Caroline Murinda coming to us in class mimicking a firing submachine gun, showing the mood in the young people then.
The mood in Highfield at the time was so volatile you could not escape it.
There would be meetings in houses about kuno crossa almost every day.
I remember also that same year there was the Soweto Uprising in South Africa involving students protesting about the compulsory introduction of Afrikaans into their school curriculum.
This also contributed to the anger of the youths in the whole region.
The previous year, which was 1975, had seen our own protests at school when one of my close friends Blazio Navhaya was crushed by a falling gum tree during manual work one morning.
When leaving early assembly one morning, our class, Form Three C, had made some noise while marching to class.
The punishment was tree-felling (magobo).
Highfield Community School is built on a plantation of gum trees and the punishment was to fell this big tree which was almost falling after weeks of digging by other offenders.
That fateful morning, before we even started, the tree fell because of strong morning winds.
Blazio was crushed on the head and thigh and fell unconscious. When we carried him to the principal’s office, the principal, a Maple, refused to carry the still unconscious Blazio to Harare Hosipital.
His ’better informed’ explanation was that no hospital will admit any one except in an ambulance.
That we did not take lightly since we did not understand those rules.
Maple, a whiteman, started to shout obscenities at us which made matters worse.
There was a near riot at school and protests followed and the school was closed for a week.
A board member of the school, a Sithole, came to address the students who had turned rowdy.
From that incident, there was upheaval after upheaval at school, which showed how militant the mood had turned in Highfield.
I remember on the Friday before Saturday, November 24 1976, Bla Standa addressing us under a tree saying tomorrow, November 24, you are leaving for Mozambique.
Everyone of us was supposed to bring ‘pondo tsvuku’ Rh$2,00 train fare to the then Umtali (Mutare).
Each one was to wear clothes that would not raise suspicion as to our destination.
I went home in Kambuzuma Section 4 that evening and had supper. l went to meet a nephew, Pindai Chakarisa, whom l stayed with at a local pub, The Garden Party.
We both stayed with one Jonathan Siringwani, also a nephew, who would be away on business most of the time.
When l got to the dance floor my nephew Chakarisa was dancing to music from the band New Tutenkhamen.
We had a few drinks together before I proceeded to House 1233, Kambuzuma Section 4.
I got into Chakarisa’s room and pinched Rh$2,00 and some clothes. Upon getting into my own room I encountered another relative sleeping in my bed which was just a mat and blankets. Charles Chinyoka was one of my uncles who always came for a drink by Jonathan’s and would put up by my place for the night, mostly on Fridays.
I panicked and ran towards Highfield with him in hot pursuit. He only stopped chasing after the railway line where it got darker.
When l got to Highfield, there were more than 20 people at Bla Standa’s house in Engineering.
Most of my friends from school including Chimombe, Mandizha, Musonza, Kwaramba and Chagadama were there.
I remember there was food prepared there but l could not eat because of anxiety and stress that had crept in over the days.
The following morning my two friends, Chimombe and Mandizha, were crying because they could not get the Rh$2,00 for bus fare.
I was surprised because these were my close friends who had always helped me with money when in need. They remained at Mai Murape’s house, weeping helplessly.
Up to this stage l was really unsure of what was happening to me until Bla Standa addressed us for the last time at Machipisa Bus Terminus as people going to join ZANU.
He said: “Remember, it’s you who will join ZANU and ZANU cannot join you”.
Whatever it meant l never tried to understand.
When we got to the then Salisbury Train Station on the morning of November 24 1976 we were numbering about 17.
Other people had joined from other secondary schools like Mufakose Secondary, Harare and Mukayi.
Since we had to travel under disguise we were deployed two to a coach.
‘Unfortunately’ l was alone with strangers in my coach.
The train took off around 7:30am.
It was a day train which we had to endure for close to eight hours for we only got to then Umtali around 5pm.
The train took off and away we went.
Upon reaching Mabvuku, the train stopped and much to my horror more students from our school joined us.
I had a young friend whom we had avoided because of his age, Ronnie Chihama Masawi.
He was in that group of Bvukaz boys or simply boys dzekuMabvuku as we used to refer to them.
When we got to Umtali, l think we were numbering about 27 all in all. Along the way l had been introduced by Ronnie to Chris Murwira, Peter and James Babi Manyau whom l had never met.
We got into the same group when we marched towards the border that evening.
Ronnie Masawi was in my group while Joseph Chagadama went with the other of the three or so groupings we parcelled ourselves into.

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