Time and termites and our heroes


OUR Grade Three teacher walked into our classroom whereupon deathly silence immediately followed.
He stood facing the class in silence.
It was so for a good minute.
He then broke the silence reminding the class that the length of this past silence was an example of time…time gone, never to come back, lost forever. Temporarily we were converted to the gospel of using time efficiently and not wasting it as we had just done in the preceding silence.
Recent encounters with Second Chimurenga veterans brought back memories of this short lecture on time.
Termites remind me of JC Kumbirayi and the poem, ‘Majuru’.
It was years later in college and JC Kumbirayi was discussing human industriousness, drawing comparison between termites and Koreans.
JC, a student who shared the same initials as Kumbirayi, interjected arguing that the poet must have had the Chinese in mind.
The lecture collapsed with Kumbirayi, lecturer and poet, taking great offence at this.
To some of us the resultant mayhem reminded us of the destructiveness of termites.
We have seen this destructive efficiency on wooden material (eg roofing poles, doorframes and wardrobes), clothing and paper.
And when our time is up on earth we love to be interred on anthills, Sekuru Gora style.
In the midst of Second Chimurenga memories I wondered where time and termites would leave us.
Quite often we bring the stick on born-frees for not knowing about the Chimurenga.
Everyone of us survivors has a heroic deed to share, but the born-frees will just not listen, we lament.
Rarely do we wonder about the destructive genius of time and termites in our quest to preserve and share these memories.
Sekuru Mazorodze is an unassuming character with a voice many of us have encountered on radio.
He calls himself as a ‘Voluntary Social Worker’.
He is good at sniffing out veterans of the liberation struggle and getting them to share their experiences for the benefit of the born-frees.
Sekuru has organised reunion trips for these veterans to Sikhombela, Gonakudzingwa, Pupu and Khami, in true ‘Voluntary Social Coordinator’ style.
I was present during the Sikhombela and Khami prison tours.
At Sikhombela students, journalists and historians had an opportunity to meet with both stellar and the unknown names from our nationalist struggle.
Old and frail, they seemed lost in the middle of what remains of the then Sikhombela Restriction area.
To me it mattered little where the borehole or the Comrade Mugabe’s hut had been.
To me what mattered was this reenactment of history and the comradely bond in this group of survivors.
Some had not met for ages.
To many of them, this could very well be the last such comradely reunion. Newshounds captured the savory moments and filed their stories.
I was hypnotised by this living and dying history.
There was no time.
The moment had to sink and the history deserved dignity, dignified recording. Over three years have passed since that encounter with comrades Manyonda, Malianga, Ziki, Marembo and others.
Recently, I joined another group of nationalists on a visit to Khami prison.
Unlike Sikhombela, the abandoned site, Khami is a living prison.
This was, on average, a younger looking group than their Sikhombela counterparts. Maporisa at 90, Magagula and Ngwenya were exceptions.
When they locked the gates behind us we all became temporary inmates.
I feared for the nationalists.
Was this not going to break them down?
How wrong I was.
They survived Khami prison before for a good reason.
They have steely hearts.
Their enthusiasm during tours and in giving testimonies of their experiences left me dumbfounded.
The group included nationalists and their born-free children.
Father and son, father and daughter; how privileged these born-frees are, I silently acknowledged.
For nearly five hours behind prison walls, the nationalists fought time to share their testimonies.
Journalists filed stories.
Historians, short of time and operational tools, this is prison, could only let the moment sink.
One nationalist nearly loses his cool at being denied time to tell his story.
It is a sad cry for time.
What rich memories these are; under the hungry gaze of time and termites.
Soon it was time to leave.
Legendary Chezhira answered “Yes sir” and walks past the prison guard.
I promise him I shall be in Bindura to immortalise his memory.
I must beat time and termites to him.
Back in Harare I search the national annals of our history for these icons.
They are absent.
Perhaps captured on some paper and tape somewhere and now awaiting termite fate.
History repositories yearn for testimonies from Magagula, Maporisa, Muzeze, Chirinda, Mwale, Mpofu, Masiyane, Ngwenya, Mpoko, among others.
These comrades have between them legendary stuff on our struggles for freedom. They are our living Robben Island.
Theirs are potentially must-read biographies.
They are stuff from which epic films are made.
From bookstore shelves that are loaded with hot-selling bios on Burombo, Chung, Muzenda, Tekere, Tungamirai, Sithole, Mhanda and even Smith you won’t find the Khami legends.
Meaning not only are termites waiting in the pangs, but not even little royalties come the way of these forgotten heroes.
I recount these sad realities to my friend, Chikonamombe.
He feels I have overplayed the time and termites threat.
He is just coming from Beatrice where he has been inspecting manuscripts on heroes of the Second Chimurenga.
A spirit medium, in trance, gets testimonies of departed comrades.
Her husband records them free-hand.
They now have two full volumes.
Chikonamombe feels these should be published or deposited with other national archives.
While spiritual accounts may outlive time and termites, the records may be fodder for termites.
Chikonamombe concedes.
Unless something drastic is done, many of these heroes Sekuru Mazorodze has been able to bring together for emotional reunions will eventually disappear. Memories completely faded.
Sadly they may not be heroes for much longer.
The words of one historian in the group ring loudly, “Sekuru Mazorodze is my hero.”
In local parlance, unobva washaya kuti zvinombofamba sei?


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