War veterans: Our national heritage

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THEY were young when they left their families, parents, education or jobs, to join the war.
Some paid with their lives, others with their limbs and yet more acquired invisible disabilities such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Today some are roaming the streets of Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare or Bindura, wearing rags, talking to invisible people and taking-cover from invisible bullets.
I saw one in First Street, Harare, in the 1990s before I came to the UK.
We laughed at him.
It did not occur to us that walking in First Street in Salisbury was a preserve for whites during the Rhodesia era.
It did not occur to us, then, that walking in First Street in Harare came at the expense of the guy we were now laughing at.
On April 18, Zimbabweans will be celebrating 36 years of independence.
To those of us who witnessed the war in the villages, the war is still as real in our memories.
Yet there are some who mock them, even suggesting that if they were old enough during the war, they would have joined the war.
But not everyone who was old enough went to war.
Some were pursuing education at universities.
Others joined on the side of the enemy.
Yet today, Zimbabwe is free for all of us and not just for those who went to war.
In the UK on November 11, the Queen, the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition including politicians, take part in the Armistice Day to commemorate the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany.
Armistice was signed at 11 am on November 11 1918, or at the ‘eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’.
About 20 million people died during the First World War.
It is a very important day in UK history and the war heroes are remembered, their lives celebrated because through their sacrifice, the UK and Europe are where they are today.
Last year, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was rebuked by the British media and some war veterans when he struggled to stifle a cough during the silence to commemorate the day.
The following day, newspaper headlines screamed: ‘Jeremy Corbyn disrespects Armistice Day by breaking silence after four hours’.
‘Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn offends British heroes on Armistice Day and possibly has connections with witchcraft and black magic’, wrote D. R. Shipman on November 11 2015 in one of the newspapers.
In the same newspaper, an 87-year-old British war veteran, Arthur Burns, said: “He is a disgrace.
“Jeremy Corbyn is a Britain hater.  
“I hear with his looney left ways he’s not even willing to annihilate half the planet when World War III comes.”
On October 22 2015 The Telegraph ran a headline asking: ‘Does Jeremy Corbyn have any idea what Poppy Day is about?’
To the British people, anyone who disrespects these important historical events is a hater of Britain.
I spoke to a few Zimbabweans to find out their views about our own war heroes back home.
Masimba Musodza: “I have a lot of respect for the war veterans.
“They fought for the country at no cost.
“They did not go to war for any money, but freedom.
“Most of them have nothing, yet some of the people who joined ZANU PF after independence did so for what they can get out of it.
“War vets gave everything they had, including their lives.
“The war vets in this country (UK) are respected.
“However, I think all war vets must be respected whether they are in ZANU PF or not.
“There are some who fought on ZIPRA side and others who fought on ZANLA side.
“They must all be respected.
“However, I don’t think they (war vets) should align themselves to political parties.
“They should focus on nation-building rather than on partisan politics.”
Priscilla* (name changed to protect the identity of her family in Zimbabwe and UK): “My father was one of the early nationalists.
“He was imprisoned in Hwahwa and Gonakudzingwa alongside people like Leopold Takawira and Edgar Tekere.
“My father died in 1978 after prolonged incidents of torture by the Rhodesian security agencies.
“It pains me to see how some war veterans are ridiculed for liberating the country.
“My Mother was deprived of the joys (and sorrows) that come with marriages as she raised us single-handed when our father was in prison.
“She always says she has been widowed twice: First when baba was in prison and later when he died.
“I was conceived during the short time that baba was released from Gonakudzingwa.
“Two siblings were also conceived during the brief periods that he would be released so we really didn’t know our father that much and when he was finally released in 1976, he only lived for two years and died.
“My father is a hero.
“My mother today is still affected by the death of our father.
“After independence no one recognised her or us.
“She struggled to raise money to send us to school.
“Yet there are many people who are now enjoying Zimbabwe when they never contributed to its liberation.”
I will be publishing Priscila’s father’s story soon, as she is still waiting for permission from the rest of the family to do so.
Mary* (name also changed): “My late husband went to war with some key ZANU PF leaders.
“He was declared a provincial hero.
“Every year I go to Zimbabwe panguva yeHeroes celebrations to pay my respect.
“It is a ritual I carry out every year.
“It is very important for me to do that.”
I also interviewed two war veterans now living in the UK.
They said the events of the past few weeks in Zimbabwe have left them traumatised.
“When I hear the castigation and ridicule, I do not think about the bullets that I dodged or matekenya aitiruma,” he said.
“I think about my colleagues who perished on the frontline and at Nyadzonia and Chimoio.
“I survived Nyadzonia.
“I joined the war in 1972, went to Zambia then later to Mozambique.
“When Herbert Chitepo died, I attended his funeral.
“After the war, I never wanted anything to do with politics.
“I prefer my private and quiet life.
“I don’t like to talk about the war because it brings terrible memories.”
The other one feels that all war veterans should have received some kind of psychological support after the war.
“We saw things that are not repeatable,” he said.
“My consolation is that the history of Zimbabwe will never be complete without mentioning us.
“To me that recognition is more important than any material gift.
“We were there when our country needed us most.”
Long live our liberators!
Long live Zimbabwe!

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