‘When I survived an air raid’


The story of Cde Emilliana Duri alias Cde Tambudzai Vachena

POLITICAL orientation preached to us by freedom fighter and Political Commissar, Cde Lion is Hungry, forced me to leave my family and home in Duri Village under Chief Mutasa, Mutare, to join the liberation struggle in Mozambique in 1976 to liberate the country from the Smith regime.
That sacrifice came after Cde Lion told us how Rhodesians displaced our parents from their ancestral homes with fertile and arable soils and resettled them on mountainous and barren areas across the country.
In these rocky lands, Africans could not carry out farming activities and were forced to provide cheap labour on the white-owned farms, estates and industries.
The displacement was inhuman.
Rhodesians treated us like animals, inferior to their beloved cats and dogs.
I was convinced the gun was the only weapon which could clearly send our message of freedom to Ian Smith and his regime.
With the spirit of Mbuya Nehanda behind the war, I knew victory was certain.
Since I belonged to the young and energetic group of that time, I had to play my role; fight for the old and young marginalised Africans.
Together with my friends whom I worked with as collaboraters, Cde Victoria Haripo, Cde Sabina Rutsuva and Cde Ethol Nyadongo, we left for the bush after we convinced Cde Lion of our zeal to receive military training to fight the enemy.
Since we stayed close to Mozambique, we were in the hands of FRELIMO soldiers in less than 12 hours.
We walked nonstop.
FRELIMO soldiers facilitated our safe passage to Chimoio after a thorough interrogation to ascertain our real motive.
In 1977, while I was at Mabanana Training Base, where I was being trained to be an instructor together with Cde Hondo, Cde Mushati and Cde Tipei Nyika, I escaped death by a whisker when the camp was attacked.
There was an air raid on our camp.
It was mid-October and there was no cover at all.
I never really thought that camp would be attacked.
On this particular day, I was in high spirits; it was a ‘normal’ day, all things considered.
At around 7am, a swarm of helicopters and jet fighters flew past our base en route to Gondola Logistical Base and bombed it.
Gondola Base housed food for refugees at Chimoio.
The enemy knew that destroying the source of food would present us with serious challenges.
FRELIMO soldiers and ZANLA freedom fighters at Mabanana on guard fired at the enemy but their efforts were futile.
They failed to bring down the helicopters and jet fighters.
At Gondola, the bombing took less than 20 minutes and the whole camp, including all the food supplies, was burnt to ashes.
We swiftly took defensive measures since we knew an attack was imminent.
Quickly I mixed ashes with my urine to camouflage myself.
The sky was suddenly filled with ugly helicopters which started dropping bombs.
I had no gun and the only thing I could do was to take cover under a tree.
The air raid lasted for six hours.
I do not know how I survived.
A helicopter hovered above us, but we were not spotted.
Together with Cde Muchaneta Mabhunu, we feared we would perish under the tree.
While I hid, fragments of bombs exploding around us hit me.
For the greater part I was numb and did not feel much pain.
What worked most were my senses of sight and hearing.
The noise of the helicopter was deafening and all I saw around were explosions.
Blood flowed freely from my left arm but I did not feel it.
It was my friend-in-arms, Cde Mabhunu, who told me I was bleeding from my left arm and only then did I realise I had been injured.
I was still in shock.
Bodies of fellow comrades lay scattered all over the camp; you would think they would suddenly rise and dust themselves to fight again.
But they were gone.
The sound of crying consisting of moans, groans, whimpering and screaming has not gone away and still haunts me to this day.
The thirst induced by the smoke from the bombs was unbearable.
The camp was an image of hell, straight from a horror movie.
We were later taken to Takawira Two Base where I received medical treatment.
It was my first time to be involved in an attack.
The experience, however, did not deter me.
It made me stronger.
Compiled by Emergencey Mwale-Kamtande


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