By Tutu Wayne
ACCORDING to Zimbabwe Anthrax Control Guidelines in Humans and Animals 2nd Edition May 2012, anthrax is an acute infection caused by a soil-borne spore-forming bacterium called bacillus anthracis affecting both humans and animals.
It affects mainly herbivorous animals, both domestic and wild.
From 2000 to date, more than 2 500 cases of anthrax have been reported in Zimbabwe.
The spore of anthrax can survive in the environment for about 90 years.
It also survives for the said period in burial places of infected animals.
In dusty areas, the spore can be inhaled and infect the victim.
It must be noted that in 1975, Rhodesian forces, together with other influential Rhodesians, forced the Government to come up with punitive measures on anyone suspected to be partaking of terror activities against the minority regime.
The use of biochemical agents came as a new weapon to totally annihilate vanamukoma (freedom fighters) whose skills on the battlefield had vexed the Rhodesians.
The use of anthrax by the Rhodies was meant to create hatred and mistrust between locals and vanamukoma, who were blamed by the Rhodesian propaganda machine for ‘bringing anthrax from Mozambique’, when, in actual fact, Rhodesians sprayed anthrax to kill livestock which was used to feed freedom fighters by the villagers.
In 1978, Rhodesian security agents spread anthrax in areas like Gutu, Chirumanzu, Masvingo, Mberengwa and Chiredzi.
The idea was to kill all local herd and make sure that food supplies for vanamukoma were reduced to zero in most areas, thereby defeating the will to fight on the liberators side and also sapping the povo’s will to support the struggle.
Some locals were conditioned into believing that anthrax and other diseases were a result of infiltrating combatants from Mozambique.
From 1950 to around 1977, Rhodesia recorded 334 cases of anthrax. However, as the war of liberation intensified, the Rhodesians resorted to chemical and biological warfare.
Cases of anthrax rose sharply from 1977 to date.
For example, Honde Valley Mandeya Two Kraal had a very reasonable herd before 1977.
There was the introduction of protected villages, with Keep 7 in Mangwanda Village; Keep 6 in Mubare Village as well as Keep 5 at the present location of Muterere High School.
Mandeya Two Kraal now has less than 30 beasts when it has more than 30 000 households, but before the outbreak of anthrax, it had more than 150 000 beasts.
All was lost because Rhodesians sprayed anthrax in the area.
The distance between these protected villages was less than five kilometres .
Locals lost all their cattle to anthrax.
One such victim was a famous traditional healer, the late sekuru Philip Mangemba, who lost more than 100 beasts as a result of the anthrax outbreak.
Eric Tendewa Kadoko and fellow villagers also lost a lot of cattle to the disease.
In areas like Zindi, Chikomba, Sagambe, Ruda, Jombe and Ngarura, anthrax is still active and livestock is still being lost; it becomes worse after heavy rains.
Anthrax effects surged from 1978 to 1980.
The national herd was affected and to this day, every Zimbabwean still carries the heavy load of this Rhodesian infamy.
In 1978 to 1979, freedom fighters who drank contaminated water, ate infected meat, fruits or came into contact with an infected carcass presented the following clinical features or symptoms; loss of appetite, staggering and falling, general body weakness, tremor and convulsion, difficulty in breathing and bleeding from all orifices due to failure of blood clotting.
Vanamukoma also suffered from ‘cutaneous anthrax’, which normally affects the skin.
‘Gastro-intestinal anthrax’ affects the alimentary canal, causing the victim to have fever and nausea.
In the case of ‘meningeal anthrax’, the victim suffers from acute fever and becomes unconscious.
The aforementioned cases affected the course of the liberation struggle, but did not stop it.
The incubation period of anthrax ranges from a few hours to seven days, depending on virulence of the spores.
Some cases were immediate as spores administered to freedom fighters were hardened and very active soon after exposure.
The symptoms of a carcass that succumbed to anthrax are rapid decomposition of the carcass with an inflated abdomen, swelling of the neck and throat as well as oozing of dark blood from all natural openings.
Since all organs of an infected beast carry high doses of anthrax bacteria, even when dry, the bones and hide carry anthrax, non must be consumed or touched.
Milk from infected beasts must never be consumed.
Selous Scouts gave their ‘agents’ (sellouts) infected biltong and milk to give vanamukoma.
It must be noted that unsuspecting freedom fighters died in their numbers because of anthrax.
The armed struggle, however, did not stop as was expected by Rhodesians.
Vanamukoma ensured whoever brought them food or water had to taste or drink it first – a move that turned out to be convenient indeed.