and Golden Guvamatanga
EVERY year people gather at the National Heroes’ Acre on Heroes’ Day in reverence to those who shed their blood to liberate Zimbabwe from colonial rule.
Freedom in Zimbabwe was not won by the stroke of a pen, but through the barrel of the gun.
Blood was spilt as the ultimate sacrifice to guarantee freedom to the sons and daughters of the soil who fought to repossess their ancestral lands wrested from them by a handful of white colonialists.
The month of August was watered by their blood.
It is embedded by the enduring imprints of these people’s heroics.
The month of August is symbolic in the liberation struggle discourse for two main reasons; it is the month when Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) was founded (August 8 1963), and ‘coincidentally’ the same month when Nyadzonia Refugee Camp in Mozambique was bombed (August 9 1976).
This probably explains why, after independence, Heroes’ Day was set in the month of August.
However, when the word ‘hero’ is mentioned, many will picture the armed guerilla.
Granted, the trenches birthed heroes.
But there was also heroism in the suffering masses who did not receive basic military training after crossing from Zimbabwe to Mozambique, who ended up in refugee camps like Nyadzonia, Doiroi, Chibawawa and Matenje, where they met their fate.
One painful node in the history of the Second Chimurenga was the Nyadzonia Genocide.
Nyadzonia was the first major external operation by Rhodesians.
Even though the Nyadzonia Genocide preceded bombings of other refugee and training camps in both Mozambique and Zambia, there is need to reflect on what transpired on that fateful day.
More than 2 000 innocent civilians, mostly women and children, were mowed down by brutal Rhodesians in genocidal fashion.
The hapless and helpless civilians were defenceless.
Professor Charles Pfukwa, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Dynamics, says there were no more than 10 assault rifles at Nyadzonia, perhaps AK47s and semi automatic rifles (SARs), and there were no defence mechanisms like at Chimoio for example.
After the Nyadzonia attack, Professor Pfukwa narrated how he later came across a man, at Doiroi, who survived the annihilation at the parade square when a chombe (sell-out), one Morrison Nyathi, gave the order for Rhodies to fire on his own kith and kin.
Nyathi was a rogue former commander at the Nyadzonia Camp who came accompanied by Selous Scouts with faces painted black, driving UNIMOG trucks and carrying weapons similar to FRELIMO’s.
Nyathi is said to have stood at a pedestal at the assembly square, blew the emergency whistle and waited for a good number to turn up, and as they gasped for breath awaiting ‘good news’ brought by the ‘FRELIMO soldiers’, he gave the order to shoot.
Sadly, the most disheartening aspect about the Nyadzonia Genocide is how it has been downplayed in the discourses of the liberation struggle; getting limited focus and media attention yet it was a war crime for which Rhodesians should be compelled to pay reparations.
To add insult to injury, the bulk of the stories are written by the executors of the genocide – the Rhodesians.
A recap of the Nyadzonia raid is a painful reminder of how the Rhodesian war machinery, desperate to cling on to power in the face of a strengthening guerilla offensive, unashamedly breached military conventions.
Dr Felix Muchemwa, in his book The Struggle for Land in Zimbabwe (1890-
2010), says the Nyadzonia Genocide was an attempt by Rhodesians to
deflate the major inroads guerillas had made, especially on the eastern front.
Quoting Moorcraft and McLaughlin (1982), Dr Muchemwa says:
“The immediate Rhodesian response had been to mount mandatory convoys along the Beitbridge-Rutenga Road and railway line whenever there was a civilian movement.
By May 1976, the heavy ZANLA infiltration through Chimanimani and Gaza had prompted the Rhodesians to launch ‘Operation Repulse’ based at Fort Victoria town (now Masvingo)’.
White settlers, especially in Umtali (Mutare), felt completely encircled by ZANLA and in panic, the Rhodesians attacked the Nyadzonia Refugee Camp, on the Nyadzonia River, a tributary of the Pungwe River.
The attack, code-named ‘Operation Eland’, was approved by General Peter Walls at COMOPS (Combined Operations), in Salisbury (Harare) and was carried out by 72 Selous Scouts (Stiff, 1999: p.241) commanded by South African Captain Bob Warracker. (Cole, 1984: p.172)
A motorised column of seven armoured UNIMOGS (the pigs) and four British ‘Ferret’ armoured cars in FRELIMO colours and mounted with an array of weapons that included three twin MAG machine guns, 12,7mm heavy machine guns, two Hispano 20mm cannons, one .50 Browning machine gun and three .30 Brownings was used in the attack. (Moorcraft and McLaughlin, 1982: p.44)
The callous manner with which the Rhodesians murdered Zimbabweans at that camp is a horrific tale that survivors, even up to this day, struggle to recount.
Cde Everisto ‘Liberty Founder’ Pfumvuti, in a 2016 article published by The Patriot, gives a gripping narrative of the events that unfolded on that fateful morning.
“I was shocked when one of our commanders, (Morrison) Nyathi, shouted words that I will never forget for as long as I live: Makomuredzi, nhasi tapandukirana!”
It was at that moment that Cde Pfumvuti realised that the soldiers whom everyone thought had brought good news were not FRELIMO and they were definitely not black, but whites who had painted the visible parts of their bodies black.
“I fell to the ground in shock and fear,” he said.
“This was the time the enemy started firing on the hapless and helpless refugees and ZANLA recruits.
“I kept still as the enemy massacred women and children.”
Cde Pfumvuti goes on to narrate how the Rhodesians rounded up survivors at the parade square and gathered them before a firing squad.
When the firing squad was ordered to shoot, bullets rained on the victims at the other end of the barrel, with Cde Pfumvuti taking a bullet in the leg and his backside, before falling unconscious, only escaping death because he was presumed dead.
This episode was obviously not easy, especially for women.
Comrade Juliet Chitsungo, whose Chimurenga name was Dadirai Wafawanaka, was among the Nyadzonia survivors and recounts events on the fateful day in a story published in The Sunday Mail in April 2017 chronicling how she escaped death by a whisker.
“Soon after having breakfast, I said ‘come Cde Suzan, let’s go and relieve ourselves’.
Tichienda kutoilet, kwakarira a whistle and many comrades thought this was a signal for them to go for parade.
Others actually thought vauya kuzotorwa kuti vaende kutraining.
But I was skeptical because a few days before, I was in Chimoio and no one had told me anything about people going for training.
We actually contemplated going back to the parade ground.
From nowhere, takanzwa pfuti dzakutorira vanhu vachipfurwa.
We started running to escape from the shooting.
The shooting was merciless.
Many comrades died trying to cross Nyadzonia River.
This was a big river, so many couldn’t swim across.
Vamwe vakaita zvekutsikwa nemota vakarara pasi while those who moved vaipfurwa nepfuti.
I will never ever forget that day.
I survived, but zvaisiririsa (tears falling down).”
This captivating narrative opens the lid on the boiling emotions whipped up by the cowardly Rhodesians.
The story is just a painful episode that cannot be easily forgotten.
One of the most touching stories about the Nyadzonia Genocide was penned by Alexander ‘Cde Gora’ Kanengoni, that late great prolific writer and freedom fighter whose emotions flowed through the ink of his pen and unravelled a heinous crime against humanity that he witnessed in its aftermath.
Cde Kanengoni could not talk about the Nyadzonia Genocide without focusing on his interaction with a little girl whose chest had been ripped open by a machine gun, whom he christened Ngonidzashe.
“That image Cde Gora paints with his pen is as iconic as that of Hector Peterson in Soweto, or the Napam girl in Vietnam,” said Professor Pfukwa.
Below is an excerpt from a story titled ‘Memories of sobbing shadows at Nyadzonia’, first published in The Sunday Mail of August 8 2004 with an abridged version later published in The Patriot.
“A small girl of not more than eight whose chest had been ripped open by a machine gun with part of her lung now exposed, asked me as she calmly sat in a donga:
‘Do you think I will survive, comrade?’
Strangely, all through that nightmare, I had not cried, not a single tear.
I stood up, looked away and wept for something that was much more than the tragedy of the little girl.
Why had I ever joined this war?
Why, why, why, I kept asking myself.
When I at last turned, the little girl had died.
It was as if she was waiting for me to die.”
As one of the members of the first team that arrived at Nyadzonia soon after the attack, Cde Kanengoni explained how the team took over a week to bury the dead, nearly 2 000 of them.
The platoon of 30, dispatched from Chimoio soon after the attack, raced to the scene of the heinous crime armed with AKs, light machine-guns and bazookas in four Land Rovers, which they abandoned when they reached the bombed bridge at Pungwe River, the main link with Chimoio, whose roaring waters treacherously swept away one of their cadres, Cde Nyika.
“We watched helplessly as his desperate and muted cry finally drowned and suffocated in the cascading fury,” wrote Cde Kanengoni.
Many of the refugees who had escaped the barrel of the gun at the parade square succumbed to the roaring waters of the Pungwe River and its tributary Nyadzonia River.
The angel of death had been let loose among the innocent children of Zimbabwe, fighting for their birthright.
Writes Cde Kanengoni:“As we came closer, we came upon the first dead bodies.
They increased dramatically as we got closer and closer to the camp.
And then at last, we were confronted with an endless sea of dead bodies stretching in all directions.
There were corpses everywhere.
There were corpses of babies strapped on their dead mothers’ backs, there were corpses of small boys and girls.
There were corpses of young men and women.
And the corpses had all sorts of mutilations; decapitated heads, shattered jaws, crushed or missing limbs, disemboweled entrails, scattered brains, gouged eyes, everything.
The highest concentration of the corpses was around the open space they used for their morning assembly.
There was nothing to understand.
Then there were the flies.
Swarms of heavy, green bombers.
They hovered from copse to corpse, their laden stomachs bulging to bursting point.
In two days’ time, the worms would begin to appear on the corpses decomposing in the sun, but for now, it was the green flies.
Yes in two days’ time, the fat, wriggling worms would begin to appear.
And then there was the stench of the decomposing corpses that filled the air.
The stench would slowly disappear from our noses and by the third day, it would have completely disappeared.
And it would be left to the new arrivals to tell us that our eyes looked unfocused and that we also looked frightening and that the smell of death followed us wherever we went.
Of course, that was before they too, became like everyone of us.
For four days, we battled to bury the dead in mass graves that a caterpillar that had been brought in from Tete was digging.
When the skins of the decomposing corpses began to peel in our bare hands, we had no choice, but to leave the work to the bulldozer…
In the new camp outside Chimoio, the survivors sang and danced, stamping the ground; ‘Zimbabwe ndeye ropa, baba; Zimbabwe ndeye ropa redu nemadzibaba’, and then the anger and determination: ‘Ndati ndiudzei, baba, mamboaona kupi mabhunu tinobayana?’
We should pause at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and let the tears from our eyes collect around the pedestal.”
For Professor Pfukwa, the Nyadzonia Genocide is one of the worst crimes against humanity the world has ever seen.
“Nyadzonia is a heinous war crime which needs to be exposed to the world,” said Professor Pfukwa.
“The thought that Nyadzonia has been condemned to the dustbins of Chimurenga cringes my heart.
“The genocide plays second fiddle to other battles in many ways.
“By ignoring this compelling narrative, there is no doubt that we are doing great injustice to our story and our history.
“At Nyadzonia there was no preparedness, no arsenal and even the security was quite minimal.
“To call what happened at Nyadzonia a massacre is a miscarriage of justice, because massacre connotes unrivaled victory when a weaker side, which is resisting, is subsequently routed.
“There was no massacre at Nyadzonia; it was extreme extermination, mass murder of hapless masses.
“Even more alarming is how Rhodesians and whites take pride in that dastardly act.
“This, I will repeat with a heavy lump in my broken heart, was a genocide and our discourses should always talk of a genocide not massacre at Nyadzonia.”
Then there are the traumas which have nagged survivors of that horrible incident.
The traumas remain etched deep in the psyche of survivors.
They beat their drums in the hearts of comrades and survivors, eking with them the maladies of the horror of the gun and bullet and finally caressing the tormented soul with the vile of the poison that haunts them day and night like a horrible nightmare.
Their marauding whispers increase in intensity the sound of the gunshots and bombs that constantly rained on them like hailstorm, driving them towards depression.
The images of blood, broken limbs and dying colleagues enmesh into a storm that grip them like one who has received news about the sudden death of a loved one.
Then the traumas return with venom, their aggression cascading into the immense agony wrought by the abandonment of the Nyadzonia Genocide.
These emotions are best captured by Ngonidzashe, that dying girl who asked Cde Kanengoni that unanswerable question just after the genocide.
This is the question which we should be providing answers to as we celebrate Heroes’ Day.