The story of Joseph Gwatidzo
I WILL ever live to remember March 16 1978.
I was beaten and left for dead by a native African soldier of the Rhodesian African Rifles regiment at my grandparent’s farm in Muda African Purchase Area, Chihota.
I was 12.
I was in Grade Six at Muda Primary School and had recently started working with freedom fighters as a collaborator.
Freedom fighters first came to our area in June 1977.
They arrived at our farm around midnight.
I was sleeping in our kitchen hut with my grandmother when I woke up around midnight to relieve myself outside. I saw two male strangers sitting on the bench talking politely to my grandmother.
My grandmother introduced them to me as distant relatives.
When I came back, one of the strangers asked me to sit by his side.
He told me in a low tone that they were freedom fighters, not terrorists as Rhodesians referred to them.
He narrated their mission.
I was fascinated on seeing vanamukoma for the first time.
I had heard a lot of intriguing stories about how they magically disappeared on contact with the enemy as well as turning enemy bullets into water.
Vanamukoma had a task for me.
I was to go to farms telling people to come for a pungwe the following night at 10pm.
The meeting was to take place in the thick forest at Gohori Farm just next to our farm. I was young and of small stature hence my movements would not raise suspicion to the Rhodesian soldiers.
The following morning, I performed my duty; word spread like veld fire.
People turned up in their numbers.
At the Base, we were first addressed by Cde Chadzi Chiremba.
This guerilla was a gifted orator.
His message was clear and precise.
They were not ‘terrorists’ as Rhodies insultingly called them. They were our freedom fighters who were liberating us from Rhodesia’s colonial rule.
They had sacrificed their lives for us.
They were ready to die for us and selling out was totally unacceptable.
There was singing and dancing after Cde Chadzi’s powerful speech which convinced almost everyone to play his/her part in our armed struggle.
Cde Chadzi, on dismissing the gathering, instructed the youths to remain behind.
I remained together with Tapiwa Gohori, Douglas Kwenda,Precious Chadza, Farai Mteswa and Rudo Macheche, among others.
Cde Chadzi was then joined by Cde Mabhunu Muchapera, Cde Sniper and Cde Chaminuka Tsemura Makomo while other freedom fighters remained guard.
We were quickly addressed by Cde Chaminuka.
He told us that, as young boys and girls, we had a big role to play in the armed struggle. He said some of us were too young to go for military training and, because of our age, we were to be the ears and eyes of the freedom fighters.
We were to watch the movements of the Rhodies who patrolled our area.
We were also going to act as messengers taking information from freedom fighters to villagers and at times being sent to other ZANLA bases with letters.
The girls’ main task was cooking for the freedom fighters.
We dispersed at around midnight and I was told to report to the freedom fighters the next evening.
The following day, March 16 1978, the Rhodies pounced on our farm at around mid-day.
It was my grandmother’s birthday and she was preparing delicious dishes for us.
Much to my dismay, I saw a Rhodesian military truck at our farm gate.
I was playing soccer with my friends some few meters away from our farm while we were waiting to feast on my grandmother’s mini-birthday celebration.
I swiftly rushed home to investigate what was going on.
Little did I know the Rhodies had come for me.
I had been sold out.
On arrival, I saw two Rhodesian soldiers — the infamous African Chishaya and a white Rhodesian mercenary — by our kitchen hut.
Chishaya entered our kitchen hut where my grandmother was preparing our supper while the white Rhodesian was waiting by the door, holding his FN rifle at the ready.
I went straight into our kitchen hut and my grandmother was already under interrogation. Chishaya was asking my grandmother about the presence of freedom fighters and she professed ignorance.
On seeing me, Chishaya told my grandmother that he knew my involvement with the guerillas.
He told my grandmother that they had come for me.
Chishaya then dragged me outside and pushed me against the wall of our hut while asking me about the guerillas.
I told him I had never seen ZANLA guerillas nor had I heard about their presence in our area.
The white Rhodesian then instructed Chishaya to deal with me decisively. Chishaya cut off branches of a mulberry tree and these were effectively used on me.
I was beaten till I lost consciousness.
I was left for dead.
I regained consciousness wrapped in blankets, socked in blood.
What woke me up was the heavy sound of gunfire.
Chishaya and his white superior took cover in an abandoned hut and started firing from that position.
There was an exchange of gunfire for close to 30 minutes, followed by dead silence.
I wet my pants in panic.
I was young and this was my first time in a ‘contact’.
I was holding on to my grandmother for dear life.
Cde Chadzi Chiremba blew the abandoned hut with his bazooka, killing the white Rhodesian soldier instantly.
That booze shot marked the end of that battle.
That night, my grandmother carried me on her back to Chihota Tribal Trust Lands.
It was not easy getting refuge that night as most people feared to be in trouble with Rhodies because word had spread that my grandmother was supporting guerillas.
That night we slept in a maize field in Chiriseri Village in Chief Chihota’s area.
My uncle decided, together with my grandmother, to ferry me to Chitungwiza.
The journey took us two days because we only travelled during the night and I was carried for most part of the journey since I was heavily injured.
I was hurt to learn that a few weeks later, Rhodies had launched a revenge operation and Cde Mabhunu and Cde Chadzi Chiremba perished.
Cde Chadzi Chiremba’s corpse was flown on a helicopter, hanging, to instill fear in the masses.
I stayed in Chitungwiza and only proceeded with school after Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980.
Compiled by Emergencey Mwale-Kamtande.