Surviving Chimoio

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The story of Elina Gwenzi, aka Cde Advance Mauto

I WAS born at Mt Selinda Hospital, Chipinge, Manicaland Province, on March 9 1959.

I attended Mwangazi Primary School from 1967 to 1973.

Just before the Grade Seven exams, I relocated to Bulawayo to live with my aunt.

However, I was denied sitting for Grade Seven examinations as I could not read nor write Ndebele, resulting in my returning to Chipinge the following year to redo the same level.

In 1975, the year Mozambique got its independence, the war against the Rhodesians intensified.

Most of the youths in my area joined the liberation struggle.

Many students from Mt Selinda and Chikore crossed over into Mozambique.

Soon, our headmaster received a message from Chipinge that Rhodesian forces were on their way to guard the school to prevent more youths from joining the liberation struggle.

That message motivated me to quickly join other sons and daughters of the soil to take up arms against the white settler-regime 

One night, a group of us gathered and began our journey to Mozambique.

We travelled for hours on foot.

We rested for a few hours before dawn.

At sunrise, we realised we had slept about 30 metres away from some three lions resting peacefully.

One of the elder sisters told us not to panic. The lions, we were told, were a symbol of our ancestral spiritual guidance.

We then followed the three lions from a distance and they led us to the Chikwekwete Border Post.

Upon arrival, we were welcomed by Mozambique comrades who fed us and organised transport to ferry us to senior ZANLA officials.

We were taken to Machazi Refugee Camp in 1976 where I received my political orientation.

I had a nasty incident at the camp which nearly cost me my  life.

A consignment of United Nations porridge was poisoned and we survived by drinking milk with salt but I had to be admitted at Beira  where I, for three days, it was touch-and-go.

I was discharged and returned to Machazi.

Later, a signal came for all the girls to undergo military training in Chimoio.

We arrived at a time there was some conflict between the fighters with a section of fellow liberators called Vashandi.

We steered away from this conflict.

 Cde Tsuro, who was the security officer accompanying us, instructed the Dodge truck transporting us to take us to Doiroi Camp as Chimoio was at that moment not the best place to be as we were not yet ready for combat.

We stayed for five days at the camp, planning how to get back to Chimoio to receive training.

Together with five other girls, we escaped Doiroi and headed for Chimoio.

We arrived at Chimoio after two days of walking.

The security officers detained us.

During the morning parade, Cde Tsuro identified us from our time at Machazi Refugee Camp and introduced us to the training officer, Cde Stephen Chocha, who would later become the Zimbabwe Republic Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri.

Cde Chocha gave us two days to rest before we commenced training at Nehanda with other cadres who included Monica  Mutsvangwa, Amai  Chimonyo and Amai  Hokoyo.

The training lasted seven months.

It was during combat training that I got my alias Advance Mauto because of my top speed.

l was very slim and outran most of my fellow cdes.

After training, I was deployed to Chitepo College of politics in Chimoio.

In September 1977,  I came face to face with Rhodesian brutality.

The murderous Rhodies bombed Chimoio in what came to be known as the Chimoio Massacre.

 It all started in the morning as we assembled for our deployment to Tembwe for selection to go to the front.

During the deployment, all hell broke loose, with Rhodesian forces fighter jets arrived and bombing us in all directions, causing mayhem. We lost a lot of our cadres and recruits, children and helpless women.

Our gathering point after Rhodesian raids was Gondola and the planes were coming from there and I was actually in panic mode as I could not figure out the escape route.

I instinctively ran towards the dam were I spent more than an hour in water with other cdes. It was one of the toughest and most horrible times of my life as we hang on to dear life.

Soon, Rhodesian soldiers were being dropped by parachutes and the dam was no longer a safe place. I began to utilise the bouncing and crawling tactics learnt from training as I headed for the cover of bushes.

I found cover under a tree but no sooner had I hidden than a roving helicopter destroyed the tree.

I could not leave the tree and hugged mother earth as tightly as I could while branches falling from the tree blanketed me from the murderous eye of the enemy.

I spent a whole night underneath the branches.

I could not escape from that position because anyone who tried to flee from that radius was being taken down by Rhodesian forces on the ground. 

Rhodesian forces were patrolling, finishing off the Cdes whom were injured and any others who had survived the air strikes in the killing bag. 

Back at Chimoio, all the bases, including the headquarters, stores, Chitepo School of Politics, Chindunduma for children, Parirenyatwa which housed the sick and Nehanda for girls were all destroyed. It was genocide.

Nothing was spared when Chimoio was bombed.

During the night, I finally  decided to come out of my cover  then came across Cde Washy, who was the senior officer assessing the damage.

When he asked me where I was hurt because I was bleeding, I then discovered that both my legs were bleeding from bomb fragments but I was still able to walk. 

We recovered a few rifles from the deceased Cdes. As we were walking away, we heard one Cde calling out in agonised tones: “Macdes, macdes, macdes!”

It was Cde Shupi.  He, however, asked us to go on without him as he was severely injured. His stomach had been gutted open.

Cde George tore his shirt and used it as a bandage for cde Shupi’s wide open stomach. We made a stretcher bed and carried him to nearby villages.

 We were still in the radius of Rhodesian operational fighter jets that were determined to kill every one of us.

We could not stay long in the villages as we feared exposing them to danger.

We regrouped at Pungwe Three where we continued with our quest for liberating the country.

In early 1978, I met Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa and Cde Sydney Sekeramayi.

Liberation fighters were being selected to go to the front. Cde Mnangagwa, who was head of security, consulted Cde Sekeramayi, in charge of the medicine department, if I was fit to be deployed to the front.

I was so slim and had just recovered from malaria as  suffered injury in both legs.

Cde Sekeramayi advised that I join the medical team as an assistant medic helping injured cadres.

I served in Maputo and later relocated to Nampula where I met my late husband Cde Petros Guta, who was one of the senior medics.

Finally, Zimbabwe got its independence and we returned home from Nampula by plane. We were demobilised and I worked in the Social Welfare Department for two years before joining the police force in 1983. I served for more than two decades and resigned with the rank of Assistant Inspector. 

During the Third Chimurenga, I got six hectares of land in Mvurwi. For me, the liberation struggle had yielded the desired results — land. 

l am now contributing to the food security of Zimbabwe,  specialising in animal husbandry. At present I have about 15 cows, goats and chickens.

Compiled by Blessing Dirwayi

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