Heroes’ Day more than a holiday

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EVERY year in August, it is tradition for Zimbabweans to gather around various shrines across the country on Heroes’ Day in memory of the gallant sons and daughters who shed their blood to liberate Zimbabwe from colonial rule.

Heroes’ Day celebrations are not just a holiday.

These commemorations are an important event on Zimbabwe’s calendar because they provide an opportunity for Zimbabweans to remember the struggles they went through to recover freedom.

Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year there won’t be spectacular military parades, parachute jumps, gun drills and combat fitness marches, among other activities.

This year’s commemorations slated for August 10 will be held virtually under the theme ‘Remembering our heroes’.

This year as we remember our heroes and heroines, it’s important to revisit some of the brutal massacres by the Smith regime.

Nyadzonia, Tembwe, Chimoio in Mozambique as well as Mulungushi and Freedom Camp in Zambia are stark reminders of a racist settler-regime that massacred people in cold blood.

It is not by accident that Heroes’ Day celebrations were set for August.

August 9 is the day the Selous Scouts carried out a heinous attack on the Nyadzonia Camp that housed refugees, killing more than 1 000 unarmed and untrained people, mostly women and children.

A column of seven armoured Unimogs and four Ferret scout cars in FRELIMO colours, mounted with an array of weapons, including three twin MAG machine guns, 12,7 mm heavy machine guns, two Hispano 20 mm cannons, one .50 Browning machine gun and three .30 Brownings were used against unarmed innocent refugees at Nyadzonia.

Code-named ‘Operation Eland’, the attack was approved by General Peter Walls at Combined Operations (COMOPs) in Salisbury, now Harare, and was carried out by over 72 Selous Scouts under the command of Captain Robert Sidney Stanley Warraker.

These Selous Scouts wore FRELIMO uniforms, had the same type of weapons as those carried by Mozambican forces and drove vehicles with Mozambican army registration numbers, including armoured cars closely resembling FRELIMO trucks.

White soldiers had disguised themselves by painting their hands and faces black.

According to the report by Hugo Idoyaga, UNHCR representative in Maputo, a section of the raiding party sabotaged the main bridge across the Pungwe River near Nyadzonia refugee camp and another section laid ambushes on the road leading to the refugee camp.

The Pungwe Bridge was demolished in order to frustrate any attempt by FRELIMO to advance in force from Chimoio once news of the operation had reached their headquarters.

Support units with 81mm mortars were also strategically deployed to knock out escaping refugees and the main party was then led into the Refugee Camp itself by Morrison Nyati, aka Livison Mutasa, a ZANLA commander-turned-sell-out by the Rhodesians.

At the main gate, a SAS with a good command of Portuguese ordered the FRELIMO guards, who were the only security guards for the Refugee Camp, under FRELIMO Commander Jose Carvalho to open the gate.

The deceived guards complied and the column entered Nyadzonia Camp, driving straight onto the parade ground at exactly 8:25 am.

More than 5 250 refugees stood on the routine early morning parade for counting and daily duty allocations that morning.

The vehicles spread out in a line and all eyes gradually turned towards the newcomers while a buzz of excitement began to generate.

Notwithstanding the general air of festivity within the camp, the expectation among many within the camp was that the long promised transport to carry them to their training depots had arrived.

This caused an excited rush towards the vehicles.

This was amplified by some improvisation by a Portuguese speaking Selous Scout, who shouted through the loud 

hailer that Rhodesia had been defeated and for all to gather round and hear the news.

Refugees who knew Nyati very well innocently broke the parade and rushed to the vehicles in response to a burst of slogans from inside the vehicles.

But soon, those refugees who were close enough to recognise the white occupants of the vehicles, who had used black paint on their face and hands, screamed to others that it was the Rhodesian security forces.

“I was shocked when one of our commanders, Nyati, shouted words that I will never forget for as long as I live,” Cde Everisto Liberty Founder Pfumvuti told The Patriot in 2017.

“Makomuredzi, nhasi tapandukirana!”(Comrades today we have turned against each other) shouted Nyati.

Simultaneously, Warracker gave the order to fire, marking the beginning of a genocide never to be forgotten.

At point blank range, wave after wave of bodies fell to the ground.

The mortar teams came into action here, providing supporting fire, and again covering avenues of possible escape and slaughtering anyone in view.

The main hospital compound, a large thatched construction, was set ablaze killing those inside as they were unable to evacuate.

Most refugees, children and women, were slaughtered mercilessly.

The Ferret cars also drove the refugees into the Nyadzonia River, to drown or to die from their wounds.

About 200 children drowned as they attempted to swim across the Nyadzonia River.

Another unpalatable procedure was the flushing out and killing of individuals attempting to hide in the dense reed banks in the lee of the river.

The rate of fire continued several minutes – later observers of the scene commenting on behalf of various international forums observed that a carpet of spent shell casings seemed to cover the entire scene after tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition had been expended – and continued until all visible movement in the killing bag had ceased.

As if that was not enough, the Unimog pigs drove around deliberately crushing all the bodies on the ground.

It is estimated over 1 000 people were killed, thousands were injured while others actually disappeared.

And today as we remember many lives lost, the maimed and scarred lives of survivors of the protracted armed struggle, Zimbabweans have cause to celebrate their sovereign independence and freedom, which enabled us to reclaim our cherished land and national sovereignty thus promoting and enabling the empowerment of people in the occupation and ownership of natural resources.

Yet again the country faces hurdles such as illegal sanctions imposed in 2000.

The illegal sanctions have resulted in devastating effects on the whole economy of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s access to international credit markets was blocked after the enactment of Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA). 

The country has been forced to virtually operate from hand-to-mouth, and there has been a significant build-up of external debt arrears. 

Water and sanitation infrastructure virtually collapsed resulting in the outbreak of cholera and typhoid. 

The collapsed infrastructure is largely a result of constrained capacity to provide adequate clean and safe water to communities.

Some health facilities that were under construction like provincial and district hospitals and were being financed through the World Bank loan facility could not be completed soon after the imposition of sanctions as donors withdrew their funds. 

Government failed to raise enough funds to complete the projects leaving some facilities incomplete.

And today these ghosts haunt the country as it fights the corona pandemic.

As ma comrades would sing after the Nyadzonia massacre, “Pasi naNyati, Pasi naNyati, Pasi naNyati kani, amai Pasi naNyati…” (Down with Nyati), the same slogan goes today “Pasi nema sanctions nevarikumashedzera” (Down with sanctions and those calling for sanctions).

As for Nyati, it is reported after being used by Rhodesians, he was abandoned before he met his fate.

His demise was typical of all quislings.

He died a miserable man.

Perhaps, he should have known that whites never have permanent friends.

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