Tribute to the Chinhoyi Seven

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An armed guard provides both service and security on the golf course at the Hotel Leopard 1978 in Rhodesia. (AP Photo)

By Evans Mushawevato 

THE Second Chimurenga was long and arduous, filled with so many hair-raising episodes that it becomes difficult to pinpoint all the defining moments of that protracted struggle. 

But there are episodes of that war that stand out and cannot be forgotten or subsumed. 

The Chinhoyi Battle is one of them.

On April 28 1966, in Chinhoyi, Mashonaland West, a group of young men showcased personalities that would forever have an intimate relation to the success of the liberation struggle. 

It would be a travesty to omit the contribution of these seven names David Guzuzu, Godwin Manyerenyere, Chabby Savanhu, Arthur Maramba, Godfrey Dube and Christopher Chatambudza under the command of Simon Nyandoro, a former Catholic seminarian that sparked the Second Chimurenga at the Chinhoyi battle.

The Chinhoyi battle, was without doubt, one of the boldest enterprises ever undertaken by our people who, from day one of colonisation, resisted the robbery of their country by  the British.

April 28, an important date for our country, yet unmarked on our calendars is a most fateful day in the history of Zimbabwe which came and went quietly.

But events of that day, which culminated in the attainment of independence and the downfall of colonialists, will never be forgotten, especially by those who took part in the struggle, who will ever look back upon the Chinhoyi Battle with feelings of pride tinged with sorrow. 

However, sorrow and despair were not the results of that epic battle.

The battle was significant in many ways; it was not just a source of pride but a template that would guide the execution of the whole liberation struggle.

The valour of the fallen seven, their courage and strength of purpose, which marked the conduct of the battle, would serve to spur fellow freedom fighters not just morally but also provide insights on how to wage a successful guerilla war.

Rhodesians considered themselves beings who were above average with regards to education, physique, even birth. 

Some, having passed through leading schools and universities in England, having survived the journey to Zimbabwe and conquered the indigenes, saw themselves as fine specimens of humanity and, in the words of ‘their founding father’ Cecil John Rhodes, were the “…finest flower of civilisation.”

Subsequently, they felt ‘remarkable’ in point of ‘character’, ‘reputation’ and ‘position’.

Rhodesians were thus a formidable enemy.

Considered one of the prize colonies of the Empire; a country where the coloniser decreed that indigenes would not get independence in a thousand years, it was a colony with all the resources and more.

In the federation, comprising the now Malawi and Zambia, Rhodesia headquartered the Airforce and indeed the rest of the uniformed forces.

The guerilla group that found itself in Rhodesia was just a small group advancing upon a savage foe, whose military strength was known to be formidable and whose traditional ferocity was meant to lend terror to their very name.

Their grandparents had used the Maxim gun on Africans to devastating effect and they now possessed even more lethal weapons in their formidable arsenal.

It is easy now, looking back upon a successful issue, to underrate the difficulties faced by this group of young men.

From before they were born, the fate of the seven had already been decided; in the First Chimurenga the die had been cast.

From every point of view, the war was inevitable. 

There was no escaping this particular battle for it originated in the determination to deliver, at all costs, the country’s independence; it was absolutely necessary for the well-being of the black majority.

The war for the restoration of our plundered heritage had to be waged and someone had to reignite it.

And the lot fell to the Chinhoyi Seven.

These fighters represented the best and the valiant of us.

Their mission was simply invaluable, it set the tone and trajectory of the looming war; they were put on the fore to gauge and test the waters, they were the trailblazers.

And trailblazing is a duty only carried out by the best of us.

This handful of young men overcame many obstacles to kickstart the Second Chimurenga.

The Chinhoyi Battle illustrates the never-say-die attitude of the African, more than anything else.

Fully knowing or guessing what awaited them, the planners of the Chinhoyi Battle fearlessly ignored the prophets of doom, marched out to grapple with a foe whose strength they knew, in a hostile territory  and succeeded in dispelling the myth of the whiteman’s superiority and invincibility.

Sometimes just knowing that enemy territory can be penetrated is all that is required to win a war.

We live in an age where it appears sentiment is out of fashion and cynicism the vogue. 

And thus we might say that the men who fell in Chinhoyi were soldiers who knew what they were getting into. 

But it must be remembered that these men could have abandoned the mission and gotten away.

However, they were not the sort of men to abandon their mission. 

These were courageous and high-minded men; they were representative of the best of black people. 

These are the same people described by one Lieutenant Brabant, who was in charge of the Victoria Native Contigent, as “…notoriously…useless, lazy and unreliable.”

These were lion-hearted men, men-of-men, we too can proudly say.

These were men whom no dangers could daunt, whose bold spirit no hardships could tame.

It must be borne in mind that if these brave men had weighed the risks too minutely they would never have entered Rhodesia at all and the Rhodies would still be bestriding us like a colossus while we found petty graves underneath them.

But these were young men, products of a nation which remembers the exploits of its forefathers and mothers like Chaminuka, Chingaira, Mkwati, Mashayamombe, Nehanda and Lobengula.

The Chinhoyi Battle was executed by men who were cool, resolute, decisive and determined 

A reverse, a retreat, escaping with their tail tucked between their legs, slinking away in the dark back to Zambia might have led to a grave disaster for the liberation struggle.

But that no such reverse occurred was testament to the determination of the black majority to reclaim their land.

Going into battle, the Chinhoyi Seven knew there would be no reinforcement coming.  

From the start, the group would be outnumbered but there was no thought of surrender. 

The seven resolved to show the whiteman that the blackman could, and would, fight at all costs.

On the ground, they chose to make their stand; they fought for hours, pouring a destructive fire into their encircling foe.

Again and again the Rhodies would issue from their cover to attempt a conclusive charge but again and again were repulsed  with well directed fire. 

Sadly, the ammunition of the seven ran out.

And at last the end came. 

Of the seven men, whose hearts beat high with hope and glory on that day of battle, none survived; they lay dead in what became a field of honour and source of inspiration.

It was several hours later that the Rhodies, then and not till then, when they were convinced that they had all died, did they dare venture and check the mouth of the lion and, on reaching the hallowed circle, were surprised to find only seven men.

These were only youths who had left school, families, siblings, all alike,  strong-willed and loyal to Zimbabwe, young men who deliberately chose to fight despite the odds being staked against them.

They did not desert the struggle, even in that darkest hour where no star shone.

Sad though the death may be of these gallant fellows and wide-spread as must be the grief among commanders and friends back in the rear, the sorrow and grief was mitigated by the manner of their death. 

They did not die fleeing. 

Their splendid spirit of comradeship and true nobility of character have embalmed them in every heart that beats with the spirit of Zimbabwe.

We will never forget the Chinhoyi Seven!

Their story will continue to be told. 

And maybe, one day, gigantic statues of them will be erected to grace the field on which they fell.

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