No celebrations, but mourning on independence day

Sibanengi Dube

Zimbabweans mourned on 18 April 2021 as they celebrated 41 years of independence. Yes! They mourned in celebration of a day which marked 41 years of Zimbabwe independence from British rule.

The independence of Zimbabwe did not come cheap. Zimbabweans paid with their lives, blood, limps and long jail terms. Some of us were still toddlers but everyone who was an adult or teenage in the 1960s and 70s contributed immensely to the liberation of Zimbabwe. In the late 1970s, I remember my mother used to leave us alone with sisi (helper) every night taking food to the mountains with other young mothers in the village. She will however be on her bed every morning by the time we wake up. I and my little brother Themba will happily join her on her bed celebrating her come back. As compensation for being away, she would allow us to enjoy the comfort of her bed as we give her reports about our cattle and goats that would be missing or in the kraals

My father was a rare sight at home. He was always absent. He would tiptoe home at night when were asleep and glide out before we wake up. At times we would bump into him by luck and ask when he came back even though he would not have travelled. That was the norm of our lives. At times our mother would sneak us into the bushes kubemberero at Imbahuru Mountain to have lunch with my father who seemed to be in hiding. The man was on the run, just like all other young fathers in the village. He was literally on the wanted list for harbouring mandungu (freedom fighters) at his home. That never bothered me anywhere. In any case I never knew any other life apart from duck and diving as we were targets. His family expected him to be caught and killed at anytime. I even believed that was a normal way of living for every adult male. We were even coached on how to respond if asked where dad was. We would even tell his own brothers that dad was taken away by some people long ago even though we might have shared lunch with him the previous day in the bushes. I knew from a young age not to trust anyone with my father’s life.

These Comrades, liberation fighters were putting our lives at risk by daily thronging our home for sadza with chicken and tea with bread. At times these gorilla fighters would demand farmers’ shoes, jeans and caps from my entrepreneurial father who was running a buying and selling business before building his fully fledged General Dealer’shop at Gwai Shopping Centre. As a local businessman, dad was duty bound to make sure that the gorillas were fed with bread, which was treated as a delicacy by then. Some of us who were toddlers by then were surviving on left overs as my mother fed liberation fighters first before attending to our hunger. We had to eat leftovers after vana mukoma vadya.

Dad had two PFAFF sewing machines, which he used to mend the tattered camouflages of the freedom fighters. Our yard was always green with crops as we had irrigation equipment which allowed us to have leafy crops in the field throughout the year including sugar-canes, maize cobs and mapfunde. Liberation fighters used our ever green fields as cover to hide and conceal their armaments. As time went on only senior commanders were allowed to frequent our home for meals, while juniors were fed from the bases, notably Chehondo, Mutete or Federation. The level of risk was astonishingly high and as I grew up, I then began to understand why dad had to be in perpetual hiding. At times I would ear-drop on my parents’ deliberations and my father would always throw in phrases like.”kana ndafa muhondo mutengese mombe dzangu idzi dzose dziri kumuraga kuti vana vaende kuchikoro..’ (If I die in the struggle, raise our children’school fees by selling our cows). I was wondering why he expected to die in the war as he was not directly in combat, but I later realised that civilians who actively supported magandanga (terrorists) were far much at risk than their trained and armed comrades. Our home was subjected to routine raids by Ian Smith’s soldiers acting on tip-offs from vatengesi (sell-out). It became common knowledge that our pamba kwaMudhara Sicino was the favourite port of call of liberation fighters.

All other families within the villages were bearing the same burden of feeding, entertaining and camouflaging freedom fighters, but were not spied as much as our home. Five hundred metres away from us a comrade was being nursed at a relative’s home pababamukuru baba Tsungirirai Dube after he accidentally shot himself while cleaning his gun in our field. The amount of risk involved was way too much. Harbouring a ‘terrorist,’ as freedom fighters were referred to, by the colonial government was a capital offence whose sentence was death in the hands of a firing squad. He however recouped over time as his hiding spot was a relatively safe zone.

One comrade was enjoying tea in our bedroom when my mother stormed in to alert him that soldiers have surrounded our home. What the gandanga did in-front of us wrecked our young and innocent minds. He sneaked in our bed with his boots, gun and khaki military outfit and started groaning faking pain. He then pulled out a female wool hat and covered his head and face. He instructed my mother to tell the soldiers that he was our ill aunt recovering from a miscarriage. Such a real life movie script was coined within a few seconds where all of us were circumstantially roped in as actors. The trick worked, none of the soldiers bothered to look at a woman recovering from labour pains, but the risk was phenomenal. It was even too ghastly to contemplate. My mother would have been subjected to a firing squad without any second thought. Our home would have been burnt down with all of us inside the grass thatched huts. Concealing a ‘terrorist’ in the 1970’s was treasonous. Of course, she couldn’t alert the soldiers about the presence of a ‘terrorist’ as that was against her desire to see a liberated Zimbabwe that would bring laughter and bread to her children.

A few days before this incident, soldiers had arrested our neighbour Baba Janet before torturing his home on suspicion of being a war collaborator (mujibha). The legitimate objective of all the villagers who risked their lives by tacitly backing Zanu PF’s magandanga was to bring freedom and independence to their country of birth, end segregation and oppression. But 41 years later, there is nothing to put smiles on the faces of the all other villagers who took far much bigger risks than my parents majority. Instead oppression only changed colour. White oppressors were replaced by black ones. Their own liberators transformed into more shrewd oppressors who intensified the same style of the previous oppressors. Only Zanu PF chefs got independent, the majority of Zimbabweans are still to be independent.

My dad who risked his family ’safety, donated all his limited resources to the liberation struggle died in 2011 an angry man in 2011. All his sons were in exile by the time of his demise. All hopes of an independent Zimbabwe with plenty of opportunities for his children that he worked very hard to send to school went up in smoke. He never thought his children will ever leave the border of independent Zimbabwe in search of livelihood in foreign countries. Little did he knew that his sons won’t be around his bed by the time of taking his last breath. I was at work in Johannesburg when I received news of my dad’s demise while my other brother was holed in Tanzania. My other young brother Fortunate Dube had died nine years earlier in a road accident on his way to join me in diaspora. My father’s daughters who are civil servants are living hugely incapacitated lives because of the slave wages which the government is paying them.. My mother, a retired Pastor with Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Zimbabwe, is aging alone in Mberengwa without her children and grandchildren who are now dotted around the globe outside Zimbabwe.

Although he worked for Zanu PF for all his earlier life, but my dad died a member of MDC’s National Executive Council fighting for independence. This time around fighting for freedom from his comrades.

His frustrations are shared by many other villagers dotted around Zimbabwe who spared no cow to keep the liberation struggle going. Some families do not even know where the remains of their children were buried. The sacrifices they paid are not in sync with the gluttonous and murderous conduct of the current crop of leaders superintending over the affairs of Zimbabwe. There was absolutely nothing to celebrate on the Independence Day last Thursday. Instead Zimbabweans mourned at such a monumental betrayal by their own liberators. Dirges hooted in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Mberengwa, Zvishabane, Chivhu, Tsholotsho, Chiredzi, Gwanda and all other parts of Zimbabwe. Coronavirus made the situation no better and the presence of soldiers in the streets nostalgically brought back their experiences in the hands of Ian Smith. Only a few are eating on behalf of the majority. Kwanzi maivepi tichiifira nyika iyi? Yet they are alive and not dead. Zimbabweans have been starved to their skeletal frames by a system that makes no provision for the marginalised. Real independence is still to come. Cry my beloved country…

–Sibanengi Dube is the Publisher of Zimbabwe Observer

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