Home » General » The Day Rhodies Met Their Match [opinion]

BACK in the village, in the land of milk, honey and dust or Guruve war had become part of life. The liberation struggle had taken a decisive stage and the skies had not been very generous. The year was 1977, and the war had spread throughout Rhodesia.

One wintry morning an operation started to round off villagers and close them in protective fences called keeps. Shinje Business Centre, the local authority administrative centre, was fenced with pig wire and guarded 24 hours by armed auxiliary forces, called Makofi by villagers because of their brown uniform.

Villagers were allocated small stands where they built small mud-and-pole huts.

There was a head count of villagers in the mornings and evenings, like cattle.

The Rhodesians wanted to stop villagers from feeding, clothing and associating with freedom fighters.

Each time the villagers came in, the Rhodesian forces devised new search methods to ensure no one carried food and clothes for the freedom fighters.

They also searched for guns, bullets and grenades. One soldier could search both male and female villagers.

This other morning, the gate was about to the closed for those going out and a woman known as Chihera was among the last. She was just seconds from closing time. Other villagers waited for her outside the gate, for, it was better to travel in groups during the war, especially to distant villages.

There she was, typical of the Chihera women known by many, running to the gate, a wrapping cloth around her waist.

Unbeknown to her, this day the soldiers had put a huge log and were ordering everyone to jump over it as part of the searching. The instruction was to jump with your hands high up.

The soldiers did not allow head cloth or g shoes.

Chihera jumped and lo and behold, the wrap around cloth dropped. She had nothing like an undergarment. No petticoat, even. There was silence, then laughter. There she stood, not even trying to pick up the cloth.

“Woman pick up your cloth! You are under arrest, you wanted to go and sleep with the guerrillas?” shouted the soldier.

“Listen, I am the age of your mother. You don’t use that language on me. I did not complete my dressing because I was late and wanted to beat your gate closing time. I… ” The soldier could not partake. He shouted back.

Another soldier dragged Chihera who kicked, punched and shouted as they took her to the base. She still refused to dress up. If the soldier pulled up the cloth, she pulled it down. The drama continued for a while attracting this villager and the boys of his age who were kicking a home-made plastic ball.

Everyone gathered by the base and Chihera continued to protest until they changed their tactic and started pleading with her to dress up. Eventually she did. Since that day, they stopped searching women. What promoted the keep system was that Zanla combatants had continued to operate from Mozambique and remained dominant among the Shona people in eastern and central Rhodesia.

It was fast spreading to the western parts of the country.

No longer were the guerrillas the disorganised force they had been deemed in the late 1960s and and were now more sophisticated, which took the Rhodesians by surprise.

Despite escalating brutality, the Rhodesians were losing the war.

Village boys marvelled at knowing the type of guns carried by Cdes Mcduff Mandebvu, Farai Kapfupi, Mabhunu Muchapera, Rovai Hondo, Disaster Bazooka and others.

Dande River was a silent observer of the war. It never told the secrets. On its banks, riverine vegetation had witnessed budding romances blossom into weddings, women gossip and people, including liberation fighters’ bath in the nude or half dressed.

It had listened to many quarrels between washing and bathing women, good and bad gossip. Scandals too! The war, the war and the war. Yes, the war! Except for a few ripples caused by a falling tree leaf or flirting dragon fly or diving frog, the river flowed quietly.

The boys, our boys, or “Vanamukoma” were winning, gaining confidence and becoming visible.

Village boys marvelled at knowing the type of guns carried by Cdes Mcduff Mandebvu, Farai Kapfupi, Mabhunu Muchapera, Rovai Hondo, Disaster Bazooka and others.

Intermittently, there was the presence of the masters of disguise, the evil Selous Scouts, where it was uncommon to find a white man painted black only to be sold out by the lips. White soldiers also wore black ski masks.

So many people were beaten silly or killed after failing to differentiate between the scouts and genuine freedom fighters.

Livestock were also being affected severely by the drought and the war. Cattle and goats were so thin and hungry that they could be seen nibbling at anything that had a semblance of green, including papers.

That year, the Dande River was at its lowest but not dry.

Villagers saw, for the first time, the gleaming stones, polished smooth by ages of running river water. Footpaths from various homesteads converged on the riverbanks, like the arms of an octopus. The river continued to flow lowly, oblivious of the passage of time or change of visitors. Dande River was a silent observer of the war. It never told the secrets. On its banks, riverine vegetation had witnessed budding romances blossom into weddings, women gossip and people, including liberation fighters’ bath in the nude or half dressed.

It had listened to many quarrels between washing and bathing women, good and bad gossip. Scandals too! The war, the war and the war. Yes, the war! Except for a few ripples caused by a falling tree leaf or flirting dragon fly or diving frog, the river flowed quietly.

Source : The Herald

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