By Margaret Kamba
Many female freedom fighters have not had an opportunity to share their war experiences and some have never wanted to because of the trauma associated with it. Reliving the horror of those nights spent far away from loved ones to fight for the liberation of Zimbabwe did not come cheap. The imagined sacrifices were horrific realities which saw many maimed while others were killed in the eyes of those that remained to tell the story.
Others were swept away as people attempted to cross rivers while they were being pursued by the enemy. For some it is now sleepless nights as people dream of unknown men chocking them to death and all this they trace back to the liberation struggle of our lovely Zimbabwe.
The horrors were real; the threats were real. The enemy was real. The challenges were real. Being a woman was real. In this article, Cde Monica Mutsvangwa relives the horror of her journey to Zimbabwe’s Independence and helps us understand that the role played by every woman should never be underestimated.
“My father was brave enough to send all of us to Mutambara High School, a boarding school. Two and a half years down the line, the spirit of the Samora generation came into me. It was at school one afternoon that we had just talked about it. We had just heard what the Mozambicans had done. Frelimo had just gained independence, even in Angola and we just kept asking ourselves why are were waiting, what are we waiting for? So eventually it happened. We left school in the afternoon,” Cde Mutsvangwa says.
“Mutambara is just not very far from the border of Mozambique as you are aware, despite a lot of walking up the mountains. How we managed to go up all those mountains, to travel to the direction which we didn’t even know. We didn’t even know where we were going, all what we said to ourselves was, we are going to Mozambique and when we get to Mozambique our Frelimo brothers and sisters will help us to make sure that we join others who had gone a little earlier than us from our school.
“When we were at school, we used to have politics being preached in church and this was a Methodist school. Our Reverend was Muzorewa Abel Tendekai and many a time, he would preach about giving your life for the good of the nation. Many a time, he would say you shouldn’t be afraid of fighting for what is rightfully yours. So this was all inspiration.
“We also at that time had a newspaper which used to be printed by the Smith regime which really knocked into us that a black man is useless. A black person would never rule this country. Never in a 1000 years.
“A lot of young generation may not know; before independence no black person was able to vote. There was no, one-man, one-vote in this country. A few of these whites who were in this country were the ones who determined who goes to Parliament, who runs this country. The black people were nowhere in Parliament neither in government.
“So the coming of the independence of Mozambique opened our eyes as a generation and that’s why we call ourselves the Samora generation. So we left everything we had. We were at a secondary school. Yes, I wasn’t rich, my mum had suffered for me to get to secondary school. So we walked all afternoon and all night.”
Cde Mutsvangwa recollects how she and her friends left school one afternoon and walked all day and all night. When they thought they had arrived at the border, they looked closely only to discover they were seeing truckloads of the Smith regime.
They ran away and resumed walking in a different direction. They arrived at the border around 8pm and because it was at night, they were stopped by some soldiers. The girls thought they had been captured but they realised that the men were speaking a different language from those of the Smith regime.
“From then on, the Frelimo brothers took care of us. It was a small camp at Rutanda. The next early morning at 4am, we were woken up and we had to walk. We walked all the way, on foot to Villa Peri. This was the first experience of knowing that we are now in a tough world. I remember blisters over my feet. We got to Villa Peri and we were left there. We were told that we will be taken to a camp where all the young Zimbabweans who were coming to join the struggle had been taken to and that was Nyadzonia,” says Cde Mutsvangwa.
“Eventually we were taken to Nyadzonia. There were truckloads which would come to take mealie-meal for those who were at Nyadzonia. So we were also put on those trucks. We got to Nyadzonia and that’s when we discovered we are in a terrible problem.
“I remember on the way when we stopped, we were bitten all over and we discovered these were tsetse flies. Terrible pain. We got to Nyadzonia and naturally because those who were already there had to be vigilant, so you would go through scrutiny, investigations, interrogations and it took two days or sometimes even more and this was done, we only understood it much later that this was done to make sure that they don’t bring in an enemy, because there was a possibility of others who would be sent to Mozambique just to go and poison everybody in that camp or just to investigate what is happening so that they give the enemy back in Rhodesia information.
“So we got to Nyadzonia, as a little girl with my four friends, we kept each other together, cry sometimes together. There was not enough food at Nyadzonia camp. I remember I had taken one dress in my uniform just to disguise because we left during school time. So I had two clothes on me. That’s all what I had. I remember when I was at the river bathing, my dress, I washed it and I put it there. There was no soap. My dress was taken and I was left with one. Somebody else had just taken it to wear also because they didn’t have anything. So I remained with one.
“It was tough. Nyadzonia was a refugee camp and you looked at people and you would wonder vanhu here ava, vakasvipa kuti tsvaaa, woshayiwa kuti. And you look at the barracks which were called barracks. It was nothing like a barrack which you can think of today. These were just make shifts made out of grass and wood. That was the life.
“As recruits we were kept in our own place, guarded. We would go to eat. I remember going to what was considered the kitchen and looked at the food which was sadza and what was supposed to be called milk. But then I later learnt that it was powdered milk which was coming from the Nordic countries as a donation and because we had no other kind of relish and the camps were too many now and so they really had to make sure they ration so it was diluted almost to the point of being just water.
And then when you look at people eating, eish, for days you would go without eating because you thought ahh this is not edible, I can’t eat this and with flies all over. But two, three, four days down the line, hunger would then force you to eat what you normally would never touch and afterwards, it became food. (Chuckles) Painful.”
In our next article, Cde Mutsvangwa will highlight the life at the camp ahead of the Nyadzonia camp massacre where she escaped.