By Margaret Kamba
Life at the Nyadzonia camp was not easy. The camp separated the boys from men and the girls from the women. The men and women that remained and survived the attack at the camp lived to fight another day and eventually saw to the bringing home of Zimbabwe‘s independence of a colonial rule that had deemed them worthless. It is this independence that we enjoy today and that which we must guard jealously because it simply did not come on a silver platter.
Cde Monica Mutsvangwa highlights that in between that time at the camp, a lot of work was done in making sure they made their own barracks and the ideological lessons as part of the daily routine to make them soldiers strong enough to handle the enemy and the things which that were not normal. In her words “it was always ideology before the gun.”
She says Nyadzonia was the camp to which recruits were taken to be told the reasons why they were going to fight.
“It was difficult at Nyadzonia. I remember one day, I had one bra and after taking a bath at the river, I took my bra and I put it on and I looked and it was all black and I thought what is that? It was all lice. Inda dzazara pa bra and you start saying to yourself ‘what is next’? And I remember there were some who actually would abscond and try to go back home because they just couldn’t take the pressure. I remember telling my friends whom I had come with that there is nowhere to go because we don’t even know where Zimbabwe is,” Cde Mutsvangwa said.
There was that fear of being caught by the Rhodesians in the middle of nowhere and campus-less. That made them soldier on.
“So we started beginning to accept that had become our life. So that was Nyadzonia. Months down the line, Nyadzonia was bombed as you are aware. When it started, we were actually at what we used to call parade where everyone used to come. It was actually the Heroes’ Day. I think it was in August yes. So we were there at the parade and we were expecting mashefu coming from somewhere to come and give us morale.
“To just make us feel that we are here because everybody had gone to join the struggle so the expectation was you get there, you are given a gun and they already start training you but that was not the case. So it was important to boost the morale of those who were staying there and simply because we just didn’t have enough resources as a Party to make sure that as soon as they come they go through training so refugee camp was a waiting place and then trucks would come and then take you to Chimoio for training or to Tete for training.
“So on that day when the trucks which disguised the Frelimo roadblocks felt because there was Nyathi, somebody who was with the comrades at Nyadzonia who had been captured and came back with these Rhodesian trucks, he was the one ahead who would then tell the Frelimo soldiers yeah we are coming back from the front, these are comrades coming back from the front and the white soldiers had painted themselves black.”
The Rhodies displayed their true colours on that particular day and the marks of that cruelty still lie in state at Nyadzonia.
“So when they arrived at the camp, those who first saw them, they started you know, they were joyful and happy that the trucks had come, we are now going to be taken for training. And those who were at the parade, some of them thought these are trucks coming with food because there was very scarce food. Actually we would go three days without food and then a truck would bring food so everybody got excited, they were quite a number of them,” Cde Mutsvangwa said.
“But for some reason, I never, my sixth sense told me I found other comrades here, who had been here much longer than me, so if it’s about training, I am sure it’s not about me and my other friends. So those who rushed were obviously rushing so they would get in a queue they would be the first ones who will then be taken for training.
“So when everybody else was rushing I remained at the parade with a few of my friends. Two of my friends also ran with others and got excited and said you never know I can go also. So that’s how it happened and the next thing, there was firing. It was my first time to hear gun shooting and all of a sudden you see people running and all what I did was also to run. I remember running trying to see where my friends are.”
Confronted with a huge problem, help was not far off, because she had to fulfil her destiny.
“It was too late to even call anybody, you just run towards and this was running towards the river Nyadzonia. And here I was a girl brought up in the village, I had never paid an opportunity to learn swimming, so to try and cross that Nyadzonia was a nightmare now and guns are continuously coming you know, you could hear the bullets and the next thing you see somebody running right in front of you, head is off and for the first time in my life I saw that a human being can actually run for a few seconds or fall without a head. You could see that you are running on top of people already, blood all over and when you get to Nyadzonia, you wonder how will I swim,” said Cde Mutsvangwa.
“There was a comrade and I will never forget his name. He was huge and very helpful to the young girls and boys who couldn’t swim. He would carry them across then come back and carry others so that’s how I crossed and that’s how we got help. Then we had to walk for a whole day and continue running until we couldn’t hear the gunshots.
“That’s when we started walking and in the evening that’s when eventually we were confronted by another huge river, Pungwe River and flowing badly. And with others we said if you can’t swim Pungwe is wider then there’s no way we can try to get in there. We couldn’t stop because we didn’t know how far is maybe they are following. Cleverly our commanders, the leadership, they came up with an idea to kutora mapote to make ropes from the tree make something which people would hold onto as they cross.
“So as we watching and were in a queue to do the same thing, I saw a young boy who was from my school who had come much earlier than us, as he was going, his name was Joe Bwabuya, I always remember that, I saw him going and going and suddenly there was a big wave of water and boom he was swept away. And we were watching and that’s when a lot of those young girls and boys said we were not going to cross. So we continued walking up the river or whether it was done the river now, my geography has got to remind me.”
The body can survive a few days without food as seen through this sad experience and what kept them going was what lay ahead.
“Finally after a day we met a Mozambican family very poor by that time. A lot of families in that area were very poor. Hungry two days without eating, I remember one of them had an orange and gave this orange to us and we shared this orange and I think we were about 20, I don’t know and just to feel something on the tongue that helped a lot. So eventually, they had small boats the ones which you row, not really a boat but a home-made boat that’s the one they used to make us cross the river and then we continued walking until we got to Junta. That’s where we regrouped after that we went to Doroi,” Cde Mutsvangwa said.
“This is a story of five years. Doroi was another tough refugee camp. That’s when we had so many diseases at Doroi.Takarwara matekenya aya tikaita zvimwe zvirwere zvatisinga understander kuti zvakabva kupi. Zvekuti waiita sekunge urikunzwa lack of iron, maknees ari so weak and you can’t even walk and it was so difficult.”
Cde Mutsvangwa emotionally described that the diseases were unknown and that they believed that they had been thrown into that place because they never knew them.
“It was really a difficult time and people started dying. Sometimes when I am looking at how people are dying in other countries like Ecuador about Covid bodies being found on the road, it reminds me of Doroi where we had to go every morning and pick dead bodies and there is a company which would just go to dig graves before you even know it was certain that you would pick a lot of dead bodies in the barracks and just bury them. Some of them we buried them without even knowing who that person is,” said Cde Mutsvangwa.
“And over time I was trying to find out whether my friends I came from school with, I never found out. I only found out much later that Veronica Chigumira who I had come from school with had died at Nyadzonia. There was me, Monica Parirenyatwa and Runika Mupita and the other one was Sophia Munakandafa. The other two had survived Nyadzonia.”
The story does not end here because that spirit needed to see the journey through to the end and usher in an independent Zimbabwe. In our next article, we will pursue how she survived the gruesome physical training that saw her rising through the ranks.