LAST week, Cde Emelda Musanhu (born 1954) whose Chimurenga name was Cde Suzan Rutanhire narrated how she joined the liberation struggle in November 1972 soon after her wedding to a catechist George Rutanhire. She narrated how her wedding gifts were sold by her husband and some comrades as they walked to Chifombo Camp in Zambia.
In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Suzan continues her story from the time she was a member of General Staff stationed at Chimoio camp in Mozambique. She explains the horror she saw during the attack at Chimoio and how one of Cde Tongogara’s sons, at three years, warned his father that “mukaenda hamudzoki.” Indeed, Cde Tongo never returned from that journey. Read on …
SM: Now, Cde Suzan, last week you ended your story when you were at Chimoio camp. Tell us briefly of your life at Chimoio?
Cde Suzan: I was now a member of General Staff in Zanu under the administration department. I was in charge of logistics, seeing that all the comrades were well fed and that all requirements were available. I used to work with Cde Norman Bethune and Cde Baya, who later died at Chimoio.
SM: We are told that before the Chimoio attack, some spirit mediums who were at one of the bases warned that an attack was imminent. Are you aware of this?
Cde Suzan: Indeed, the spirit mediums had warned us that an attack was imminent. For a few months before the attack, we saw a small spotter plane which regularly flew over the camp but we never thought this plane was on a surveillance mission. This plan would fly over us sometimes flying very slowly. Some days we even questioned the mission of this plane, but we never took things serious. We just thought maybe the plane belonged to our Frelimo comrades. Sekuru Chidyamauyu and Sekuru Chiodzamamera warned on several occasions that an attack was imminent. I remember that. They said garai makagadzirira nekuti pano parikuda kuzoitwa hondo. They didn’t talk about the time when this attack was to happen.
SM: Who did they tell?
Cde Suzan: They told our commanders, including Cde Tongo, Cde Mayor Urimbo, Cde Chauke, Cde Bethune, Cde Baya and others. I vividly remember Cde Tongo was told about this attack directly by Sekuru Chidyamauyu and Sekuru Chiodzamamera.
SM: So after this warning, did these commanders took heed?
Cde Suzan: Yes, they did, but the attack came as a surprise.
SM: As people who had been warned, were there any measures taken to be always on the alert?
Cde Suzan: You see, hondo haigadzirirwe. Inongouya. Yes, some of the commanders like Cde Bethune tried to put in place measures to get ready for the attack. I remember people were ordered to leave the camp everyday very early, but when the attack happened it happened to early and like I said hondo haigadzirirwe. Zvakasiyana nekuti ngatiwunganidzei huni tibike sadza. It’s very different. You react according to the attack.
SM: Now tell us of the attack. What exactly happened from your perspective?
Cde Suzan: The attack started around 8am. The Rhodesian forces first started bombing the camp. The attack was just too sudden and the firepower was just too much. While dropping bombs, on the other end, they were dropping parachutes right round camp. These parachutes were supposed to finish off survivors who were running away from the camp. I remember when the attack started, someone shouted kuti hondo yauya vakomana. I think it was Cde Bethune who shouted. He was the commander at Chimoio. The Rhodesian forces knew exactly what they were doing because they dropped bombs right on the different bases that were in this camp. One of the bombs was dropped paiva nevana and the other was dropped on top of the base where we kept varwere. The attack was swift and merciless. Quite a number of bombs were dropped on the different bases and soon after this, helicopters came shooting survivors. There really was nowhere to run and like I told you, there was no way to prepare for such an attack. We could not even fire back. It was not possible. We were clearly out powered.
I could hear gun shots as survivors were being shot by the ground force. I could hear my comrades screaming. Akabuda akabuda, akasara akasara. I still hear these voices up to this day.
SM: Was Cde Tongo around when this attack happened?
Cde Suzan: No he was not. Quite a number of the commanders were not there, but I remember Cde Bethune was there. I think even Cde Rex Nhongo was there.
SM: So how did you survive?
Cde Suzan: You know when the attack started, I was taken by surprise such that I stood at one point trying to understand what was going on. I think I had been paralyzed by fear and I stood glued at one point for some minutes. It was as if I was watching some horror movie. I could see in the distance parachutes being dropped. After a while, I got back to reality and started running in the direction that I thought was safe. I passed through a number of bases and hey, vanangu, I saw lots of people dead. I vividly remember passing through paigara vana pataiti pachikoro. I think the attack happened vana vatogara under trees in groups of 45 vakuda kutofundiswa. Ummm, what I saw was horrific. Vana vanga vari vadiki. Umm firo yacho haina kunaka. There was a pile of dead bodies. Body parts were scattered all over. Matumbu evana were all over. Unofamba woona kamusoro, wofamba woona kagumbo, wofamba woona karuoko. Kana kuona mwana matumbu ese aripanze. Nhai mwari chiiko ichi?
Despite seeing all this horror, I kept running and after a while I discovered that I was now out of the killing bag.
SM: Did you lose any of your close comrades at Chimoio?
Cde Suzan: Yes, I lost my very close comrade, Cde Muchazotida. I remember Cde Muchazotida vachimhanya nepaiva nemumango tree. Just after passing the mango tree, she was shot and I saw her falling down. I instantly knew she was dead. Everything happened in my eyes. Ndakanzwa kubatikana.
SM: You said you found yourself out of the killing bag. Take us through what happened after.
Cde Suzan: I can’t up to this day explain how I survived. Maybe kumira kwandakamboita saved me. When I got to safety, I kept walking until I got to Chimoio town where I met several other survivors. As I walked, I kept on saying to myself, nhai Mbuya Nehanda mava kurega tichipera, mati hondo yorwiwa nani? When I met other survivors, they told me the horror they saw from their perspective. It was gruesome. Why Mbuya Nehanda? Why? Sekuru Kaguvi why? Why, why, why?
From Chimoio I went to Gondola which was the gathering point. From Gondola we were taken to Pungwe Three. Some were taken to Mudzingadzi. From Pungwe Three I was assigned to Chibawawa to continue my logistics duties. Chibawawa was a very big camp. Ndipo paisvikira marefugees. On arrival, the refugees would be screened and vetted. Others would be sent for training while others, especially the elderly and those who were sick, remained at Chibawawa. There were both Frelimo and Zanla comrades at this base. From Chibawawa, I was assigned to go to Maputo.
I was assigned to Maputo because at that time, Zanu had decided to form the Women’s League. All this time, there was no Women’s League in the party. The leaders were saying when we go back to Zimbabwe, we were supposed to have a league that catered for women’s affairs.
SM: Who are the other female comrades you were with in Maputo?
Cde Suzan: Among the leaders, there was myself, Cde Teurai (Mai Mujuru), Mai Zvobgo together with Amai Sally Mugabe. We were taught about women’s issues and how to handle them, especially after the war. We were taught about the structures and the policies we were supposed to implement. As we were preparing the groundwork for the launch of the Women’s League, we were called for a women’s conference in Lusaka. I went with Mai Zvobgo to this conference. We learnt quite a lot about women’s issues from this conference which drew participants from many African countries. After the conference we went back to Maputo. Later we were sent to Botswana for another women’s meeting. We gained lots of experience on addressing women’s issues and how to address the women themselves.
SM: Did you have the opportunity to meet your husband Cde George Rutanhire again?
Cde Suzan: When I was in Maputo, Cde George was already in Sweden. He was the Zanu representative in Sweden. At first I actually thought the party would say munhu anoenda nemukadzi wake but this didn’t happen. So I didn’t meet Cde George all this time. During time of Ceasefire, other comrades left Maputo for Harare, but I remained in Maputo. When Cde Tongo passed away, the party organised that I was supposed to remain behind with Amai Tongo and console her. I stayed with her for about three to four months. She was pregnant and so she needed someone to assist her.
SM: How did Amai Tongo receive the news of her husband’s death?
Cde Suzan: It was painful and zvakanetsa kuti vazvigamuchire. The day that Cde Tongo died, his son, I think he is called Bvumai, had actually spoken about it. Cde Tongo had been given the responsibility after Lancaster to go around bases informing all the comrades about Ceasefire. So as he was leaving, his son, Bvumai said “baba musaende, mukaenda hamusikudzoka.” I think he was around three years by that time. Cde Tongo said “aiwa kani Bvumai, ndinodzoka mwanangu.”
SM: This actually happened?
Cde Suzan: Yes, he said “baba musaende, mukaenda hamusikudzoka.” After this, Cde Tongo delayed leaving vachiti “regai mwana atange atomborara nekuti ndiri kuti ndikangoda kusimuka ari kubva amuka achiti baba musaende.”
SM: A three year-old?
Cde Suzan: Yes, I don’t even know kuti mwana akanga afemerwa nei? Later Bvumai fell asleep and Cde Tongo and his team left. Later we heard that Cde Tongo had died in an accident. I remember maiguru Mai Tongo saying “asi nhai Bvumai mwanangu, ndizvo zvawanga uchireva here kuti baba mukaenda hamudzoki? Ndizvo here izvi mwanangu?” Mai Tongo was in pain so I was told kuenda kunovanyaradza.
SM: How difficult was it to console her?
Cde Suzan: It was very difficult, but ndaingoti maiguru chingogamuchirai zviripo. Hapasisina anything we can do. Ndizvo zvatoitika. Kuronga kwamwari. Zvinorwadza hongu, but mwari vaita kuda kwavo. The most difficult part was that Mai Tongo was pregnant. There was fear that this could complicate her pregnancy.
I was with Mai Tongo until she gave birth to her daughter, Nyaradzo. Mai vavo nababa vavo later came to Maputo. That is when I came to Zimbabwe. We came in a convoy of buses via Mutare.
These buses were loaded with materiel from Maputo. On arrival we were taken to 88 Manica Road (now Robert Mugabe Road) in Harare. This was in 1980.
SM: When you came back, how was your family and how were you received?
Cde Suzan: When I came back from the liberation struggle, I was told that my father had passed on. I was told that he had gotten sick and passed on.
SM: How did you reconnect with your husband?
Cde Suzan: While I was in Maputo consoling Mai Tongo, Cde George came back from Sweden and was now in Harare. When he came back, he went kumusha kwedu to announce that ‘mudzimai wangu haana kufa ariko asi achazouya gare gare.’ My mother didn’t receive the news very well. I am told she asked him kuti saka iwe wauya sei wega? My mother thought kuhondo taigara tese and so we were supposed to come back together. When I came back, I first met my husband in Harare who later took me kumusha and my mother was very happy. When I met Cde George after all these years, I was overwhelmed with emotions. I was so, so happy to see him, and I could see he was also very happy to see me.
SM: Some comrades say when they returned from the liberation struggle, they conducted rituals to thank their ancestors. Did you do that yourself?
Cde Suzan: Yes, my mother and my brothers vakaita chikaranga chacho. Even my in-laws did the same. They said vadzimu maita henyu muroora adzoka. Taizonyadziswa kuti akaenda nemwana wedu iye adzoka wedu haana kudzokawo sei? There were so happy to receive me back into their family. I am still married to my husband George and we have a farm in Centenary. We are into tobacco farming.
SM: Tell us briefly of your life after the liberation struggle?
Cde Suzan: I worked for 25 years at the City of Harare under the municipal police.
SM: A member of General Staff in Zanu now working as a municipal police. How did you receive that?
Cde Suzan: Unogamuchira zviripo.
SM: What do you mean?
Cde Suzan: Ko ungagodii? Others actually failed to find jobs. I had no option but to take the offer which was there. My other comrades are still suffering and this troubles me a lot. I still can’t understand why as war veterans, we are not getting due recognition.
SM: As someone who participated during the liberation struggle, what advice would you want to give to youths?
Cde Suzan: The youths should desist from chirwere chefull of I know. They should respect the past and the sacrifices that were made.
It’s always good to ask when you don’t know. I am glad you have given me this opportunity to narrate my story. I hope it will inspire some youths. For some people, these stories may not mean much for now but in future history will speak.