Isdore Guvamombe Assistant Editor
The war of liberation had reached fever pitch in Rhodesia. It was Grandmother’s duty to feed the freedom fighters this night and she had prepared the food before sunset.
Independence was smelling as the Rhodesian enemy was staring imminent defeat.
We set off the village under the silhouette horizon as day gave way to night. The Zanla base was set far on the mountains.
Soon, moonlight slanted down through the leaves and blossoms of the thicket, making whimsical coloured patterns that flickered on the ground. Under a normal night excursion the moon would have been magnificent, but our circumstances needed it to be humble and soft. Not shouting!
The war was raging and the pall of death was harshly all over. Tree leaves cracked under our feet and I was particularly worried about the creepy creatures, but my high cut canvas shoes gave me some comfort. It was silly cold. A faint warm breeze stirred the sleepy leaves, bringing with it fragrance of flowering grass and trees, and a breath of something languid, inducing idleness, voluptuousness and strangeness.
The October night was unique. As I cast my eyes on the forest, there was a ghostly figure of the day itself. I watched the forest again and again. It was tinged superfluous! The baskets of food were heavy and hot. The food was still steaming. Grandmother walked and broke into fox trot, her bare feet leaving tractive footprints. I followed closely trying to keep pace with her. It was a delicate move. She was deft footed.
The Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (Zanla), fighters were hungry and waiting for the food. Zanla was the military wing of Zanu-PF. The war was hot and they needed to eat and move on. They had a target they needed to hit late that night.
I carried a basket delicately on my head and a water container dangled from my right hand. After a short distance, I would change the container from one hand to the other. Fatigue! Suddenly we came to an open stretch, which was the most dangerous, for Rhodesian soldiers could easily snoop on us. Grandmother plunged into the open space at the same speed and without looking back or sideways, she increased her speed and the grass was tallish.
Soon we were past the open spaces and we started another forest and the footpath cut across mercilessly, like a sharp knife. On the verge, I saw the green grass turning a golden hue from the dainty patches of light that flickered from the moon and quivered as if they were living. The moon was now about to set. Then there were fire-coloured butterflies that made the grass under the trees look like it was about to catch fire. They flew effortlessly, but seemingly without purpose. My mind somehow told me they had a purpose, known to them.
Suddenly a voice asked for a password and Grandmother quickly answered correctly. Soon we found ourselves at the base. Zanla had a huge base there. It was near Chimufombo and carefully located at the confluence of Chapfeni and Mupinge rivers. The frogs that proffered a cacophony of sounds as we approached went dead silent. They were probably listening to our conversation with the combatants. Establishing a base near a river was strategic. The frogs always informed about visitors. When there was no movement and dead silence, they would sing loud like drunken villagers, but as soon as a person appeared, they would shut up.
Back to basics, we tasted our food and water as a safety ritual and then the boys, as the combatants were obliquely referred to, shared the food and ate quietly. They were very orderly. Others lay in positions, guarding the base and they also got their share. Grandmother was asked several questions about the war, the execution of the war and the thinking in the villages. She was asked about the Rhodesian forces, their frequency and type of weaponry and I was shocked by her knowledge. She answered with confidence. The commander, Cde Mcduff Mandebvu, spoke with a soft but authoritative voice. He had goatee beard.
Soon we left the base, using the same route. Two “boys” as the combatants were known, escorted us for some time then suddenly they bade us farewell and were swallowed by the night. The moon had set by this time. As we approached home, we heard gunshots. Combat. Contact. There was light gunfire, which ran in tot, tot, tot and tot. Then there was a loud bang. It must have been a bazooka. Then there was dead silence. Silence, silence, silence! Cemetery silence. Silence!
Another tot, tot, tot and then a huge bang. The sky lit with shrapnel. We hid on the verge of the village. Then there was another big bang and silence. Deathly silence. We crept inside the house, our heartbeats pounding. The night smelt of death until morning.
The following morning, Rhodesian Air Force helicopters hovered above the village and beyond. Then, like vultures they circulated in one particular area and landed briefly. We were later told that they were picking up dead bodies of soldiers. The Rhodesians had suffered huge losses.