Mother’s quest for freedom

Last week, The Sunday Mail published Cde Idah Murape (nee Chiromo), a founding nationalist who was detained by the Ian Smith regime with her two-month-old baby, Hatikundwe-Nemabhunu Murape, who miraculously survived the inhumane prison conditions.

Below, Cde Murape, a former Zapu Central Committee member (1967-1987), recounts how Hati survived further anguish from the colonial regime and then went on to become a freedom fighter.

After President Mugabe and my husband, Joskey Benson Murape, paid the fines for Cde Sally Mugabe and I, we were finally released from Salisbury Central Prison.

Hati continued to receive treatment at home, and recovered days after our release. I was happy to see him back to his old bubbly self; giggling and letting out sweet baby laughter. Despite his near-death experience, he fully recovered and developed just like any normal child.

In 1964, when I was Chairperson of the Zapu Women’s League, we protested the arrest of Joshua Nkomo.We were incensed by the colonial regime as we had looked for Nkomo at all his usual hideouts, but could not find him.

The search took us to several prisons, but that did not help either.In the meantime, Ian Smith’s goons flatly refused to divulge our leader’s whereabouts.Other leaders who had been taken away alongside Nkomo included Cdes Joseph Msika, Solomon Marembo, Josiah Chinamano and his wife, Ruth.

Little did we know that all of them were at Gonakudzingwa Detention Centre.Our demonstration took place at the usual spot: Cyril Square in Highfield, Harare.However, the Rhodesian police quickly swooped on us, and took us to Salisbury Central Prison.

As the arresting officer approached me, my thoughts raced to Hati.I wondered if I would see him again.The only comfort I got was that unlike the last time, he was not going to be detained with me.Salisbury Central Prison brought back memories of Hati’s near-death experience.

I knew that this time, though, I was the one to fight death because the regime had become more brutal.From Salisbury Central Prison, we were taken to different unknown detention centres. All this was a strategy to separate us and prevent us from plotting.

We were each sentenced to six months in prison.I was to serve at Grasslands Prison in Marondera, and all the while, Hati was uppermost on my mind.Six months without seeing him was torture.

However, what strengthened me was that he was with his father.Prison conditions were unbearable as the warders ill-treated us and threatened to kill us if we continued with politics.I endured that tough six months, but was not prepared for what was on the outside world.

My husband was arrested in 1965 after Ian Smith had declared a State of Emergency.Many Highfield residents who were involved in politics at the time were arrested, too.Baba Hati was detained at Wha Wha for a year; a period during which I was re-arrested.I recall that day vividly.

It was a fine morning, and I was having tea with Hati, who was now four years old.As we enjoyed breakfast, I heard a loud knock on the door.And before I could respond, three members of the Special Branch had forced themselves into the house.They wanted me to direct them to a building that used to house NDP offices.

I told them that the NDP had been long banned so it had no offices, but they insisted on me giving them directions.When I did, they asked me to “accompany” them.I told them that I would not leave my son, but they grabbed my hand, forcing me out of the house.I left Hati alone, assuming that I would be back within a few minutes.

It was not to be!They took me to Salisbury Central Prison where I was interrogated about my political engagements.When I refused to answer their questions, they threw me into a cell.I was at the prison for three months and then spent a similar period at Salisbury Remand Prison.

I was later taken to Gonakudzingwa and then Wha Wha, only to be realised after two years.My heart ached everyday as I thought of my son.I had no clue on what had happened to him.I pleaded with the warders to allow me to see my son, but this was all in vain.It was only after my release that I found out that my nephew had learnt of my arrest and gone to look after Hati.

I got to know later that I had been arrested “for aiding Joshua Nkomo”.My husband would at times pretend to be Cde Nkomo because the two had a striking resemblance.So, he would on occasion act as Nkomo’s double to confuse the Special Branch who would trace the wrong person while the real Nkomo got away.

Hati never forgot his childhood experiences and joined the liberation struggle when he was a teenager in the late 1970s.These are memories one could never forget.My family and I faced death countless times, yet the Almighty was gracious enough to grant us more days.

Hati was in the struggle where he again faced death; the same death I prayed would not visit him during those prison days.He survived.I remain loyal to Zanu-PF because it fought for Zimbabwe’s independence from colonial oppression.

The sacrifices made during that struggle should never be forgotten.

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