COMRADE Rosemary Siyamachira (born 10 June 1956) whose Chimurenga name was Cde Lucy Tongai was among the first 72 female Zanla comrades to receive military training at Nachingweya in Tanzania in 1974. Cde Lucy grew up in Musana, Chinamhora then moved with her parents to Mt Darwin from where she went on to join the liberation struggle.
In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Lucy starts by openly declaring that she didn’t volunteer to join the liberation struggle. She narrates how after receiving military training, she worked as a medic at the rear and rose through the ranks to become a Member of General Staff. She talks about how she assisted female comrades to give birth at Osibisa Camp in Mozambique and gives graphic details about her love life with the late Cde Rex Nhongo (Cde Solomon Mujuru) during the liberation struggle. Read on …
SM: Cde Lucy, thank you so much for your time. Can you briefly tell us how and why you joined the liberation struggle?
Cde Lucy: First, I have to tell you that I didn’t volunteer to join the liberation struggle. As an elder sister and as we were relocating from Musana, my parents ordered that I should go to Mt Darwin and look after my young siblings. By this time my mother was still staying in Musana and I wasn’t going to school. While in Mt Darwin, one evening some comrades just came and took us to join the liberation struggle. I remember it was around 7pm and on this day, these comrades said they were targeting female recruits. So they took me together with my tete Winfrider Siyamachira and young sister Gerry Siyamachira. However, as we were walking during the night, handina kuzoona tete vangu ava together with this young sister. I remember we got separated when we got to St Alberts Mission. This is the day rakatorwa vana vakawanda paSt Alberts Mission but inini I was not at the school. The comrades took me from home but we then walked to the mission school.
SM: Who are these comrades who came to your homestead?
Cde Lucy: I still remember Cdes James Bond, Nhari, Blackston, Ziso and others.
SM: You said you got separated from your tete and young sister. How did this happen?
Cde Lucy: Pakuburuka gomo Mavhuradonha, many people vaingosara. Some people would escape because there were very few comrades to guard us as we walked. As we walked, many female recruits joined so as we walked, vamwe vaingomira nemuti because it was in the evening votosara and go back home. This was my first time to come face-to-face with the freedom fighters. This was in 1973. So eventually I joined the liberation struggle with Cdes Loice, Sarudzai, Andy, Catherine and others.
SM: Briefly tell us of your journey to Zambia?
Cde Lucy: This was a very difficult journey. Very, very difficult. You know some hours after the comrades had rounded up students at St Alberts Mission, the Rhodesian forces sent helicopters with search lights to track our group. So that whole night, we had several running battles with the Rhodesian helicopters. It was frightening but the comrades kept on encouraging us to continue with the journey. The next morning, we were already on the other side of Mavhuradonha. Those who know this mountain know what I am talking about. We then crossed Mukumbura River and continued walking. On a number of occasions, the comrades would order us to take cover as the Rhodesian forces continued tracking us. Their main focus were the students from St Alberts. I remember some of the students in our group included Louis and Sarudzai who were in Form Two. However, quite a number of the students escaped and went back to the school.
SM: When these comrades took you, where did they say there were taking you to?
Cde Lucy: They openly told us that there were taking us to Mozambique to join the liberation struggle. Of course they later told us that some of us would go to further their education. But whatever they said, it was not possible to say no to what they were saying. As we walked, mainly at night, the comrades would go to nearby homes to source for food but the food was never enough. I remember we got to this homestead and we discovered that they had just killed a hippopotamus. Takabikirwa sadza tikatodya nenyama yacho. The Rhodesia soldiers were still tracking us but the comrades had managed to put them off track. We later got to Zambezi River and we had to wait takamirira zvimwadiya. These were small boats that Mozambican villagers who stayed along the river used to ferry comrades across the river. We spent quite a number of days also because besides the Rhodesian forces, the Portuguese were patrolling along the river. Remember by this time Mozambique was not yet free. We later crossed into Mozambique. When we crossed Zambezi, these comrades vanaJames Bond vakabva vasara tichibva tatambirwa nevamwe macomrades. After crossing we went and stayed at Kapiripiri. We later resumed the journey walking to Chifombo which is in Zambia but near the border with Mozambique. I remember we arrived at Chifombo in the middle of the night when most of the comrades were asleep.
SM: What kind of a place was Chifombo?
Cde Lucy: It was a very big camp. When we arrived there were many recruits, both male and female. At Chifombo mashef edu were Cdes Gwindingwi, Rex Nhongo, Mayor Urimbo and others. On the female side, I found Cde Dadirai and her group already there. I stayed at Chifombo the whole of 1973 carrying materiel to Zambezi River with other female comrades. We were given lectures on political orientation and we were taught how to sing revolutionary songs to keep our morale high. It was at Chifombo that it really dawned on me that indeed I had joined the liberation struggle. Everything there zvakanga zvava zvechisoldier. The treatment was enough to tell you that there was no going back home.
SM: Who are some of the female comrades you found at Chifombo?
Cde Lucy: By this time no female comrade had received military training but one of our leaders was Cde Matiwonesa. Her main responsibility was to look at the welfare of female recruits, for example looking at our clothing, food and so on. At Chifombo, the commanders were very strict. Male and female recruits lived at different bases.
SM: When did you go for military training?
Cde Lucy: We went for military training in 1974. Initially we were 74 female recruits but when the training started at Nachingweya, in Tanzania, we were now 72. One of our comrades was discovered to be pregnant while the other got sick and passed away. Our commanders from Zanla were Cde Joseph Khumalo and Cde Elias Hondo. We also had commanders from Frelimo.
At Nachingweya I remember we all slept in one big room. We became one big family of women only. On the first day, we were given uniforms by the Frelimo commanders. When we started military training, takanga tisina pfuti. It was toyi-toyi, marching on parade and the drills. Next was political orientation and after this that’s when we were given guns. We were taught how to assemble a gun, how to shoot and take cover. The training was like torture but we soldiered on. Some of us got sick, vamwe vakaita zvindakwenya because we didn’t have shaving machines. I remember Cde Khumalo and Cde Hondo bringing us razor blades and I tell you we were so happy to shave ourselves. Things that people take for granted today.
After training at Nachingweya, we were taken to Zambia where we were deployed to different areas. I remained at the Zanu farm which was near Lusaka. This is where I got my training in first aid. From Lusaka I went to Chimoio. While at Chimoio that’s when I was promoted to become member of General Staff. From Chimoio I went to Luangwa, which we used to call ZZ. All this time I was now a medic, treating wounded comrades and at times ndichitozvarisa some comrades. At ZZ that’s when I met people like Cde Gutura, Cde Teurai Ropa (Mai Mujuru) and others. I stayed at Luangwa for a long time as a medic. From Luangwa I went to work at one of our makeshift hospitals which we used to call Parirenyatwa. I used to work with the late Brigadier Muchemwa, Cde Moffat, Cde Ziso and others. When Chimoio was attacked, I was still at Parirenyatwa. Our base was not attacked.
SM: You said you were promoted to be a member of General Staff? What was the significance of this rank?
Cde Lucy: Members of the General Staff were the supervisors wherever there were. In our different areas, we would be responsible for the welfare of the other comrades. Members of the General Staff were commanders at a lower level. From Parirenyatwa I was assigned to be in charge of another camp, Osibisa which catered mainly for women with children. Some of these women vakanga vaitiswa nhumbu nemacomrades kufront, some had gotten pregnant at the different camps and so on. So my job was to look at their welfare. You need to know that kuhondo vanhu vaidanana, especially kana kwakanyarara kusina mabattles. Vanhu vaidanana and so some got pregnant votozvara. Zvakanga zvisingabvumirwe but vanhu vaidanana. The commanders would speak against this but vanhu vakanga vawandisa and this was inevitable. At Osibisa, one of the biggest problem was vakadzi vaida kuzvara. We didn’t have an ambulance to take them to a proper hospital in Chimoio. So after a while, I was taught to be a mid-wife. This wasn’t easy, but I had to learn fast. Vakadzi vairwara husiku and sometimes taizvitadza and I can tell you that some women and their children died while giving birth. These things happened.
Those who managed to give birth would stay at Osibisa with their children until there were about 6-7 years. After this, some of the children were sent to Chindunduma kwaidzidziswa vanhu. It was like a school.
SM: So approximately how many women would give birth per month?
Cde Lucy: Maybe two or three per month. Sometimes the numbers would go up. I assisted many female comrades to give birth. That was my responsibility. I was at Osibiza for a long time. One day our commanders called for a meeting that was to be attended by all members of the General Staff. This meeting yakaitirwa musango and Cde Rex Nhongo (Solomon Mujuru) addressed that meeting. This meeting was just to receive updates on what was going on at different camps. While at that meeting, I was assigned to lead a group of comrades who were going to Ethiopia. This was in 1977. These comrades were going for military training.
SM: You have been talking about other women falling in love and getting pregnant. What about you?
Cde Lucy: Haaa, kudanana hakurambwe. I was a grown up person. So I can’t say handina kudanana nasomeone.
SM: So who did you fall in love with?
Cde Lucy: Hmmmm, let’s talk about other issues.
SM: No, comrade let’s talk.
Cde Lucy: Hmmm, imikaimi. Well, inini kuhondo ndakadanana navaMujuru. We used to call him Cde Rex Nhongo. Takadanana tikazvara mwana ainzi Charity. Ndakamuzvara 1976. Kana makambonzwa nezve mwana waMujuru akafa after independence kuBorrowdale, that was my child.
SM: How had you fallen in love with Cde Rex Nhongo?
Cde Lucy: Like I told you, I stayed at Chimoio for a long time. At that time, vaMujuru was also staying at Chimoio. Teurai (Mai Mujuru) was also there. She actually knew that ndaidanana navo. She was not my friend but we knew each other very well. I had also stayed with Teurai kuLuangwa. She was not my friend but we talked. Even up to this day tikasangana we greet each other. She knows me. We don’t have a problem.
SM: How did Cde Rex approach you?
Cde Lucy: To me he was just like anybody else. Vakanga vasiri munhu anoshamisira. He was just an ordinary comrade to me. Hazvisi zvinhu zvingatoshamise kuti ndakadanana navaMujuru. He became big after independence when he became commander in the army, but during that time hapana kana chaishamisira about him. Taiva vanhu vepasi tese.
SM: Was this genuine love or …
Cde Lucy: This was genuine love chaiyo. Kutondida chaiko ini ndichivadawo. I wasn’t forced into the relationship. Ndaitoenda kuposhto kwavo ndichitoziva and ndichitoda.
SM: What would other female comrades say?
Cde Lucy: Kuti chii about what? Even vanacomrade Chiwenga knew about this relationship. Haasi makuhwa. I wouldn’t know what other female comrades said but it really didn’t matter. Zvekuti dai kuhondo kwairoorwa zvekubvisa mari, dai ndakatobvisirwa mari.
SM: You are saying Cde Teurai (Mai Mujuru) knew about your relationship with Cde Rex Nhongo. What then happened because later Cde Teurai got married to your Rex Nhongo?
Cde Lucy: I really don’t know what happened later but mwari kana asina kukupa kuti uyu murume wako such things happen. Inga even now vanhu vanorambana wani. Mwari anenge asina kutonga kuti ndezvako.
SM: You parted ways with Cde Rex Nhongo amicably?
Cde Lucy: Yes, without any problems kusvika vafa. Until he passed away, I was still on talking terms with him. Ndiri kukumbirawo mari handina kana cent, ndaingonzi huya kuoffice ndopihwa. I never had a problem with him until he passed away.
SM: What about Mai Mujuru?
Cde Lucy: Well, she is a woman, she was bound to be jealous. Ko unenge uchida kumuwudzirei kuti ndiri kuda kutaura nababa? Anei nazvo? He was the father of my child. I fell in love with him before Teurai so hapana chekutaura apa. Hazvinei naye.
SM: We also hear there was another women who at some point was in love with Cde Rex Nhongo?
Cde Lucy: Yes, that’s Mai vaMaidei. She is still alive. Charity was younger than this Maidei.
SM: We are now talking about three women here. Yourself, mai vaMaidei and Mai Mujuru. What does this say about Cde Rex Nhongo considering that he was a top commander?
Cde Lucy: Ahhh, imi why focusing only on us? Imi muno macho vakanga vasina vana here?
SM: So you later got married?
Cde Lucy: Yes.
SM: Ok, let’s leave these love issues. So you went to Ethiopia leading this group of comrades.
Cde Lucy: Yes, I went to Ethiopia for further military training. Our instructors were Ethiopians assisted by some of our commanders. I vividly remember we were together with Cde Memory (Cde Mabel Chinomoma). This training in Ethiopia was for four months. From Ethiopia we were flown back to Mozambique and a few days after our arrival, we were attacked. I don’t even know who attacked us, but I was the only one who was injured. Ndakabva ndapfurwa gumbo. Sometimes I actually think pana comrade akaita mistake akandipfura. It was not like a battle. Pfuti dzakangorira and I was shot. I was hurriedly taken to Chimoio Hospital. From there I was taken to Beira. I was in a plaster for quite a while. From Beira I was taken to Maputo ndiko kwakanga kuna Charity who was staying with Mai Tongogara. We used to call her Mai Hondo, her first born son. It was vaMujuru who instructed that I should go to Maputo kwaiva nemwana. This was now 1980 during ceasefire.
SM: So Cde Lucy, you never went to the war front?
Cde Lucy: No, I didn’t.
SM: Do you have close friends who passed away during the liberation struggle?
Cde Lucy: Ummm, there are many. I have forgotten some of their names, but yes I lost many friends. I remember Cde Ziso. He was among the comrades who came and took me to join the liberation struggle and later I worked under him as a medic.
SM: As someone who had received military training, wasn’t it your wish to be deployed to the war front?
Cde Lucy: Ummm, ndaitya. I was fine at the rear treating wounded comrades and looking after pregnant women. Look, people are different and while working as a medic I saw these critically wounded comrades who were coming from the front and this really frightened me.
SM: Some people can say Cde Lucy was never deployed to the war front because of her relationship with Cde Rex Nhongo. What is your comment regarding this assertion?
Cde Lucy: No, no that’s not true. I went to Chifombo, Nachingweya then Lusaka. I was not yet in love with Cde Rex but I was not deployed to the war front. My not being deployed to the war front had nothing to do with Cde Rex.
SM: But due to this relationship you got some favours, like eating good food?
Cde Lucy: I was a member of the General Staff and ndaigara patable yemashef saka I didn’t need him to get any favours. Ndaiva comrade akazvikwanira but of course sometimes when he travelled to Maputo and so on, he brought me biscuits and so on. Ko taidananaka nhaimi (laughs).
SM: You said your daughter Charity was staying with Mai Tongogara in Maputo. Where you related or what?
Cde Lucy: Cde Rex vaiita sekunge he was related to Mai Tongogara.
SM: So when did you come back to Zimbabwe?
Cde Lucy: I came back in 1980 with my child Charity. On arrival at the airport in Zimbabwe, I was taken to Mt Pleasant where I was staying with Cde Enos Nkala for quite a while. I actually went to my rural home coming from Cde Nkala’s house. I think Cde Rex had made these arrangements for me to stay with Cde Nkala.
SM: When you went to your rural home, where your parents still alive?
Cde Lucy: Yes, there were still alive and they were happy to see me. I later continued with my education. Cde Moffat, the one I had once stayed with during the liberation struggle, looked for me. He took me to Cde Muchemwa’s office where I joined the army in the medical department. I was made a private and this really pained me. Most of my comrades now had higher ranks. Later I went to complain to Cde Josiah Tungamirai and he promoted me. After 15 years working under the medical department, I left the army as a captain. I used to work with people like Cde Pfepferere.
SM: You said Charity later passed away?
Cde Lucy: Yes, she passed away in 1989. She was in Form One.
SM: What are you doing now?
Cde Lucy: I am now a successful farmer.
SM: Did Cde Rex Nhongo formally marry you after independence?
Cde Lucy: Yes, he did. He went kumusha kwedu kunobvisa pfuma.
SM: When you look back at the role you played during the liberation struggle, are you satisfied with the role?
Cde Lucy: Yes, I am happy. I think I played my part. It’s unfortunate that macomrades takuita kunge zvikorobho in a country that we freed. I am very angry because of this. You know as a female comrade, I was very happy when Mai Mujuru was first appointed as a minister until she became the country’s Vice President. Even though she joined the liberation struggle way after some of us and even though she received chimbi-chimbi training, we were happy. But then when Teurai got to the top, she completely forgot us. Hapana kana chaakatiitira. Don’t think I am saying this because I once had an affair with her husband, no. She once called all female Members of General Staff from the liberation struggle through Mai Nyasha Chikwinya. We thought that she had finally remembered us, but hapana chakabuda.
Look, even dai asina kuitira inini akangoitirawo even two people, we were going to be very happy. She knows how female comrades from Mt Darwin were affected by the struggle. I don’t even want to talk much about her. She remains a comrade even arasika hake. Despite all that is happening, comrade hatimurase even iye arasika. Comrade ishamwari yeropa.