Ode to eyes, ears of the struggle

Elliot Ziwira Senior Writer
With eagle eye precision the two boys scanned the vicinity for any signs of the Rhodesian army, and saw a tower of dust swirling from behind dark figures, which at first appeared like the local businessman, Bepe’s Bedford, but the absence of sound ruled it out.

By the time they realised that it was no lorry, the galloping horses had already taken a canter at the bend leading to the crossroads separating the dust road that was once used by local buses before landmines rendered it unusable, the path that led to the shops and the wide passageway to the dip tank and were now trotting towards the open gate to their homestead.

Abandoning their wire toy cars, the boys attempted to flee and seek recourse under their grandmother’s saddle stone supported granary, but mother luck had already flown out of their laps.

The mounted soldiers from the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), who were now a few yards behind the brick under corrugated-iron sheets house, had already spotted them.

With veiled menace, the white commander mounting the leading quadruped brought them back to the reality of their situation when he said:

“Hold it piccaninnies. Tell me, where is Masweet?”

Although they made a vain attempt to hide, they appeared unperturbed. Knowing how mean Rhodesian soldiers could get, the boys responded promptly.

“Come, we will show you where they are”, they responded in unison.

Pleased that they would get to Masweet at last, but not before radioing for reinforcements, for they knew how nasty issues could get with “terrs”, especially where Masweet was involved, the Rhodie commander and his 14 soldiers, seven of them African, took the boys at their word.

Securing all the houses at the homestead, since they were home alone, because adult members of the family had gone on other errands, the two boys, barely eight (enjoying the ride on horseback), led the soldiers across the veld to where Masweet could be found, but not before making a pretence at Jerusarema/Mbende (a local dance) by playfully, yet consciously beating one of the drums under the eaves of the kitchen hut as loud as they could.

After about a kilometre-and-a-half, the trail of horses took a bend to the shops at Mahwohwa, past the grinding mill to the left towards Kuzhangaira’s shop, and halted under a muhacha tree a few metres from the entrance.

Lowered to the ground, the boys hesitated for a while, before signalling to the commander and three of his 14 men, who had dismounted by now, to follow them into the shop and as if on cue pointed at the display counter and said:

“There are the sweets”.

The vermilion on the mubhunu’s face spoke of all his bottled anger against the black race, for daring his Queen in England to battle.

“Bobjaans! I mean Masweet, a terrorist, filthy black like you, not these damn sweets you are showing me. You think I don’t know sweets heeh?” he thundered making an attempt at flattening the closest boy with a single swish of his massive hand. But the alert lad dodged.

“But those are the only sweets we know baas”, the other boy out of danger’s way stammered.

“You lie in your big, black picaninny mouth. Now get out of my sight, hell’s teeth,” he boomed.

Even though he was reassured by the distant rumbling sound of army pumas descending in the direction of Marandellas, and soon enough the choppers that would be hovering overhead, should they be required, looking at the little “rascals” it dawned on him that the battle had been lost on their part.

As the boys ran for it, they knew that the message had got to Sororenzou, the elephantine mountain of the rock rabbit fame, about 2,5km to the northeast as the crow flies, and a kilometre from their homestead, where Cde Masweet and the other sons and daughters of the soil were ready to shell the boozies should any mubhunu or mupuruvheya dared them.

Although they played innocent, the boys knew who Cde Masweet was, and what makabichi (meat from beasts slaughtered in the mapurazi) were, and where they were “grown”. They knew all the movements of the guerrillas (vanamukoma), whom they considered their friends, and their Chimurenga names. They also knew the movements of enemy soldiers. They were part of “the eyes and ears” of the struggle; the mujibhas and chimbwidos, without whom the liberation struggle would have taken another twist.

On February 16, 1980, the late Father Zimbabwe Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, aptly told about 5 000 people at Mandava Stadium in Zvishavane that they should not be afraid to choose leaders they believed would represent their aspirations, because the war was not fought by people with guns alone.

He said: “This country wasn’t freed just by men with guns, as some will tell you. It was a combination of all of you. You must now combine to give a reasonable government that will see to it that this country is peaceful.”

Indeed, the liberation struggle was a collective effort, combining the efforts of guerrillas (the fish in the struggle), and the people, the masses, who were the water of the struggle.

The protracted war against colonialism could not have been won, had it not been for the incorporation of the masses into the war effort, therefore, politicisation of the people was key.

There was need to win the minds and hearts of the people so that they could be awakened to the reality of their land; their suffering and oppression at the hands of colonial regimes, therefore, ideology was key in the politicisation of the masses.

Having learnt of the sad realities of the 1960s, during which time the struggle was relatively unsuccessful, when “local people would betray the guerrillas to colonial authorities, ZANLA began to build up a cadre of political commissars whose weapons were not the arms of war, but concepts, values, and ideology”, as Fay Chung intimates in “Reliving the Second Chimurenga: Memories from Zimbabwe’s Liberation Struggle” (2006).

Political commissars in both ZANLA and ZIPRA did a great job of educating the masses and winning their hearts, thus, paving the way for successful engagements with the enemy. Once the people’s aspirations were situated in the liberation war effort, it became easier for them to support their sons and daughters in their own unarmed way. Like water, they gave life to the fish that sought their support, thus, giving impetus to collective struggle.

The guerrillas’ intelligence network, which was carefully set up, comprised young boys, schoolboys, young men, young women and elderly people, in fact, it involved just everybody, considering they would have passed the security vetting, which made it difficult for Ian Smith’s Intelligence Corps to burst it.

When a people struggle together, as owners of the struggle that shapes and informs their dreams, no enemy weaponry, no matter how sophisticated can ever ride roughshod in their midst.

In “None But Ourselves: Masses vs Media in the making of Zimbabwe (1990) Julie Frederikse aptly captures how the guerrillas’ intelligence network gave Ian Smith’s security forces nightmarish experiences.

In an interview Chuck Hanson, an American, and Vietnam War veteran in the Rhodesian army admitted that the freedom fighters’ intelligence network was top-drawer.

On how he would rate the guerrillas’ intelligence he said:

“Excellent. The best. Even better than Vietnam. They lived with the people, they were the people. That’s the ultimate factor in a war like this, having the indigenous population with you.

“They kept the gooks informed, with local, tactical, hard combat intelligence, not all the highfalutin stuff we put out — the sitreps we relayed, and all that. That’s not intelligence, though we had plenty of that. They had the picaninny who’d run and tell them, ‘The soldiers are coming’” (Frederikse 1990).

Dave Brooks from Rhodesia Special Air Services revealed: “The other side had the most infallible intelligence system in the world. It was because of the nhingi (mujibha), as you say in Shona — It’s the guy who just sits around all day and does nothing. No one would question him . . . It’s a difficult system to beat.”

Bob North, Rhodesian Intelligence Corps, concurred that, indeed, breaking up a united people was no mean stuff. He revealed that even though they had their own people planted in the villages to sell out on the struggle, they could not burst the guerrillas’ effective intelligence system.

“They would monitor our bases and you could guarantee after a couple of days of us taking in witnesses we’d be stomped — hit, a base attack — because their knowledge was so good . . . Those mujibhas would give the terrs logistics, troop movements, troop strengths, and that was one of their strengths, and that was one of their greatest attributes as far as intelligence was concerned.

“And I will tell you something — it wasn’t just the young boys who were involved. They had a lot of women working with them,” (Ibid).

He recounted how women were used to ferry weapons of war; concealing them in their dresses, pretending to be pregnant.

Because their intelligence system involved a whole people, united through shared meanings, shared struggle and toil, it was difficult for Rhodesian soldiers to defeat the guerrillas, our freedom fighters, even though they had superior weapons, and all the colonial apparatus for subjugation.

The messages would be carried through different beats of the drum as warning of impending danger (as the boys had done), or through interaction with the freedom fighters at their bases, either during the day or at night vigils — pungwes.

Besides providing the much needed intelligence about the enemy’s movements and strength, risking their own lives since they were not armed, the people provided more than eyes and ears to the struggle. They provided food and shelter as well. They cooked for their sons and daughters at the front, and in the rear. They carried heavy burdens on their shoulders and heads.

Some had their homesteads razed to the ground, their livestock killed, and lost all about everything, for supporting their sons and daughters whom the enemy derogatorily called ‘terrs’ (terrorists) or gooks.

Because the spirit of oneness helped us triumph over colonialism, we should remain united, and spare a thought for those of us, who put their lives on the block as the eyes and ears of the struggle, the cooks, and couriers and, indeed, all our people who made it possible for freedom to be a reality by keeping the fire of struggle on, in their own unarmed way, as guns blazed on either side of their terrains.

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