Recounting Heinous War-Time Experiences

As Zimbabwe prepares to celebrate 39 years of Uhuru, those who had first-hand war experiences still have vivid memories. The scars are deeply embedded in them and talk of the numerous battles they witnessed brings anguish. Tears fill their eyes and voices become choked with emotions.

The country’s Independence did not come on a silver platter as lives were lost, while some were maimed.

Some, among them villagers from Chesa in Mt Darwin area of Mashonaland Central lost virtually everything they owned and are still to recover from the losses.

One of the people still traumatised by the liberation war experiences is Mt Darwin South legislator Cde Stephen Kabozo.

Although he was wet behind the ears, at the age of nine, Cde Kabozo missed death by a whisker after their home was attacked by the brutal Rhodesian Forces in 1979.

Their crime: supporting the liberation struggle through providing food for the freedom fighters.

They were sold out by jealous neighbours and the day was the turning point to the legislator as he does not want to hear anything about war even in his wildest nightmares.

As they realised that they were fast losing the war, the Rhodesian Forces became more ruthless and resorted to venting their anger on the defenceless masses.

They indiscriminately attacked innocent villagers, razing their homesteads to the ground and also destroyed their means of production.

Young lives were lost in the process as the staccato firing of the enemy bullets found them being easy targets.

To Cde Kabozo, the Kabozo homestead battle is still vivid in his mind as it left four people dead and several others seriously injured.

“The year was 1979 when a fierce battle took place here at Kabozo homestead,

“Farm Number One Chesa, Mt Darwin. This is one of the well-documented battles that took place in the Chesa area. Freedom fighters came to our homestead and asked for food. After dinner, people gathered for a pungwe (night vigil).

“Since I was only nine, I went to sleep early on that day. I was awakened by the booming sound of gunfire. I discovered that the grass-thatched hut I was sleeping in was on fire,” he said.

With what he saw, he is appalled with the ahistorical voices emerging in society.

“It pains to hear some born-frees saying they are itching to take up arms. A revolution is not a dinner party. It is either death or life. Innocent lives are lost and property is destroyed. War is retrogressive,” Cde Kabozo said.

The battle took a lot from him, which made him pledge allegiance to the revolution.

Cde Kabozo added: “My brother, Andrew died on the spot after he was hit by a bullet from the Rhodesian Forces who were attacking from the western side of the homestead. I do not know how I survived as we managed to crawl out of the hut. I was hit by a shrapnel on the side of my head, but by the grace of God, I managed to survive.”

Everything the Kabozos possessed went up in smoke. Their major source of wealth — cattle — were not spared and they ended up culling the badly injured.

“Everything that we had was destroyed from the huts, clothes, blankets and food.

“We had to survive on handouts from neighbours. The war was so gruesome that even today I don’t want to hear anything about it. It is only those who did not personally experience it, who romanticise it.

“Some of us who had personal experience with war are still being haunted by it up to this day,” he said.

Another villager, Cde Gift Karinge, who is older than Cde Kabozo, remembers the fateful day as if it was only yesterday, when the Kabozo Battle took place.

“It was in 1979, towards ceasefire when the freedom fighters came here. We fed them before retiring to bed. We heard the enemy’s fire around 3am.

“I was sharing the room with some of the children from this homestead in a pole and dagger hut with a thatched roof. One of the guys whom we were sharing the room with shouted that the house was on fire and I woke up to find out that smoke had engulfed the whole room. There was commotion everywhere.

He got injured in the process and was left with a scar he still wears to date.

“I quickly put on my pair of shorts and crawled towards the door which was locked. I unlocked the door and those who were inside saw the opportunity to escape.

“They also crawled towards the door. Our colleague, Andrew failed to make it outside the hut as he was shot by the enemy forces. While we were pondering on how to escape from the homestead, I was hit by a shrapnel on my chin as I peeped from a corner of a house which was acting as our shield from the Rhodesian army bullets,” said Cde Karinge.

He said they later realised that one of the freedom fighters, Shangurai Mabhunu, had been gunned down, while a mujibha had his stomach ripped open.

“At around 4 or 5am, the Rhodesian Forces begun rounding us up. Confusion reigned supreme as we did not know what to do. The sound of gunfire was still ringing in our ears,” he said.

The attack on the villagers was brutal and ruthless.

“Andrew’s body had been badly burnt and was still in the razed-down hut. There was an explosion in the grass hut and the Rhodesian Forces thought they were under attack. They opened fire towards us, resulting in many being shot and injured.

Those who had died were denied a dignified send-off.

“We were asked to load the bodies into a military vehicle and they ferried to Mt Darwin where we were told that they were burnt,” he said.

Gogo Eveline Kamanje, mother to Andrew, said she was still being traumatised by the events that led to her son’s death.

“It is so painful to lose your son in such a cruel manner. Andrew was my second born and every time I think of the day of his death, tears flood my eyes.

“I don’t usually like to hear anything about the war as this brings terrible memories to me,” she said.

She remembers how she desperately fought to cushion her children from danger in the middle of the night.

“Everything happened in a flush. I managed to escape to my neighbour, Garanewako’s homestead, with my three children. A messenger was later sent the following day to inform us that our homestead had been razed down. I was never told of my son’s death,” Gogo Kamanje said.

After murdering innocent children, the Rhodesian army did not allow families to mourn.

“I was only told about my son’s death when we were near the homestead and I became weak-kneed. Grief overcame me and fellow villagers had to carry me home.

“I was shown his remains and I could not believe what I was seeing. We had to bury them in a shallow grave as helicopters criss-crossed the sky,” she said, emphasising the need to preserve the liberation history.

“We should value this hard-fought Independence because we bore the brunt of the liberation struggle. We will never betray the causes of the liberation struggle.

“Youths should be educated on how this freedom we are enjoying came about,” said Gogo Kamanje.

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