One Day in June
This picture is found in the book “Mugabe”, by David Smith and Colin Simpson (1981). The photograph was taken on June 7, 1980 at Kutama College, where President Robert Mugabe attended school in his home village. When this picture started circulating on social media sites a few years ago, The Herald newspaper in Harare went out to locate anyone who was present that day. The paper located one of the young men who were at the frontline of the “action”, and he agreed to do a write-up of the events surrounding that day. We reproduce it here, under the pseudonym of the writer, courtesy of The Herald.
Many people, when they see this picture, think that Cde Mugabe was being borne on the shoulders of ZANU-PF activists or militias.
That is far from the truth.
This was at Kutama College in 1980, soon after our country gained its Independence. I was at Kutama College from 1978 to 1981.
In 1979, after the first term, the school was closed because of the liberation war. It re-opened as Kutama in Harare where we had lessons at two centres.
The juniors (forms one and two) were using facilities in Westwood, while the seniors (Forms three and four) were using the Roman Catholic Church in Kambuzuma's Section 6 (a high-density suburb of Harare).
The school premises in Zvimba re-opened exactly a year later in 1980 for the second term.
The visit by the then Prime Minister to Kutama College was not his visit to the school as such.
Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe was visiting his home for the first time as Prime Minister.
Naturally, for security reasons, we were not told much of the visit ahead of time.
A few weeks before he came, we were told of the home-coming and instructed to ensure our uniforms were spotlessly clean, and for us to be on our best behaviour.
We were also told that we were not allowed to leave the school premises. We were to welcome the Prime Minister and then go back to our dormitories.
I have forgotten whether it was a school day or a weekend. However, I still remember that it was not during the rainy season.
The grass on our main football pitch was almost dry, and outside the school fence, the grass was a distinct shade of brown.
So it was certainly in the second term.
We were told that we would line up from the main school gate to the main administration block.
At the time, the new Kutama highway was not there and so the main gate was exactly opposite the administration block.
The main gate was to the east, just after the church. A few weeks before Cde Mugabe's arrival we began to see the tell-tale signs.
First, we saw men dressed in “browns and greens” walking about, usually along the road from Kutama Village to the church.
Some – most of them – had huge bulges under their suits (obviously guns).
As senior pupils, one of our favourite pastimes was to sneak out of the school premises in the evenings to go to Masuhwa Township or Masiyarwa Township or even just into the villages for a drink of beer.
We realised then that we were meeting a lot of these “strange” men, especially around the school and along the road to Kutama Village.
The “strange” men were former freedom fighters.
On one of the days, as we were about to get back into the school, one of the men called us and asked for a cigarette.
I remember this incident very well because here was a full grown man, curled up in what appeared to be an old well that had collapsed and filled in to remain like a shallow pit.
This pit was close to the road. Boarding school is an interesting life; it's about adventure.
Instead of being afraid of this man, we went up to him and asked what he was doing in the ditch.
We gave him a cigarette and he uncurled himself, sat up and chatted for more than an hour.
We gave him our beer too. From our experience of the liberation war, there was no need to ask.
We could tell this was a liberation war fighter.
We also saw his gun, which he proudly showed us (an AK-47 with a folding butt).
We referred to him as “Mukoma” (as was done during the war), and all went on well.
Our beer and fags softened him up a bit and he said we were under protection for some time to come. “Musatye vafana! Vana mukoma, vari pano kumbokuchengetedzai mbichana,” he said. (Young men, don't be scared. The “Boys” (freedom fighters) are here to protect you for a while).
I don't know how many times we saw “vana mukoma” walking up and down the road from the village to the school.
Once in a while a vehicle would drive up and down this road.
We were asked to come up with our own way of welcoming our Prime Minister.
We had an eccentric physics teacher called Brother Joseph and it was to him that we naturally turned for advice on how we could come up with our own unique greeting.
Brother Joseph had assembled a tractor from scrap.
Legend says he lost his marbles for a while when he started the tractor for the first time.
He also assembled the engine for the school's “Space Shuttle”.
The shuttle was the Isuzu lorry that we used on school trips. Well, legend has it too that he again lost his marbles when he started the lorry for the first time.
The gears were not in their usual place, so he would personally instruct the driver how to go through the transmission.
Each time it broke down while out on a school trip, we had to wait for word to get back to Kutama, then Brother Joseph would be sent to fix the truck.
He was also credited with solving Kutama's perennial water problems.
During the summer, the Manyame River would flood and the pump would be submerged resulting in the school running dry. He solved this problem by designing a floating platform so that the pump would not be submerged.
So Brother Joseph suggested that we design a simple platform consisting of six (if I remember correctly) poles, which would be strong enough for the Prime Minister to stand on.
The poles would not be fixed to each other with nails or rope.
Six of us volunteered to do it – who wouldn't want to?
We practised by lifting brother Joseph on the structure. The day finally arrived and we were itching with excitement – it was our first time to host a Head of Government.
Independence Day had been just a few months earlier and the euphoria was palpable. Then we heard the sound of a helicopter.
We were excited, but didn't know where to run to. And then we saw another helicopter.
The first helicopter was heading for the main football pitch and we rushed there.
The two choppers landed in the pitch, raising dust and grass in that dry season.
Before we could react, all the occupants were out and in cars.
I don't know where the cars came from and almost from nowhere they had filled the football pitch. There were two colours in the motorcade: white and yellow.
It consisted of Peugeot 404s, Datsun 120Ys and 140Ys, and an Alfa Romeo Giulia. We ran to our assembly point in front of the main administration block.
The Prime Minister's staff was told we intended to lift Cde Mugabe on a pole platform and to our pleasant surprise, they agreed.
It was funny though to see the security chaps jumping onto the poles and testing its strength before Cde Mugabe stepped on!
We placed our poles on the ground and asked him to come aboard.
For a nervous moment I thought he would say no but then he got on the poles and we lifted him.
We carried him for about 20m in a regal march while the entire school body clapped slowly. It was an electrifying moment.
We placed our platform down, and he walked into the administration block. Next, he was in the motorcade and they were off to his Zvimba home just behind the school.
Prior instructions about not leaving the premises were thrown away and we ran enmasse to his house. As we rushed, I remember seeing Amai Sally Mugabe's vehicle pass and noting how she was half-covered in red bougainvillea showered on her by the pupils.
When we got to the village we kept our distance from the hut where we believed the Prime Minister was.
But we were shocked to find him seated outside on a log with his brother, Cde Donato.
They resembled each other so much that only their skin texture told them apart. Cde Donato Mugabe was also in a safari suit.
I believe this is one great picture that journalists missed.
The two of them sitting there on a log chatting like any other village men forced us to keep reminding ourselves “kuti ndo-o Prime Minister avo vakagara padanda iro”? (Could it really be the Prime Minister seated on that log?)
The rest of the day passed in a blur and the next thing I remember is we were trooping back to school.
Many years later I have seen this picture of Cde Mugabe on the platform we honoured him with. I have read and heard of many people saying it's a picture of Cde Mugabe being lifted by Zanu-PF militias at a party youth training camp outside Zimbabwe, most probably Mozambique.
That is not true.
It was at Kutama College and he was being honoured by pupils of his alma mater.