Remembering Zimbabwe’s gallant liberation fighters on Heroes Day

By Lovemore Ranga Mataire

Harare – 0n 29 July 2017, President Mugabe told multitudes of youths gathered at Chinhoyi University of Technology grounds that he would soon recommend to his colleagues in government to have the seven gallant fighters who perished at the hands of Rhodesian forces on April 28 1966 to be accorded national hero status.   

The wild deafening ululation and cheering that ensued after President Mugabe had said this was sure proof that such a move was long overdue given the fact that the seven fallen fighters laid the inspirational foundation for a fully fledged war against the settler colonial regime.

“I would want the seven of them, all of them, because they are the ones who started on this side, the Zanu side, the armed struggle as we recognise it today, the guerilla struggle. I would want to recommend to the rest of our comrades in Government that we declare all the seven, as they lie there, national heroes and erect a monument there, inscribing their names,” said President Mugabe.

The seven are Cdes Simon Chombodza, Christopher Chatambudza, Nathan Charumuka, Godwin Manyerenyere, Ephraim Shenjere, David Guzuzu and Arthur Maramba.

While it has taken 36 years since independence for the seven gallant fighters to be officially recognised as national heroes, their effortless sacrifice was not lost among Zimbabweans even among artistes.

The late Biggie Tembo who fronted the internationally acclaimed Bhundu Boys Band is one artiste whose song “Viva Chinhoyi” stands out today as a rare tribute to the seven gallant fighters who perished on the banks of Hunyani River after running out of ammunition.

The song succinctly captures the reverence that Zimbabweans hold of the gallant fighters and it is probably because of that song that Chinhoyi town is still regarded as a place of great spiritual and historical significance among Zimbabweans.

Chinhoyi Battle was indeed a defining moment in the history of Zimbabwe as it heralded the beginning of the Second Chimurenga. At a spiritual level, the battle was regarded as the ultimate fulfillment of Mbuya Nehanda’s prophetic words that her bones will rise. The attack also coincided with 68th anniversary of the revered spirit medium.

Mbuya Nehanda is the Zimbabwe’s revered national spirit medium who led the First Chimurenga War against colonial settlers. Together with another spirit medium Sekuru Kaguvi, the two were hanged by the colonial regime on 28 April 1898. Before her death, Mbuya Nehanda is said to have said that “her bones will rise” and the 1966 Chinhoyi Battle is touted as the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy.

Although the seven gallant fighters are revered for laying the foundation for the Second Chimurenga War, Heroes Day celebrates the sacrifices of gallant sons and daughters of the soil, both living and dead.

This year’s commemorations are the 37th and the main event will take place on 12 August at the country’s national Heroes Acre in Harare with other commemorations taking place in provinces and districts across the country.

Heroes Day will thus be a day for also reflecting on those who failed to make it back home especially innocent women and children who were callously murdered by the Rhodesians forces at Nyadzonya and Chimoio camps in Mozambique.

A total of 1 028 refugees died out of 5 250 that were at Nyadzona on 9 August 1976.This was after a former Zanla commander Morrison Nyathi had defected to Rhodesian forces. He had intricate knowledge of the camps daily schedules and on the day of the attack led Rhodesian forces in massacring defenseless women children and women who inhabited the camp.

In his book, “The Struggle for Land in Zimbabwe, 1890-2010”, the late Dr Felix Muchemwa describes the Nyadzonya massacre as a systematic callous attack meant to deflate major military strides by Zanla forces along the eastern front.

Named “Operation Eland” the attack was approved by Peter Walls, the Rhodesian army head. It was carried out by 72 Selous Scouts commanded by a South African captain, Bob Warracker.

A report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Maputo at the time indicated that a section of the raiding party sabotaged the main bridge across the Pungwe River near Nyadzonya Refugee Camp while another section laid ambushes on the road leading to the camp.

At the main gate, a SAS with a good command of Portuguese ordered Frelimo guards to open the gate and the column drove straight onto the parade at exactly 8:25am. More than 5 250 refugees were on their routine morning parade for verification and allocation of duties.

The refugees rushed to the oncoming column after Nyathi shouted out familiar slogans. On close range some of the refugees realised that they had been tricked after noticing some white skin beneath the black paint used to mask some of the Rhodesian forces. It was at that point that Warracker ordered the forces to shoot at point blank.

Wave after wave of refugees fell and Unimog pig vehicles drove around heartlessly crushing the bodies that lay lifeless all over the camp. The dead were later buried in mass graves while the more than 1 000 seriously injured were admitted at Chimoio, Beira, Tete and Katandica Hospitals in Mozambique.

The pain of losing so many lives is still fresh in most Zimbabweans, moreso on President Mugabe who in 2002 during the burial of national hero Bernard Chidzero at the National Heroes Acre said:

“Each grave here speaks to our nation through the undying, immanent spirit of the heroic men or women whose transient remains it keeps. Each one of those lives will tell you a tale of fortitude; will chastise you when your courage and endurance weakens, reminding you that there is no enemy too big, too powerful, too awesome to be fought and vanquished for this land. Each one of these lives will remind you with the harshest of language that there is no price big enough to fetch this nation; no gold, no silver, precious enough, to buy its sovereignty. We are not for sale.”

August 2017
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