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Zimbabwe's Heroes Day *LINK*

Fallen gallant fighters, we salute you for liberating us

By Hatred Zenenga,
Monday, 11 August 2003

A group of 20 Zanla freedom fighters arrived one chilly July evening of 1978 at Mapira village in Mhondoro with AK-47 sub- machine guns and RPD light machine guns slung over their shoulders.

This was much to the curiosity of most villagers who, for the first time, got sight of Zanla's vanamukoma (the boys) or sons of the soil (vana vevhu) as they were popularly known then.

The arrival of this group of freedom fighters marked the start of the prosecution of the war in this part of Mhondoro by Zanla, the military wing of Zanu. Most people from this area had only heard about the war of liberation being waged by both Zanla and Zipra combatants in other places far away from them.

At that time, the liberation struggle fought by Zanla and Zipra, the military wing of Zapu, had intensified in areas like Mt Darwin, Chiweshe, Chipinge, Hurungwe, Gwanda and Nkayi.

Zanla had quite a sophisticated system of infiltrating an area and winning the hearts of villagers, whom they depended on for food and general information on Rhodesian security forces.

This group of combatants, which arrived on this July evening at Mapira village, was in fact made up of mostly Zanla political commissars, who were paving the way for larger groups of combatants who later arrived to operate in the area.

Villagers were quickly called to an all-night meeting, popularly known as kupungwe, for politicisation. The freedom fighters introduced themselves as vanamukoma who had volunteered to fight against the racist Smith regime, which imposed itself upon black indigenous Zimbabweans.

They said the Chimurenga war was on to return the country to its rightful owners - the black indigenous Africans.

Much was said about the racial discrimination and injustices by whites against blacks. Many examples were given of white people leading luxurious lives at the expense of blacks who had nothing and were languishing in abject poverty.

Comparisons were made of the size of landholding of whites against that of the black people who found themselves crammed on rocky and unproductive land. The politicisation of villagers was punctuated with revolutionary songs and dances.

After a couple of pungwes, it actually became easier for the villagers to co-operate and identify themselves with the Zanla agenda and mission. It was, indeed, this system which was effectively neutralising the Rhodesian military action against the freedom fighters.

At the pungwes, the commissars would give stern warnings as to what would happen to any sellouts who reported the presence of the freedom fighters to the police or Rhodesian soldiers.

The freedom fighters would pick important contact people and establish information links. This involved mujibhas, chimbwidos and other community leaders such as the headman. These would know where to find the freedom fighters and pass on to them vital information.

It was important that every scrap of information relating to the presence of Rhodesian forces or strangers be passed on to the contact people, who would in turn speedily pass it on to the freedom fighters.

The contact people would also help the freedom fighters to select bases and co-ordinate the provision of food. They were also useful in the transmission of messages between detachments and sections of the freedom fighters.

This worked extremely well, particularly in shutting out the notorious Rhodesian Selous Scouts, who approached villagers posing as freedom fighters.

Selous Scouts behaved like genuine freedom fighters. Their dressing and guns were easily mistaken for those of vanamukoma.

A few weeks after the arrival of the first group, larger groups of Zanla fighters later followed to operate in the area. They were easily accepted by the povo.

But Mhondoro, unlike many other areas, is mostly vleis with imperfect cover of forests. This exposed the freedom fighters to attacks, especially air strikes by the Rhodesian forces.

Between 1978 and 1979, there were battles won and battles lost by the freedom fighters during operations in Mhondoro.

One of the fiercest battles in the area was fought in August 1979 near Kawara Primary School. Rhodesian forces, acting on information from a sellout, stormed a base early in the morning near Nyundo River where some 30 freedom fighters had arrived a day before.

A fierce firefight involving Rhodesian ground and air strikes in which several helicopter gunships had been called in erupted as a fusillade was directed at the base. Seven freedom fighters fell dead, two were captured but the rest escaped.

The bodies of the dead fighters were displayed at Mubaira Police Camp for ordinary people to view. It was a painful moment for those who recognised and knew some of the slain freedom fighters.

Their bodies are buried in a shallow mass grave just behind Mubaira growth point shops along the Chegutu road.

Today, as we commemorate Heroes Day, we remember them, and thousands of other fallen gallant fighters who never lived to enjoy the fruits of what they were fighting for. Their remains still lie in the bushes of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia. We salute you and cherish what you sacrificed for!

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