Kidnapped at gunpoint

Eunice Chadoka-King has published a memoir of her horrific experiences as a female war veteran during the liberation struggle. She returned home in 1980 and whilst campaigning in the elections for the ZANU-PF, she met her husband, Godfrey, and the pair fell instantly in love. Telling him about her ordeal and the origins of her son, Gift, the pair formed a deep bond and he soon became part of her loving family.

ekAfter Robert Mugabe assumed the presidency, she initially took a role in his government, only to soon lose her job due to allegations of misconduct as official corruption took root, just as it had in the camps. Eunice witnessed the War Veterans’ Compensation Fund being plundered as elite officers lined their pockets, while the soldiers who liberated Zimbabwe continued to live in poverty.

But it was only later, when she attended a women’s rally as a journalist and saw Teurai Ropa and Rex Nhongo giving speeches and heard a woman nearby relate traumatic experiences similar to her own at their hands that Eunice realised she must have the courage to tell her story. When her revelations about them hit the front page, she was forced to the leave the country to study in Germany to survive the backlash.

With personal insight into the Mugabe regime and the mysterious deaths of Josiah Tongogara and Rex Nhongo and the suffering of the soldiers of liberation, Chadoka-King’s book is an important contribution to the history of this complex country, as well as a moving personal account of one woman’s incredible perseverance and strength.

The Zimbabwean is publishing excerpt 1 of this remarkable story of resilience and triumph over adversity.

Mutambara High School, 1975

‘Everyone up! Put your hands up!’ the soldier in the red beret shouted. Terrified screams and shouts filled the air of the dining hall at Mutambara High School. Soldiers with machine guns streamed through the doors. The man in the red beret, who seemed to be the leader, yelled again.

‘Everyone be still, no laughing, talking or screaming! March out in single file!’

In the confusion, one student tried to escape through a window. He was grabbed by two soldiers, thrown against the wall and stabbed through the heart. I knew that student. He was Robert, the head boy and the school’s football champion. Only moments ago, he had been laughing and entertaining us with his endless jokes. He told us that he was lucky enough to have secured a football scholarship in the United States of America and, soon after exams, he would be flying out. Everyone had envied him. Now he lay dying, slumped on the floor with his lifeblood spurting out of his chest.

The man in the red beret shouted again, ‘No screaming or talking. Shh! Silence! Follow me!’

Startled out of our paralysis, we crowded into a corner, about fifty of us, like a small heap of rubbish. I noticed that I had wet myself and I was not the only one. We started walking a few metres towards the door. I looked back at the other students. Most looked just as confused and fearful as I was and yet some seemed quietly determined. We marched in a straight line and only stopped when we came across a two-way highway. At this late hour, there was almost no traffic. We were made to run across the road in twos, under the watchful eyes of our armed kidnappers. They made sure all of us crossed safely. We walked for a few kilometres into the forest and met a larger group of armed men. Leaders from both parties exchanged whispers and then we were commanded to crawl. We crawled in silence for hours because we had to get past Cashel Valley Police Station undetected. We heard dogs barking, but we were told to ignore them and move on as quickly as possible. It was either get caught by the dogs and beaten or continue on. I muttered a prayer. After a seemingly endless stretch of moving on our hands and knees, we were finally ordered to get up and run as fast as we could. This continued for hours. We were given a few minutes break before we pressed on, this time walking. My confused mind was trying to make sense of everything that had just happened. Nobody knew what was going on – we didn’t know who our captors were and we didn’t know where we were going. We only followed command after command, like sheep going to slaughter. I only managed to get through the day by looking at the youngest of the group walking beside me, as calm and stern as ever, despite the doubts and turmoil we were all fighting in our minds.

My thoughts turned to Mama and the present I had posted to her three days before. I had wanted to give my mother a present she would never forget. In the end, it was a goodbye, thank you, birthday and Christmas present all in one. The sun was still rising in the Cashel Valley the hot and humid morning I’d sent it. I had stood in the queue at the post office in my well-ironed school uniform, wearing my prefect badge proudly. I was holding my wrapped parcel tightly, my mother’s address carefully written on it. In the parcel was a Bible and a hymn book, which I had saved to buy. I knew my mother would treasure the gift. Pastor Jijita from our church spotted me in the queue and asked me where the parcel was going. I let him read the lettering on the parcel, but I did not divulge its contents. I wondered then if Mama had received her gift. Would I ever see her again? Would I see any of my family? One moment, I had been a carefree student whose only concern was about her exams. I had been so certain of my future. Now, I could not even tell what the next hour would bring. How did I get here?

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