My birthright

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.

Eunice Chadoka-King

Eunice Chadoka-King

After 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 2 of this remarkable story of resilience and triumph over adversity.

My Birthright

I entered the world on Wednesday 19 June 1957 at five minutes to midnight at Mpilo Hospital, Bulawayo. The doctors and nurses could not tell at first whether I was a boy or girl because the umbilical cord was wrapped around my legs and neck. The doctor spent a while freeing me from it and, meanwhile, Mama overheard the nurses saying that it was a boy, so when she called my father, who was working in Zambia at the time, she told him she had given birth to a baby boy.

When it was finally confirmed that I was a girl, Mama decided to call me Eunice. I was named after the midwife who had delivered me, a pretty English lady called Sister Eunice who had come from England to help start a midwifery training college. She had suggested the name to Mama and Mama had agreed. Mama said there was a character in the Bible called Eunice, so it was a good name for me to have.

Father arrived at the hospital the next day, beaming with happiness. He had not discovered the sex mix-up yet and had announced that I would be named Tambudzai (meaning ‘My tribulations’) after my grandfather, Tambudzai Chadoka, a man Father claimed was endowed with all the great traits of a brave African hunter. He was eventually told of the mix-up and expressed complete disapproval that Mama had given me a markedly ‘white and English’ name. He insisted that I be named more appropriately, after the customs of our family and our roots. After much deliberation, my parents decided to keep the name Eunice and use Tambudzai as a middle name. After Mama was discharged from hospital, Father took us to the Nyakatsapa Mission Farm to meet my paternal grandparents, the Chadokas. On hearing the news of my birth, Grandpa Tambudzai had come to Nyakatsapa with live cattle and slaughtered them, so that my mother would have enough milk. Mama said I was only child of hers to have been honoured that way. I was baptised there by Bishop Abel Muzorewa as he happened to be a guest preacher from Chiduku, near Rusape where he was a stationed pastor.  After two months, Father took Mama back to Zambia where I met my other siblings – my four-year-old brother, Itai, and my three-year-old sister, Stella. We stayed in Zambia for five years where the family was blessed with two more children, my sister, Margaret, and my brother, Weston.

I became acutely aware of the world around me from the age of two and a half. My first memory is that of a song playing on the shabby radio in the corner of our living room in Kafue, Zambia. Its energy swept across the living room to where I was sitting, the distinct notes interjected with a hoarse masculine voice chanting slogans. I later learnt that it was a Chimurenga song. Chimurenga means any violent means used to defeat our colonisers – including stones, bows and arrows and guns.


In 1963, my family returned to Rhodesia, along with my father’s whole family, including his brothers, Patrick, Christopher, Amon and Jairos Chadoka. In 1964, my family settled at the Munyanyazi Irrigation Settlement or Nyanyadzi, where my father built schools and churches.

I remember that, for the most part, the winter months of 1964 were dark, rainy and cold. Fear permeated everything that moved. I was in Year 1 at Nyanyadzi Primary School and school felt like a prison to me. We could see soldiers and policemen patrolling the streets, day and night. On the way to school on my first day, we witnessed a white policeman with an American Pit Bull Terrier attacking a black man. The man was bleeding profusely. My father stopped his car nearby, yelling at the policeman in English, ‘Stop it! Stop it!’ My father was on fire; in his rage, his feet seemed to not touch the ground. Father took the man to Nyanyadzi Hospital. The feeling I had that morning would not leave me though. Every time I closed my eyes, I kept seeing the same image – a white policeman with a fierce dog and a man lying on the ground bleeding. All day I wiped tears from my eyes.

Later that day, Father came to collect me from school. I looked into his eyes – he looked like he had been crying too.

‘Is that man still alive or dead?’ was my first question to Father. Father did not reply, but his face looked troubled. At the moment, a voice in my head said, ‘You have to write it!’

I later told father about it and he said, ‘There must be a reason for it.’

I said, ‘But, Father, I cannot write.’

‘Forget that. That’s why you’ve got to take your studies seriously. I want you to tell me how your first day was.’

I did not want to talk about school; I wanted to talk about the man that I saw bleeding. But Father refused to say anything else about it.

‘I will fight the policeman when I grow up!’ I declared confidently.

Father just looked at me and smiled.

Later that night, father was picked up by the police due to the incident with the white policeman. He was taken to the Nyanyadzi Police Camp, but was later released without charge.

Over the next few months, I felt afraid to step out of the house and I lost my desire to go to school and mingle with other children my age. I just wanted to be home with Mama. This was made worse by strangers who would often come and visit us. They would come and talk to Mama about politics and Mama would hold meetings with them, devising plans and strategies. Many of these people were teachers, nurses, activists and local officials. Occasionally, men would show up at midnight and Mama would hold long, hushed discussions with them. These men would then disappear before daybreak. They were hard to identify. Itai said they were soldiers and he had seen one of the men carrying a gun. Despite Mama’s instructions that everyone should go to bed, Itai would often sneak into the passageway and listen all night whenever the men appeared.

I remember it was on Tuesday night 2 June 1964, as a little girl of seven, seeing a group of people in long coats and dark glasses entering our shop in the middle of the night. At the time, I was on my way to use the outside toilet. All my sisters were afraid to go outside the house during the night–unlike me. My mother would say, ’Kachabiwa aka,’ meaning I could get stolen. I saw men going up and down putting covered goods in my father’s truck. I heard these men with Father singing, Tsuro yaikama Mombe, iyo yaBaba wangu, iyo yakachena meaning, A hare used to suck milk from a cow, a clean white cow…

I went to peep into the shop through the window to see what was happening. I saw a lot of activities I did not understand. A man suddenly came out and carried me to my mother saying, ‘She is not safe left outside alone. This world can be cruel. Lock the door.’ Mama thanked him and later told me that he was Ndabaningi Sithole, the leader of ZANU. Each time I ran into the house telling mother what I had seen, she repeated the words, ‘Aka kachabiwa aka.

This long ago fairy tale song reminded me of Grandpa Tambudzai who used to sing it when drank. Tsuro waikama Mombe,  iyo yaBaba wangu, iyo yakachena… Because of this song Father said that was the reason grandpa was expelled from Nyakatsapa Mission Farm, but mother argued differently saying he was expelled because of polygamy and brewing illicit beer to appease the spirits. The argument between the two went on and on without anyone yielding easily. But in the end Mama would concede defeat when Father challenged her, “Tell me about your grandfather Chief Tendai Mutasa, because I know my grandfather Tambudzai better than you do”.

Itai used to tease Sekuru during moon time asking, ‘Who is Tsuro? Where is he?’
Sekuru Tambudzai would emotionally without uttering a word grab Itai’s hand while we all tugged behind out of the hut and grandpa would point out at the moon, “That is Tsuro and its baby.” I also witnessed this image reflected in the moon which resembled very clearly a hare and it’s baby. But some said it looked more like a kangaroo and it’s baby. Sekuru used to comment that we all had visualised correctly. But what we saw in Sekuru was the hare and its baby living in the fantasy world without meaning.
Unconsciously, we ended up all singing this forbidden song. Mama swore to give anyone a through beating when caught or heard singing or hyming it, because she said we could end up being drunkards and misbehave like grandpa Tambudzai. Father sometimes sang this song when he too was drank but Mama often asked him to stop at once. Father would laugh and sing louder and louder as he walked away from Mama with his Castle large beer in hand.
That night my memories were triggered and absent-minded I started singing, Tsuro waikama Mombe, iyo yaBaba wangu, iyo yakachena…. Mama said she would rather give me, a tardy child, dentetion, rather than beating me because she could hurt me. I now realised that my dentetion was politically motivated.

On that 2 of June to 6 June 1964, Father failed to come home. Mama seemed not to know his whereabouts and she hopped from shop to shop in search of him She soon discovered that most businessmen in that area were missing too. Two days later, it was announced that a terrorist called William Ndangana had killed a white farmer named Petrus Oberholtzer at a roadblock. Mama told us that Father was in the Ndangana group. We all started crying and Mama too. The men  were taken to the Nyanyadzi Police Camp and charged with the murder of Petrus Oberholtzer. But Ndangana had escaped. This marked the first offensive action by civilians-untrained concerned men around Nyanyadzi and Melseter in the country and, on 26 August, a state of emergency was declared and the ZANU party was banned.

I recalled, it was very unusual to see people dressed in coats  in our area. The central part and eastern parts of the country are extremely hot. Little did I know that that very night at our shop, my father and his group were planning to kill a white farmer, Petrus Oberholzer, in the Chimanimani area, near the Nyanyadzi Irrigation.

My father’s trucks had carried the weapons used in the act. I had seen them hastily jumping into Father’s two trucks and driving off. After the act, Ndangana escaped to Malawi and my father, with others like Dlamini, Mlambo, Mutezo and, Gwitira were imprisoned. Mlambo and Dlamini managed to cross the border to Mozambique, but were captured by Rhodesian forces and brought back. They were accused of recruiting terrorists from neighbouring countries for military training and were hanged at Salisbury Maximum Security Prison. My father escaped hanging because he claimed that he had been hired to carry people whose mission he was not aware of. He added that he was new to the area. Nevertheless, he was accused of facilitating the swift travel of terrorists and was, therefore, also considered to be a terrorist.

My uncle who had fled to England heard about my father’s predicament and flew a human rights lawyer from the Netherlands to assist my father and the other group members who were charged with murder. They escaped hanging, but received life sentences at Salisbury Maximum Security Prison, pending further investigations.

All the peope who had frequented our shop during the night, eating and drinking with my Father, disappeared. We had no customers visiting our shop during the day either. The first week was very bad – we were forced to eat bread every day, even at supper, because Mama did not want the unsold bread to go to waste. After a while, I could not bear to even look at bread. Stella finally suggested to Mama that she cut the bread orders to just a third of the usual consignment until the situation improved. Even at school, our friends deserted us. They said, “We don’t want our Fathers to be implicated.”  We all slept in one room, fearing for our lives from neighbours. Both sets of grandparents came over to give us support.

Mama was very troubled and cried a lot. Every day and every minute, I could see Mama’s lips moving in prayer. Itai said that she was praying for Father to be released. During the night, we would all join in prayers, praying for Father. The routine became monotonous – all the children quickly grew tired of it. Since no customers visited our shop, we did not make any money and could not afford to buy food. One time, Father’s friend, Mukomu, came to our shop and offered to sell our bread for us. Mama was not happy and said, “I don’t trust you.”  Mukomu left like a dog who had been found stealing.‘Mukomu is a traitor – he has been released within a week,’ Mama said angrily.

When Father was jailed, my mother’s brother, Uncle Elisha Mutasa, became an invaluable source of support. Uncle Elisha Mutasa was a trained medical doctor, a man of great ambition, as Father called him, and instilled this in us too. He was married to a young, pretty, white English nurse called Adrienne Davey. They lived in the Old Mutare Mission Hospital, where his wife was a state-registered nurse. They had four children, all mixed race or ‘coloureds,’ as we called them. The two girls had lovely hair. We loved Rinda and Tsara’s straight hair and everyone would draw closer to them, unnoticed by Uncle Elisha or his wife, just to touch and feel it, because it was as soft as feathers.

He was a very generous man and his wife complemented his efforts by assisting his extended family. During those days, the mission hospital only had two vehicles. One was a Jeep used as an ambulance for ferrying patients from rural areas. The second vehicle was a car allocated to my uncle. Towards Christmas of 1966, Uncle Elisha visited our rural home and saw my mother worrying over her imprisoned husband. He offered us transport to go to Harare and visit my father at Salisbury Security Maximum Prison, an offer that my mother gratefully accepted. Uncle filled the fuel tank to the brim, enough to take us to and from Harare. His wife provided us with cakes, roasted meat and a basketful of fruit as provisions for our journey to Harare and to share with our father on Christmas Day.

On seeing us and hearing of Uncle Elisha Mutasa’s help, Father was brought to uncontrollable tears, muttering, ‘God bless him. God bless him!’ It was an unforgettable Christmas for us all, thanks to Uncle Elisha. When my Uncle Elisha died in 1970, his wife took their children to Britain. She said she did not think it would be right for them to join the Rhodesian government to fight their own black brothers and sisters.

Nyakatsapa Mission Farm

After Father’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment, Uncle Elisha Mutasa took us from Nyanyadzi to the Nyakatsapa Mission Farm, my mother’s rural home, where we could live with our paternal grandparents. We arrived at the Nyakatsapa Mission Farm in September 1964.

The Nyakatsapa Mission Farm belonged to white American missionaries of the United Methodist Church who had come to Africa to convert the indigenous population. The missionaries had bought the land from a British man called Mr Green. Mr Green was given the land as a token of appreciation from Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain for his services to Great Britain in World War II. The blacks were evacuated from that piece of fertile land to give it to Green. When the Americans took ownership, they turned it into a farm which belonged to the church and that was how the Nyakatsapa Mission Farm came to be. They divided the land into pieces and allowed the blacks to live there, as long as they paid taxes, practised Christianity and followed the rules of the mission. There was an outright ban on drinking and brewing of beer, divorce and polygamy, the practise of witchcraft, riotous living and politicising of any sort. Those who dared to transgress any of these by-laws were expelled from the mission. Grandpa Tambudzai Chadoka, who broke every rule of the farm, had been expelled two years before I was born.

Grandpa Tambudzai believed in spirit mediums and often practised rituals. He despised Christianity and used to say: ‘That’s what colonisation was all about. The whites came with a Bible in one hand and a pick to dig diamonds in the other, whilst we closed our eyes to say, “Amen”. When we opened our eyes, all the diamonds and gold was gone.’

After Grandpa Tambudzai’s expulsion, residents began to toe the line and there were very few expulsions, in fact, over Nyakatsapa’s sixty-year history. When we first arrived at Nyakastapa, Mama had gone to see a couple of church leaders who were in charge of resolving community matters. After much deliberation about who we were, where we had come from and a full analysis of our family tree to show our people originated from that province, we were finally given permission to relocate to Nyakatsapa, albeit rather unwillingly. There had been several disputes amongst the chief men on the council about the pureness of our pedigree. Mama was more than satisfied with the small victory of being accepted and set her eyes on the southern part of the province, which was the Christian mission, quickly arranging to meet some prominent church people. The story goes that Mama was asked to swear an oath on the Bible to raise all of her children in the faith the best way she knew how and that included attending Sunday services and the occasional midweek service.

One day Mama took my hand as usual to accompany her to the toilet. The Bush toilet. When we were in the middle of the forest, talking and laughing, in the middle of the act, we exchanged eyes with Sekuru and Itai who happened to be at the same location, same time and for the same purpose. Bush toilet. We caught each other red handed Sekuru and Itai pants down, and Mama and I dresses up. When we finally finished we departed one by one with our heads bored down on the ground in silence. Sekuru went straight to bed that night and without food.

The following morning when I woke up Mama and two other village boys were digging a pit. I asked her and she said she was digging a medium pit toilet drop called Blair Toilet designed in the 1970s which Mama said looked similar to the one at Sun Row. I was exited and monitored them. When they had finished the slab made of wooden logs it had two holes. One hole was for men and the other for us women. It was divided in two by a wall of logs and grass. The structure looked solid. It was perfect for the time and purpose. It was one of the decent developments brought by Sekuru Ishe to our house and village. It posed a serious health hazard with bad smells and uncontrolled fly breeding which were permanent visitors in this toilet and in our houses and on our food. It was common to eat with a small weep to chase the tormenting flies away. People preferred to call it Blair Latrine because it has some elements missing. Mama always insisted on pouring boiling water on the floor and wood ash inside the pit to disinfect it. It really helped, but not much. But, there was no more shame, no more bush toilets.

Father’s uncle came for Christmas. They had three children, the younger one Washington was aged six. I last saw them playing hide and seek in the dark with Itai outside making a lot of noise. Grown ups were also making noise inside therefore nobody was bothered. We were all having fun. I came out visiting the toilet and it was abnormally quiet and I could not see any children playing. This made me nervous. As Stella and I walked towards the toilet we could hear some hushed voices coming from the middle drop area. We went there anyway to wait outside and make some noise to allow the occupants know that we were waiting impatiently outside. The hushed voices came from the men’s side.

And there, was a heart stopping sight when I peeped into the men’s latrine I saw the most absurd thing. Itai and his two friends were pulling Washington’s small head and hand, which were stuck and protruding from the middle drop.

Obviously Washington did not know any better in the middle of the dark was having fun and out of excitement went to hide into the toilet and perhaps slipped into the drop over a pool of human faeces playing hide and seek. The smell alone made me choke. We were horrified. Stella also helped to pull as I screamed on top of my voice to alert the grown ups. Inside I was absolute confused. If we had not come Washington could have died in there as Itai and friends seemed to be loosing the battle in panic. He could also have died from either suffocation or disease of cholera, typhoid, the list was endless.

People complained that we had appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the night, people without a significant local history, and that we had white people’s money. It was shortly after that they began calling us ‘murungu’ or ‘white man’ because of the Blair Latrine. The other village children we played with called us murungus and made cruel fun and jests. It was considered the worst kind of insult to be called murungus because whites were widely reviled. They were people that did not belong to the soil, foreigners and oppressors, white aliens who had come from distant lands to loot Africa’s gold.

At the Nyakatsapa Primary, teachers also called me a murungu and I would get a double caning whenever I did anything wrong. Once, I got into a fight with a girl called Eva. I think I won because she was crying more than me at the end of it. As she grabbed my head in an arm lock, I thumped her hard in the stomach with my fist. Three days before I started school, Itai had taught me how to fight like a boy so I could defend myself in a case I found myself in trouble.

When I told Mama that evening about what had happened at school and how the teachers had pinned all the blame on me, instead of Eva, she explained that bullies put others down to hide their own insecurities and frustrations and that even adults often do that. No one had any basis to compare us with white people because we had worked very hard for everything we owned and never did it on the back of anyone else.

She added that black people like my father who had gone on to build their own business, despite their lack of formal education, were a rare exception.

When the murungus came, they purposefully created a bottleneck type of education system to filter out the indigenous people and stop them from progressing. Many were resigned to subsistence living in the villages, working as cattle herders, whilst others found menial jobs in the city as domestic servants and gardeners for white people, like my grandfather. Many more worked as labourers in the white-owned factories and farms, picking fruit, tobacco, cotton and maize. Others who worked in coal, iron, gold and asbestos mines were paid slightly more due to the occupational and health hazards of such jobs. Those who could not find employment became criminals, specialising in housebreaking and cattle rustling, eventually ending up in prison. The best option for our people was to become nurses and teachers. We were economically repressed and, as a result, many people felt they had been short-changed in life and were bitter. These same people, driven by envy, would call us murungus and all kinds of horrible names. Inwardly, they only wanted what we had and what the whites had. They were fighting the wrong enemy, Mama said.

At Nyakatsapa Primary, I was studying for Year 1 for the third time, but even then, I was still the youngest in my class of fifty-six children. The oldest pupil was a boy aged fourteen and half with a notorious reputation. He was taking the class for the sixth time. The class had only a handful of girls. I came to understand later on that this was because parents with little money preferred to educate boy children rather than girls, since boys were deemed a better investment. Another factor for this preference was also one of heritage. Girls would get married, change their surnames and raise children in their new homes, whereas boys would carry the lineage and bloodline of the family. This was how Uncle Elisha explained it when he came to visit us one weekend during the school holidays. He called it, ‘plucking of the flower’. He explained that as I got older, some boy would find me attractive, ask for my hand in marriage and take me away from Mama, my family and our house. When I scoffed at this, Uncle Elisha simply smiled and laughed. I thought of his white English wife, Adrienne. I suspected the story my uncle had told me was what had happened to Adrienne and here she was now in strange surroundings with a new family.

Every morning, we would trek to school before sunrise, crossing the Manama River, a muddy, plant-filled river, which flowed between our mission and the grey stone hills that stretched across the horizon. There was always the danger of falling into the water if you slipped or if someone pushed you in. The wet seasons were the worst time to cross it. You would see white mosquito eggs floating on top of the water and know that in a few days they would hatch.

When we travelled to and from school, we often encountered many other children who did not even have shoes or a jersey. When they looked at us – Itai, Stella and I, it was as if we had come from the moon. They would watch in fascination as we removed our shoes and put them on again later. We would hear from the other children stories of how some people would sacrifice cows and pigs in the Manama at night and drink their blood from the water. They said if you went there at exactly midnight you would see ghosts walking and dancing on the water too.

Fear struck me and I vowed I would never drink that water. The first few nights after hearing those stories, I suffered recurring nightmares of falling into the river and being tormented by strange creatures. One Sunday morning, I knelt down and prayed in church and the nightmares never came back. However, at times, I would remember the nightmares and the fears would resurface afresh inside me.

Sekuru Ishe Masawara

One day, Mama announced that her father and my maternal grandfather, Chief Masawara Mutasa, was coming to the Nyakatsapa Mission Farm to visit us for a month. We referred to him as Sekuru Ishe Masawara. In our language, Ishe means ‘Chief,’ a title given to him as the first heir to the throne of Chief Tendayi Mutasa. He was an elderly man with a quiet voice and a bent-over frame. He was a Christian convent and would wake us up at 4.30am singing a song called, ‘There shall be showers of blessings, this is the promise of God…’ Everybody hated him for disturbing their sleep and wished he would go home. Apart from the enforced prayers, I loved him very much. He was friendly and extremely generous. He had many interesting hobbies and archaic talents – he would carve us traditional musical instruments out of wood, which we would thumb, and he made drums that we struck with our palms. Sekuru Ishe Masawara ended up staying for three months.

When Father was jailed, Mama was left with an empty bank account and six children.

In mid-August 1965, Mama’s sister, Oriel, who worked in England as a qualified state-registered nurse, wrote a telegram to Mama. After a break in the fields, the postman came over to deliver it. We watched as he carefully pulled the telegram out from his bag. Mama timidly took the telegram and placed it delicately in her pocket. In those days, telegrams were sensitive things, which carried very important messages, such as news of a death. Mama did not open it. We went home and Mama went to have a bath, whilst Stella and Jaaya prepared supper. There was an unusual silence in the house. Mama still had not opened the telegram. Her hands were constantly in her pocket, fiddling with the telegram as she ate. Later on that night, Mama bid us goodnight. Itai insisted that the telegram be opened before Mama went to bed. We could see the fear in her eyes. Finally, Mama sat down, her face pained, and pulled the telegram from her pocket. She kept looking at the envelope, checking the stamp as if she could see fingerprints on it. She opened it delicately, being careful not to tear the message. Her lips moved as she read silently, her head moving from left to right, as it she was reading the message repeatedly. Impatiently, Itai took the telegram from Mama’s hands.

Mama was still sitting there with her mouth open, speechless with disbelief, as Itai

read the telegram aloud:

Sorry for the imprisonment of your husband. I saw your letter. I am sending you a ticket next month in September for you to come to England. You will leave those six bastard children of yours with their paternal grandparents. Your sister, Oriel.

We all stood up and crowded around Mama, crying and pulling her dress, saying ‘You can’t leave us!’ Mama was like a mother hen protecting her chicks on a cold winter morning. When she tried to stand up to go to bed, we refused to let her move. When she finally went to bed, we followed her into the bedroom and we all slept there that night. When she went to the toilet, Weston would wait outside. Finally, Mama promised us that she would not leave us behind. Stella suggested that since she would be working as a state-registered nurse after her studies ended and be earning enough money, she could take us one-by-one to England, starting with Itai and then the rest of us. Mama agreed that it was a good idea and said that she would look into the possibility of taking the two youngest, Weston and Sarudzai, and liaise with her sister.

The following morning, Mama sent Itai to the post office with her reply to the telegram. I did not know the exact contents of the letter, but she had basically agreed to go to England. We waited and waited for Aunt Oriel to reply, but none came and neither did the promised ticket to England. Beggars cannot be choosers, but Mama refused to sacrifice her family for her own happiness. Mama urged us to work harder and said, ‘England is not everything.’

To earn a living, Mama went to work for the Sunrow Company in Umtali (now Mutare), packing tomatoes in tins, leaving us with our paternal grandparents. Whilst we were staying with the Chadokas, Sekuru Ishe would sometimes come by and bring goodies, such as maize meal, goat meat, fruit and vegetables in a cart driven by four oxen.

It was December 1965 and we had heard that Sekuru Ishe was going to visit us again. As usual, my brother, Itai, planned everything. As soon as Sekuru Ishe unloaded the cart, we all jumped inside. When school re-opened, Sekuru Ishe never asked us to return. We were very happy to stay with him and my grandmother. At Guta, we met our first cousins, most of whom were our ages – Lincoln, Elizabeth, Chipo, Ndiedzeyi, Temba, Shingai, Brooks, Spiwe, Rebecca and I had a lot of fun together. There was never any time that Sekuru lived with less than fifteen grandchildren.

One morning, I was tasked by Mbuya Ishe Masawara to look after a big clay pot on the fire whilst the others went to plant maize in the fields. After spending some time putting on the firewood, I decided to see what was cooking. I opened the pot and dipped my finger in. It tasted great. I saw that there was meat in the pot, so I decided to cut off a small piece to eat. Oh God, it tasted delicious! I took another piece and then another.

When everybody came back from the fields, we all sat down for lunch. To my surprise, my grandmother served sadza, our staple food, with sour milk, instead of the meat I was expecting. Maybe the meat was for supper. I did not eat much in anticipation of a feast during supper. When supper came, there was still no meat.

The following day, I saw Sekuru taking the soup and meat from the big pot and mixing it with dogs’ food in the dog dishes. I asked him why. He told me that this was baboon’s meat and our people did not eat that. I started crying and confessed that I had eaten some of that meat. Sekuru laughed his lungs out, as did everyone else. He told me never to steal and eat things I did not know the origin of.

One sunny afternoon, when it was too hot to do anything else other than sit in the shade, Sekuru Ishe Masawara recounted to us the first time he met a white person, when he was a boy about eight years old. He’d believed he’d seen a ghost. The white man was carrying a rifle, trekking in the bush with three other black men. Grandfather ran back to the village to report the sighting. His father, the chief, sent out a trail of men and captured the white man and his three companions. The white man spoke quickly with a strange tongue as one of the black men interpreted. The chief ended up letting the white man and his companions go. He told us that later on, when he was a little older, he found employment as a domestic servant for a white man named Mr George in the Rhodesian capital, Salisbury. Those were the only jobs available to blacks in those days, he reiterated. For fifteen years, he watered the lawns and did all manner of manual work until they made him retire. Even though he was older than Mr George and his wife, the couple always referred to him as their ‘boy,’ and he addressed them as ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’. He ended that account by saying that they never treated him badly, but the others he had met were devils.

To conclude, he said that, all in all, murungus were one and the same – disrespectful and selfish. And that, of all his grand accomplishments in life, he was most proud of the fact that in all the years he had served them, he had never once felt a pinch of hatred towards any of them. That made him the real winner, having overcome their hate and prejudice with love. That was the lesson he had been trying to impress on us. We were never responsible for other people’s actions, but only our own.

One windy day, we played a game of shooting with sticks, to see who would be the first to shoot at the big tree, which was our target. We were enjoying ourselves with our cousins, laughing to the point of tears and enjoying ourselves because we all missed the target. It was now Lincoln’s turn. He took his stick and seemed to point at the tree. A hen happened to pass by then and he said jokingly, ‘This is my target for tonight.’ He flung his stick and it was on target. Right inside the hen’s arsehole. Everyone was taken by surprise and we paced up and down, stopping occasionally behind the big tree to make menacing gestures at the hen as if our eyes could pull out the stick. Sekuru called for us and everyone ran away in panic, so afraid to tell him what happened. But Sekuru Ishe was very observant. The hen moved very slowly with the stick stuck in it. Sekuru automatically knew there was mischief going around when he suddenly saw the yard deserted. Sekuru had a very loud voice, which could go carry far when he shouted. It made me scared at first, but I was now used to it. Everyone was used to it. He called the big boys’ names, starting with the most notorious.



‘Elizabeth!’ and so on.

When there was silence, he called the most obedient ones.



‘Chipo!’ And so forth.

Soon we were all gathered and, one by one, we confessed ignorance, but Sekuru Ishe muttered indistinct words, shrugging his shoulders and pointing to the hen which was in pain. He took his whip and, one-by-one, we were canned, starting with the eldest. Sekuru hit quite hard and people were really screaming. But still no one wanted to tell the truth. When it came to my turn, I spilled the beans. I guess I wanted meat so much. I was spared. The hen was killed and Mbuya Ishe cooked it. Lincoln, as punishment, was not going to eat. But he was given some anyway by his buddies. Sekuru insisted that everyone hold his or her meat in their hands because the big boys used to pick out all the meat and we small ones had to make do with chicken soup. I became a little hero, including to Lincoln the troublemaker, because we all enjoyed the meat, which didn’t come very often. This is because if the hen had died on its own, which was a sure case, it was going to be buried. Sekuru never allowed us to eat a dead hen. He often said it had a dangerous disease that killed it. I learnt that people’s mistakes can be a blessing for all at times.

The following day, my uncle, Christopher Mvere, graduated from the university in Lesotho. He was a maths genius and with his first pay as a teacher at Hartzell Secondary, he bought a Chevrolet and we were all excited when he came to show his maternal parents, Sekuru and Mbuya Ishe. We all came out as Mbuya and Sekuru thanked God for the car. Mbuya was moved to tears. Mbuya killed another chicken because Sekuru said it was a very special day and we needed to honour Chris’ achievements. After dinner, all fifteen of us jumped into the car, cramped and squashed, for a test drive. Just as the car started moving, the door flung open and I fell like a ripe fruit to the ground. By sheer coincidence, I was thrown onto some grass. The car stopped after much screaming from the others inside. I just stood up and fell, I think, when trying to go back into the car before it left. But I was not in the right state of mind, as my cousins later told me. Finally, I started shivering and gagging, unable to talk or cry.

Christopher ran to me, followed by Itai.

He put his hand on my chest – I think to test my heartbeat.

‘No injuries, just shock. You will be fine,’ he said.

‘What a near miss,’ Itai remarked. The others remained seated in the car, peeping through the windows. Sekuru Ishe came out and hurriedly ran to us.

‘Pretend nothing happened. Otherwise, he will not let us go,’ Itai whispered. But Sekuru Ishe was much clever than that. He discovered what had gone on.

‘Can I see your license?’ he asked Christopher. He fondled in his pockets without producing any documents.

‘Where is it?’ Sekuru demanded.

‘If I don’t see it, everyone out!’ Sekuru shouted.

‘You can’t drive without a licence, see it could have been a fatal accident and everyone could have perished,’ Sekuru said angrily.

Everyone was asked to get down and he was ordered to park the car back at the house. Sekuru took away the car keys and said, ‘No licence, no driving.’ The writing was written on the wall, ‘No license, no driving.’

The car was parked there for almost two months and every time we saw it, we would go and touch it and peep inside, trying to open the doors, which were tightly locked. I assumed Christopher was getting a licence. Chris tried to sweet-talk Sekuru, but he said, ‘Better to be cruel to be kind.’

We later moved back to our home in Nyakatsapa in 1968 because rumours had circulated that some prisoners might be released. Mama got a nanny who came to live with us who was an eighteen-year-old girl named Agnes Jaaya Sahumani. We called her Jaaya, She had strong local dialect that revealed she hadn’t been outside Nyakatsapa for several years, if at all. She showed up early one Saturday morning with her small plastic bag of clothes. When I asked Jaaya how come her clothes, blankets, pants and bras could fit into such a small bag, I was beaten by Mama. I later learnt that Jaaya was a runaway girl from Honde Valley, Nyanga District in Manicaland. She had fled her family and come to us because her father had married her to an old man with eight wives. She had been on the run for days on end, living like an animal in the forests and fields.

Jaaya was adept at housework and helped around the house with all kinds of chores. In the first few weeks, she was quiet and aloof, but, later, she warmed to my advances. When Mama had gone off to Umtali town, Jaaya would allow me to do the laundry with her in the bathroom tub and pin it outside on the line. At times during the day when it was very hot, we would play hopscotch under the shade of the veranda tree. I suspected that she occasionally let me win. Very quickly, Jaaya and I became friends. In fact, I became closer to her than I was to Mama or Stella. Stella and Itai were at a boarding school most of the time. I believed Jaaya to be the older daughter Mama was supposed to have had before she had me. When everyone had gone to sleep, I would steal into her room at night and lay beside her on the hard floor where she had a few sheets for her bedding. We would then play games for about half an hour and Jaaya would shush me whenever I giggled too loud, threatening to send me back to my room. One day, I confided in Jaaya that I feared she might be forced to leave us and I would have no one to fall back on. Jaaya dismissed my concerns, saying my fear was irrational and that nothing could separate us and that, if the time came, she would take me with her. I wasn’t sure Jaaya was telling the truth, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I told her I’d choose our friendship over anything else in the world. Jaaya smiled faintly, but I didn’t think she heard me because she was already nodding off. Quietly, I crept away from beneath the sheets and reached for the handle of her bedroom door. Stealing one look behind, I could see Jaaya was now fast asleep. She would not allow me to sleep in her room when I had school the next morning since I had to wake up early. I walked on tiptoes to my room, feeling my way in the dark until I reached my door. When my head hit the pillow, a single thought kept resurfacing inside me–that school was nearly over and the holidays were just a few weeks round the corner. No more school, no more bedtime.

Father’s Release

It was the summer of 1968. The school holidays had finally come and, a few weeks before my eleventh birthday, Mama suddenly announced that Father was being released from prison. After this announcement, Mama went several times to visit Father in Salisbury Maximum Security Prison – once every week until he was released. Mama would leave the house very early in the morning, take the commuter bus there and return the next day, staying overnight at a relative’s house. I begged Mama to let me go with her to see Father, but she insisted that the trip was too long and dangerous. Also, it would be totally unnecessary since I would be seeing Father very soon. When Mama left for Salisbury, Jaaya said that Mama did not want me to see Father locked up in a prison like an animal – that was why she refused. She feared it would leave an indelible scar on my mind.

Mama did not say much to anyone, but she was manifestly more zealous over the preparations for Father’s welcome party each time she returned. I watched Mama and Jaaya re-clean rooms, polish floors, dust doors and beat the mattresses and carpets. Mama allowed me to help a little,  with tasks such as carrying whatever was needed from point A to point B. Each day of that last week, they would wake up at sunrise and wash and hang all the laundry out until everything was done and like brand new.

On the Monday of that last week, Mama took Itai and I to town to try on some new clothes. I got a prim white dress and matching shoes that left my feet no room to breathe. Itai was happy with the trousers, shirt and green bow tie that Mama had selected for him. Mama got herself a blue hat with peacock feathers, which she said she liked. She instructed us that we were not allowed to wear our new clothes until the big day.

Steadily, those last few days progressed and the anticipation mounted and dissipated. Occasionally, something would suddenly go wrong or be found to be out of place and everyone had to work hard to correct it. The cycle repeated itself like this several times over.

On the Wednesday, Mama brought out father’s photograph and placed it in the living room. All of us studied it meticulously. Itai said people in prison were not allowed to have beards or at least not a big one. I considered the possibility that Father could look a lot different from the young handsome man in the photograph.

Mama never said much about Father, as far as I can remember, except that he was a good, kind and intelligent man who believed in his people and who was always willing to fight for what was right. She said this often in many different ways, but she never deviated from that assertion. However, much of what she didn’t say remained a mystery. I went back into Mama’s bedroom and sat on a small stool, staring at Father’s photo where it now hung on the white wall in front of me. Mama had removed it from the sitting room when she caught one of our cousins trying to steal it. I wondered whether I would remember him.

Very suddenly, after dinner on that last night, unfamiliar people began appearing at our house, carrying light suitcases. Mama said they were cousins, uncles and aunts from both sides of the family. Not having much space left in the house, Mama moved me out of my room and gave it to one of our aunts and uncles. I slept in Jaaya’s room. Itai had been moved out of his room was well and was permitted to sleep in the living room. That night Jaaya and I did not feel like playing. She was exhausted from all the day’s undertakings and I couldn’t get my mind to rest.

Questions raced through my mind. Would father know who I was? Would he care? Would I know who he was? Would I care? I lay awake thinking of the possible answers. I imagined Father as a man of great stature with a blurry voice and a rough demeanour. Itai said this was how people in prison were. Yet, when I remembered how kind Mama said Father was that vision of him would fade and I would see a man of medium build with an unmistakable brilliance to his features. At times, I would imagine someone who looked like a cross between Uncle Elisha Mutasa and Mr Noboth Maramba, my head teacher at the Nyakatsapa School. I finally dozed off late into the night and dreamt that Father had not come home because something had happened and the prison officials had refused to release him.

Jaaya woke me very early the next morning for breakfast. I awoke in a panic and realised very slowly it had all been a dream, a nightmare that had revealed my secret fears. Nothing had changed. Father was still being released from Salisbury Maximum Security Prison that day and coming home to be a free man. Half of me was relieved, the other half uncertain. Jaaya watched me carefully for a few moments and finally said that breakfast was ready and that I should get ready as we were expecting a lot more visitors to start arriving that morning.

By seven o’clock that morning, the whole of the Nyakatsapa Mission Farm and Guta had gathered to witness Father’s arrival. They had all kindly brought over scores of plates and cups to complement our meagre amount of cutlery. By ten o’clock that same morning, our house was flooded by a sea of strangers. Everyone had a distinct smell. Some had come from far-flung places in the countryside and their clothes kept the scent of countryside life. The others smelt like they belonged in the city, as their smells were sweet and fresh and their clothes clean and bright.

Jaaya had told me to stay with Weston, my younger brother for the whole morning and afternoon. Weston was only five years younger than me. Mama and Jaaya had woken up around four in the morning and Mama’s friends had begun helping her prepare all the food and make sure all the days’ festivities were in order. Other boys tied a banner onto the wall of the house, which read, ‘Welcome Our Hero.’

Weston had to wake up early, so he was still very tired. Having been woken up unusually early by Jaaya myself also, I felt slightly stretched by all the day’s events. Weston and I both looked for and found a relatively quiet place in the yard and slept in the hot morning sun under the guava tree. It was peaceful and the butterflies that had been fluttering in my belly all morning subsided. A calm feeling of expectation engulfed me.

We were roused suddenly when we heard the sound of car horns tooting loudly. Rows of buses and cars had just parked outside the house and a group of men in smart khaki suits were emerging from them in quick succession. A crowd quickly converged around them and began to cheer wildly. Weston grabbed the back of my dress in alarm and I told him not to be afraid. He wanted to know if my father had come. I said I did not know since I could not recognise any of the men, but it was likely that my father had arrived, since there would be no need for all the commotion if he had not.

Abruptly, I remembered the photograph of my father and sneakily fished it out of the folds of my dress. Weston moved to adjust it and I allowed him to see it. It was bronzed and crumpled, but still held the image of my father. I analysed it against a million faces bobbing around me like sparkling stars. I was so excited and all I wanted to think about was seeing my father alive. The strange bearded man in the picture was not amongst any of those wearing khaki suits.

Weston exclaimed and pointed at a man he seemed to like the face of in the crowd.

I assured him many times that none of those gentlemen bore any resemblance to the man in the photograph, since there were either too fat, too thin, bald or unkempt. We waited as the crowd entered the house and captured each and every face. I told Weston that when we saw father, we would run and kiss him. Suddenly, a man laughing with Mama popped into view and I pointed him out to Weston. The man’s smile was warm, the laughter energetic and his dark coffee eyes distinct. Carefully surveying the man, his amiable features became familiar, with the exception of the naked chin that was missing a beard. The man turned to face my way, having somehow felt my stare. Our eyes met and Mama mumbled something to him. Unexpectedly, he walked over to where I was, knelt down and hugged me. He introduced himself as my father and I replied with my name, Eunice Tambudzai Chadoka, and said, ‘This is Weston Chadoka,’ pointing to my young brother. Father said I had no need to introduce myself since he already knew who I was and he had been waiting a long time to see me all these years. With my hand in his, and him carrying Weston tight on the chest, tight to his heart we pushed through the endless ocean of eyes and ended up in the living room, where Mama presented my siblings Itai, Stella Mae, Margaret and Sarudzai and our close family relatives. I was also introduced to my uncle, Tendai Mutasa, who we called Uncle Icho.

‘What grade are you, Eunice? Come now, tell me all about it,’ asked Uncle Icho, patting my hand in a kindly fashion.

‘I wish he was my really uncle,’ I said, unaware that I had spoken my thoughts aloud. Daddy and Uncle Icho laughed.

‘He is,’ Father said.


‘Your paternal grandfather and his father are brothers,’ Father explained. I was too young to understand. I had a moment’s fantasy that he might treat me like a real niece. Father greeted them one after the other the long list of aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, and distant cousins and other unfamiliar relatives. When that was over, we all were told to bow our heads in prayer.

Pastor Lazarus Nzarayebani, a United Methodist Church Reverend, a skinny humble-looking man with Afro hair, who Mama had invited, fumbled through a few sentences of prayer as I tried not to fidget. Weston soon was asleep in Mama’s bed as it had been an overwhelming day for him. Father kept my hand in his throughout that afternoon. His grip was soft yet secure, reassuring me of the love he had towards me. Weston had remained with me throughout, welcomed by Father.

Pastor Lazarus finally concluded with a blessing for our family. After this oration, Father let me go and Weston and I went to have our cups filled with diluted orange juice. We then went and hung around outside where we were sure there would be no adult in sight. We met several of my cousins from Father’s side who were slightly older than I was and we played until the sky turned dark. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, my mind would sometimes wander and I found myself thinking about Father. When the sun had disappeared into the horizon and everything outside had become shadows, Jaaya ordered us inside. This time, I didn’t join Father, but stayed by Jaaya’s side. She warned us to stay alert and not to leave her side. The night had brought a seriousness of some sort to the mood of the gathering. The conversations were now more tense, voices sharper. Jaaya said, ‘This is the time when politics are discussed and children should be seen and not heard.’

After an hour or so, Father emerged from the crowd of men surrounding him and silenced everyone present. Father had a natural, gentle, almost hypnotic command over the crowd. The air thrummed with anticipation. His eyes flashed and his features became suddenly hard. Handsome. Scores of men and women waited. I pulled Weston closer.

Father cleared his throat and began cautiously with a deep baritone voice.

‘We all know the reason I was imprisoned and the reason I was released. We have honourable men who have fallen that we may stand. There are many who have been condemned for our freedom.’

Father paused for a moment. His face melted into a sudden grin and he said, ‘But, today, a son of the struggle has come home, so we celebrate!’

The crowd shouted, ‘Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!’

Father said, ‘Rhodesia is not yet free, but we are walking towards freedom, no matter how hard the road is. People will be free at last. The Second Chimurenga had been intensified.’ A vigorous laughter erupted and three men swept Father cleanly off the floor onto their shoulders, shouting repeatedly, ‘Hero! Hero! Hero!’

My Father – A Blessing

We enjoyed having Father around the house again. We would sit in the living room and talk and Father would often allow me to sit next to him or play on his lap. We would watch amused as Father put on a record and danced with Mama. Jaaya commented that it was as if they were boyfriend and girlfriend.

In the first week, Father bought me three different dresses and allowed me to choose the matching pairs of shoes. When we finally started school, every Monday, he would give me a few coins to buy sweets in town. Mama and Jaaya disapproved, but didn’t say much in protest. As for my brother, Itai, he had stopped misbehaving since Father had come home. During the first few weeks, Father played cards with him a lot and I suspect Father let Itai win half the time. Father would also give Itai pocket money every week – which, at least, resulted in Itai ceasing his bullying of younger pupils at school. His test scores also improved and, as a result, he was transferred twice in turn to higher level classes. Father was very proud of him and increased his allowance as a result, much to Itai’s delight.

On an autumn evening, later that year, Father brought home a brown Volkswagen. It was shiny, sturdy on the road and had an engine that hummed quietly as it moved. We travelled a couple of times in it to see our grandparents, the car boot loaded full of groceries. During much of the winter that followed, Father began to make regular trips in the Volkswagen and he would be gone for days or weeks on end. Itai said that Father was visiting the villages and stirring up support for the chimurenga amongst the people. Mama insisted that Father was focusing on the new butchery he had bought in a town many miles away from our village and was sorting out urgent supplies. Both stories remained plausible until suspicious looking strangers began to arrive at our house with Father and would ride with him in the car. They were always by his side, like bodyguards.

We saw all kinds of strangers visit Father to talk about politics and the war. He was no longer using Mama as a go-between. These visitors included teachers, nurses, activists and policemen, all of whom were, needless to say, black like we were. At times, as he spoke with his guests, Father would allow me to sit and play quietly with puzzles, pencils and paper in the corner of the room. Every once in a while, Father and a stranger would disagree about a certain point and Father would raise his voice, as if to give his words greater potency. The person opposite him would then shrink submissively into their chair. Father would often speak quickly and furiously, but with clarity. At intervals, he would lean forward and whisper, as if he feared that someone would overhear him. Increasingly, Father, like Mama, would often warn us not to tell anyone about our home affairs and to keep a low profile at school and when we were at the Mission.

Itai was the postman. The go-between the teachers and my parents. One day he opened a letter addressed to the headmaster. Itai showed me the letter, “We have to intestify our efforts.”, he read aloud.

The headmaster called me during break time. With eyes popping out and teeth bared, he hissed at me, “You and Itai opened the letter?”  I did not answer. He repeated the question and threatened that I did not tell the truth, we would both be in hot water. I asked him to call Itai. Itai came and the headmaster rephrased his question, “Eunice told me you opened the letter. Why?” Itai looked at me angrily and I remained tightlipped. Itai finally admitted that he was the one who opened it. The headmaster apologised to me and told me that it was a tactic of his to get Itai to unwittingly reveal the truth.

Back at home I had never seen my parents so angry. Itai was thrashed soundly by my Dad, with Mama saying, “You want your Father to go back to jail?”

Itai was naughty and answered back, “How? And why is he doing it if he is afraid?”

“Itai needs hard descipline,” Father said grabbing Itai with one hand and loosening his belt from his trousers with the other. Itai began to scream and we all ran and hid.

Itai was transferred to Hartzell Secondary the following year in 1970. Father said, “He needs the discipline of boarding school.” Itai would often come home during term-time with different execuses, such as getting foodstuffs from home.

During one of his visits home, Itai told us that Ian Smith was going to put a refredum to us Blacks. Nobody believed him and Mama rebuked him saying, “Better concentrate on your books. Leave this to us grown ups.”

Itai answered back laughing, “It’s my future too. I must know what my future  holds and shape it.”

After that, Father forbade Itai from coming back home during term-time.            In 1971, when I was fourteen years old, I participated in action against the Pearce Commission study concerning proposed settlements. In 1965, Ian Smith’s Rhodesian government had declared a Unilateral Declaration of Independence to widespread international condemnation. The Pearce Commission was an attempt to legitimise this declaration by surveying blacks’ opinions about these proposals. The blacks were supposed to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to majority rule over the long term. ZAPU, The Zimbabwean African People’s Unity party (ZAPU), headed by Joshua Nkomo, and ZANU appointed Bishop Abel Muzorewa to mobilise the population to reject the proposals and vote ‘No’. Muzorewa was our United Methodist Bishop, so Mama gave us permission to participate. Nearly everyone was mobilised and even children stayed out of school. Mama’s brother, my uncle Barnabas Mutasa, and his wife Beatrice Katyala, organised actions for Nyakatsapa, Tsonzo and all adjacent areas in Manicaland to vote ‘No’. As a result, they were expelled from the teaching profession by the Old Mutare Mission (now Hartzell).

Father had brought in a truckload of placards denouncing the Rhodesian government. We woke up at 3am that day to walk to Watsomba where the demonstrations were to take place. We had to pin some placards on shop walls and big trees, as well as handing fliers to the crowds who had flocked in by 6am for the demonstrations. We were not allowed to talk to the press. To get around this, we would point to a dog tied to a big tree, where the dog would either be sleeping or would be lying on a table with a placard saying, ‘We want our land’ and ‘We want our human rights’.

Thanks to Muzorewa spearheading these demonstrations, the people overwhelmingly rejected the proposal, handing ZANU and ZAPU a resounding victory. Many people were arrested, including my father and Uncle Barnabas. After a few weeks, they were released with one charge: ‘Cruelty to animals’.

We often listened to news on the radio. Father had ordered all his older children – Itai, Stella and I – to follow the news and keep up with current events. One day, we were all gathered to listen to the radio as usual when the radio emitted some static and spluttered to life. A man with an eloquent baritone voice began to speak. Excitedly, Father edged his chair closer to the radio and turned a knob to amplify the sound. The voice of the speaker crackled in the air.

‘This is Radio Frelimo broadcasting from Maputo and the news being read by Edwardo Sido. Tonight, a battalion of ZANLA forces has undertaken a surprise attack on the Ruda Camp in the eastern part of Rhodesia in Manicaland Province. This is the second largest Rhodesia Front military base. The camp has been destroyed to ashes by heavy artillery and five Rhodesian soldiers have been captured and several injured. A warplane carrying the injured to the KG6 military hospital has crashed near Nyakatsapa Mission Farm. Nobody is allowed to go within a radius of two kilometres. Villagers affected have been evacuated. Ian Smith, the Rhodesian Prime Minister, has declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in Manicaland Province. Anyone caught outside after 6pm will be arrested. The ZANLA Forces have intensified their deployment throughout Rhodesia. This is Radio Frelimo broadcasting from Maputo. A luta continua! The struggle continues!’

The broadcast continued with an announcement that a new party of freedom fighters had been formed – The Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe (FROLIZI).

In a burst of anger, Father turned the knob to kill the static now coming through the radio.

‘Damned tribalists! Damn soldiers! It’s spreading all over the country. At least Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania are helping our people. Just yesterday, I heard some combatants say fresh shipments of weapons arrived at the eastern border where some of our men are.’

We all looked at him without comment. Father shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Itai was right. Father had been deep in the entire business, collecting and diffusing information.

‘Herbert Chitepo, the first black lawyer in Rhodesia, has given up his job in Tanzania to concentrate on the armed struggle in Zambia. It is our darkest hour, yet we will shine like stars. Ndabaningi Sithole and Herbert Chitepo have told us that the underground army is growing by hundreds each day with new recruits. His cabinet is planning a new government as we speak. The people will finally have their voice.’

‘What about Nkomo’s people?’ asked Mama.

‘There are signs that there movement is growing as well, but no one knows what side he is really on or whether he will betray what we’ve been building all these years,’ Father replied.

‘I heard some of the women in town today talking about spies. They said the spies were released from prison earlier this morning after the judge gave them leniency. Some of the women think they gave out information about the camps and switched sides,’ said Mama, her voice shaking.

‘Perhaps, but it’s too late because Chitepo has ordered the camp to be moved in the next few days. The information he gave them might turn out to be to our benefit. Besides, we don’t know if they are traitors or spies yet. The people need all the manpower they can get,’ Father said.

I left and joined Jaaya in the kitchen. Father was talking to Mama about which politicians were likely to form the new government. Jaaya looked glad to see me.

‘What is the latest news?’ Jaaya enquired anxiously.

‘There is a war going on right now and a curfew too not very far from here,’ I said.

Jaaya scanned the doorway to see if there was anyone lurking. Satisfied, she sat down again.

‘Are we going to be safe from all the fighting?’ I asked her.

Jaaya bit her lower lip pensively. ‘I wish I could promise that you will be safe, but I cannot.’ With a grave look on her face, she continued, ‘Things are going to get worse very fast. All we can do is pray.’

Quietly, I muttered a prayer under my breath for both of us.

‘I believe the liberation struggle is inevitable and these are the birth pangs of a great freedom that is to be born to our people. When that day comes, we will never have to work for the murungus again and we can make our own laws to better our people, ’Jaaya said, her voice betraying a hint of hope. ‘Do you remember Moses and the children of Israel from the Bible?’ Jaaya asked.

I said I did and Jaaya said, ‘That’s all God has to do for us now. Just send us a Moses.’

I thought I understood what she was saying, so I nodded.

Suddenly, Jaaya began to sob and the plate she was holding dropped onto the floor and smashed into tiny pieces. Jaaya began to clear up, apologising profusely in between sobs. She said she did not mean to cry, but sometimes that was the only way we could release our deep pain. Promptly, I walked to the cupboard, pulled out a jar of orange juice and poured a cup for her. She sipped from the cup and breathed a half sigh.

‘I never knew my mama because she had died when I was still young. I was brought up in a mission orphanage because my father was put in prison by the murungus for anti-white propaganda. I have seen what war can do to people, especially to children,’ Jaaya explained.

Her eyes flickered towards me and I looked expectantly at her. She asked for more juice. Without thinking, I grabbed her cup and filled it again. She tasted it and brought the cup down from her mouth. Drinking it seemed to strengthen her.

Pensively, Jaaya said, ‘There was a call-up and my father was taken away to join the Queen of Britain’s soldiers in the Second World War against Hitler from Germany. He had been conscripted to fight the white man’s war as Rhodesia was a colony of Britain. Hundreds died and my father was lucky to have even survived. But when he returned, he was not the same man any more. He had murdered many people. Later, my father joined the liberation army and was eventually hanged by the Rhodesian police for attacking white farmers.’

She finally said, ‘War can make a person’s soul numb and evil, even if we fight for all the right reasons.’

Jaaya grunted, drifting in and out of sleep, so, selfishly, I shook her so she would listen to me. She seemed to be in a faraway place and, for that brief moment, I envied her. She was at peace.

Later that night, I lay beside Jaaya, unable to sleep. Jaaya’s story haunted me, sending shivers down my spine. I fought hard to sleep, trying to silence my thoughts. After a while, I whispered to Jaaya to see if she was still awake. I still had many questions that needed answering, but she was fast asleep.

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