07 March 2010

The Strange Visitors by William Tekede

The year is 1978. More than two weeks back soldiers had visited our school. Chief Zimbiti had sent word around. The Headmaster had reaffirmed it when we assembled towards the end of one day. Everyone was supposed to attend without failure. His last words were “all children dismissed.”

“Away!” We shouted in a chorus and ran in different directions. We each carried the message to our homes.

It was an effective message whose results now lay before us. I had never seen such a sea of people gathered at one place, and so many soldiers too. Then there was also all the cars, trucks, and buses everyone came in; the only moving vehicle I had known other than a bicycle and a scotch cart, was a Rufaro company bus that plied that route occasionally. It used to bring home my brother who would visit mostly once every Christmas. If we were lucky he would also visit us in July during the Rhodes and Founders Day holiday.

We were surrounded by black and white soldiers all wielding guns. In the centre of the crowd was one white soldier and a black soldier, then Chief Zimbiti and his lieutenants. To one side of them was a group of shabbily dressed filthy men. They were lined up in leg irons and chained to one another. The lanky white soldier was addressing the crowd in English and was interpreted by the big physically intimidating black soldier.

Magandanga (terrorists) were the subject. We were told that these were very dirty people who do not bath or comb their hair, men with tails who lived on wild fruits, and who above all were very dangerous. The men in leg irons were then paraded as an example of these captured terrorists. They went on to tell us how these human animals had invaded communities all over the country causing unimaginable havoc. We were told to stay on guard and to report them to authorities without delay whenever they were seen. Such reports would earn people huge monetary rewards. It was a long and intimidating lecture. We were told that because they were very dangerous only soldiers had the capacity to deal with them.

What followed was a display of a range of military weapons and a demonstration of their fire power. It was such a mixed bag. The soldiers claimed all the most effective weaponry. The remainders were condemned together with their named carriers.

The picture of an old woman who soiled her pants after a hail of bullets were pumped into a tree is still vivid in my mind. I am pretty sure there were many more similar cases. This was just an outstanding one. A lot of what we saw and experienced that day is still very clear in my mind, even though I was young then; and had nightmares long after that remained as a constant reminder.

It was late in the evening. We had just finished having our supper. My mother, my sister and one of my niece's were in the kitchen engaged in their usual chores. At the Dare, we sat around a fire, and started the usual story time. But tonight we were disturbed by unusual barking of our dogs. Within seconds, one of the younger dogs ran straight into the Dare with its tail between its legs. From my hunting experiences, I knew that only lions could frighten dogs to that level of submission. The only difference was this time the dogs were barking instead of wincing. Lions had been a menace especially to homesteads where donkeys were kept. Yet we didn’t keep any donkeys so what could it have been?

We reacted to the situation in different ways; my father armed himself with a spear in one hand and a knobkerrie in the other. From the darkness a human figure appeared right in front of one of the several entrances into the dare. The next thing we were escorted into the kitchen. The dogs were still barking but they soon calmed down.

In the kitchen we were subjected to another lecture. They gave us a recap of that dreadful meeting at the school. They told us they were the sons and brothers of the community who had come to liberate us from the many evil deeds of the white men. They gave us an overview of their intentions and concluded that we had to fight the white men together. The whites and their administration were our common enemy. Their lecture was so convincing in its common cause that they earned our immediate trust and support.

These guys did not match the description of the terrorists that we had been given by that lanky white soldier. They didn’t resemble any of those filthy guys who had been paraded before us that day. They carried those powerful weapons the white soldier had claimed. They had no tails. What a contrast. They didn’t do the dreaded demonstration of the weaponry they carried save for the display of one that looked like a wooden snuff pouch.

This was their N’anga. They told us how they would monitor our movements and listen to our conversations through the use of this gadget. We did not doubt them for they had told us everything about the other meeting that took place at the school. They had not attended but their N’anga had told them all, so they said. They told us never to tell anyone about their presence. It was a secret never to be discussed even among those of us who were present. Our neighbours were never to be told anything, even our family members who were already sleeping and did not witness this event were not to be informed. As for all school children, we were told never to write a story or a composition about strange visitors. It is only now that I am writing about them. They played their psychological game well and yet remained socially warm.

A few weeks later there was talk about Vakomana (guerrillas) having been seen here and there within the community. I never said anything. Those who had never met them looked forward to seeing them and here was an opportunity.

It was on a Thursday afternoon and sports activities were now over. Most school children would soon pass through the shops on the way home. I had just played a blinder of a football game as goalkeeper, we had lost by two goals to one. It was time to go home and that defeat was still lingering at the back of my mind.

Upon arrival at the township, we discovered a multitude of people gathered at Chief Zimbiti’s shop. All the other shops had been closed. Vakomana were addressing people. Within minutes of our arrival people were ordered to get anything they wanted from the shop. There was a stampede and the shop was emptied within minutes. The elders were enjoying Shake-Shake beer, and everyone was happy. Chief Zimbiti was asked to take off his jacket and one of the elders of the chief’s council received it. The Chief smiled and everyone cheered. The drama was unfolding.

Suddenly, the cheerful Vakomana switched to unprovoked offensive mood. They asked the Chief to stand and walk away from the crowd. He delayed and was soon hit by a hurled full brick on the forehead. We all went numb and were shocked. None of us had anticipated anything like that. The behaviour of these guys was surely unpredictable.

Just as the chief rose and staggered forward one, two, three steps, there was gun fire. He went down with a groan and was dead. We all stood breathless. They told us soldiers would be coming soon so everybody should rush home. We ran like headless chickens. I thought I was the only one running so fast away but when I looked around I saw I in the middle of a crowd comprising the young and the old, and we had already travelled over a kilometre. Some people were so scared they had fled in wrong direction only to get to their homes the following morning.

Three days after the death of Chief Zimbiti his corpse had still not been moved an inch. The surroundings were littered with an assortment of goods that had been taken from his shop on that fateful Thursday. Some items could be seen dumped several kilometres away from the township. His jacket could be seen hanging from a tree stump near the school. It was rumoured that dogs had begun feasting on his feet. The township was deserted. All the other shops remained closed, and the soldiers had never come as had been expected.

A few weeks after, the school was closed and its walls knocked down into rubble. The chief had finally been buried and we learnt he had boasted about the gun he had been given by the soldiers to gun down terrorists; that was his crime.

Many nasty things happened following this incident. Once in the early days of the struggle the terrorists were sold out, ambushed and three of them were gunned down. The bodies were taken to Karoi in an open truck and displayed along the way for everyone to see. We knew them but no one admitted to any knowledge of them. The fourth one who died from the gun wounds away from the battle ground was never found by Ian Smith’s soldiers and was buried in a shallow grave by his colleagues assisted by a few local boys.

Many battles were fought, and I personally witnessed a big passenger plane come down in a ball of smoke. When it hit the ground, there was immediate gun fire and all the passengers were killed. We had many sleepless nights. People were put into Protected Villages. Many people lost their lives. It was a protracted struggle and was all the work of those strange visitors and the co-operation of the communities that won us the struggle. Independence was finally achieved and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU (PF) overwhelmingly won the election and was sworn in as the 1st Prime Minister. We all celebrated this on the 18th of April 1980.

No here I am, more than two decades have passed and I am telling it all now. How those strange visitors turned out to be our liberators, our heroes, our war veterans, and their prophet (N’anga) they showed us that night was a grenade.

The Strange Visitors was written by William Tekede.

Copyright William Tekede 2010.

William Tekede was delivered on 16 June in the winter of 1967. He was born in the round pole and dagga hut, the family kitchen on Welcombe or Boss Mhosi’s farm which lies west of Karoi town along the road leading to Magunje Growth Point. The farm was popularly known as Mhondoro Farm.

In 1973, William started his primary education at Sengwe Primary School. This was after the family had left farm employment and resettled under chief Nyamhunga in the Hurungwe Tribal Trust Land. One Thursday afternoon in June 1978 the school was closed down at the height of the liberation struggle. This development saw William out of school for two years until 1980 when he resumed his education and enrolling for grade six at the same school. After completing grade seven, I then went on to do my secondary education at Pakame Secondary School in Shurugwi from 1982 to 1985. I enrolled to study Librarianship at Harare Polytechnic College from 1987 to 1989 and went back to further my studies from 2002 -2003. I worked in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Department of National Archives of Zimbabwe from June 1990 to September 2006. After 16 years of continuous service at the Archives, I relinquished my position as Acting Chief Librarian and joined National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo in the city of kings on 2nd October 2006. In June 2008, I was seconded to run the newly established Graduate School of Business Library (GSB) where I am currently working as the GSB Librarian.

Discovering my potential as a writer came about while I was in secondary school. I used to enjoy writing shona poetry which captured the interest of my subject teacher as well as that of my classmates. This interest was watered down by lack of opportunities to publish until late 1990s when I started writing in English for the National Archives newsletter. That experience was a stepping stone. Before this, I used to write a lot in shona until one day I decided to take some of my works to Mai Chisamba. I remember visiting her at the Examinations Branch in Mount Pleasant and my works instantly captured her attention. This visit led to the canned broadcast on ZTV (AM Zimbabwe) of my presentation of one of my shona piece titled “Munhu hunhu” towards end of 1999. That experience was a great motivator. But due to pressure of work at the time I slithered. One day in 2004 some primary school children visited the National Archives to research on one of our national heroes as a school project. It was embarrassing to note that there was very little information available. It was then that I decided to write an article urging Zimbabweans to consider depositing historical material with the Archives. Fortunately it was published in the Herald on 15 September 2004. I followed up on this one with another one which was also published in the same paper on 23 September 2004. A few more others followed suite. That marked the beginning of my relationship with the press.

When I moved to Bulawayo in October 2006, I continued writing and sending my contributions to Chronicle and most of them are published. I enjoy doing this as a public/social service. Sometime in 2007, I received an e-mail from an ex-workmate at National Archives now living abroad who is a renowned author at Storytime informing me about her publications. When I started reading Sarudzayi Chifamba-Barnes’s works on the internet, my interest to write short stories was re-activated. I wrote three which I sent to Ivor W. Hartmann without expecting much out of it. But when he responded inviting me to join storytime authors, I felt like it was a call for me to unleash whatever was hidden under the screen of my intellectual stone. I feel being published on storytime is a result of my retrospective desire to become a writer that I have turned out to be and think that I can express myself much better in poetry. For now I think I will concentrate in this area and will strive to continue writing verses in English and Shona.


Anonymous said...

nyc story,we will make a bestseller out of u yet

cynthia nsindane said...

what a thrilling piece really it makes us (the youth of today) to have a picture of what really transpired back then

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