HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsThe Republic: Beating the Drums of War

The Republic: Beating the Drums of War

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In our nation today there are many who were never at the front, but every week they order barrels of ink and scribble in acres of space belligerent noises about going to war — a war against their own people, I should add.

With their bellies sagging with the fruits of independence, they think that war is like some Sony Playstation game — you press a button and, voila, the enemy is dead.

Behind the shrill voices of “takarwa hondo” (we fought the war) by those that were, ironically, hiding in the US and the UK “swallowing” books is a gung-ho attitude that it shall be war at all costs.

But we need to remind them of the real, and not imagined, effects of war — death and destruction.

Of the ambivalence of victory after a war.

In 1978 my school in Zimunya Township, some 14 kilometres from Mutare, was bombed.

The “comrades” arrived one night and started shelling government offices we referred to as the Regional Authority.

These were offices that belonged to the district administrator (DA). I can only imagine what the DA was going through that night as the sky turned orange from the shelling.

I doubt that he was smoking that ever-present pipe of his. His bladder was probably leaking — after all the soldiers in nearby Umtali (Mutare) were keeping a safe distance.

Instead of crawling under the bed as I had been drilled by my mother I ran next door and, with that dear friend of mine with the delicious name of Holicious, we went to watch the action as if the “boys” (it never crossed our mind that there might also have been “girls”) were playing a game machine we called “Flipper”.

As the bombing continued a rocket missed the Regional Authority and went straight for our school. A whole block of classrooms went up in flames.

The upshot of the Flipper game of that evening was that my family decided we should move and, within a few days, we did.

So I was back in Dangamvura — only some eight kilometres from Zimunya — but the war was determined to follow us. No sooner had we settled than we were under attack again.

The war had now come to the cities. The legend of the “boys” operating in Bocha and Gazaland under the cloak of darkness and holding all-night “pungwes” (vigils) was now part of our 1978-79 urban reality.

It was ironic that a band called The Storm was playing on the night “zvigidhimu-gidhimu”(bang-bangs) started and, according to Nomatter Mpingo (that boy could spin a tale), they had just started playing a song called Zarura Musiwo Tipinde (Open the Door and Let Us Enter) when the first rocket was fired.

That could be an urban legend, but is what not a myth was the evidence of destruction the next morning.

The first sign was the sheer number of platform shoes that were scattered outside the Beit Hall where the band had been playing.

I had known that it was never easy to sprint like a guy we called Mukoma Nero when you were wearing bell-bottom trousers and come-down-the-mango-tree platform shoes.

But something much more ghastly had happened. A United Passenger Bus had been hit and had veered off the road around a bend we called Minezhu. The driver of the bus — on the last trip the night — was killed instantly.

So this boy whom we played with had a father one day — a tall handsome and strong man — the next the sole breadwinner was gone.

A police station had been destroyed as well, but rockets had also hit a civilian’s house and killed people. In any war civilians always pay the highest price.

War also takes away innocence. Jabulani, Charles, Todd and Wight — were the youths from my street who left St Augustine’s Mission School and crossed the border into Mozambique to fight.

We were elated and sang for them as they came back home in early 1980 from Dzapasi and Fox Trot assembly points driving big grey Scania trucks.

They regaled us with tales of Josep Tito and Yugoslavia where they had trained. But they were changed people — quieter and reflective. Some could no longer live normal lives.

Comrade Kenny died in Dangamvura living in a mud hut in some nearby bush. Upon returning from the war he had gone back to school and then university and becOme a history teacher.

We saw alcohol and dagga take him down, but there were other demons chasing him. . . He was never taken in for psychiatric help.

Three decades later the children of some of these gallant fighters are living in poverty. What did their fathers (my elder brothers) fight for?

So that some could enjoy the fruits whilst mocking them like in Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Ocol:

What did you reap when uhuru ripened and was harvested?

Worse things have happened to other people even after 1980 and I carry the fear of a return to a vicious past.

There are columnists who write now with amazing calibrated amnesia and yet they spent a couple of years in dug-out jails held by the very party they claim to love.

They had crossed the border with all the idealism of youth but they were later suspected of belonging to a certain rebel faction.

One of those held incommunicado in those days shared a flat with me for a year but by then he had decided he was going back to England.

The new Zimbabwe was an entity he could not reconcile himself to. He duly collected his 50kg (the Z$50 000 dollar war veteran’s compensation) and bought himself a one-way ticket to the Queen’s — umm — queendom.

We need some sober heads across the political divide to warn the hawks that hondo (war) is not kenge . . . Give peace a chance.


Chris Kabwato is the publisher of www.zimbabweinpictures.com

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