During my recent sojourn in Botswana I met up with a friend from long ago. The encounter gave me the impression that my friend was being bothered by some issues.
Masola wa Dabudabu
Knowing him as a political animal, I suspected that his worries were of a political nature.
Memories of our comradeship started flooding back. We first met in 1977 as co-residents in a tent at Zapu’s JZ Camp from Lusaka. We established a strong bond, based on our shared conviction that we were going to be heroes after liberating Zimbabwe.
For starters, JZ Camp was Zapu’s reception and cantonment area for Zimbabwean juveniles fleeing Ian Smith’s regime. I should stress that our presence at the camp at tender ages, was an indictment of the evil regime we sought to dislodge.
Some people have suggested that by virtue of our ages, we were impressionable, impulsive, vulnerable and susceptible to succumbing to our own puerile folly. In defence we maintained that we had voluntarily left our loving families to offer ourselves to the cause. We silently endured the squalor and hardships, as practical confirmation of our heightened patriotism.
Indeed the natural and artificial conditions at the camp were hellish and anyone who went through the process could survive most trying situations. The idea was to prepare the youths for either military training or for the education pathway. There were serious food shortages.
Surprisingly, my friend Ackim maintained a stocky frame which impressed military scouts. He left the camp in 1978 after he had been passed as physically and mentally prepared for military training. On the other hand, I was overlooked for military training, as I could not escape from my frail-looking frame. The system recognised my mental aptitude in academia and I was rewarded with an opportunity to study at the Nkumbi International College. My exploits, triumphs and tribulations at Nkumbi will be left for another day.
I never saw Ackim from the time he left for military training until ill-fortune reunited us in 1982. At the time I was working as a temporary teacher at George Silundika School, somewhere between Nyamandlovu and Tsholotsho areas. The school had been established at independence to receive and provide education to Zapu’s returnees of school-going age from JZ Camp in Zambia.
At the time the school looked like a military camp for a rag-tag army with torn tents pitched all over to provide accommodation for the thousands of former refugees. Classes were held underneath trees.
1982 was a bad year as it heralded the onset of the dissident menace. Nyamandlovu and Tsholotsho were among the worst affected. The mention of names of notorious dissidents such as “Oliver and Ndevuziqamulamankomitshi” instilled fear in the hearts and minds of villagers and law enforcements agents. The complexity of the issue changed on July 23, 1982 when six tourists were abducted by a gang of terrorists allegedly linked to Zapu. Due to its reasonable proximity to the crime scene, our school was among the suspected hiding places for the fugitives and their captives.
And then the thunder birds came. One afternoon the school’s airspace was graced with a number of aircrafts. After circling for a number of times, paratroopers started emerging from the planes and surrounded the school.
Soon, not-so-gently, army personnel — who were armed to the teeth — were to emerge from the nearby bushes. The raid was based on intelligence from impeccable sources that the school was a hot bed for dissidents. The paratroopers’ objective was to seek and destroy all dissident elements at the school. Many colleagues and students received beatings and a few were taken as “captives”.
My personal highlight during the sadistic exercise was limited to receiving a couple of disorienting slaps on the face from two soldiers for denying having had an encounter with dissidents. When I regained composure I saw a figure with Ackim’s unforgettable demeanour. He did not acknowledge my presence and I understood his dilemma.
After the exercise was over, Ackim’s behaviour was subject to discussion by many victims of the operation who happened to know him from JZ Camp. The episode featuring Ackim and his paratrooper colleagues was bad, yet worse was to befall the school when the more ruthless Gukurahundi was later unleashed.
It took a whooping 34 years to have another encounter with Ackim outside a militarised context.
This time we met by chance in Francistown. Ackim looked dishevelled, dejected and disillusioned.
He looked 10 years older and carried an irritatingly over-fed frame. He was quick to tell me that he had quit the army and was now spending more time working for the war veterans’ association. He lamented the turn of events in Zanu PF, a party he had joined after the Zanu/Zapu Unity Agreement.
He praised the party for economically empowering him and other ex-combatants. He nursed some apprehension as he saw that the party was imploding. He was not particularly impressed by Grace Mugabe’s ascension to the top at the expense of seasoned politicians.
Ackim disclosed that he was among the group of war veterans who were violently drenched by water from cannons and smoked to tears with tear gas by police as they prepared to meet in Harare.
It was during those skirmishes with the police that Ackim sustained, not only a bruised knee, but also a battered ego.
Almost in tears, Ackim said he tried to convince me that the Zimbabwe Republic Police had used unnecessary brute force. My thoughts raced back 34 years earlier when Ackim and his men traded untold terror at George Silundika School. I chuckled from within on the fast-changing pecking order. Ackim only observed that Zanu PF was now like a serpent that is engaging in a frantic attempt to swallow itself from its tail end; just to spite itself.
Ackim went on and on about Zimbabwe’s rot. He viewed Zimbabwe as a complex country with a combination of contradictory features or qualities. His evaluation was that Zimbabwe was at peace yet the magnitude and frequency of running battles in the political theatre were a deliberate attempt to breach that peace.
Ackim reasoned that in addition to the unsafe political minefield, ordinary people were faced with the grim prospects of being caught up in the deadly crossfire of the vicious war of survival. I thought I was imagining things when Ackim said people on the streets seem to be at peace with their suffering, yet inwardly they were almost at tipping due to inescapable suffering.
Ackim blamed oversold demands for patriotism for creating submissive citizens. He felt that people chose to die in happy silence while their combative instincts were almost exploding with rage.
Everyone was afraid of the good government’s bad temperament. Indeed Zimbabwe is a paradox where either good and bad or poor and rich comfortably manifest at the same time and at the same place.
Ackim has seen the paradox; now all Zimbabweans need to start opening their eyes to the perfect storm ahead.
●Masola waDabudabu writes in his personal capacity