Lest we forget . . . a day in the life of a freedom fighter

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Isdore Guvamombe
Under the blistering mid-morning heat, I set off herding cattle towards the bend on Mupinge River — aptly named Gonyo, the Korekore dialect for a bend.

My bare feet and legs caked with knee-high cow dung paste, acquired from entering the kraal to drive out the cattle, themselves the beasts that endured long nights in the paste.

It was towards the end of the rainy season and the kraal was a spectacular rut of cow dung paste.

White worms and maggots frolicked in the paste, but they never harmed us. Flies hovered and somersaulted, unabated.

Gonyo was sacred and scary grazing pasture, but I had to herd cattle. Like any boy of my age, I had a catapult round my neck and a small axe in one hand.

Three dogs followed as handy security. The cattle were fat and looking good. The riverine was thick and at times lions were spotted there. But the belief was that they were not real lions, but spirit mediums that manifested themselves through the lions. Mhondoro! They neither attacked cattle nor humans unless you broke taboos.

The bell sound was different from that of our cattle.

It was hard to keep the eye on the cattle. By the river the cattle suddenly mixed those from the neighbourhood. Huge bulls sized each other up, sniffing at the behinds of cows, mooing and spattering dung.

Small bulls — the teaser bulls — mooed, jumped and smashed bushes with their small horns.

They fought anthills as mock enemies, spattered dung and egged the big ones to fight. They were urging the two huge bulls to fight.

Two big bulls were fit, stubborn and stout. Eventually the big fight started. At some stage, the horns seemed to have been used to breaking point.

There was pushing and knocking on horns. It was a big fight. My bull looked cornered for a while and my heart almost leapt from its socket.

Somehow it recovered, rather miraculously and pushed harder, delivering a head butt, a horn, another head butt, a left horn, right horn . . . combination, left horn, right horn, then another combination and the enemy bull took to its heels.

The fight was over.

Thunder rumbled.

A lightning bolt stabbed the air, cracking the sky into uncharacteristic pieces. Again and again the sky was violated and the earth echoed. Everything shook. Mountains almost moved.

Quickly, dark rain clouds started building up in the sky. And, within minutes the sky started weeping. It wept! Villagers and their livestock rushed to safety. Hard rain tears dropped.

The war was at its height.

Gunshots had become music to the ears. Cultured by the vagaries of war, the ears could now differentiate the sounds of each artillery. It was an acquired skill.

It rained silly for an hour and before the skies cleared fully, grandma sent me with food to a freedom fighter.

Cde Kapfupi was a liberation war fighter who was for several days now operating as a lone ranger in the area.

He had his gun, an AK-47 rifle. He spent his day between our banana plantation and an anthill near Mupinge River. At night he disappeared and hit many Rhodesian targets in and around Sipolilo Centre, the Rhodesian district administrative centre now Guruve.

There I was, carrying food in the basket, past stunted shrubbery right into the thicket then to the anthill. I found him shivering with cold. His clothes soaked in rain. I looked at him from toe to head. His hair was unkempt.

He had unusually big eyes and nose for his frame. He somehow still managed to pull a smile.

Instead of washing his hands with hot water, he drank it. It was not tea. He wanted to heat up his system. I watched with awe.

He spoke in a whisper. Soon we started eating together. There was something on his mind today.

Yes, he was drenched and he was somehow uncomfortable. He ate very fast and urged me to speed up.

An eagle flew past and he stopped eating. It was brown in colour and had a distinct white chestnut collar.

He looked at it as it perched on a huge tree and turned its head round and round. Round and round, then made a loud call.

He stood up, corked his gun and left me eating. I stopped immediately, looked for him but he had disappeared into the bush. I packed the plates in a huff and set off for home. I did a combination of trots and runs. Hard, slow and fast!

Hard slow and fast. Pace! I looked back and sideways. Fear gripping me.

The clouds were beginning to build up rain again. Lightning stabbed the air, followed by rumbling thunder but there was another unusual sound. It soon increased in tempo and speed. It was a Rhodesian helicopter. I looked around and dropped the basket in the bush. I took off at great speed on the path. Being a small boy, I believed if I did not carry anything, I was safe.

The helicopter got really low and dropped some literature. It was about Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Congress (UANC).

Within seconds there was gunfire a few hundred metres away by Mupinge River. It was a sporadic exchange of small artillery. The guns shouted obscenities at each other. Then there was a loud bang. Small shouts, then bang. Silence, silence, silence . . . bang! Silence. Bang!

Small artillery started shouting again, but in a shifting tapestry that indicated movement from the original combat place. Then there was a deafening and defining bang. This was followed by noisy silence. A silence that spoke loudly about death. I discovered I was hiding under a shrub, sweating.

Within minutes, a white soldier came running for dear life, Cde Kapfupi in hot pursuit.

It was a hard run that could have easily left Usain Bolt green with envy. Hard boots pounded the ground, but soon Cde Kapfupi closed the gap and tripped the bhunu (Boer), as they were called those days.

The white soldier bit the dust, woke up and sat haplessly pleading for mercy. Cde Kapfupi grabbed him by the collar and dragged him to the banana plantation. I had not seen a white man from close range.

His eyes roved. Cheeks turned red. Soon people gathered to see the spectacle. Youths were assembled to guard him as a captive of war. Cde Kapfupi went back into the bush and soon returned carrying on his shoulder another injured white soldier. He had been shot in the leg and was bleeding profusely. Together with the villagers, they tied the wound and managed to stop the bleeding.

Cde Kapfupi went into the bush again, never to return. We heard one fresh gunshot. Yes, one gunshot! That was it.

Soon helicopters and war planes hovered like birds. There was another loud bang. This time bringing down a military helicopter that went up in flames but did not fall immediately. It must have fallen far away.