The SATURDAY LOUNGE
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 in the village. I had not seen a white man from close range. Rhodesia was like that.
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 immediately. 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.
After the big loud bang, the gunshots died, leaving an eccentric smell of rain, death and gun powder, violating the nostrils.
The wind itself was not moving fast. It was defiantly slow and moving in intermittent wafts like a messenger carrying bad news. Even the birds were quiet.
As heavy rains slowed into light showers and drizzle, Cde Kapfupi returned with four other freedom fighters to collect the two captured white Rhodesian soldiers, much to the relief of the villagers.
For the first time, villagers saw that Cde Kapfupi was not a lone ranger, like was believed.
Prior to his return, the villagers had been at a loss as to what to do next with the captives. Panting like fish out of water, the two white soldiers had asked for drinking water, using Silapalapa, a colloquial farm language — a hybrid between English, Afrikaans and local languages. The villagers were afraid to do anything. They did nothing. War was like that.
As soon as the rains stopped, Rhodesian war helicopters and surveillance planes hovered above, sweeping across the area, while infantry soldiers combed the ground.
But Cde Kapfupi and his colleagues crossed Mupinge River, southwards to Farms 28 and 29, Nyakapupu, kwaShamu ne kwaMasakara, taking advantage of the thicket in the Gonyo area.
Soon, a low-flying helicopter was shot down, turning into a fireball that moved and crashed several kilometres away towards Raffingora and Banket.
One unfortunate freedom fighter was captured. They took him to a termite mound where a candelabra tree, mukonde in Shona or umhlonhlo in SiNdebele stood imposingly. They gathered villagers there too, to show how they treated a guerilla.
The tree was such a striking feature. It was on rock promontory with termite mound on the centre and was of considerable height. Ascending branches with paired spines of about 1,5cm all over their entire length, were soft and brittle and broke easily to release milky latex, when broken.
In February, the flowers were green and fleshy. The fruits were round, about the size of peas. But it is the milky latex that came from the tree, when cut, that made every one dread and cringe.
They used the latex from the tree to torture him and extract information. They smashed the tree and let the milky white liquid deal with his skin.
Hands tied at the back, the latex visibly itched and irritated him. Intermittently they beat him up with the butts of their guns. He refused to talk.
The Rhodesians were infuriated. They beat him more. They butchered him. Poked! Beat. Spat. Shoved, kicked, kneed. Shoved, shoved, shoved and kicked him. Kneed! He still refused to talk.
After the pouncing and beating he still refused to talk. They forced him to drink the latex liquid. He refused but they forced his mouth open. No one cried. The villagers wanted to cry but they held back. Women wept quietly.
The smell of death engulfed the place. An empty beef cane was used to tap more latex from the tree. They forced the freedom fighter’s mouth open, while holding his hands backwards. The villagers remained breathless. No one knew who would be next after the freedom fighter.
They untied his hands temporarily and everyone thought they would release him. At least they wished he could be released. But the Rhodesians were cruel and had other ideas. They tied his hands backwards, again. The beating started again. A white soldier, who had been masked with black paint to disguise his pale complexion, started sweating from beating the freedom fighter. It was like he had found a punching bag.
The masking paint on the white soldiers started peeling off, exposing his eyes and the ears. Then as rivulets of sweat ran down his cheeks, from the scalp, they eroded the paint again and again. No one spoke. Silence!
It was easy to see the use of the latex as an instrument for murder. The freedom fighter started vomiting. He must have experienced violent abdominal pains.
His stomach rumbled. The freedom fighter rained on himself and is rain not accompanied with loud thunder? He was in pain and wasting away. At the end, he murmured: “Am dying for my country!” then he was dead.
Meanwhile, one of the white soldiers, presumably the leader, used radio communication to commandeer a vehicle, a Puma truck towards the position. Two young black soldiers were ordered to drag the freedom fighter towards the car. The helicopters did not stop flying over the area.
At Chimufombo school, the infantry soldiers gathered and boarded a huge military truck, assuming they had combed the area free.
Villagers noticed some bodies being stashed into one of the cars. They noticed the injured two being helped into the truck.
In a huff, the truck with more than 50 infantry soldiers puffed off, up and down the gradient to Matsvitsi turn off.
As day slept away to give way to night, the village was agog with the war. There was fear. There was smell of death all over. There was a count for who is around and who is not. Others had run away during the battle and taken refugee far away. At least three others had been killed, among them one woman.
As the village was still taking stock, word started doing the rounds that the soldiers had not gone too far. They had camped by the gravel road somewhere near Museka and Chikwirandaombera mountains.
Village spies had seen them open cans of food. But the truck with dead bodies and the injured had proceeded to the camp.
But as the sun set, the remaining vehicles took off and suddenly there was a loud bang followed by sounds of small automatic rifles. There was another loud bang, then silence. Cemetery silence.
The following morning, villagers witnessed the liberation fighters’ biggest “heist”. They had killed 20 soldiers in an ambush, that involved landmines and heavy machine guns, several other soldiers were injured.
Soon the Rhodesian war planes hovered again, marshalling the air like sorry eagles that they lost their chicks. One by one the bodies were picked. It was the war.