We all paid the price


IF we all were to quantify and put a price to the contributions made towards the liberation of Zimbabwe it would open up a Pandora’s Box.

The Last Straw with Lenox Lizwi Mhlanga.

It then makes it absurd, if not arrogant, for a particular group of people to “claim” that it is their sacrifice alone that led to our independence. We are not taking away anything from what they went through. Liberation was not for “one-body”, it was for “all-body”!

The problem has been that of entitlement, the impression that we all have to continue to pay homage to our liberators.

I believe I paid my price through lost time and privileges. Instead my father spent time and money driving around the countryside supplying freedom fighters with food and clothing under the guise of running his business.

To him it was an obligation to support the struggle in the best way that he could and for that he did not expect any payment in return. That was his contribution freely given.

Do not get me wrong. I grew up in an environment where the source of our next meal was never in question. Yet we were never oblivious of the crisis that was fast paralysing the country.

The signs were there around the city where we grew up; the military presence and the cooked-up reports and stage-managed capture of “terrorists” for propaganda purposes.

Yes, the media really played it up, in the white regime’s favour of course! I would not have appreciated the direction the war was going if I had not been to boarding school at Fletcher in Gweru.

There were occasional raids on beerhalls as the white army dredged for cannon fodder.

No one in his right mind would have volunteered to fight on their side against their own brothers and sisters.

Even in schools many were press-ganged into the effort in that infamous and much detested practice called “call-up”.

The arrests were relentless. Joshua Nkomo, Father Zimbabwe, whom I had the privilege to meet so many times and also to play a role in the live broadcast of his funeral, was arrested and detained.

My father’s friends Sidney Malunga, John Nkomo, Lazarus Dlakama, among others, were also “restricted”.

My father escaped arrest, but the danger was ever present, the hushed tones with which he spoke to others about impi (war) and abafana (guerillas) were a clear indication of that.

The Rhodesians glorified war and everything revolved around what they called the “war effort”. It was patriotic for everyone to pull together and even watch what they said because “walls have ears”.

There was a thin line between being a traitor and a supporter. People who supported the “terrs” as they colloquially put it, were dealt with decisively.

Then there was the curfew designed to stifle supplies and control movement. We didn’t have “protected villages” in Lower Gweru unlike in Mukumbura, yet the trips to see gogo MaNkiwane were getting far and few between.

Protected villages were glorified mass prisons where whole villages were barricaded to prevent the fish (the guerrillas) from getting to the water (the people) as Mao Tsetung once postulated.

Gogo MaNkiwane is my late paternal grandmother who would regale us with tales of war.

She was the funniest person I have ever known, save for my mother of course. So we have funny bones running on both sides of the family. The guerrillas still made it a habit to leave wish lists with our rural relatives for my father to supply.

It would be the popular “farmer shoes” or veldskoens, khaki outfits or medical supplies.

By the time I moved to boarding school in 1978, the war had reached fever pitch.

We got first-hand reports of the war from various parts of the country through schoolmates.

We even learnt Chimurenga songs sung at pungwes. The camaraderie across political lines was infectious. Such revolutionary fires were stocked by the external radio stations that pumped up the ante from Zambia and Mozambique. Some of our schoolmates lived double lives as innocent looking schoolboys at term time and as daring mujibhas or informers during the holidays.

Others never came back to school after either having been absorbed into the bush armies or worse. What was plain and obvious even at this time was that the war affected everyone in different ways and that we all contributed in one way or the other.

It is in this context that my father, as I intimated last week, became disillusioned with liberators who assumed the monopoly of having brought independence to this country by personalising the revolution.

The modest man he still is, he welcomed all manner of political activists to his doorstep when we eventually won our freedom.

His hospitality even saw the likes of Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma and Chris Hani, then staying at Richmond and Trenance, come to our shop koJ Themba in Gwabalanda as the ANC of South Africa prepared their final assault on the apartheid regime. I had the privilege and honour to meet them in the flesh.

Next week we discover the final straw that broke my father’s direct involvement in politics and how the seeds of rebellion were transferred to the son.

Lenox Mhlanga is a social commentator