The Gravity of War: Caught Between Factions

Part Eleven of Mothers of the Revolution: Oral Testimony of Zimbabwean Women

Irene Staunton: Publishing Director, Baobab Books

Perhaps the worst cause of suffering in a guerrilla war, a civil war, is that so many people get caught in the middle. And as I have said before, the middle ground was often a cauldron of political tensions, rivalries, revenge and ambition between Zanla, Zipra, the soldiers, the ruthless Grey and Selous Scouts, and latterly in 1978-79, Muzorewa's forces the magandanga or madzakutsaku, and the white mercenaries.

Unfortunately Muzorewa's fighters came here towards the end of the war. Ah! They really tortured us. Someone had told them that we harboured freedom fighters in our home. ... [W]hen Muzorewa's boys searched my home, they did not find them. Then they said that because they wanted to please those who had told on us, they would beat us. So they made us lie down, both me and my husband, and they beat us on our backs. They took a big stick and beat us: me first, then my husband. --Tetty Magugu (164-5)

And many of the women with little or no education, with homes to maintain, fields to plough and children to bring up could not leave home to go and live in the relative safety of an urban area. They often had to maintain the balance between their Christian beliefs and their beliefs in the ancestral spirits which, in peace time, may often complement one another; but in war the expectations and demands of the svikiro and the Christian church could appear at odds, and were often used rhetorically and emotively by both sides: the guerrillas and the soldiers - an aspect of the war which has been explored in Mafuranhunzi Gumbo's Guerrilla Snuff.

Then the soldiers [who] were always black - I only saw white soldiers once - would gather us together during the day and talk to us. They would say how surprised they were that we said we loved our children, the comrades ...They said that they, the soldiers, were good people because they came to address us during the day and they did not ask us to do things for them at night. They said they only beat us because we denied we knew where the comrades were and so on. The soldiers said that they never bothered anyone because they always carried their own food and water. All they were interested to know was where the guerillas were and we were foolish to deny them this knowledge. On the other hand, when the Zanlas came they accused us of hating them and loving the soldiers. They said that only they, the Zanlas, could bring the country independence. We were caught between these two groups and we did not know what to do, because both groups blamed us and both groups were armed, but we were not. ... Then The Zipras came to ask for food ... Sometimes one would be beaten for not having any mealie-meal ... It was a difficult time, I can tell you. --Josephine Ndiweni (209-10)

Those were tough years. The Zipras were still in the area but they rarely came into the villages, because there were a lot of Zanlas. Zipras went to other homes in a different area but in the same district. ... One day I was beaten. Again the soldiers had come to my home and asked whether I had seen the freedom fighters. As usual, I told them that I had not seen them. If one ever admitted this, the soldiers would ask you to show them the way to the vakomana. It was very frightening. The soldiers walked around my home, examining it closely, and they noticed footprints. They made it clear than the freedom fighters had been to my home. Finally, I admitted that the comrades had passed by, but I said I did not know where they had gone. The soldiers asked why I had not said so in the first place. I told them that it was because I was afraid. They beat me. A white soldier called me into my house, picked up a small axe and swung it as if he were going to chop me down. Then, suddenly, he threw down the axe and beat me thoroughly with the back of his rifle instead. He hit me again and again until I grabbed the rifle in protest. I held my grip and we struggled until we were both outside the house. But I had not seen another soldier who was just outside the house. As I came out he hit me and fell down. The soldiers wanted to take me to their camp but, because I had a sick child at home, they let me be. The told me that I should be thankful for the sick child and the crippled old man who was also there, otherwise they would have taken me away to their camp. The following day I could not move an inch. My whole body ached and the rifle blows had bruised me badly, especially around my tummy. It was terrible. I did not want anything near my body. I could not go to the hospital because I couldn't leave the small children alone at home. But after some days I healed. ... Those were tough times.--Margaret Viki (149)

As soon as we had taken food to the base we would hurry back home so as to get on with the cooking for our own families. but a bit later you might hear knocking on the door. 'Who is it?' you'd ask. 'It's us the soldiers. Have you seen the gandangas?' 'No, my son I haven't seen them?' ... But no matter what you said, at that point they would beat you with the butts of their guns ... --Lisa Teya (99)

We were never supposed to tell the boers where the freedom fighters were. For instance, if you met the soldiers, even if you were returning from visiting the comrades, you had to say you were looking for your children who were looking after the cattle. The soldiers would always ask if you had seen the freedom fighters, sometimes you were threatened with a gun but you had to be strong. If we had not acted in this way we might never have won the country because all the freedom fighters would have been killed.--Thema Khumalo (78)

It was a terrible time. Shootings! Ah, people were shot and the targets were chiefs, teachers, businessmen and bus drivers. They were shot by both the soldiers and the freedom fighters. They were targets for both groups because they were in the middle. The soldiers said they kept and looked after the freedom fighters, because when they looked for them, they could not find them, although they knew they were active in your area. ... On the other hand, the freedom fighters always wanted to know why there were soldiers in the area. They said that people were informers. ... Sometimes, if they suspected that you were an informer, they tied your legs together and your arms together and they called everyone to collect firewood and make a big fire. Then they threw the person, alive, on to the fire. They said they wanted everyone to see what would happen to an informer. --Mary Gomendo (143)

People had to do whatever each group demanded of them. Whatever the soldiers told people to do they did, and whatever the Zanlas or Zipras told people to do, they did. The ordinary person had no say at all, and that is why people suffered a lot. --Elizabeth Ndebele (192)

And then there were people, members of the village, who might genuinely have been spies for the Rhodesian government:

The Smith government also sometimes used spies. A person might come to your home as a visitor and yet they'd be after something; or a person would stay with a neighbour, or in the neighborhood, and they would be quite friendly but really they were trying to find out information about a particular family. Sometimes someone might say something quite unintentionally which could be used against you. Also people might agree to statements that were simply untrue because they were afraid of being killed. --Rhoda Khumalo (70)

Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics]