The Children of War

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

Irene Staunton: Publishing Director, Baobab Books

Then came the war. All the women - with the exception of Juliet Makande and Josephine Ndiweni - had children who went into the struggle. Children who had some education and wanted change. Very few children told their mothers that they were leaving.

My children did not once reveal that they wanted to go and join the struggle ... They could not tell us that they wanted to go, because we had brought our children up in a Christian environment which had nothing to do with politics and so they must have known that we would not let them go. I was very worried when I found the letter they left me on my sewing machine. the first thing I asked myself was whether I had given them enough love and whether I had looked after them properly ... --Elizabeth Ndebele (185)

Two days after a contact at Zindi my son disappeared ... the following morning Thomas [his brother] found a note amongst his bedclothes ... It simply said, 'I have gone, goodbye.' ... I found that he hadn't even taken a jersey with him. I was worried and set about looking for him ... the DA told me to be brave and face reality - my son had decided on his own to leave home [I consoled myself] with the thought that there were many women with broken hearts like mine, many mothers whose sons had gone to fight ... I must say, however, that at first I was cross with my vadzimu (spirits of the ancestors) for allowing this to happen. I was cross with the whole lot of them from my mother and my grandmother to my sekuru ... my son was away for years ... --Lisa Teya (102)

My son, my fifth born ... was interested in reading and he was going to school and had reached grade seven. He was at home most of the time and so I was surprised when he did not return to eat the evening meal. ... I began to worry because he was not someone who was a latecomer ... the following morning I went out to look for him case he had been locked out, but I could not find him ... I went to the fields ... I could not do anything because I was so worried and absent-minded ... I could not believe that my son had gone and that I might not see him again ... I could not eat ... I felt that dying would be preferable to never seeing my child again ... --Dainah Girori (264-5)

They went as small children - Cheche Maseko's sons were twelve and fourteen - and as young adults. The first trickle began in the late 1960s, and this became a flood in the late 1970s. Approximately 30 000 combatants, men and women were trained and returned to Zimbabwe to fight; approximately another 40 000 went out as refugees or as children, who did not realize that they were too young to fight.

In 1975, when I went home I found that almost every young person had left to join the freedom fighters. ... the whole community was full of fear because so many children had left and the ones who had left first were returning to take others. People were afraid ... --Betty Ndlovu (239)

What happened to us was that it was rumoured that my eldest child had come back to the country and that he had come back to fight. The soldiers went to my house in Bulawayo where it was said that my son had been seen, and they destroyed everything and killed the lodger. Fortunately my husband was out at the time. As the other children were then very afraid of being questioned and harassed, they left [for the struggle] as well. ... ... In all, my husband and six of my children went to join the struggle ... The problem was that if the authorities knew that you had a child or children who had left the country they gave you a very hard time ... sometimes they killed people ... they beat the boy who was looking after my cattle so much that his teeth fell out. --Rhoda Khumalo (69)

Our children were used as sentries. They were always on the watch, looking out for soldiers and then informing the Zanlas if ever the soldiers were around. If they heard the sound of trucks, the mujibas and chimbwidos ran around to see ...where the trucks were going. Chimbwidos also washed clothes for the freedom fighters. Our children, by that I mean any child over the age of twelve, would also stay at the base with the freedom fighters so that parents would not sell them out to the soldiers. They took our children, so that if ever the soldiers came to shoot them, not only would they die, but so also would our children. They said it would be our fault for selling out on them. That was very painful. The children were not happy about this. They only went to the bases because they were afraid. Each group that came took the children of their camp. There was no way out. It was a great risk because, if the soldiers had come, the children would certainly have been killed. The children would stay at the base for as long as the group of Zanlas or Zipras was around. They returned to their homes when the group moved away. Then, when other groups arrived, the children went back to the bases again. But if there were no vakomana in the area, the children had a rest. The children had enough to eat when they were at the base. They ate together with the mujibas, chimbwidos and the freedom fighters. If there was not enough, the mothers would be asked to go and prepare more. The women always had to taste the food first, before dishing it out. --Margaret Viki (147)

The woman responded with understandable anxiety: they knew their children might not return and sometimes the absence of their children made them vulnerable:

My only son, who went to join the liberation struggle, is my first-born: my other children are girls ... I worried a great deal but there was nothing to be done ... ... After he had left I had difficulties with my neighbours because they suspected that my son had gone to join the Rhodesian army and they passed on their rumours to the freedom fighters. They, in turn, made enquiries and investigated my family to discover the truth ...--Rhoda Kumalo (160)

And, of course, sometimes they did not return.

Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics]