The Horrors of War

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

Irene Staunton: Publishing Director, Baobab Books

Women, villagers, were harassed and suffered the cruelty of the Rhodesian soldiers, both black and white:

The soldiers who came into our area were both black and white. It would not have been appropriate for the latter to come in on their own [as we know from Mukiwa by Peter Godwin] ... it was the black soldiers who were used by the government and by the white soldiers to communicate with us and make us suffer ... the black soldiers were actually responsible for unspeakable beating and torture. Both black and white soldiers beat us. It was war. ... each person killed the next, sometimes in self-defence ... --Thema Kumalo (77)

The security forces said that they had heard that the villagers had been harbouring guerillas but we denied it. Then they burnt down the whole village. ... I heard the dogs barking. I went outside and saw that the headman's home was on �re. I went back into our house and woke my son up. I told him to leave because I knew that the soldiers were after the young men. ......the �re was [now] much nearer our home. They were burning my in-laws' houses. I quickly woke up my husband thinking we might be burnt alive inside the house. Then I looked for a tin in which I had put some money and hid it outside in the contour ridge ... . I put my baby on my back and my other two small children on my shoulders and began to run away. My eldest daughter and my husband's second wife were washing dishes in the river and my husband went to tell them that the soldiers were firing the village. My husband's second wife was so frightened that she forgot she had left her baby sleeping in the kitchen. ... Next jet planes flew overhead. It was serious, houses were being burnt down while the jets were firing guns at us. ... I advised my husband's second wife to return to her home. Then I took two of my children ... to my brother-in-law ... I took the other two small ones to another brother-in-law .... I did all this on the same day. Then, having put all the children in relatively safe places, my husband, I and the baby returned home. ... I actually wanted was to collect the tin of money I had hidden. We found that there was nothing left except for my money tin ... It was almost sunset. There was nothing left. The cattle had got out of the kraal and the calves were suffering from hunger. We then met people who told us that everyone had been told to gather at the Bradley Institute ... As we arrived, one soldier pointed his gun at my husband but another soldier stopped him from shooting. They wanted to know where we had been and why we had taken so long to get there. ... ... a white soldier and one of the CIDs who had been in our village, went down the line picking out people ... You see ... one of the CIDs had been killed by the comrades and this one had been left for dead. When he recovered, he had reported the matter and that was what had caused the authorities to burn down our homes.--Sosana Marange (13)

We were going to hold the pungwe after supper. ... about a hundred or so [people] gathered under the grapefruit trees. We sang songs and the comrades told us about the war, their objectives and their wishes. ... at about eleven o'clock ... the soldiers, who had never been to Chitomborwizi before, had surrounded my home ... They started firing from one side of the yard, so they were shooting at very close range. When the soldiers, ... some of whom were white with their faces painted black, began to fire at us. The comrades ran away but no one realized that they had gone. ... The firing continued until seven o'clock in the morning and we lay flat on the ground all that time. Two children, both from the same family, were shot dead ... Bullets riddled a tractor which was parked in the yard and the house was full of holes ... in the morning the soldiers threatened to kill all the men. They told all the women who were of a nervous disposition to go away while they did this. The men were told to lie down and black soldiers walked up and down on top of them. Everyone was there - the women and the children - we were all there. Then a soldier said, 'Where is the father of guerillas.' My husband stood up and said 'I am here,' and he was taken away to Gangarahwe. I did not do anything except cry and all the women in the community cried with me. ... The soldiers then arrested my husband and a few older boys from other families who they said were mujibhas ... I remained at home with my children feeling quite helpless. But, on this occasion, we were lucky as they only kept him in prison for a week. --Helen Karemba (279)

Chenjerai Hove in Shadows, Shimmer Chinodya in Harvest of Thorns, Alexander Kanengoni in several of his short stories in Effortless Tears all deal lucidly and abrasively with this dark side to the war. The soldiers also of course acted out of cruelty and revenge: villages were burnt down, people were burnt alive in their homes, others were beaten and killed for not divulging information - even when they did not have it to divulge.

It was my daughter who died during the war and that was a very painful experience. She died here at home in Siphaziphazi. She was beaten by a big stick. She was hit hard with a big, big stick as if they were pounding millet. she was hit hard, and at first she was crying and then she was silent but they continued hitting her. She was not the only one who was killed that day. The soldiers came at dawn and took people from different homes and killed them at the same time in one place. We were ordered not to cry or say anything as they were being killed. We just sat there, with the old man Mkandla, singing political songs very low and quietly. They were killed by the soldiers who said they were collaborating with the freedom fighters. They wanted to use them as examples to frighten others. --Cheche Maseko (219/20)

Many civilians were killed. Casualties also used to be brought into the hospital from the area. Most of the people killed were men, civilians. ... Sometimes, but not very often, people were given amputations without an anaesthetic. A lot of people were [killed and] injured in contacts. ... Sometimes people were also thrown into a pit called an mbidzi. It was a big pit into which people were thrown and tortured so that they would confess. It was very deep. After throwing people into the pit, the authorities left them there for some time. They only pulled them out if they were ready to confess. If they refused they would be left to die in the pit. Sometimes people's homes were burnt down and they were left with nothing. These were some of the things which happened in the Chirumanzi area. --Maudy Muzenda (65)

Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics]