40-years after, Zanu-PF Gvt fails to exhume, rebury its liberation war heroes

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Some of the 118 corpses of liberation war fighters who were killed and dumped in an abandoned copper mine in Odzi in Mutare, that were exhumed in recent times, shows how important the exhumation exercise is as the fallen comrades still speak from the dead 40-years after independence.

“…The influence of the spirit mediums in the form of sekuru Kaguvi and mbuya Nehanda, cannot be understated in the First Chimurenga, just like how the ‘solemn pact’ among comrades to look out for each other during and after the struggle torched a storm of nationalism in the second Chimurenga. The pact gave a sense of purpose and binding which united the comrades… As far as the people were concerned Nehanda and Kaguvi were the voices of God and the prophecy by Nehanda in her dying words, “My bones will rise again,” predicted the Second Chimurenga which culminated in the independence of present-day Zimbabwe.”

Ngoni Dapira

Mbuya Nehanda (left) and sekuru Kaguvi (right).

“Forty years ago, we became a self-governing people after nearly a century of settler colonial rule; a sovereign Nation born out of protracted armed struggle. As we celebrate this important milestone in our history, let us not forget those who started the journey, the thousands of gallant freedom fighters who lost their lives and others who lost limbs. All of them made sacrifices so that we can today stand tall, as masters of our own destiny; a free people in our own land. May our children and grandchildren always enjoy freedom, while defending their rich cultural heritage and working hard, in unity, for an ever prosperous future,” these were part of the Independence Day remarks by President Emmerson Mnangagwa as he addressed the nation recently on April 18, to celebrate 40-years of freedom from British colonial bondage.

Whilst the remarks by President Mnangagwa sounded very sincere, one cannot help to notice how year in, year out these have been the same sentiments and rhetoric by the revolutionary party, Zanu-PF, which ever-since attaining independence in 1980, ironically, has been governing as the ruling party with majority seats in Parliament. As the nation celebrates 40-years of freedom this year, Easterntimeszim interviewed some war veterans and collaborators to take stock of what has been achieved after independence under a revolutionary party led Government, with concentration on how the key players, the war veterans, war collaborators, ex-detainees and restrictees, fallen heroes whose remains were not found as well as families of fallen heroes of the liberation struggle, have been honoured.

FLASHBACK…Jubilation in the new Zimbabwe in 1980.

To better understand this, one has to be first taken back to 18 April 1980. D-day when Zimbabwe was born and Zimbabweans on the day were in festivity, bracing for a new era under black leadership, with no unwarranted restrictions, curfews, beatings and killings of native African people. The jubilation was characterised by dance, music and high hopes to see a better nation, where all people would be treated as equals, irrespective of race, creed and affluence. 40-years after, definitely, one will ask what has changed and what has been achieved in terms of delivering the liberation struggle promises? This is what Easterntimeszim interrogated as Zimbabwe celebrates 40 years of uhuru (freedom).

In an exclusive interview with the chief exhumer of the Fallen Heroes Trust of Zimbabwe (FHTZ), Anyway Chinyani, as a special Independence Day feature, the dedicated exhumer spoke his heart out about ‘neglected’ promises and politicking of the country’s exhumation exercise of fallen heroes in unmarked graves and mass graves. He called this a backstab which he believes shall have serious reparations.

Although FHTZ is an independent trust led by volunteers with a special calling, its work is officially recognised by Government as the responsible body for exhuming liberation war heroes and heroines buried in unmarked graves during the liberation struggle to give them a decent burial. These fallen comrades often appear as specters (spirits of dead people which embody themselves through the living, as host bodies) or relatives of the fallen comrades, demanding to be properly buried. Te process is hard to believe and sounds like a movie script, but its happening and the dead do speak according to Chinyani. Chinyani said Government made a statement early 2000 mandating FHTZ as the only entity responsible for all exhumations of liberation war heroes. “Once a specter identifies itself as a fallen comrade we are the only ones authorized to do the exhumations and we work in collaboration with the police and traditional leadership that often contact us,” he said.

During the interview in February, this reporter visited Chinyani and his FHTZ members who had been camped for over two months in the bush at Herbert Mine where the Matumba Six Shrine in Mutasa district was accorded in 2014. “I have been doing this exhumation work since the early days of independence. Because of my exhumation work I am forced to leave my home and family to live in the forests where we will be conducting the exercises wherever we are called countrywide and beyond the borders as well. When the fallen heroes appear I cannot do anything else at home as the visions of the late comrades keep appearing in my dreams asking me to locate them and give them decent burials,” said Chinyani.

Chinyani points out at the graves of fallen heroes at Matumba Six Shrine who were exhumed and reburied there since 2014.

He recalled that their first exhumation exercise just after independence was at Madziva Mine in Shamva, but he was a young man and deputy chief exhumer to the late Jimmy Motsi then, only to take over the reins after Motsi passed away in 2014.

To fully comprehend his work Chinyani took this reporter to a make shift mortuary in a tent, which is at the Matumba Six Shrine where 118 skeletal corpses where wrapped in white clothes, traditionally called fuko, awaiting to be reburied. The remains of fallen heroes had been discovered in recent times in a copper mine shaft in Chiwere village in Odzi. Matumba Six Shrine was declared a national heroes shrine in 2014 after 76 bodies were dug out from an old mine shaft at Herbert Mine where the shrine is now situated.

“There are also corpses of five people who were brutally killed and their bodies were dumped in a pit toilet in Chidahuyo village in Watsomba around 1977 and 1979 on separate occasions. The comrades appeared in the form of a specter and led us to exhume them recently (February). As for the other bodies we exhumed them from the abandoned Odzi copper mine shaft. There are still more bodies at Odzi as we have not opened another shaft,” he said.

Chinyani sadly indicated that the association was facing financial challenges and this has been their biggest stumbling block to complete the exercise since independence.

He said at times they are forced to use their own resources whilst digging of graves is often done by community volunteers and Children of Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans (CZNLWV), which is an arm under the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA).

“Some of the people were burnt to ashes and some acid was poured on them, so those burnt to ashes we put in a mass grave, which we call the tomb of the unknown soldier, but those with skeletons we will bury in individual graves,” explained Chinyani as he showed examples of burnt corpses and those with skeletal remains.

He said people should know that the work they do was voluntary and no payment is given to them for undertaking it.

“We get nothing from Government. Here and there we get help from well-wishers, but for us the spirit of the fallen comrades in unmarked graves compels us. However, my wish is to ensure that everyone who died in the liberation war gets a decent burial. It is not good that people see skeletons of people who were our comrades-in-arms and helped secure freedom for us.”

Chinyani said during the liberation war all the guerrilla fighters made a solemn pact to look out for each other even in death. He said the exhumation and reburial exercise of fallen liberation war comrades has sadly been trivialised since independence.

However political critics have time and time again accused the revolutionary Zanu-PF party for repeatedly using the ‘blood shed’ nostalgia of the Chimurenga liberation war as an election campaign to garner support. But Chinyani revealed that on the ground little has been done to show commitment to honouring the fallen liberation fighters, especially those in unmarked graves.

He said in the absence of funding from Government,they rely on volunteers but he strongly feels this should be the duty of Government to ensure those who fought for the country’s freedom who lie in unmarked graves are given a decent burial.

Chinyani said since independence around 8000 bodies of former soldiers have been exhumed and reburied, after appearing to them through specters. He said financial support is needed for transportation, food and coffins for reburial, a process which can take months at one site.

FHTZ Secretary general Rachel Chakazamba said last year Zanu PF offered them a $70 000 (RTGS) draw down facility from the party’s coffers but only received $17 500.

(L-R): Delah Chatora from the children of war veterans with Sarah Matinha and Rachel Chakazamba of the FHTZ.

“Every family, whether supporting Zanu-PF or MDC, lost a relative during the struggle for our independence. So this is neither a Zanu-PF or MDC project but a project for Zimbabwe. Every child requires a decent burial…However the money is coming late and we are struggling to get it when we apply,” said Chakazamba.

CZNLWV Manicaland provincial commissariat Delah Chatora said they help in the exhumation exercise because for some of them, their parents never lived to see a free Zimbabwe and this is their way to celebrate their heroism.

“As children of war veterans we are inspired by the heroism of our parents, those alive and those who died during the struggle. We really feel the true honour is to have a fiscal budget allocation to exhume and rebury our fallen heroes as well as cater for the welfare of their children, without selection of who was who because everyone sacrificed thier lives,” said Chatora. She also encouraged more to be done towards educating the youths about the country’s true history including what is currently happening during the current exhumations and reburial rites.

Zanu PF secretary for finance Patrick Chinamasa, who was the former Minister of Finance and Economic Development, in a telephone interview agreed that it was important to complete the exhumation and reburial exercise.

He accepted that the party (Zanu PF) offered funds last year so that reburials could begin while they are proposing for a legislation to provide government funds for the exercise.

“I strongly believe cost of reburials of those that died in the struggle should be carried by the Government. Those who lost their lives in the war to me rank higher in importance as they never got to enjoy the fruits of the struggle and deserve to be buried with dignity,” said Chinamasa who ironically was the former Finance Minister prior to the one in Office, but never bothered to lobby for Treasury to set aside funds for such a scheme, which he now ‘ranks high in importance.’

Vladimir Mukada who was called Cde Nyikahairovi Mutongadzimwe was a rank detachment trustee commander duties instructor for HMG (heavy machine guns) at Mapinduzi and Takawira 2 in Mozambique for the Zanla forces. He said it was important not to forget those who gave ultimate sacrifice whether dead or alive as the country celebrates its independence.

Cde Vladimir Mukada

“This (First and Second Chimurenga) was done with great human sacrifice. In the second Chimurenga as freedom fighters we made an oath to each other that anyone of us who would remain alive and live to see the independence of our country would see to it that the human remains of our fallen comrades will be exhumed, returned and properly buried in an independent African country that we wanted to create and had envisaged that this country will be named Zimbabwe,” said Cde Mukada.

He said now that this vision has come true and we are in a free Zimbabwe the leadership in this country has not been doing enough to fulfill the oath or mhiko as preferred to call it in the colloquial language. “We have noticed that the government has concentrated on the exhumation of the remains of the senior commanders and politicians who died during the war. These are just a handful compared to the multitude who perished in the jungles in pursuit of our independence. The government of Zimbabwe should be doing more in search and recovery of the remains of our fallen heroes. These remains should be buried in national shrines and these fallen gallant fighters who fell in battle against colonialism are the most befitting of the national heroes status compared to some who just declared to be heroes without any tangible contribution to the nation,” said Cde Mukada, who is known in social circles in Mutare to be very knowledgeable about the history of the country’s liberation struggle.

He urged Government to learn from other nations that have national programmes to find and recover their fallen soldiers, so that their families find closure on how their loved ones perished. Cde Mukada added that as African people there is need to observe the sacred traditions and rituals that should be followed when people die especially on national duties like the Chimurenga liberation war, which he said was very spiritual guided by the spirit mediums.

Cde Mukada said it is a pity that over the years the deaths of the fallen heroes in unmarked graves was used for political expediency rather than for the national respect that they deserve. He gave an example of how the Americans are still looking for those that they lost during the Vietnam War.

“There is no one who died in the war of liberation who can be declared the unknown soldier because everyone came from a loving family and when they joined the armed struggle they were recorded. I recommend that instead of hollow political rhetoric of pretending to be concerned about the fallen heroes, the Government of Zimbabwe should allocate adequate resources, human, financial and equipment towards the exercise of exhumation of our fallen comrades. Those who died in the bases in Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, Botswana and Angola are much fewer than those who died fighting the enemy on the battle fields of Zimbabwe,” said Cde Mukada.

Adding, “The excuses that we do not have resources is a nonstarter because Zimbabwe cannot be short of resources to honour its own creators when others who didn’t do anything towards the achievement of our national freedom are living large on the same so called scarce resources that our comrades died for,” he refuted.

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