23 Mar MY GOKOMERE STORY
Dr Zivanai Chapanduka recounts how he got the news of the death of Herbert Chitepo back in the day , when he was at Goks , he writes in My Gokomere Storybook (166 pages)
“They killed Herbert Chitepo yesterday”- Dr Cuthbert Zivanai Chapanduka (1974-79)
Gokomere – Wednesday 19th March 1975
It was normal school day when Mr Lameck Mhondoro the new English teacher marched into the Form 2 A classroom and blurted.
“Herbert Chitepo has been killed in Lusaka.”
His famously large nose was flared, he was evidently agitated and upset. His anger was out of keeping with his customary kind nature. Surveying the blank expressions on our teen faces he repeated.
“They killed Herbert Chitepo yesterday in Lusaka”
When clearly, that too, neither rang bells nor lit bulbs, Mr Mhondoro became more fidgety, he was shaking with some emotion, unknown to us. He went on to tell us that Rhodesia was our Country and that we should pay attention to the events in our country, that it was our future at stake. The man- made perfect sense. But we were both disinterested in, and ignorant of the subject he was introducing. He was a clever man, Mr Mhondoro was. Or maybe the pedagogy which presumably, he had been taught at Gwelo Teachers College kicked in. For, his demeanour relaxed as if he had turned off some inner switch.
“Who knows Herbert Chitepo?” he asked.
Those of us who always wanted to give the correct answer were wracking our little brains. Who was Herbert Chitepo? I remembered the name being mentioned by my father’s political pal and Grade 3 teacher, Mr Rafirokumwe Zihumo many years before. But I could not remember what his claim to fame was, at that moment. I joined the blind stares of 35 other boys.
Mr Mhondoro was a teacher, so teach he did.
“Who knows ZANU?” he asked.
A handful of us raised our hands.
“Zimbabwe African National Union” I said, in unison with one or two others.
“The Chairman of ZANU is Herbert Chitepo, he is our leader” he said, much less emotion betrayed in his voice.
That was not an agreed fact. I for instance, with a ZAPU supporting father, like most of the nationalistic parents those days, thought that Joshua Nkomo, Chibgwe Chitedza as he was nicknamed, was my leader, in that context. But we listened to Mr Mhondoro. We were now interested in his teaching.
“Herbert Chitepo is the leader of the Liberation Forces. He is the first African to qualify as a lawyer and he is one of the most intelligent Rhodesians, black and white…”
He went on to give us a brief biography of the great man that Chitepo was. But colourful though his portrayal of Mr Chitepo was, this was effectively a eulogy, it all boiled down to death. I was captivated and impressed by the passion in Mr Lameck Mhondoro’s voice.
“He was killed in a landmine explosion at his house. It blew up his car and killed him on the spot”
Mr Mhondoro spoke English with an unpretentious accent. His words were clear and his vocabulary was broad. He tended to use simple words but crafted in clever constructions. He used English to good effect and was overall, very practical in his teaching of the language. He was also a “funky” guys who wore nice clothes, had a neat afro and wore Beetle shoes. I liked his music taste and in latter years, when he was not our teacher any more, I used to borrow his rock vinly long play records (LPs). I particularly liked his Doobie Brothers LP.
The death of Mr Chitepo of course made news. The next time I saw my father I asked him about Chitepo and he had a lot to say about his death. And his life. He had several anecdotes about Mr Chitepo’s personal life, including his rivalry with businessman Isaac Samuriwo.
Looking back at that period in the political history of Zimbabwe, I often marvel at how the Nation was catapulted from a disinterested, to a politically conscious people in a relatively short period. Besides the minor political ructions of the Pearce Commission period and the rise of Bishop Abel Muzorewa, the people, especially rural people, went about their daily struggles with little enthusiasm for matters political. It was only a few people whose names were mentioned in the context of politics. The relatively educated folks were civil servants and political activity was a dismissible offence in the Civil Service.
In and around Fort Victoria, my father’s political “friends” were the likes of Samuel Munodawafa, Va Chimombe, Va Tunhukwe, Mujubheki, Tamburike and a few other fairly low key ZAPU people. ZANU was generally not liked because we heard whispers that they were Communists “which means that if you have cattle, belong to everyone…”. Indeed, some skirmishes and intimidation between ZAPU and ZANU were still being spoken of with examples casualties. Even during the Pearce Commission, the unsavoury tactics used by both the Police and the supporters of the “No” vote were enough to discourage people from dabbling in politics.
At Gokomere we had many children of serious politicians, many of whom were languishing in incarceration. We had Munyaradzi Munodawafa, in whose welfare my father took a keen interest in
“Wakadii hake muzukuru wangu Munodawafa?” he would ask.
We had Charlie Basopo, Munyaradzi Nyemba and later a whole lot more, including the Makombe children. Lawrence’s brother Mukoma Jones Gondo was nabbed and thrown in gaol for the serious crime of recruiting “terrorists”. Albert Zawaira came in many years later. But the politics was all low-key. Until the ZANLA machinery marched in. Maoist Revolution was based on mass mobilisation and we witnessed that transition. Fence-sitters were part of the enemy, they were simply not allowed. By the time we were in Form 4, with an average age of 17 years, only 2 years after Chitepo’s death, we were quite politically conscious.
But even in our days of political slumber, we had our fair share of little politicians. Henry Chagonda was by far the most politicised. In Form 1, his interpretation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm was well beyond pigs and horses. Henry was articulate, he was convincing, and he was well informed. His nickname was Dubala, after the trade unionist in Allan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country. It was no surprise at all when Henry ended up in the Liberation Struggle. He was a very courageous boy, short in stature but with a big brain and a voice to match.
In Form 3, with Francis Mavuka Chiwora as the Troop Leader, we went on a Boy Scouts Patrol over in Zimuto Tribal Trust Lands, I was a Patrol Leader, in charge of the food stocks. We left on Friday and had two fun nights in the bush before returning to Gokomere on Sunday. By Monday evening the news was that Anthony Manyumbu (the other Troop Leader) and the two Andrews (Les Singes), had disappeared soon after the Boy Scouts Patrol. A few weeks later, it was confirmed that they had reached the freedom fighter camps in Mozambique. I believe Les Singes perished at either Chimoio or Nyadzonya.
From not knowing who Herbert Chitepo was, the School transformed into a source of guerrillas in less than 2 years. Three years later and there was a “contact” between the Rhodesian Army and ZANLA forces at the School. One young Matison Maride and a guerrilla lost their lives, Munyaradzi Simbi was in a Fort Victoria General Hospital bed with a gunshot abdomen. Four years later and Gokomere was shut down by Comrade Soperai and we became refugees, just like that.
Then one wonders why I hate war