By Bernard Yombayomba
Suddenly, 1980 sets in. The war torn trees began to heal, the grass, trampled upon by many feet, of soldiers who fought to liberate a people, of civilian helpers who were in transit every second to relay messages to required destinations, of soldiers who fought to retain colonisation, of betrayers who callously collaborated with the obstinacy of the people’s enemy; the grass which desperately bowed to the buzzing Alouette helicopters flying low, dropping Rhodesian forces in war zones. Wild animals in the mountains had for a very long time been subject to the incongruous crack of rattling gun fire, whistling bombs and unforgiving machine guns, now 1980 too was their year.
One man trying to beg his society for forgiveness, confesses how he was forced to burn the huts of those villagers known to host the comrades. Confusion, some villagers believe him, some don’t, some villagers accept him, some don’t. Division, some forgiving and some not. The betrayers had deliberate intentions, they could have killed themselves in some way than to witness themselves acting in sheer abhorrence against their own kind, some thought.
Oh! Remember how Dakotas buzzed and spitted poison at that Nechena village where the comrades had held a pungwe. It was Ziki who sold out to the whites, only to see at five o’clock in the morning, a daring man-made eagle raging with fury against some innocence, some people, a people. Oh! Should we forget? The peasants caught in the crossfire, cultivating or harvesting.
The broken kraals letting cattle go berserk when torrents of gunfire questioned and answered each other from across the valleys. What a setting of vast tumultuousness, the domestic animals and their owners on the run! That was the dilemma of sell outs in that year, they knew, they consciously knew but they had to come back home.
And in that Autumn, tree leaves skimmed underneath huge mango trees at homes in those villages in Bikita, the indigenous trees in Magurwe mountain kept idle as leaves fell off them, making the whole mountain appear like it were a huge forest of sketchy leafless trees waiting for new clothes in a disorganised formation.
The orientation of such a setting would mean that even the lost battledress in the mountain crevices during the hottest moments of war would be visible from a panoramic view, that even the least shining combat helmet which because of seasons could rust would be visible. Forest insects kept on the incessant hissing and whistling that rendered the mountains seem like they were ancient Greek arenas where all forms of art were accompanied by massive brouhahas. This was 1980. That feeling!
There was a small dam in between the valleys of Chipoperwa and Chiwona areas. The dam hid right behind the Hanyanya mountain, whose peak stubbornly surfaced out of the common highest level of mountains up into the skies, beckoning the rains.
A long time ago, people under chief Mbukuro would come and pour libations at an oracle, a waterfall near the dam. They would cry and lament prayers begging for spiritual intervention in times of crisis. That tradition worked for them for centuries. The libations were poured by the svikiros, who because of their communal sacredness earned much awe from villagers within and without their proximity.
The most popular of these was ‘Svikiro raChipoperwa’. He had some profound sacred secrets he knew that were good and also bad for his community. Secrets are the soul of spiritual power. It is a matter of intricate oracular directives received from the supernatural about mankind that made Chipoperwa earn so much respect. Now, because some of the comrades revered these beliefs, they would consult him on the forthcoming events that could be favorable or not.
The black priest at Silveira Catholic mission would refer to Chipoperwa as a host of bad-ridden demons. That was somehow far-fetched, but Chipoperwa would laugh and say, “these little boys will never be white.” Sometimes to demonstrate his supernatural prowess, he would on the day of libations, summon elders and tell them that he was going into the dam, deep down, to take the finest slime under water and bring a handful of it out as evidence that he reached the deeper most part of the dam. The dam must have been deeper enough to swallow the tallest pine trees the human eye has ever seen.
The slopes of the dam seen from the crest of the dam-wall to the foot of it would measure around three hundred and fifty meters which brings one to the totality that if the sloping distance was around such a figure, then the perpendicular distance from the water level in the dam to the slime was around four hundred meters. But on a normal day, persons who became known in the world for covering a distance of four hundred meters on feet running, did so in seconds.
Was this the same with the Svikiro? Well, when he jumped into the water he would take two to three minutes before appearing back on surface, a time where a bad joke can be made and it gets corrected after some obvious misunderstanding. He could have been a mariner but no he was a Svikiro! If the slime was held with the left hand, there was a bad omen coming, if the slime was held with the right hand, some good news would ensue within five consecutive days – not sure if five days was a number coincidental to the fingers holding the slime.
When Chipoperwa was summoned by the comrades to determine whether they would overcome or not, he told them they would overcome attacks from Rhodesian forces but some of the comrades would be injured. It did not take time until one morning Chief Mbukuro announced the disappearance of Chipoperwa. Although Selous Scouts later came to investigate about Chipoperwa, information they got never satisfied them until they ignored it.
If one was not careful to observe, on the shores of the dam there were wooden stairs that appeared from nowhere into a thicket that buffered a certain house from the dam. Mark Schumpeter was an old fisherman who owned a farm in the open area at the foot of mount Hanyanya. Although he was white, his harmony with the villagers was unusual. Some thought he was a spy because sometimes Selous Scouts would appear in dirty Land Rovers and disappear with him, get him into a helicopter and return him back. But Chiwona villagers who relied on the dam for irrigation of their gardens, took Schumpeter as a neighbour, an advisor and over all one of them.
One of them? Was that genuine oneness when those mud-stuck Land Rovers driven by solemn men appeared and disappeared back with him? Let’s see. If Schumpeter was a farmer, was he taken to provide some possible geographical knowledge of the area, or was he selling out on where the Guerrillas had gone to because sometimes he gave freedom fighters a hand. Ahem! There was a combat helmet that a cattle herder found.
The helmet was written in some faint inscription, “John Schumpeter”. Many villagers knew that the only Schumpeter they had in the area was Mark and not John, so who was John then? Does it mean when Comrade Kasikai and his troops were ambushed near the kopje of Maruta in 1979 when Guerrillas like Samboy Mutoko died and Dzvetsverere lost an arm, Mark Schumpeter had sold out? Ziki? Or it was this John Schumpeter? Possibly this helmet could have fallen from some flying object during the war operations but of those flying objects, a flying saucer is not one of them, it must be a Rhodesian reconnaissance helicopter that dropped it by mistake, a huge mistake that was.
Of course, during those days dropping a traceable item would impair the spirit of the revolution for a lifetime, so the Guerrillas were sure not to commit that mistake. The herder in his own words said, he found the helmet trapped in a crack between huge rocks and managed to retrieve it with his herding expertise.
The beerhalls at Ziki Shopping Centre were swarmed. It was on the 17th of April 1980 in the evening. Joy was palpable among villagers who had for a very long time never tasted freedom. When twelve o’clock midnight struck, the euphoria of a free Zimbabwe caught up with the patronisers and non-patronisers of the beer hall. The hubbub, the frenzy, the delirium of never wanting to be subjects again was all over the air. Music trebled the ever-flowing joy.
From enchanters to Catholic missionaries who were in empathy of the colonised, for once differences were set aside and joy united them. From the nearby dust road that led to Silveira Mission, mobile beacon fires on sticks would be seen. The inconsistent and irregular jerks of the beacon fires showed that somehow a procession of villagers singing in unison, “Simukai mupembere…” was approaching.
Indeed, it was them, the crowd in the hall shoved out and welcomed their arriving mates. One limping villager was among the leading team of the procession; alas! It was Comrade Kasikai who had a leg injury which took time to heal because there was literally no time to rest for him as he would say, “there is no rest on earth!”
Light showers began steadily pouring, villagers sang as if that night their voice boxes were somehow borrowed. A pungwe was being held at Muginyi village, which was central in terms of convenience for all surrounding villages. Some long blond hair dashed across the beam of light that came through the cracked wooden door of the kitchen hut where pfuko yamadzimambo, a local brew was being taken from.
The more the cracks on the wooden door of the kitchen, the more the light, the dashing figure became more visible. It was Schumpeter, Mark Schumpeter! I am not sure about John.
Then, without wasting time Comrade Kasikai held the raging morale for some moment and addressed them, “As you all know. That men are born in an imperfect world, but because of the road on which they walk on, it is up to them that they find the road to perfection. I know you are happy as I am”, a sudden chorus of barking dogs broke the silence, returning memories of the untimely arrival of Rhodesian forces who would come to find out information about Guerrillas, however, the barking spree could not deter the speaker from his speech therefore he continued, “but there is one man whom I could not think was one of us, who held the yoke we all held, and bore the trauma we all bore, my brother Schumpeter!”, Drum beats, ululations and all sorts of noises that express some kind of joy ensued. But was this not John Schumpeter?
“In every family there is that son, who is chastised for doing the right thing at the wrong moment, this was my life ever since war started”, he coughed. His support to the Guerrillas was inborn, surely no amount of moral lecturing would turn even his fellow whites to act like him.
“I wanted to be a missionary but my family denied me and I listened to them, but deep down in my heart when I saw villagers being ill-treated, I pictured my own children being in that position, so I was rent into pieces emotionally, until I decided to sell out against those who oppressed you, Kasikai is my brother”, there was silence.
“I think Schumpeter should be called Shumba”, Comrade Kasikai bellowed, laughter ensued and the pungwe was on again. Schumpeter became known as Shumba, though it seemed he liked it, the rhyming relationship between Schumpeter and Shumba was somehow spontaneous.
One knew of Schumpeter who was white but his cause was the cause of the blacks. One knew of some blacks whose cause was the cause of the whites.
That was it, at the behest of the people it was back.