By Bernard Yombayomba
The Catholic Bell at Silveira Mission pounded heavily informing all villagers to come to church as this was the norm. This would entail that all those who have had enough the fancy chance to be the wartime black African middle-class working in a white colonial administration were going to come, the nurses, the mission school teachers, welders, millers, caretakers and gardeners who were by that time rendered as ‘boys’ by some unapologetic masters whose shame was lost about a century and a half ago; racism. Therefore I know the old bell at Silveira Mission whose deafening pounding would mean anyone within reach of its sound had to rush to church for some reasons not specified to the non-Catholic.
The pounding old bell kept on bellowing for moments more than what villagers knew would be a normal routine bell ringing. This could be something special or that the Rhodesian Front Forces had come to brief all the villagers in the reachable radius of the bell’s sound.
In that 1979 winter, it could not be left unspoken that there was a black man who had dared the odds of the cunning colonialist, to wed amid those unpredictable wartime hours, where the airs of Bikita were overwhelmed by buzzing Dakotas, as if the skies were in some superstitious contract with unrelenting hums of angry bees. It was on the 11th of August 1979 when this old bell rang to summon villagers for the wedding. A thick hoar of red dust stuck temporarily on new black shoes that showed slightly some semi-white semi-brown stockings, the evidence that the owner had endured a very long journey on feet. These, stockings, could have been originally white but just because of an obviously long journey on feet, in that wedding procession, a mesmerizing exodus of cheering villagers bidding wishes for the newly married. These villagers, some who were in multi-colored work suits, thumping gumboots and swishing torn overalls all came to register their support for their black counterparts who had just did it in wartime.
As late comers kept on thronging at the church, Father Pontius Kitchman had already begun reading the scriptures with his hands severely trembling and shaking as if he were somewhat guilt of an unconfused sin of being a sellout against innocent blacks trying to sail out of colonialism. I mean, this kind of a betrayal which any servant of God does not want to be associated to; the betrayal of the stalwart fraternity of ‘vana mukoma’, ‘the mujibhas’ and ‘the chimbwidos’, those birds in the air, the dogs at home, everything, everyone, you and me, all. It is true that the combination of all these would one day take the liberation struggle to the next level, independence. Or these hands proved to the observer that he actually was guilty of betraying the betrayers of innocent people, to which he belonged. Something told me, to say that not all those whites in that regime were obstinate proponents of colonialism but some of them were really in empathy of the black person’s identity. Or this shaky state was just old age taken too far by on looking analysers, therefore it would be nothing related to the fear of Comrades or the Rhodesian Front Reconnaissance team, some of whom were black and would pretend to sing Chimurenga songs yet were informers spying for the Rhodesian Front, let these be referred to as, ‘Madzaku-Tsaku’.
Father Kitchman was Scottish, well names or places of origin in wartimes were usually matters of pseudonyms for obvious reasons. As the wedding progressed, the cheering of enthused crowds preceded a glamorous concoction of shouts, praises, screams and blessings from well-wishers while witches took that opportunity for cursing incantations and insults, just because of jealous. It happens every time, everywhere when anything good happens. As dramatic as it appeared, in that commotion, a convoy of camouflaged pumas rallied slowly blowing clouds of red dust on that windless day. A white Colonel of a fair height jumped harshly as if to inflict pain on earth with his military boots. He had a pipe stung to the left side of his mouth. Shortly the convoy screeched to a halt and some black Africans appeared in the Rhodesian Front soldier’s uniform, quite satisfied in their appearance and quite intimidating in their looks. The crowds instantaneously received an equally universal palpable wave of terror according to each receiver’s heart size of fear. Some mothers with babies on their backs bowed heads and muttered in silence while tears accompanied these mutterings, something in the air was not right. These kind of moments one needs to pray for those people with small sized hearts so that in the event of fullness of fear in these hearts, the people will not get into reveries that might lead them into saying some truths at the wrong times, such as disclosing the whereabouts of guerillas and their pungwe bases and so on. Mixed feelings and sentiments rocked the gatherers, some wanting to flee, some wanting to at least disappear in the form of a spirit but it was not so with Father Kitchman who just took his staggers towards the Colonel whose pipe kept on belching brown smoke as if it were a ladened goods train with an old engine on an inclined terrain. The cordial interaction between the two loosened up the tied hearts and minds that were almost reaching freezing and melting points according to one’s psychological strength. The black gatherers were ordered to sing Catholic Hymns for at least the moments to appear religious yet it was damn political.
Colonel Redman Blitzkrieg had no time to smile, a grimaced face biting an old time pipe. When one was summoned curtly by his voice, one had to appear as innocent as possible and as charming as necessary to buy this man’s uneasiness and transform it into a godly complacence of him, therefore one had to come to a certain imaginary reality that this man, Colonel Redman is my adorable father or my very close relative so that the talk got easy. There was coordination between the Catholic Father and the Colonel, but something which would assume that they were not in agreement was the Father’s hand gestures. Ultimately that very voice summoned in a jammed shona-name pronunciation, ‘Martin Zvisionekwi’, the young black man in a semi-black semi-brown black suit went up steadily. This was the groom who had gathered villagers in that August of 1979 in Bikita. “How dare thou art wed in Lord Ian Smith’s Rhodesia? This was clear to every black who by that time was able to understand that fast English of Colonel Redman. Patrick Zvisionekwi, the young brother to Martin dramatically yelled and sprang, landing on his knees on the colonels’ menacing military boots. This was so normal, that reaction which one needed, to transform that uneasiness into a godly complacence of the colonel but this could be mistaken by those Madzaku-tsaku as bootlicking and human worship, yet it was a survival skill. An overzealous young black soldier identified as ‘Black Jesus’, came and dragged Patrick from his humble position and changed that humbleness into subsequent shame as if to treble the displeasure of his boss. Wartime things aren’t easy. Father Kitchman kept looking on pathetically, holding a cream Rosary with a trembling right hand.
As dust rose, engines whined down the narrow strip that led to Maregere aerodrome, a base which the Rhodesian Air force was temporarily based in Bikita. At this base, all guerillas or mujibhas and chimbwidos held as captives, confessed upon their release that this was a place where one would come to terms with meeting the devil in Hell, the punishments were unbearably out of this world.
Now there was one Lazarus Mabvazuva who worked as a police constable in the white led government. His belonging to the Smith colonial administration was as natural as it would take for a mushroom seed to germinate in a rain reason. I am talking about zeal. He was always against his people, the people, and the liberation struggle for the people; therefore he was just against being black and pro-white that even his mother doubted his genetic origin as black. Blackness is an identity that collects the single individual black figures into an entity, a fraternity, a people, that unity, that belonging, I know of ants that built an anthill, I know of Chimurenga brothers and sisters who united and combined their inborn strengths and weaknesses for independence to come, Lazarus was against all this! He was black oriented and of white configuration, Lazarus!
Maruta village was where the pungwes were usually held by the guerillas. When comrades heard that Martin and Patrick Zvisionekwi had been held captive, their hearts were saddened, however, they assured everyone that there was no sun that would rise without the other one setting. “Them bones shall rise!” bellowed a guerilla who threw an unfinished smoldering cigar, and finished its life under his boot before gulping traditional beer from a wooden container. One afternoon Comrade Kasikai summoned mujibhas and chimbwidos and sent them to get refreshments at a local shop. The local shops were a kilometer’s walk but with the provision that there was a river somewhere in between. All other shops had no beer or drinks except one store which was owned by Constable Mabvazuva written, ‘ZIKI’ store, a pseudonym he used to secure his investment from possible sabotage by those whom he rendered enemies yet he was the one. Unfortunately the mujibhas marched in to the shop and engaged Lazarus Mabvazuva who was by that moment about to kiss a lady who was over the counter, for this is the lady he had been wooing for a very long time while men and women of his age were in the bush running. Bursting in sheer agitation and unexplainable fury as if the spirit of all angry cobras were in him, he spat on the floor and ordered the emissaries on errand to sit down instantly. This was shortly after the victims were given undeniable wartime packages of very heavy star locating slaps for disturbing the constable’s good time. But was this not a challenge for Comrade Kasikai who was well known for his urgency in everything? Was this not a challenge for the revolution? Was this not betrayal of the masses being tortured by white secret police in the villages and those hidden in the mountains? War time.
Upon arrival at the village two hours later, the voices in unison singing Chimurenga pungwe songs and a spontaneous rhythm of clapping hands welcomed the emissaries, whose countenances looked no better than those of owls possibly informing the viewer of sad news. When Comrade Kasikai learnt that this is how his guys had been challenged, he dispatched six of his trusted mujibhas to get the constable with them and that happened in no time. Anyone has got this moment whereby they pray, or at least mumble words for help into the air, for Lazarus this was the moment. Dealing with a sellout who betrays the struggle of more than a century’s population in dire tracts of colonial systems was definitely a task for the called not the brave. Let’s see.
At twenty past seven, traditional beer had been brought from surrounding villages comprising of Mubako, Ngwangwani, Chanyau and Chirobho. Then, as always vana mukoma sent the villagers into a delirium of echoing laughter. Laughter was a moment of relaxation, a moment of inherent communication and agreement that hope was there, a moment of screening sellouts from patriots, a moment of ejecting the probable and obvious colonial disarray; laughter. But now this constable who was famous for his infamy was in a very difficult position to laugh, to smile in the least. He was harvesting sweat for a season well worked…to be continued.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.