IN our last conversation with Cde Henry Hlahla a.k.a Mavhundu, we saw how he attempted to go to Zambia and his subsequent back tracking to the mission in Mount Darwin where he taught, but he continued to contribute towards the nationalist cause through his gardener. Eventually, the mission was burned down resulting in his fleeing from the area and settling at Chibuwe where he continued teaching.
Samson Masango, Henry Hlahlaâ€™s nephew, read the last installment that featured Hlahla and said: â€˜â€˜Panext article yaHenry Hlahla munofanirawo kuisa nickname yake anonzi Mavhundu. Haadi kuvhundurwa.â€™â€™ (He is short tempered. He doesnâ€™t want to be provoked.)
Hlahla continues with his story:
Although I was always under surveillance by the police, I didnâ€™t stop my love affair with the comrades. In fact, as a teacher, I continued to act as a link between the Chibuwe community and the comrades who operated in the area and those that passed through the area en-route to Buhera or Masvingo who had to ford the Save River helped by a friend who had a boat to ferry them. The latter came under close scrutiny by the Special Branch, but he soldiered on.
My son, Maxwell, joined the comrades in 1975. He was still too young to be a fighter, but I believe the nationalist fervor that gripped people at that time affected him and he only thought about the liberation struggle. Colonialists thought I was the brains behind his joining the cadres in Mozambique.
A dark cloud hung over the family in April 1975 when the police came to pick me up. My wife and children watched me dis-concertedly as soldiers bundled me into the military Land Rover that was commonly called kwela mahala wozobhadharira mberi. Tears softly ran down my wifeâ€™s cheeks. I was hopeless, but in my deepest of hearts I was sure victory was certain.
Most people who were detained in Chipinge were placed at Chibonere Farm close to Umzilizwe River on the road to Mount Selinda. Torture was an every day occurrence at the farm, some had severe burns and died on arrival at home. Kaiva kafira mberi.
In Ndau we have an adage: â€˜kana chingoma choririsa choda kupatukaâ€™ (when the drum has a vivid sound, know that it is about to burst) and I knew that the regime will not be there forever notwithstanding Ian Smithâ€™s pronouncements that there wonâ€™t be any majority rule in his life time or in a thousand years. Because of that, takabva tamakana nemabhunu (we became sworn enemies with the white man).
We worked alongside Muchaina who recruited people to go and join the training in Mozambique. When I returned, I would see the- would- be-comrades at the back of my house and I would drive my Ford Escort for the 69km stretch from Chibuwe to Mariya via Hlatshwayoâ€™s prazo. When we arrived at Nyangamba River, I would leave the boys and girls as they crossed into Mozambique. I would hand them over to our FRELIMO comrades.
Soldiers regarded me as a terrorist and I had to be ferried by a helicopter. We were three at the holding cells in Chipinga, but I have forgotten their names. In leg irons, we went to Whawha Detention Camp as if we were notorious mass murderers.
I signed the arrival form at the detention centre with a Squire superintending my â€˜â€˜feeling at home.â€™â€™ There were many people at the sprawling centre, but the late Vice-President Joseph Msika received me. I think there were more than 800 inmates when we arrived at Whawha. Cde Msika was a relative.
We discussed politics among us. UANC, ZAPU and ZANU detainees argued about the trajectory the war was going as well as the ideological differences of our leadership. At one time, there was a brutal fight between ZANU and ZAPU detainees such that a helicopter had to be used to rain teargas at us. We had to be separated. Sydney Malunga was among us and of course from the ZAPU side I was close to Cde Joseph Msika. After the fight, ZAPU cadres were transferred to Connemara.
Every three months, 200 inmates would go to Salisbury (Harare) for a review of their cases. I waited for my turn with enthusiasm, but on three occasions I was disappointed. Some inmates were released and returned home to a life of freedom, but for me, it remained a mirage. On the way to the colonial capital, Salisbury, the prison officers teased us: â€˜â€˜this time, you are going to be released,â€™â€™ and they would laugh sarcastically. The vehicle that carried detainees was called Black Malaya. Out of the 200 detainees called for a review, only six would be released. It appeared as if it was a rehearsed thing, much like a kangaroo court.
After I was released, I heard that word had reached home that I had died in detention. They said I had been hanged.
In the detention camp, we got supplies from Amnesty International and Christian Care. These two organisations also helped in sending our children who wanted to go to school. They gave us shoes, pyjamas, grocery and other utilities.
We were technically free, but we were under heavy guard. The guards were sympathetic to our cause and would occasionally give us pincers to scale the fence and a friend of mine escaped using that method, but some of us were averse to fleeing, lest some of the sadistic guards find an excuse to shoot us dead.
Visitors came to see us while we were in detention, but the communication left a sour taste in the mouth. We talked with the visitors through a telephone. The racist government bought newspapers for us, but they made use of another detainee to cut political articles that would tell us about what was happening outside. Remember, those were the dÃ©tente days and it appeared there was a lull in guerrilla activities after the death of Chairman, Advocate Herbert Chitepo. However, we bribed the detainee who did that by giving him cigarettes and extra food for him to give us those excerpts from newspapers.
He hid the newspaper cuttings in a charcoal iron and we would read about the Kissinger initiatives to douse the flames of the revolution. We read about the activities of the fighters from the ZANU and ZAPU sides as the road to independence looked clearer now.
One sad incident was when a woman came to see her husband and laced poison in his food. The man ate the food alongside his friends. He died and his friends vomited hysterically, but survived the ordeal. We thought she could have found new love after her husband had been incarcerated.
Mai Msika used to bring Gin and Chateau and the close friends would drink, be merry and dance the night away. The dance was called Nxusa. At times, we brewed beer using yeast. As the chaplain moved about, we hid the beer.
One day, we were told we would be released shortly. They brought their Land Rovers and took us to Triangle. Close to Triangle, there was a community of Africans while many people were estate workers; they were told that we were gandangas as if being a terrorist was an abomination to the world.
We convinced them that oneâ€™s freedom fighter was anotherâ€™s terrorist.
Guerrillas based in the Gonarezhou Game Reserve gunned down a helicopter that had come with cash for Triangle employees in 1978 and all hell broke loose. The company complained that our presence had precipitated the attack by the â€˜â€˜gandangasâ€™â€™ and because of the sustained protests, we were relocated to an old mine Connemara.
The white warden, Patch, appeared to be kind. He gave us milk, beef and chicken for Easter. Life did not change much in the detention camps, but we itched to return to a life where we did not have to look over our shoulders time and again.
In June 1979, the regime released us. We went to Monomotapa Hotel where I met the late David Zamchiya, a lawyer and a person who lived close to us in Chipinge. He told me that it was unsafe to go home. I disregarded his advice and went to Chibuwe alongside an uncle. As soon as we arrived, I was invited to go and meet the comrades at midnight at Kondo.
Hostilities were still there notwithstanding the fact that a black man, Abel Muzorewa, was at State House as the Prime Minister of the short-lived Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. A helicopter hovered above me at Kondo, but no one shot me. From September to December 1979, the Patriotic Front leaders negotiated with the British and Rhodesian delegations. I bought newspapers and listened to Radio Maputo to read and hear about the proceedings.
Finally, the boys returned from the front and there was palpable excitement within the low-veld area and when Tongogara Assembly Point was established, there were ululations all round. As the boys came to the camp, the community greeted them like their own sons and daughters. We had run a race and went to the finishing line in pole position.
The rogue regime had killed my son, Maxwell, but it was all part of a concerted effort to dislodge colonialism and its attendant evil. I was happy that in my small way, I had contributed to the emancipation of the indigenous people.
After independence, I returned to the business I also knew best-teaching. I retired in 1997 from the teaching service and have been staying at Chibuwe since then although we have a family home in Dangamvura.
I am happy that we attained our independence although more needs to be done towards economic emancipation as many of our children roam the streets with industries closing every day.
He is a father to Sithokozile Hlahla, a former The Manica Post employee.
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