Morris Mtisi Education Correspondent
Students at the Mutare Herentals Group of Colleges put down text books and took the bull by the horns when they visited the Chimoio Memorial Shrine to see for themselves the mass graves of the sons and daughters of Zimbabwe who were bombed in the infamous Chimoio massacre during the war of liberation that finally ushered in independence for this beautiful country.
Whether one calls it History of Heritage Studies, the difference remains the same in giving our country a past that cannot be ignored or taken for granted. The war of liberation is the singular most important part of the history of this country, not so much because of what it brought, namely independence, but more importantly the cost at which that freedom came.
Freedom for Zimbabwe came with a lot of blood and death, disability and directly or indirectly a lot of untold suffering for everyone old and young. Lest fellow Zimbabweans forget! Every Zimbabwean took part in the armed struggle, notwithstanding the truth that some suffered more than others depending on the point from which they were fighting. Some were struggling from the terraces and more peripheral positions of the war and others were operating right in the eye of the earthquake or boiling point of things. That is the unequivocal truth.
When a school decides to put aside the textbooks that chronicle a record of the trials and tribulations of a liberation war and visits places that inform that history, such a school deserves applauding. That is exactly what Herentals Group of Colleges in Mutare did and they deserve special mention and praise.
Speaking to this education reporter and columnist on DiamondFM Radio Head-To-Head with MM programme, the teachers and students who visited the mass graves of the victims of the Chimoio massacre revealed the critical importance of outdoor interactive learning which the new curriculum emphasizes in its new area of learning-Heritage Studies.
Said Nyasha Sithole, a student at Herentals College who visited the Chimoio shrine in Mozambique with friends and school mates recently: “Our history books tell the story of the armed struggle, but not as candidly and emotionally as our visit did. You look at the mass graves and begin to feel and understand.
The war of liberation was real…and here is evidence of some of the cost of struggle you are referring to Mr Mtisi. We were not born to witness the war of liberation, but to see the graves of those who died for us to be born free, is today unbelievably touching.”
Another student, also the deputy head-girl at the college, Precious Tauro, agreed with Nyasha. “At some point I could hardly hold back my tears when the tour-guide said he knew most of the comrades buried here by name, she said. “He had visible scars of the injuries he sustained in the brutal Chimoio bombing he was lucky to survive. I could almost see his injured spirit too as he was explaining what happened on the day.
He told us and showed us Guva Rehasha (The grave of Fury) which he said contains the remains of a group of trained cadres who were bombed before letting one bullet out of the nozzles of their AK 47s. That was not to be. They were raring to join comrades-in-arms in front, armed to the teeth and all overcharged. At once I knew and for the first time understood the armed struggle was not a big joke. It was real and cost lives as you said Mr Mtisi. And here under the mass graves, I thought to myself, ‘We are looking at the remains of our fathers and grandfathers who died to free us. It was not easy to take, especially as we were there … standing at the shrine.”
All the three students including Shadreck Matongo, also president of the Stdents’ Union, and the teachers who accompanied them agreed that the story of the liberation war in their history books suddenly grows a penetratingly sad chapter the moment you come face to face with the mass graves.
Mrs Fadzai Nyamuda, a teacher accompanying the students, said, “We thought we were going to have our students learn but we ended up learning too. And we learnt that the story of the armed struggle is historical but the moment one visits the shrine in Mozambique, the pain of suffering and loss becomes fresh.
While the students’ minds and brains may studiously store the hard facts of the armed struggle, standing before these mass graves and listening to a survivor tell the story of sacrifice and selflessness, the history digs deeper into the heart and emotions as it tells its own story.
The radio programme made after the trip to Mozambique made even MM himself realise that while children will always remain children, students remain students, sometimes too simple and rather naive about a lot of issues, they do have the conscience, the willingness and ability to understand the bigger issues of life given the correct atmosphere to ponder and grow in thought. One such issue is the story of the liberation struggle that cost precious blood and lives to bring freedom and dignity to a people pressured into a corner and left with no option but to take up arms and be their own liberators.
What story can be more relevant to the week we in Zimbabwe remember our fallen heroes? This education reporter feels proud to write this story at the right time to the right people. We all owe it to our fallen heroes to be responsible in our thinking, in our utterances and in our behaviour. As we remember our fallen heroes and heroines history reminds us to be cautious and know our limits of freedom of speech and thought.
We are all lucky to be alive and people did not die, some of them buried without ceremony and dignity, so that we think about no one else but ourselves…so that we take schools and education to be playgrounds where to celebrate moral decay and student prostitution…so that we hate one another and live divided in a nation full of strife and individual struggle for personal aggrandisement and glory.
Thank you Mutare Herentals Group of Colleges Administration Secretary, Ms Tatenda Mtepfa, the Principal Mr Joseph Chivhuro and the director of schools, Dr Innocent Benza for allowing students to breathe the correct air of the armed struggle…bringing history forward to today as education plays a part in moulding thankful, grateful, mindful students, ready to grow into responsible adulthood as they treasure and cherish the history of their country written in the blood of their freedom fighters.
The children of Zimbabwe lucky to be born free need more than ever before to be taught not to abuse the story of the armed struggle, not to misconstrue it and use it to divide our beautiful country. Those of us who are lucky to be here today, alive, must think, “Are those in the mass graves far away from home and every hero and heroine we remember this week happy with what we are thinking doing and saying about that which they died for? Are the reasons for which they chose to die the same with ours as we live today and shape a future for the young?
Well done the director of the Herentals Group of Colleges, Dr Innocent Benza! I remember teaching you at St Augustine’s Mission where another gallant son of the soil and hero of the liberation struggle, Cde Tendai Pfepferere, fell and allowed his precious blood to irrigate the hopes, wishes and aspirations of the students. He died to allow students to live in a situation he could have put up a fierce fight to free himself, but no, he did not! He gave his life to free his country and allow students to continue with their education.
I know it is this story of selfless courage and sacrifice that gives you the depth of understanding that those in schools must correctly come face to face with the story of the struggle that liberated this beautiful country. And what a way to do that with a trip to the mass graves at Chimoio where history every day tells the story of young men and women who died because they hated what was wrong and for this they paid with their lives.
As we commemorate Heroes Holiday, we must remember our responsibility as beneficiaries of an armed struggle that took so much blood and so many lives away? And thank you to a college that knows that the real story of this country is written in books yes, but written deeper and more legibly in the open valleys and bushes of Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries where our heroes and heroines lie in shallow or mass graves…a history that is written in indelible ink-the blood of those who died to free our country. That college is Mutare Herentals College. May more colleges emulate what is good!