Cletus Mushanawani News Editor
Throughout history, music has been used to help soldiers cope with the traumas of war.Just like the first United States of America President, George Washington, who used music to keep his troops in check, the late Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla) Commander, General Josiah Magama Tongogara did the same. Music would soothe the souls of Zimbabwean liberation fighters after brutal attacks.
The 1977 bombing of the Adriano Farm in Mozambique, now popularly known as Chimoio Camp, by the brutal Ian Douglas Smith’s Rhodesian forces saw thousands of freedom fighters, especially youths and women, perishing in the attack.
While the exact figure of causalities is still unknown, it is believed that more than 2 000 succumbed to the Rhodesian bullets. Most of the victims were unarmed cadres.
These fallen heroes and heroines selflessly made the supreme sacrifice on November 23, 1977, which culminated in the attainment of Zimbabwe’s independence on 18 April 1980.
“When we survived the attack, we assembled at Gondola but were tasked to go back to Chimoio to look for survivors and rescue them,” began one of the senior instructors at Chimoio, Comrade Vladimir Nyikahairowi Mutungadzimwe Mukada, who still has vivid memories of the ordeal.
Survivors had to absorb further trauma as they had to bury the dead in shallow and mass graves, with some bodies at advanced stages of decomposition. The task just had to be done.
As fatigue crept in, revolutionary songs became the tonic the cadres desperately needed to execute the daunting task.
Cde Nyika told The Manica Post that the Rhodesian forces ruthlessly massacred people at Chimoio using every trick in the book to ensure that they wiped out as many freedom fighters at the camp as possible.
Having surviving the enemy’s bullets, Cde Nyika also survived food poisoning.
“As our group of about 15 people went back to Chimoio, we were led by Cde Tshaka. I remained behind a bit. My colleagues picked up some biscuits at some building and ate them. Little did they know that the biscuits were laced with poison. Within minutes, they were frothing on the mouth and they all died as I watched.
“Have proceeded to the camp, some male cadres’ bodies were tied upside down on trees. One of the bodies had a note inscribed, ‘Bishop is saying come back home, otherwise you will die like this.’
“At one of the trees dangled the body of a female combatant.”
“It took us a week to bury most of those who had died during the Chimoio attack. At first we were burying them in shallow graves but Frelimo had to chip in with graders and dig mass graves.
“The stench of decomposing bodies was just unbearable. Skin was peeling off from the bodies and exposing flesh. This badly affected us and we could not eat anything.
“Liberation war songs kept us going and we would find more strength to comb the whole camp looking for more bodies,” he said.
Cde Nyika also recounted how the late General Tongogara’s song, ‘Tinofa tichienda kuZimbabwe’, saved a female fighter who had been trapped in a pit latrine for days after jumping in it to escape the enemy.
“General Tongogara visited the Chimoio Camp after the bombing to assess the situation. Our spirits were at the lowest ebb but he led us in song. Little did we know that the song would save Cde Annie Mujeni.
“As we were singing, we suddenly heard a female voice coming from a pit latrine calling out for help. Attention was shifted to the latrine and when Cde Mujeni was retrieved, her body was covered with maggots. It was a sorry sight. She said she had recognised Gen Tongo’s voice and knew that it was now safe to call out for help. That is how powerful music was during the liberation struggle.”
He added: “Music gave us the morale and psychological fitness to execute the war. It was the fuel that fired the liberation struggle’s engine. Even after going for days without food, we would still sing and dance, thereby forgetting about our miseries.”
Cde Nyika described the late Gen Tongogara as an able leader who commanded a lot of respect
“Gen Tongogara had the personalities and characteristics of an able and good commander. He was very strict, something that is needed in any army.”
Reminiscing on how his journey started, Cde Nyika said the constant detention of his father saw him abandoning his Form Four studies at the Roman Catholics’ St Benedict’s Secondary School to take up arms and liberate the country.
In addition, the death sentence imposed on a relative, Munyaradzi Machacha, broke the camel’s back.
“At school, I connived with Edwin Musakwa, who had also been put on the death roll by the Rhodesians for his political activism. We had witnessed the brutal hand of the Rhodesians and could not stand it anymore.
“On October 4, 1976, we left for Mozambique. It took us four days to reach Catandica in Mozambique. We went to Mapinduzi Military Base, now popularly known as Chimoio, where we received our military training under the commandership of Vice-President Constantino Guvheya Chiwenga, whose nom de guerre was Dominic Chinenge. He was deputised by Augustine Chihuri (Cde Stephen Chocha). I later did instructor courses and was tasked with the training of new recruits,” he said.
Cde Nyika said he was part of the team that executed the revenge attack at Grand Reef Military Base just outside Mutare, where the Rhodesian forces suffered heavy human and equipment losses, something that pushed them towards the Lancaster House Settlement.