Monday, July 31, 2017

When Nyadzonia River Flowed Blood
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail
JULY 30, 2017

Her demure conceals the suffering she has endured for years. As she sits on bare ground, the scars on her arms stand out.

After a little probing, she also talks of the scars on her face. She speaks of her many years without hair. It is only in the past decade or so that she regained the pleasure of braiding hair, just like other women.

As she stares at the ground, lost in thought, one senses something troubling her soul. Years have passed — four decades.

The only reason why she is not shedding a tear is that — as they say — time heals.

She raises her head and relates her story.

Almost 80 years old, Mbuya Everina Raice Nhabuia has not known peace for much of her life time.

“Nothing compares to the Nyadzonia Massacre. I have never seen anything like that all my life,” she says, opening up on the wounds that have been troubling her soul since that 1976 morning.

“I have seen war all my life. First, Frelimo fighting the Portuguese, then Mugabe’s army fighting Smith, and when we thought everything was settled, then came Frelimo versus Renamo.

“This last one has been with us for a long time and we are now tired of the conflict.

“No one seems to be winning, so it is best they sit down and agree.”

But it is the Nyadzonia Massacre that always has her stomach in knots.

“It was an ordinary day, just like any other and everyone was doing their usual chores. No one imagined that the day would end like that for us; that we would lose many souls, innocent souls.

“Some were gardening; others doing laundry, bathing or preparing breakfast. Suddenly, the whistle blew. It was routine for everyone to gather at the assembly point once the whistle was blown.”

Married to a Frelimo soldier assigned to help Zanla forces in Mozambique, Mbuya Nhabuia often skipped assembly as the gatherings were mainly to update Zimbabwean refugees.

At times, the assemblies prepared cadres for training.

So, on this particular morning, Mbuya Nhabuia found no inclination to join others at the assembly point.

In any case, she reasoned that she was just a soldier’s wife living in harmony with her friends from Zimbabwe.

She continued with her chores, chatting to her “sisters from across the mountains”, Cdes Gloria and Veronica, who had also decided to skip assembly.

That decision was a Godsend.

“After the comrades had assembled and chanted slogans, we were shocked to hear gunshots break the silence. What followed turned out to be one of the worst atrocities I have ever seen. Wailing and screaming accompanied gunshots. Confusion reigned.

“We don’t know why, but ‘my sisters’ and I decided to remain in our hut. There was a fourth person, a man whose name I have forgotten.

“We knew we were under attack. What didn’t make sense, though, was that the whistle had been blown just like on the other days. We just kept quiet, hoping; just hoping.”

With the help of the sun, Mbuya Nhabuia points skywards, indicating that the attack could have started between 7am and 8am, lasting for three to four hours.

“People scampered in many directions. Some wanted to cross the river. Others were caught in the garden. Then there was Cde Masiye, who had spent the previous night imbibing beer across the river.

“When he heard the gunshots, he came to see what was happening. Fortunately, he had his gun. We heard him fighting from across the river. He was, nevertheless, overpowered and killed.”

Mr John Bhera was 13 years old when the massacre occurred.

His family lived a few miles from the base. Though not an eye-witness, he recollects the aftermath.

“When we arrived at the base, we helped bury the dead. The sight was ghastly. The place reeked of death and that scent stayed with us for weeks. That was a brutal way for one to die.

“One comrade had been stabbed in the stomach and was holding his intestines in his hands. Everyone tried to help him by tying his stomach with pieces of cloth. Eventually, we lost him.”

With Pungwe Bridge blown away and telephone lines down, help was at Catandica, which, predictably, was overwhelmed.

By the time help arrived from Chimoio, all those who could have survived had died.

Mbuya Nhabuia says, “We spent three days burying people. The bodies of those who had died in the river were washed away. We don’t even know where their bodies ended up. Nyadzonia River was flowing blood.

“The ground at the base was thick with blood. The smell of blood engulfed the place. Death lingered. I have never seen anything like it.”

So, how did she survive?

“After the Rhodesians had killed everyone in sight, they moved around burning huts. As our hut was lit, we remained inside. We could hear gunshots just outside. But the roof caved in, so we bolted out and made good our escape. The Rhodesian soldier who was standing near our hut stabbed one of the comrades in the buttocks and the other in the breast. It appears he had run out of bullets.

“I was the last to get out; that’s how I lost my hair. It only started re-growing recently. That is also how my arms were burnt. Anyway, I ran to the river and hid behind a bush.

“And from where I was hiding, I could see trucks running over comrades. Remember, comrades had been taught to take cover; that is to lie on the ground during an attack. The Rhodesians knew this and reasoned that some people could be feigning death. That’s why they drove over the bodies, dead or alive.”

Then as the sun hit midday, the attack subsided.

But Mbuya Nhabuia kept hiding.

“I wasn’t sure if they had gone or not. So, I kept hiding. At sunset, the base was quiet. I crawled out. The sight was horrific.”

Nyadzonia was a refugee camp that doubled as a military base for Zanla forces.

Morrison Nyathi, one of the high-ranking leaders at the camp, turned sell-out and brought Ian Smith’s army to slaughter everyone at the camp.

According to Mr Bhera, Nyathi had lied to other base commanders that he was bringing leaders of the Zanla High Command to announce the end of war, and as such, the base was to be ready for inspection.

And readying included cleaning the cadres’ guns. Nyathi suddenly showed up with Smith’s goons.

Mbuya Nhabuia wished for more out of life. That was not to be, though

After surviving the Nyadzonia Massacre, the Renamo insurgence, an on-and-off affair for the past four decades, has kept her wary of war.

That unfortunate streak with war has somewhat rubbed onto her love life.

The apple of her eye, the Frelimo soldier she risked life and limb for during the massacre, left her for another woman.

Could he have run away from her Nyadzonia scars?

“Men! I don’t know what he saw in that little woman that I don’t have. But I am happy that I am alive to tell you today about what I saw at Nyadzonia.

“Whether he decides to leave Beira and come back home to be with his family, I don’t care. In any case, at this age, what do I need a man for? Let me live my last days in peace.”

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