Zimbabwe: The 'Butcher' - Where Freedom Fighters Perished
22 October 2009
Harare — POSSESSED spirit mediums cry in agony as they climb a hill at Rusape Heroes Acre on a hot Thursday morning.
Former liberation war fighters and members of the Fallen Heroes Exhumers (FHE) form a beeline and sing revolutionary songs while following at a distance.
The spirit mediums suddenly stop to indicate that the journey has ended and chief exhumer Cde Jimmy Motsi, a veteran of the liberation struggle kneels to remove rocks on the identified spot.
He unearths the skull of liberation struggle fighter Cde Simbi Mubako Chiripai of Rushinga under Chief Magaranhewe who was captured from Mandeya 2 detachment by Rhodesian forces in 1978.
Cde Motsi raises the skull for everyone to see and the spirit mediums who had calmed down fall into another trance.
One-by-one, they fall onto the rocky ground in a similar fashion while others take long deep breaths.
Calm returns when songs that include "Kune nzira dzemasango dzokuzvibata nadzo" are repeatedly hummed.
"In 1978, Rhodesian forces butchered this boy for trying to liberate Zimbabwe. He is among many other freedom fighters who were mercilessly killed at this place. It was known as the 'Butcher' because of the gory murders that took place here.
"Many sons and daughters of Zimbabwe died inhumanely at this place, which is now Rusape Heroes Acre," said Cde Motsi who was known as Kerurai Mabhunu during the liberation struggle.
He said he is a prophet and started prophesying in 1968 while in the United Apostolic Faith Church.
He then narrated the events leading to the death of Cde Simbi.
He said upon being captured, Cde Simbi was immediately taken to F1 Firing Batallion in Rusape where he appeared before a Court Martial, but was "forgiven his crime".
The FI Firing battalion housed the Court Martial and was known as the "Butcher" not because meat was sold there, but because Rhodesian forces mercilessly killed freedom fighters at that spot.
Selous Scouts told Cde Simbi to run as fast as he could to avoid being caught and sentenced to death, but little did he know that he was being tricked.
As soon as he started running away, Rhodesian forces hiding behind large rocks shot him and he staggered into a bushy area.
With his flesh, perforated by gunshots, an exhausted Cde Simbi sat between some rocks and bled to death.
Said Cde Motsi: "When people talk of national healing, I don't know who should first be healed. Should we not first heal the father and mother of this fighter who has been lying in the wilderness for 34 years.
"His parents have been looking for him for all these years and they did not get anything since they gave us their son?"
Cde Motsi is again interrupted by weeping spirit mediums who continue falling to the ground.
"They (fallen heroes) come out crying like this everytime we exhume remains of their fellow freedom fighters. They want national healing, which should start with them. It's now 28 years after independence but their bones are still scattered everywhere. Even the children we buried in Chimoio are crying to come home.
"All the political violence last year was not Zanu-PF or MDC's fault. It was caused by the children lying here," he said.
Cde Motsi said they would leave the skull where they found it and only remove it once they get resources.
Cde Simbi's legs were found and identified three kilometres away from the skull.
Cde Motsi said his organisation carries out research whenever spirit mediums lead them to some remains.
"The spirit mediums get possessed by the spirit of the dead ex-combatants who reveal where they came from, when they went for military training, in which areas they operated, how and when they were killed and where their remains lie.
"We look for people who operated in the mentioned area during the war and ask them if they were with such a person. We then look for the person's family and tell them the news," he said.
He said no DNA tests are conducted, as there are no resources.
After exhuming the skull, the search party headed for a large trench where Mbuya Regina Dota (70) whose son disappeared during the liberation struggle narrated the gory incidents she witnessed at the "Butcher" while looking for him.
"This trench is sacred as bodies of liberation struggle fighters were dumped here and covered in acid. I saw this with my own eyes while I was going to the hospital one day and walked past a tent near Evergreen.
"I saw hundreds of dead bodies piled while some were being put in a van and transported to this trench. Some of the dead bodies still had wristwatches and some had black and red cloths tied on them. It was a traumatising experience," said the old woman.
The former "Butcher" is now Rusape Heroes Acre and mass graves believed to be holding bodies of thousands of combatants killed during the war have been unearthed.
The Mount Darwin-based FHE has been leading efforts to exhume and rebury the remains of freedom fighters nationwide.
FHE comprises war veterans, businessmen and community leaders who work in conjunction with villagers, spirit mediums and prophets to identify the sites.
Leaders of the organisation say they lack resources and logistical support to carry out their work efficiently.
"All people in these graves need to be buried in their respective villages and hometowns but this will not be possible without the necessary logistical support. We need transport, protective and ceremonial regalia to exhume the bodies, coffins, stationary and tools to record the process," said one of the leaders.
They conducted the first exhumation in 1980 of Kunzwana Chifamba, whose Chimurenga name was Tafirenyika Chimurenga, at Chesa in Rushinga Mount Darwin who was reburied in his home area in Musikavanhu, Chipinge.
At present they have identified over 500 individual graves all over Zimbabwe and over 15 mass graves.
They believe a mass grave at Chibondo near Mt Darwin might have over 300 remains.
Chibondo is a mineshaft and most of the people who were thrown there -- both freedom fighters and civilians -- are in a standing position.
The harrowing stories of freedom fighters being tortured and left to die a violent and painful death were just too ghastly to listen to.
- Beaver Shaw
- Nairobi, Kenya
- I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011
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