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849 reasons why Rhodesia was so evil

By Tichaona Zindoga

From February to June 2011, Zimbabweans from all walks of life were shocked as villagers, war veterans and Government agencies embarked on the process of exhuming bodies of dead people from a disused mine shaft at Chibondo, Mt Darwin, in Mashonaland Central Province.

Chibondo was a farm in Rhodesia, 32km west of Mt Darwin where the Smith regime chose to secretly bury captured freedom fighters and civilians
Chibondo was a farm in Rhodesia, 32km west of Mt Darwin where the Smith regime chose to secretly bury captured freedom fighters and civilians

The process had been spurred by the discovery of bodies in a disused mine by illegal gold miners who had been following a gold belt that led to a mine abandoned by German miners at the height of the liberation war in the late 1970s.

It is said that as the miners hit a particular shaft, they started noticing human remains like bones, hair and clothes, among others, in their ore whereupon they informed authorities in the area who went to investigate only to be confronted by the grisly find.

It pointed to one thing – a genocide that the Rhodesian forces of the settler Ian Smith regime perpetrated during the darkness of war, for which no one has been held accountable.

Godhi Bvocho, an archaeologist and the Principal Curator of Monuments at the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe who was in the process of exhuming and carrying out forensic analyses of all the 849 bodies, retells the story of the ghastly sight at Chibondo as a marker of a historic war crime.

Genocide

Bvocho, who worked here for 65 days and recalls in chilling detail what he saw amid carrion and decaying bodies and the stench of death, says that when he made his way to Chibondo, he couldn’t imagine the magnitude and historical extent of the massacre.

Once he got the sad reality in, it was a genocide given the fact that the process of exhumation was halted prematurely through a court order while there are still three more shafts that have not been touched and could contain even more bodies.

“When you get into contact with such brutality, your understanding of the extent of what Rhodesians could do becomes more real than ever imagined. The killing by the Rhodesians was indiscriminate,” said Bvocho.

There were soldiers, with their distinctive Chinese-inspired regalia.

There were women with babies strapped on their backs, the elderly, the unarmed and one boy was found with catapult around his neck, all civilians caught in the massacre.

All the victims had their bodies, chests and heads riddled with bullets, some of which were shot at close range.

Bvocho explains that there was a systematic attempt to conceal the crime as the Rhodesians threw their victims into the mine shafts. According to the findings by the archaeologist and his team, the victims were bundled at three stages in the 100-metre deep shaft. Each depth was marked by collapsed walls. The discovery of hundreds of hand grenades, some undetonated, suggested to researchers that they may have been thrown in to deliberately collapse the walls to form mass graves.

According to the findings, at the 0-50m level the conditions were dry and the exhumers discovered dry and fragmented bones while the clothing was tattered.

At the 50-70m level, which was humid, there were a lot of combatants with full kits, Chinese “rice socks”, vests, and hats and the bodies were intact.

At this level were discovered lumps of celtic acid which the Rhodesian forces may have poured to corrode the bodies.

However, notes Bvocho, instead of corroding the bodies, the acid actually may have preserved the same due to factors such as temperature and humidity.

The next level was wet, being on the water table.

“This level was too wet and acidic. The bodies had fresh blood clots and when we put them outside, they immediately began to decompose and oozed seemingly fresh blood,” he said.

Could these have been victims of a later era?

No, avers the archaeologist, and he gives a body of evidence.

“We found cigarette packs of brands such as Envoy that was last manufactured in 1978; newspaper cuttings of The Rhodesia Herald and Sunday Mail — one was dated July 31 1972. We also found one and two Rhodesian dollar notes on some people while in one we found a payslip and employment card of someone who was a messenger and we used this to trace his family and they told a story of how he had been sold out,” he explained.

The Battle of Karima

Close to 60 kilometres off, in Mt Darwin North, is a small village called Karima, whose ghastly connection to Chibondo has just been established.

On June 12, 1975 this village was the scene of a massacre.

People were gathered at the homestead of the village head Sabhuku Karima for a pungwe when suddenly Rhodesian forces pounced on them and killed 21 people.

A further two were shot dead the morning after as a way of mercy killing because they had been very seriously injured.

They had acted on a tip-off allegedly from one Langton Chokupokani who worked as a messenger at the District Administrator’s office and had informed his superiors of the meeting.

Wisdom Karima (60), his wife Clavis (59) and son Boazi are survivors of that night of horror.

Clavis had just given birth to Boazi 12 days earlier and was in one of the huts at the homestead nursing the baby when the Rhodesian forces, led by some black soldiers, came and opened fire.

“We suddenly heard the sound of gunfire and people screaming outside. There were also bullets hitting the walls of the hut. A relative who was with me and holding the baby suddenly threw the baby down and made for the door. I picked up my son and left the hut: I do not know how I did not get hit but I eventually found myself at a stream outside the homestead,” she said.

Having heard the sound of gunfire die down, the woman went to another homestead where the beds were already made and whose residents had been at the pungwe as well.

The family never came back.

It is the family of Queen Chibanda, his wife Tarupa Dembedzeko and their sons, Boarding, Noise and Boniface.

Boarding is the unfortunate boy with a catapult around his neck who was discovered at the Chibondo mine shaft.

The other five were also identified.

The discovery at Chibondo solved one mystery.

“The District Administrator Jim Latham came the following morning and instructed that the injured be ferried to Karanda Hospital. However, Nyamayaro Muzota, who was alive but had intestines hanging out, and Queen Chibanda, who had both legs shot as well as serious injuries, were shot. Mboyi Muzota died on admission at Karanda Hospital,” explained the elder Karima, who is now village head.

“The dead bodies were loaded onto Land Rover trucks and we didn’t know where they had been buried or whether they had been incinerated until recently when the issue of Chibondo came about. We identified the boy with catapults as Boarding,” he said.

Closure 

Today, the Chibondo shrine is less eerie as the exhumation, rituals and subsequent burial of the 849 victims have given peace to this land.

The shrine is earmarked to become a national monument and plans are that it should be transformed into a modern facility with lawns, a borehole, concrete graves and markers.

The planned memorial, which will also host a museum, is set to replicate, if not better, similar facilities at Chimoio in Mozambique and Freedom Camp (Zambia), where similar war crimes were committed by Rhodesian forces.

Bvocho estimates the cost to be around $250 000 and calls on authorities to avail funds so that the memory of this genocide can be preserved.

An exhibition featuring the story of Chibondo is being commissioned at the National Heroes Acre in Harare this year.

Meanwhile, in the hearts of the villagers around Mt Darwin some of whose relatives were killed and dumped here, the message is very clear. They do not want a return to brutal and genocidal Rhodesia, which some people seem to have forgotten.

And Chibondo gives us 849 reasons why Rhodesia was so evil.

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