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Obituary: Chigwedere lived ahead of his time and a lot of people never understood him

By Bothwell Fundira

I first knew of Aeneas Chigwedere (Chigs as we called him) in early 78. I had just completed my O Level studies at St. Anne’s  Goto Secondary School in Wedza. The liberation war was raging and Wedza was a semi liberated zone.

Aeneas Chigwedere
Aeneas Chigwedere

Yes, we were heavily involved in the war and were in constant touch with the liberation fighters. Pungwes (all night vigils to strategise about the war and raise the combatants’ and collaborators’ morale) were commonplace. Imagine writing final papers straight from these sessions.

Apart from these challenges, our Biology, Geography and History teachers were detained for three months leading to the exams. Our focus was the war of liberation. Exams had to be written as a duty, and furthering my education was not a priority.

My results were collected rather late; who cared… after all I believed I was to do well enough to enroll at a teacher training college. Teachers were heroes that we all looked up to.

The call was made from Hande store, a few kilometres South of Dorowa mine and the confirmation came that I had passed beyond expectations. I recall baba coming home in his Datsun 1500 blowing the horn rather recklessly and shouting Mbumu! Mbumu! He would put one leg in front of the other and pull in bull style and shout mbumu!

After that it was back to normal. All the talk from then on was regarding tilling the fields and rearing pigs which we had to do for a livelihood.

Letters used to come once a week by Mushandira Pamwe Bus service. The driver would hoot and we would rush to the bus stop, close to the Mukamba tree to collect the grey bag. I think it had turned grey because of the dirt. In there was a letter in neat handwriting addressed to me.

The opening remark was,‘I have pleasure in offering you a place in lower 6th ………….’

My father shouted woenda……(you are off)

Baba picked his big purse, which was as usual near empty. This purse was treasured because it had been brought by babamunini Stephen (vaChikafutu) from South Africa when he went to work there.

As an aside, baba had confided in me regarding his earnings which were hardly enough to pay fees for an average of 4 siblings at boarding school. (A story for another day.) Remarkably, he would always give me the following term’s school fees on the night of arrival for the school holidays. That I kept it was the start of discipline.

Hurriedly, I packed the little belongings I had and off I went. I had never been to then Salisbury, the capital city of the country. The furthest I had been was to Rusape, en route to Mutare to sell reared pigs for family sustenance.

I sat there in the bus (Mushandira Pamwe) with anxiety all the way to Mbare musika (bus terminus) in the capital city. There was no need to get out of the bus even for recess. That would take me out of the comfort zone.

We arrived at Mbare musika and the bus stopped and of course I had not seen such a hive of activity. I hardly had enough to get me to Goromonzi. I asked around for buses to Goromonzi. The answer was consistent from 3 people. Mucheche, Charge Office. ‘Is it far’, I fired back. Oh! It is walking distance. I threw the antique trunk on my shoulder and walked to charge office. I had not eaten anything but I do not recall feeling hungry.

Sure enough I got to charge office and saw other students resplendent in maroon blazers, ties, grey trousers and all. I had my rather unimpressive clothes from the home.

This was 2 weeks after other form 5 students had opened and this was a weekend and there were always buses between Salisbury and Goromonzi.

Getting to Goromonzi was very refreshing. I saw a television set and a swimming pool for the first time in my life.

This is when I got to know a Headmaster who had his own way of doing things. He had a Headmaster’s lesson with all the classes, whom he all knew by name and totem. He would bellow: ‘we are all Rozvi’ and would demonstrate how we all came from Guruuswa.

As an aside, I must say in the second week, when Chigs was having his lesson, he heard a noise which annoyed him. He came for me and thoroughly beat me with clenched fists. He stormed out of the class only to appear the following week. Of course, I got all sorts of advice from other students to go and confront him. I was afraid to – I had too much to lose. That’s how that one died….. but I wouldn’t say died because it hit my confidence and shaped my character. I represent two extremes on the character scale… to some, I am very quiet and to others I am the opposite.

Every morning, there was a theme song in the Beit Hall…. “Shamwari neshamwari Dzisinganamate….. dzinokufurira…..” (Do not associate with bad friends.)

Under Chigwedere’s leadership, we used to like going to Church. He would invite young preachers with guitars and other instruments to come and preach. Every week we would have a different denomination.

I remember he would invite the likes of Dr Mazobere who would give a high level sermon. Chigs would stand up after the service and say, ‘Dr. I challenge you, and there is no God. (Sorry to those who feel offended by this statement). Let’s go to the lawn, I challenge you!’ We would spend the whole Sunday afternoon discussing religion and Shona culture. It was inconceivable not to go to Church.

I will cite some life changing moments with Chigs.

Call up papers for military conscription were sent to all schools. Chigs kept them in the safe. Our reaction – he was a sell – out. On a day in 1978, we asked out then Captain to go and call Chigs because we wanted to beat him up. We asked for a meeting at midnight!

Chigs comes to the Beit Hall clad in black suit, black socks and sandals. He never wore shoes. It is said he was served with water from his well, not the tap. We were all holding weapons nhai vedu. Chigs comes and stands in front of us and says: ‘You want your call up papers? I was trying to protect you. Let’s go to the safe and I will give them to you’.

He goes on to say: ‘Strikes are started by the very intelligent but when they get out of hand, it’s the unintelligent that take over’. I remember asking a fellow student; ‘nhai hausi intelligent kai we’. (are you one of the unintelligent?’  One by one, we dropped all the weapons. He said a few words and we let him go.

In 1978, the Minister of Defence in Ian Smith’s government announced that there will be call up. We decided that same evening, we had to march to Salisbury in protest. We used to be supplied with sheets written GHS and between 8pm and midnight, we had torn all of them to make placards.

One of the students wrote : “Tell Call Up to the Birds.” We denounced the regime in every conceivable way. Midnight we set off. Remember, there was a war curfew. At the highway turnoff, we encountered a Swift transport Truck going towards Marandellas. The war cry came, comrades take cover. We dived, me rather naively and somewhat dislocated my pelvis. I felt so much pain. After the truck was gone, another war cry came… “all clear.” We started off again. I could hardly walk but there was no one to tell. We were walking so fast and I walked my pelvis back into position.

For security reasons, we followed the railway line through the farms. I recall we got to some swampy area and a jet plane was spotted. It was so far away, there is no way that it would have spotted us. The war cry and we dived into the swamps.

By the time we got to Msasa (Greater  Harare), we had all been rounded up. We were made to sit murutsva (burnt grass) exactly where Cresta Lodge is today. A few of us were beaten up, especially those who appeared bigger than others. I recall bending double to escape this punishment. My best friend was not so lucky.

BBC came, and started beaming from Msasa. To our relief, we were bundled into the back of army trucks to get us back to Goromonzi. What a relief, we were tired and hungry.

The Rhodesian soldiers dropped us by the Ruwa turnoff as soon as they saw there were no foreign journalists. Takatanga kumhanya (we started running) under force from the army trucks behind us. There was no escape because all farms were well fenced.

We were left by the school entrance. Chigs and his Deputy met us by the boys dining hall. His opening words were : ‘’I can’t un march you to Salisbury. I have asked the government to punish you myself. Go and bath, I have asked that food be prepared for you.”

On the last day of school Forms 5 and 6 were asked to stay behind.

‘’There are sell outs. I am going to pretend to punish you. I want you to go round the school and pick all litter. Make sure the flower beds are in good shape. I am not going to supervise you.”

Chigs would detect that a student smelt of beer and he would retort : I can’t punish you… MaKaranga makakura muchikanyirwa doro kuti mudye” (I know your parents in your region used to give you traditional beer because there was nothing else to eat.) End of story.

Chigs imparted the local culture to no end. He was a great Historian and he would challenge what is written in history books.

He lived ahead of his time and a lot of people never understood him.

You molded us in those formative years, by design or inadvertently.

Rarai zvakanaka Soko. Vanopona nezvokuba. The Universe is very intelligent. We met for a reason.

[Bothwell Fundira is a former student of Goromonzi High School. He worked in The Financial sector for many years. He has written various articles, some of which can be accessed on the internet. He has presented papers in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Malawi, Mauritius, South Africa, Kenya and Namibia.

He is an entrepreneur with interests in Retail and Real Estate. BAcc (UZ); FCMA; MBA (Warwick)].b You can reach him on fbothwellmachinda@gmail.com.