By Elliot Ziwira
The helicopter’s deafening roar reverberates in the vicinity; the ground and nearby trees tremble in spite of their known resilience as the huge bird glides to the tarmac on the southern end of the Parade Square at Manyame Air Base. Leaving a tower of dust swirling at the edge of the square and beyond from its powerful engine and rotor combination, the Allo 111 safely lands.
As the copter’s engine dies, a boot comes down, followed by the pilot’s body clad in the Air Force of Zimbabwe colours. His name is Squadron Leader Takunda Matsa.
To the northern end, a similar bird perches, having been navigated down by the same airman.
It is 10.55 am.
Momentarily taken aback, those close-by, are convinced that indeed, the skies have a way of speaking, and Man has a way of responding as he soars on the wing of hope.
However, the stillness that follows is nerve-wracking, for everyone is aware of the melancholic nature of the occasion, as the huge bird, with all its power, is today symbolic of death. Also, the pilot (Squadron Leader Takunda Matsa), with all his skill, aura of determination, patriotism and intelligence, epitomizes a life well-lived, yet sadly lost under similar circumstances three times over.
Instances later, three hearses arrive bearing the charred bodies of two AFZ pilots; Wing Commander Thomas Tinashe Manyowa and Flight Lieutenant Anita Mapiye and aircraft technician, Flight Sergeant Tinodiwanashe Chikamhi, who perished when their Agusta Bell 412 helicopter crashed in the Chinyika area of Goromonzi, Mashonaland East Province on Friday last week.
There should be a word to describe the funereal atmosphere that overwhelms the Parade Square and its environs when the caskets draped in national colours, bearing the late security personnel are pushed on trolleys by pallbearers, their fellow soldiers and countrymen.
Accompanied by their chaplains, cortege and the 24-member carrying party, the pallbearers take the march of honour, as per tradition, to join the main party and the firing party on the square as the Air Force Brass Band plays the songs “Baba Ndiri Mwana Wenyu”, “Apo Mambo ouya” and “Gloria” in succession.
Sombre, is just not enough. It falls short in capturing that combination of loss, and the circumstances that brought it as the bodies are accompanied to the Parade Square the deceased frequented in their careers as soldiers, according to their ranks, in life as in death.
Wing Commander Manyowa leads the way in this final journey of the life of one dedicated to the defence of nationhood, with Flight Lieutenant Mapiye coming in second, followed by aircraft technician, Flight Sergeant Tinodiwanashe.
Sadly, the late Flight Lieutenant Mapiye’s 8-month old daughter is part of the procession as she follows along in the hands of a female relative, oblivious of the unfolding story of pain, grief and death.
But death, cruel death couldn’t have won.
Yes, as John Donne (1572-1631) would have it in his timeless poem “Death Be Not Proud”.
He tells death:
“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
. . . One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
True, death is powerless because dying is simply an extension of a life well-lived where humanity rests and those left behind reflects and celebrates the achievement of the departed. In the end, as Donne argues, death shall also be ‘killed’ through determination, resilience and unity of purpose in spite of it.
Anita lived her dream, as she had always wanted to be a pilot, her father, Mr Elias Mapiye, a retired police inspector with 26 years of service under his belt, opens up to The Herald.
Inspired by her brother, Anita, born fourth in a family of five children, was inspired by her father and mother, Mrs Eunice Mapiye and brother to join the Air Force of Zimbabwe and serve her nation in her own small way.
She was good at scoring firsts, testified by the resume she leaves behind, her father maintains.
Mr Mapiye expresses gratitude to the President and the AFZ for giving his daughter a chance to prove herself in the skies of Zimbabwe in defence of her country.
“She was a go-getter. Anything she set her eyes on, she would get. She would never take no for an answer. She was someone who was not intimidated by her gender”, says Retired Flight Lieutenant Tinashe Timothy Majaha, who has known the late Flight Lieutenant Mapiye since 2009 when she joined the AFZ as a trainee pilot.
She would later join him as his junior to train on helicopters when he moved from Gweru to Harare, where she became the first female to fly a combat helicopter.
“I am happy she was now flying the VVIP. It’s not everyone who gets to fly the VVIP. One has to be dedicated and have a sense of duty,” Retired Flight Lieutenant Majaha says.
Mrs Rose Chiguma, Anita’s aunt (mother’s sister) says although they were in pain due to the nature of her death, particularly when she leaves behind an 8-month-old toddler, she believes their daughter, who she describes as focused and obedient to death, partly achieved what she aimed for.
On the late Wing Commander Manyowa, Wing Commander Rufaro Muringe, who closely worked with him says:
“Tinashe was a very intelligent guy, academically. He was gifted in a lot of ways. Besides being the youngest on the course, we do acknowledge the knowledge he shared with us; aviation-wise and other matters.
“We did a Master’s in Business Administration together, and he was awarded the book prize in 2015.”
On the flying side his achievements speak for themselves.
Flight Sergeant Chikamhi, was a “quiet and nice young man”, who was his junior at number 8 Squadron. The Herald