The Herald Harare Christopher Farai Charamba
Displayed with permission from allAfrica.com

The liberation of Zimbabwe from colonial rule came about through a lot of sacrifice. Many men, women and children in varying capacities gave of themselves to achieve independence.This sacrifice came in the form of watching one’s child leave to join the war efforts as well as losing one’s life on foreign soil during the war.

November 23, 1977, is a day on which thousands of Zimbabweans paid the ultimate price sacrificing their lives during the liberation struggle.

It was the day on which the Chimoio military camp, a massive military complex which housed 20 000 people, located in the Mozambican province of Manica, suffered a massive air raid from the Rhodesian Air Force.

Thirty-nine years ago, yesterday, 6 000 men, women and children lost their lives and today are buried in mass grave shrines at the site of the camps.

The Chimoio massacre is a painful memory in the history of this country. Such a calamity illustrates the severity of war and harrowing times that people of this country had to live through to attain their freedom.

One has thus found it perturbing and also ridiculous that local private media would on numerous occasions when police and illegal demonstrators have clashed, state that Harare resembled a war zone.

Do those in these institutions understand what a war zone actually looks like?

One wonders what the thousands of gallant heroes lying in mass graves at Chimoio would think and feel about the trivialisation of war that the private media has taken too recently.

Could one honestly compare the sacrifices of the heroes of Chimoio to the hashtag activists of today? The Patson Dzamaras and Evan Mawarires who seem more focused on milking their ever sympathetic Western sponsors and going on world tours than the actual interests of the nation.

Certainly, comparing Harare to a war zone feeds into the Western narrative of Zimbabwe the repressed State and lines the pockets of those locals who champion it.

Now as social media reports, there are to be awards for these individuals, humanitarian awards of sorts. And these awards, if the rumours are to believed, have also been sponsored. Yet another group cashing in on the Western donors.

The reality is that what happened 39 years ago is incomparable to what is transpiring now. Those who made a sacrifice in Chimoio were selfless unlike the self-serving modern day activists.

Joining the war effort was a conscious decision backed by a solid ideology and belief that Zimbabwe could be liberated. Their motivation was unlike the anti Zanu-PF stance that the Mawarires have taken which land them a one-way ticket to the United States.

The importance of the liberation struggle to Zimbabwe today and some of the sacrifices should not be trivialised or forgotten. What happened at Chimoio should serve as a painful reminder to all as to why it is important to jealously guard our independence, particularly from neo-colonial agents.

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Chimoio was a conglomeration of 14 camps, among them Chaminuka, Chindunduma, Chitepo, Nehanda, Parirenyatwa, Pasi Tigere, Percy Ntini, Takawira, Tamba Wakachenjera and Zvido Zvevanhu.

The attack on November 23, was a major setback for the Zanla forces but did not dampen their spirits as Zanla would later plan a revenge attack in Mutare and continue the armed struggle culminating in the Lancaster House Agreement which brought about Zimbabwe’s independence.

This was a surprise attack as the liberation movement leaders did not believe that the Rhodesian government would violate Mozambique’s sovereignty and ignore international boundaries.

Zanla did not also anticipate that the Rhodesian forces would use their entire air force which was the second largest in sub-Saharan Africa to that of South Africa.

On the day of the attack, 144 Rhodesian Army paratroopers and an additional 40 helicopter-borne troops attacked the camps at 07:45 to exploit the concentration of Zanla forces during their morning parade.

This was followed by the Rhodesian Air Force’s Canberra and Hunter strike aircraft as well as six Vampire jets.

A Douglas DC-8 airliner was flown over the Chimoio camps 10 minutes before the airstrike as part of a deception plan in which the insurgents were dispersed in a false air raid alert, so that when the aircraft participating in the actual airstrike approached, they did not cause alarm.

When the first Rhodesian Air Force jets arrived, the assembled Zanla forces, as planned, did not take cover as they assumed it was the DC-8 that was returning.

According to PJH Petter-Bowyer, a former Rhodesian combat pilot, in their first pass, four Canberra bombers, dropped 1 200 Rhodesian-designed anti-personnel cluster bombs over an area 1,1 kilometres long and half a kilometre wide.

While the air strikes took place, the paratroopers swept the ground killing fleeing Zanla forces.

Cde Future Pariano, a war veteran who was at Chimoio in 1977, explained that they were not prepared for the raid.

« When the raid took place a plane flew over our heads during parade and we thought it was just a surveillance plane that we were used to.

« Moments later the bombing started. We were caught off-guard and suffered many casualties. The camps were not prepared for such an attack, » she said

The massacre at Chimoio was shattering and resulted in the deaths of thousands, not only military personnel but women and children as well.

Chindunduma, for example, was a school camp for the children of the operatives at Chimoio.

Due to the nature and extent of the killings, people might describe it as genocide as the Rhodesian forces knowingly and intentionally killed not only liberation troops but civilians at the camps, too.

The Rhodesians also violated international borders in what can safely be deemed an act of war against Mozambique. The Chimoio massacre was a blatant attack not only on the Zanla forces but also on African life.

It illustrated that the Rhodesian forces cared little for the lives of Africans and were willing to sacrifice as many people as possible, both Zimbabwean and Mozambican, as collateral damage.

The backlash on the Rhodesian government following the massacre in Chimoio was non-existent. Although sanctions had been imposed by the international community on Rhodesia in 1965, this was as a reaction to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence not in solidarity with the liberation movement.

Unfortunately, since the massacres in Chimoio, not much has changed in terms of the international community’s reaction to atrocities committed on the African continent. In numerous incidents the world has stood by and watched the vicious violation and murder of African people.

Despite international condemnation and sanctions on the surface, South Africa was ruled by an apartheid government until 1994 which still managed to find trade partners.

In April 1994, the UN pulled out of Rwanda in the sdle of a genocide which saw 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus slaughtered over a period of 100 days.

More recently in the Central African Republic, French soldiers and UN peacekeeping troops have been accused of raping children while on peacekeeping missions.

Even across the oceans in the so-called land of the free, black lives are easily expendable as evident from the numerous reports of white police officers shooting and killing black people on the street and in police custody.

What happened at Chimoio certainly shows the brutality of the Rhodesian regime and the its disregard for Zimbabwean life. It also shows why the liberation struggle was necessary as the life of the African was considered inconsequential to the colonial regime.