Child Soldiers

Eunice Chadoka-King has published a memoir of her horrific experiences as a female war veteran during the liberation struggle. She returned home in 1980 and whilst campaigning in the elections for the ZANU-PF, she met her husband, Godfrey, and the pair fell instantly in love. Telling him about her ordeal and the origins of her son, Gift, the pair formed a deep bond and he soon became part of her loving family.

eunice-chadoka-kingAfter Robert Mugabe assumed the presidency, she initially took a role in his government, only to soon lose her job due to allegations of misconduct as official corruption took root, just as it had in the camps. Eunice witnessed the War Veterans’ Compensation Fund being plundered as elite officers lined their pockets, while the soldiers who liberated Zimbabwe continued to live in poverty.

But it was only later, when she attended a women’s rally as a journalist and saw Teurai Ropa and Rex Nhongo giving speeches and heard a woman nearby relate traumatic experiences similar to her own at their hands that Eunice realised she must have the courage to tell her story. When her revelations about them hit the front page, she was forced to the leave the country to study in Germany to survive the backlash.

With personal insight into the Mugabe regime and the mysterious deaths of Josiah Tongogara and Rex Nhongo and the suffering of the soldiers of liberation, Chadoka-King’s book is an important contribution to the history of this complex country, as well as a moving personal account of one woman’s incredible perseverance and strength.

The Zimbabwean is publishing excerpt 3 of this remarkable story of resilience and triumph over adversity.

Child Soldiers

From 1972 to 1973, I studied for my junior certificate at Kriste Mambo College, a Roman Catholic school in Rusape. At Kriste Mambo, the missionaries had indoctrinated me to be extremely religious. The missionaries at Nyakatsapa and my whole clan taught me to pray and I prayed constantly. As a member of the Methodist youth fellowship, we undertook outreaches and went to conventions where we prayed in designated campgrounds in the forest. We used bush toilets and fetched water from the river for cooking, drinking and bathing. There were virtually no houses, only temporary shelters made of grass poles. God allowed me to experience this sort of life so it would leave a permanent impression on my young life.

In 1974, after two years at Kriste Mambo, my Father transferred me to Mutambara High School to join my sister Stella, who had been given a temporary teaching place there after completing her A-levels. However, shortly after I moved to Mutambara, Stella transferred to Hartzell Secondary School, so she could be near her boyfriend, Phillip Masumba, a teacher at Chitora. I felt abandoned when Stella left. I knew nobody at this new school. My transfer was so she had a companion. I kept on tormenting myself – Stella was an understanding sister and a dear friend, so how could she now just leave me? Jaaya would have surely stayed with me, I thought. I recalled that, two days before sending me off to Mutambara, Father had taken all of us out to the zoo, where we had a great day. After the trip, he had given me a pair of black winter boots and a Seiko watch, which he said was going to come in handy one day since we were going towards the rainy season and exams.

I missed home, especially my mother’s cooking. Luckily, I had made some good friends at my new school, such as Rudo Mashiri, Barbara Majengwa, Emma Chikuturudze and Sekai Gananzara, who I spent most of my time with when we were not in class. I was also one of fifteen prefects at Mutambara and, with that, came with a lot of responsibility. It was nice to boss people around, but generally I tried to be good and not abuse my power.

It was March 1975 and I was in Form Four at Mutambara. That morning felt like no other morning. For the first time, I woke up before the alarm went off. I went to class as usual as I was due to sit my O-levels in six months time and I was really feeling the pressure. If you failed Form Four, you were doomed. You would end up being a cattle herder or a nanny in a white missionary’s house, if you were lucky. So, back then, I no longer left homework until the last minute. Once I got an assignment, I would do it at once, staying up late into the night if I had to. If I could get five distinctions, my future would be secured.

Once classes were finished, we had to get ready for dinner. Prefects had to be there first to maintain order – Form One would eat first, followed by Forms Two and Three. Form Four students and the prefects, ate last. In the second term, both boys and girls would eat together. The matrons had decided to teach the boys how to hold their knives and forks properly. Over the last few weeks, many boys had decided to skip dinner altogether to avoid embarrassment. That day though, it was a mixed dinner and students dressed to impress. I was wearing a pair of blue jeans given to me by my sister Stella, and I had on the black winter boots and Seiko watch my father had given me. I never took off my Seiko wristwatch. Seiko means, ‘Why,’ or ‘Ngeyi’ in our language, and the other students nicknamed me, ‘Why’. Each time I raised my hand in class, which I often did to ask questions, the other students would laugh and chant, ‘Why, why, why.’ and others would laugh and say, ‘Ngeyi, ngeyi, ngeyi’. It was all good-natured teasing and I loved it.

I had taken my coat with me as it was getting chilly. I brought my Bible too because I was planning to read it in the library until 8pm, when I could sneak into Mutambara Hospital to visit my friend, Sekai, who was having a hernia operation. Student visiting hours were between 1–2pm, but I decided to sneak in after-hours just to have a last visit with Sekai before I retired to bed. Who knew, I might be lucky enough to find Sekai had been discharged an hour early and I could bring her back with me. Sekai was my roommate and the closest of all my friends. I really missed her – she had not been with me for the past week and her bed had been vacant all that time. I felt scared that something could go wrong with Sekai’s operation. I prayed to God that she would get well soon and be discharged.

Forms One, Two and Three started streaming into the dining hall. The hungry pupils clamoured for food and the cooks told them to calm down and that the food was coming. When the food came, everyone had their fair share and oranges could be seen flying through the air as the happy and excited pupils ate and chattered amongst themselves. I sighed. I liked being a prefect, but it was always such a long time to wait for everyone to finish eating. I really needed to get back to my exam preparations.

It was 7pm – time for Form Four pupils to have their dinner. As they streamed in, I could see that had all made the effort to dress up. Many Form Four boys were wearing suits and polished shoes for the first time. There was food aplenty and, in addition to oranges, the Fourth Formers were also given custard pudding and cake. They really wanted to spoil us now that we were graduating from Mutambara. Robert, the head boy, was sitting next to me, joking and laughing. I wished Sekai, his secret admirer, was around.

Moments later, the doors of the dining hall swung open and the armed men came in.

That night, two hundred of us were marched out of the dining hall into an unknown fate.

By daybreak the following day, we had arrived at another homestead. We found the people there spoke a different language from ours. Before we could ask, we heard the radio announce: ‘This is Radio Mozambique and I am in Lorenzo Marks.’

We later found out that we had passed the Cashel Valley and crossed the Rutanda border straight into Mozambique. It was clear now what had happened. We had been kidnapped to join the liberation struggle. No more school, no more exams – we were under military command now.

The Journey to Mozambique

My head snapped up. Had I dozed off? Day had merged into night and I could no longer care what day it was, let alone what time. The night sky had ruptured into magnificent twinkling stars. Nobody knew where we were. Nobody was talking. The journey seemed never-ending. It was now the survival of the fittest. If you fell behind, you would be eaten by wild animals as we heard roaring in the middle of the forest. We climbed mountain after mountain without end. We arrived at a raging river and were told to make a line and hold hands, one behind the other, hopping and splashing from pool to pool, until we crossed. By daybreak, nobody was holding anyone’s hand. It was each person for himself. One person shouted, ‘Someone has collapsed’ No one stopped to see who it was. I saw one of the soldiers bend down and swing the collapsed recruit right onto the top of his shoulders. I looked at the recruit and wished it was me. I was tired and my legs were aching. I wish the wind would scoop me up so high that I could almost float in the air without hurting my feet. I was dragging them to move. Just then, the soldier with the recruit began to wobble and sway and they both fell into a hole. Together, they wiggled and whooped. There was no  Rhodesian helicopters hovering above us, so that night we did not rest. We were now strong enough after eating cassava and drinking tea, so we walked all night and then, over next three days, we would sleep until the night came. We complained about cramps and dizziness, but, then again, who would want to die after coming so far? They kept saying we had just a day left until we arrived. My legs became tired, students bumping into each oher in every direction, tired, weary, I wanted so badly for a place to rest. The sun was our enemy. It was too hot. But, all the time, my own dreams of liberating Zimbabwe increased in vividness and detail.

As I looked at the weary faces around me, I was surprised to see amongst them Mr and Mrs Mashawa and their daughter, Chiedza. Mr Mashawa was a schoolteacher at Mutambara Primary and Mrs Mashawa was a nurse at Mutambara Hospital. Chiedza was a toddler about two years or so, just starting to talk.

We rested in a cave and I saw these two young girls hurdled in a corner shivering. I went to talk to them.

‘What is your name?’ I asked them, pulling them apart as I took both of them into my arms.

‘Rose,’ said one.

‘How old are you?’

‘Eleven,’ she said and I turned and looked to the other girl.

‘M-m-ary.’

‘I’mm-m-m twelve.’ She was shivering.

‘You’ll be fine. You will be fine,’ I said, placating her.

The man in the red beret flashed his eyes at me. He seemed to see my heart and I dodged his eyes because I didn’t know what to expect from him.

There was good supply of fresh bread, boiled eggs and Mazoe Crush. There were cups, but not enough to serve us at one go. The first three cups were given to Mary, Rose and myself.

‘Thanks,’ I said as I took it to Mary and put mine on the ground.

The other girls were given food first, followed by all other boys by their ages. Mary was still shivering, so I had to sweet-talk her to drink. I asked for a hot cup of the tea, which the soldiers had prepared for themselves. Teacher Mashava saw me asking for tea and took the opportunity and ask for his wife to have one too. They gave the tea since it was only leftovers. I drank it and Rose did too. Mary seemed to like it and asked for another cup and she drank all of it much to her satisfaction. Mary was given three paracetamol tablets by one of the soldiers. She took one straightaway and I kept the other two. I could see Mary’s shivering and temperature, which had made her as hot as the hot springs back home disappearing instantly. After everyone had eaten, the man in the red beret addressed us.

‘I’m ZANLA and ZANU – of the Zimbabwean African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and the party called the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU).’

‘Pamberi neZANU!’ he said and all our eyes were focused on him, mesmerised, as though he was a ghost. Nobody answered and nobody knew what it was all about. Trying not to antagonise us, he addressed us as we remained with our eyes glued on him and our ears ready to receive every breath and word he uttered.

‘Everyone is going to be politically and military trained. You will get scholarships and go to school. I know everyone here was a student and I must make sure you finish. You will go to a country of your choice – England, America, Russia and even China. You will become what you want to become. The sky is the limit. You become whatever you can reach. You will only limit yourselves.’

We bought this propaganda and clapped. This seemed to be great medicine to all of our ears. Mary’s eyes beamed with light and I knew this news had done something important for her. I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My heart jumped with happiness to hear the soldier’s address. Why not? Although I had a scholarship to study in Sweden, I wanted to go to England where Uncle King Itai David Mutasa was now living with his family since he’d fled Rhodesia in 1964 at the peak of the imprisonments at the Nyanyadzi Irrigation. I would go and see my dearest niece, Chipo, who was my age. We grew up together. Slept in the same bed together. Had fun together. I had written her a letter explaining to her about the development of guerrilla warfare back home just one month before I was captured. She would be very happy to see me. And I would be very happy to see her. We would share her bed and she would tell me stories about her new friends in England. I didn’t even think she had a boyfriend yet, just like me. As soon as I reached England, I would go to the nearest information bureau and ask them, ‘How do I get to 14 Galia Road?’ They would look it up and give me the exact directions or even escort me. I heard the white man was very generous there. Uncle would write home to Mama to say that Eunice Chadoka is alive. She is not dead. She was captured by ZANLA forces, but she is now studying in England. Look at her photos. A fit young lady. When she completes her education, she will not go back to the bush.

That thought gave me strength. It gave me the strength to persevere. God works in mysterious ways, I pondered, welling up, and refusing to wipe away my tears. I could feel these tears reach my lips and I tasted their salt and realised that life can be salty and full of tribulations.

‘Everyone up! Let’s go! We are around the corner,’ the leader said. Like horses in a race, I took Mary’s hand into mine and then we were up and trotting to our final destination. Rose was just close by. We trotted as fast as we could, not wanting to be left at the back. As we walked, everyone had secret conversations inside.

In Mozambique, I will be trained, have my own gun and bullets like the Rhodesian soldier. I would get that gun, kiss it and fill it with bullets. I will pull the trigger after a prayer and shoot the enemy.

I could find solace in that. After all, these were enemies who have plundered our resources and raped our women. I would teach them a lesson. After we won the war, we would go to school, buy bigger houses, drive flashy cars, and plough the land. Above everything else, I would be a hero. I would address the people like my father and lead them to the promised land of prosperity. Our masses would have plenty to eat – milk, eggs, cheese and plenty of chicken and rice. Not only on special occasions like Christmas or when a visitor comes, but for the rest of their lives when they need it. They would have access to clean water both to drink and bathe, and there would be running tap in each homestead. I was more determined to fight than ever. God had a mission for me. Despite being kidnapped, I was looking forward with much determination to fighting and conquering. When we sat with the soldiers on our way, they cheered us and their presence comforted us. ZANU soldiers looked fit and strong, but it seemed like they had no bullets on them.

I heard one whispering to another about this. I think one heard me nearby, so he walked towards me.

‘Welcome, girls!’ the soldier said this to the group, but was addressing me directly. He still wore his red beret and gumboots, but no shirt. He lit a cigarette and the soldiers exchanged it between them. They smiled at us and assured us that we would be fed and cared for in our camps, which were only a day away.

But there was plenty of food donated by the masses – I could see that. We ate chicken almost every day. What bothered me was if these soldiers had guns, but no bullets, how were they going to kill the enemy? I asked one of them and he said they would get their supplies soon. He pulled the bayonet and swung it into a tree and cut a branch. We all gasped at its swiftness. I was impressed that he was an expert in his field.

The Mashawas told me what had happened to them that night. Mr Mashawa had been coming back from picking up his wife at the hospital, but when they stopped their car at their front gate, some ZANLA soldiers who had taken cover at their house surprised them. Mr Mashawa had panicked and screamed and both he and his wife were gagged. They were forced by the soldiers to join the long march on pain of death.

In Mozambique, we met soldiers from the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO). When we arrived at their barracks, both soldiers and civilians were celebrating Mozambique’s Independence, playing rhumba music and feasting. When we asked them where our ZANLA soldiers had gone, the FRELIMO soldiers told us that some ZANLA soldiers had staged a rebellion at the Chifombo Camp in Zambia in November 1974. This was known as the Nhari Rebellion – so named after the leader of the rebellion, Thomas Nhari. The soldiers were rebelling against the ZANU leadership whom they believed led overly extravagant lifestyles with the hint of corruption. The soldiers told us that it was not unusual to find many of our ZANU leaders living in five star hotels, drinking and making merry, whilst recruits and soldiers perished in the camps. The rebellion was violently quashed, leading to the unaccounted deaths of many ZANLA soldiers in the Zambia camps. We had no reason to believe them, we told each other – they were just trying to scare us.

All this talk of rebellion left many of us dispirited. At this juncture, we were not even aware of where we were heading. Most of us Mutambara girls were still young and naïve, still in our middle teens. With our urban ways and mannerisms, we were no match for the Mozambican women coming from the bush. They nicknamed us Villa Perry Girls, after Villa Perry town in Chimoio, Mozambique.

At around three in the afternoon, we continued our journey on foot. On our way, we saw a group of Mozambicans slaughtering baboons and roasting them. I refused to eat the meat, recalling Sekuru Ishe’s words. Some ate the baboon meat and fell sick immediately, throwing up. Two girls died the following day. Four days later, we arrived at the FRELIMO base. Some of us had drank water only once on our journey, so when we entered the Frelimo dining hall, we drank water like dry sponges. Our meal consisted of potatoes sprinkled with olive oil, chicken and drinks of our choice. We set upon the food like hungry hyenas. Even back at school, the food was not this delicious. We were very grateful and anticipated even better treatment in our own ZANLA camps. Little did we know that this would be the first and last good meal we would have at any military camp in the years to follow.

After the meal, we decided to rest and nap in the outside shade. Most of the students were now walking barefoot as their shoes had either fallen apart or been left behind in haste. Most of us had swollen feet and could not walk, so it was decided that we would take some days rest until we felt better. I was one of the few who were still up and running – my sturdy winter boots, which I happened to have worn to the dining hall that fateful night, had saved me. Whilst others were recuperating, I and two of my schoolmates, Mary and Rose, decided to go for a walk together. Mary and Rose were Form Two students who had been caught in the crossfire because they were collecting food for the matron who was off-duty that day. They looked up to me as a Prefect – someone with answers. They wanted to know where we were going and how long and how far. What we were going to do and when we were going to go back home. I felt sorry for them. I told them we were going be away from home for an indefinite period and only God knew what else would happen. During this part of the year, the weather was very hot. We usually slept under the stars, so I also found peace gazing into the night sky and trying to hone my astronomy. This wasn’t always possible because it rained a lot, so we set up grass thatched covers to take refuge under. One of my all-time most miserable nights was sheltering through a thunderous rainstorm that lasted through the night, shredding whatever we tried to use as shelter. It made me sympathetic towards so many people that have nowhere to go when it rains.

I was not alone. Our group was split into quarters for logistical purposes and to avoid big crowds being in one location. Still, fifty was quite a big group and, because they let us connect, our mutual presence gave each other strength. Our schoolteacher was very depressed as he was older than most of the students and had just started a family, being newlyweds with their toddler, Chiedza, who had just started to walk. It was a devastating time to find himself in this situation. I eventually managed to make him laugh, as we called ourselves ‘Bundu Boys’ (Forest Boys) and we became our own little support system.

We were now attached to our tormentors, no matter how badly they treated us. I felt so worthless that I barely even wanted to be rescued. The stigma of rape made us reluctant to even tell our stories to our parents or sisters. I recalled one of the raped recruits saying at the time, ‘Why would it even be worthy screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life has no value.’ I felt my soul had been crushed, even if I had not been raped by that point. I felt like I wasn’t even human any more. This was because of my Christian upbringing. How could anyone love me or care about me when one disappears from home or school without notice? I felt life had no meaning to it. And that was only the beginning. But, ultimately, I resolved that, no matter what, I had to maintain a belief that if anyone rejected me, my mother would still be there for me, if I could return home. She would sing even sweeter music than before.

It was because of this realisation that I was able to make a decision that, no matter what I had to do, no matter how many personal goals or standards I had to break, I would do it, if it meant that I would survive. I clung to even the tiniest humane gesture from the masses and even our captors because I needed to see goodness in a world in which I could change nothing. Despite a high-profile campaign and search, the Rhodesian soldiers could not rescue us and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to return back home. I was now connected and attached to the liberation struggle. Somebody had to do it, despite all tribulations and sufferings.

Our only link to the outside world was a little Mozambican radio that used batteries, which we charged in the sun from time to time. We managed to hear only two stations – the Rhodesian and Radio Mozambican – which mainly played African music for wild, vulgar dances. Through this device, we kept on top of the news. I remember hearing about President Samora Machel’s first inauguration, which raised our morale because we knew it was possible to fight our colonisers and win. On the negative side, we heard news of the rise of the Rhodesian liberation groups such as ZAPU (the Zimbabwean African People’s Union) and ZANU’s internal fights, which killed Chairman Herbert Chitepo. All this information was too vague though, to say the least. Most of us recruits knew little. I knew the name Chitepo from back home though because this name had been repeated several times by my Father and his group, but I really did not know the full details or context. I owed my sanity to that little radio of ours though and the rhumba station, which we hated at the beginning, we ended up loving because of the circumstances. It reminded me of the lightness of everyday life. One day, however, we were caught listening to the radio by the ZANLA forces. It was banned and anyone caught listening to it was going to be in serious trouble. It was true though that, to my little sisters, it was doing more harm than good.

When our group split, the two youngest girls refused to part with me. They both stared into my eyes, then after a few moments they came and hugged me tight. They saw a mother in me or, rather, a big sister. I had wiped their tears and noses with bare hands every now and then. I locked eyes with the soldier in red beret. He nodded his head to say its okay. My eyes gleamed with joy. Although, in those years, the average age of the majority was twenty-one, those as young as eleven or twelve could be married – it was an insane world, as my daddy used to say. Mary had not been feeling well for some time. But she seemed to get better mainly due to prayer and without medication. As usual, we took the grass and spread it out on the ground. I called Mary to come and lie on it, whilst I covered them both with two sacks we had been given by one of the civilians in Mozambique. I slept in the middle like a sow with its piglets, holding their hands and muttering sweet nothings. I had to be strong, I told myself, going from a minor, to a prefect, now a mother of these two young girls, Mary and Rose and many others who had barely witnessed their first menstruation.

Just as I had fallen asleep, I was wakened by a strong tremor, which shook my whole body. I soon realised it was coming from Mary. She was trembling uncontrollably. I screamed for help, especially to Mr Mashava. He was nowhere to be seen. With this noise, Rose woke and just didn’t know what to do. I sat down and held Mary tight in my arms. The trembling stopped, but her body was like one immersed in a river. Big drops of sweat were pouring out. I took off her clothes to cool her down and shooed away the girls who were crowding around. Within a few minutes, she began again to shiver, her jaws chattering. There was no doubt that she was feeling very cold. We heaped some sacks on her to keep her warm. I remembered the two paracetamol tablets I had. I took them from my pocket and asked for a cup of water. I held them in my hand, knowing that it was not the time to give her anything like that. When she was hot, I applied a cold compress and when she was hot, we took off the sacks. It went on like this for an hour or so in the middle of the night. I checked my watch – it was a quarter to one. I wished I had taken my first aid lessons seriously. I had argued that I didn’t have to since I wasn’t going to be a nurse. But my teacher used to say, ‘It’s a lifelong skill which can come in handy.’ With this thought, I began to shiver. I was in shock, realising for the first time how important it was to have that knowledge. When we sent one of the girls to call the FRELIMO soldiers, their room was totally empty, so I was in charge of Mary’s destiny. I sat down and took her on my lap, not knowing what to do next. She began to vomit and vomit. My jeans were soaked in it and my hands too. The first eruption was unexpected and came out strongly. The girls helped me to put Mary down and some gave me grass and leaves to wipe my hands. After vomiting so hard, I had a feeling something important had happened to Mary, maybe for the better. All her shivering and sweating ceased.

After some time in a state of limbo, I heard a sharp hissing noise coming from her mouth going upwards. Her eyes were wide open and her mouth too. She was in this state for some time. I kept feeling her body temperature, which was quite warm. I took one sack and covered her and made a small pillow out of the other one. ‘She will be fine. Everyone go back to sleep. When day breaks, we will call Gatino,’ I said. Gatino was the one who gave us the sacks.

Before daybreak, I heard the noise of the FRELIMO soldiers walking over. I stood up abruptly where I was sitting with Rose who, like me, had hardly slept all this time. I called the soldier and he came to see Mary. ‘Everyone up and evacuate the room.

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