The Sunday News
Vincent Gono, Features Editor
CHINESE revolutionary Mao Zedong emphasised the relationship that should exist between soldiers and the people when he said, “The people are like water and the army is like fish.” He was emphatically saying the army cannot survive without the people.
His ideals were taken on board in the surge towards the liberation of Zimbabwe from the oppressive colonial shackles which originated in a number of nationalist leaders who are today revered and glorified for the role they played. It was the blood of their martyrdom that watered the tree of liberty that the country is basking in today.
But they did not do that on their own. Their ideas and ideals needed reliable vehicles to carry them to the masses where they were taken up, sanctified and made a dream come true. The execution of the armed struggle needed collective action from everyone, from village young men and women who could not go for training but were handy in the mobilisation of masses, resources, nursing the injured, giving intelligence to the guerillas and providing moral support. These became known as the war collaborators. They are little sung heroes of the struggle who tell tales of how they assisted in the execution of the struggle for independence with scars both physical and emotional while some were unlucky and became victims of the war just like the real war veterans.
Their experiences are grueling. Some became victims of torture by the enemy forces for refusing to sell-out. Some lost limbs while some were harassed and yet remained courageous. These are now represented under the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Collaborators Association (Ziliwaco) with a membership of more 100 000 people.
Sunday News Features Editor Vincent Gono (VG) spoke to the national chairperson of the association representing war collaborators Cde Pupurai Togarepi (PT) who is the Member of Parliament for Gutu South in Masvingo on the contributions of their members, the myths of pungwes being turned romantic, their recognition efforts, and what the Heroes Day mean to these unsung heroes of the liberation war. Below are excerpts of the interview.
VG: A lot has been said and done for the war veterans. What is being done for war collaborators in recognition of the role they played during the war of liberation?
Cde Togarepi: It has always been our wish for war collaborators to get the same recognition befitting people who sacrificed for the freedom and independence of Zimbabwe. We are finally happy that a Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Bill has been passed in Parliament and is awaiting Presidential assent. This Bill recognises all veterans of the liberation struggle, war collaborators included. This will ensure our liberation struggle history is correct and the recognition of war collaborators is entrenched in the law. We thank our Government for a job well done, it’s better late than never.
VG: As one of the war collaborators can you walk us through some of your experiences?
Cde Togarepi: I grew up in Gutu, Gutu South constituency to be precise. I was recruited as a war collaborator by one Bhudherere.
And as young people we would play various roles assisting those carrying guns – the real fighters who were in the war front such as carrying war materials, reconnaissance, sourcing food, washing of clothes, nursing the wounded and participating in sabotage activities among many other efforts. I have scars, both physical and emotional borne out of this painful struggle towards independence. Many of my compatriots lost lives and limbs in the same trenches with those who were carrying guns.
VG: What does the Heroes Day holiday mean to war collaborators?
Cde Togarepi: It is a painful reminder of the liberation struggle and how it was executed. We are reminded of the supreme sacrifice paid by sons and daughters of Zimbabwe in their quest for the freedom that all Zimbabweans enjoy today. We pray that all our people take a minute of introspection to see how each other can emulate these heroes as we move Zimbabwe forward.
VG: May you as well tell us about Ziliwaco membership, vetting process, patron and the objectives of the organisation.
Cde Togarepi: Ziliwaco, Zimbabwe National Liberation War Collaborators Association, is an organisation formed in 1996 in pursuit on the proper recognition of the sacrifice of those who fought without guns during the liberation struggle. Girls, boys and distinguished people who assisted the liberation struggle in crucial roles without which the struggle could have been longer and more difficult to execute. There are over 100 000 active members of Ziliwaco. Plans are underway for the vetting of war collaborators after the passing of the Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Bill and we are involved in the logistics. Our patron is Cde Oppah Muchinguri – Kashiri and we are grateful that President ED Mnangagwa agreed to our request for her to lead us.