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Two metres of drainage pipe
November 19, 2008
My family say I shouldn-t
write about that time, it will just bring more trouble; but I am
angry, very angry. When I saw Mrs Moyo-s grandchildren playing
in the discarded asbestos drainage pipe at the bottom of our property,
I was reminded of my older brother, Lawrence, who died at Bhalagwe
camp in 1984, a month after his eighteenth birthday.
We, my brother, his friend,
Neva, and I were walking home from school when we came across a
group of armed soldiers lounging in the shade of a marula tree.
It was too late to hide so we greeted them politely and walked on
by. I was about to breathe a sigh of relief when the familiar, heart
stopping call came: "Iwe!" We turned to find them beckoning
us with their AK 47s. We knew that they were members of the dreaded
Fifth Brigade because they were wearing red berets and they could
not speak a word of Ndebele. We understood enough Shona to follow
They drove us ahead like
goats, calling us dissidents and sell-outs and God knows what else.
When Lawrence tried to reason with them they beat him with the butts
of their rifles. In all there were eight soldiers. They took us
to an army base at an abandoned primary school more or less in the
opposite direction of our village, which is in Bulilima-Mangwe District.
Here we were loaded on to the back of a truck with about fifty other
captives and taken to a camp just off the main road, near Antelope
Mine. At the time we did not know it but this camp, Bhalagwe, was
the most notorious detention centre in the whole of Matabeleland.
The women were separated
from the men and I did not see my brother again until the terrible
incident in the drainage pipe. I shared a 12 X 6 metre asbestos
shed with 135 other women and girls. There were no blankets. There
were no toilet facilities. We were crowded like maggots in the eye
socket of a dead donkey. Before I was taken as a "wife"
by one of the camp commanders, my duties were to wash the soldiers-
clothes and their cooking utensils, chop firewood, dig latrines,
and prepare isitshwala for us detainees. It was dished up on dustbin
lids with about 15 people per lid. We were allowed half a cup of
water a day.
The ex-ZIPRAs had the
worst of it. They were kept in a separate area with very low buildings,
which had no windows, only ventilation slats. They were shackled
all the time and were tortured much more than the rest of us. All
day long graves were dug in the camp grounds, and when they were
full, bodies were moved further afield and thrown into mine shafts.
The screaming never stopped, and the stench of death never went
My parents taught us
to stand up for what we believed in, for what we thought was right.
Treat people the way you would expect them to treat you, my father
always said, looking steadily at his son. Consequently Lawrence
developed the courage of his convictions, a courage, which would
do him no good at Bhalagwe camp. He was singled out as a trouble-maker
and made to pay for it, and I was forced to watch.
A two metre asbestos
drainage pipe was rolled in from the Antelope road. My brother was
forced to climb into the middle of it. Two other men, one of them
Neva, were told to back into either end. It was a tight fit! The
two on either end were then ordered to come out and as they emerged,
head and hands first, they were beaten with heavy branches, so they
scrambled, panicking, back into the pipe. Again they were ordered
to come out, again they were beaten, and again they retreated kicking
and screaming into the pipe. This pattern was repeated until my
brother had been kicked and crushed to death. It went on for hours.
Neva and the other man had to bury my brother in a shallow grave,
which Lawrence had already dug. That-s how the red berets
and the CIO relieved their boredom: thinking up creative ways of
humiliating and hurting us, the girls especially.
shouted at Mrs Moyo-s grandchildren, "get out of that
pipe before I chase you out!"
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