This is a work of Fiction. Although inspired in part by a true incident, the following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.
On Monday morning the lorries began to arrive. Army style vehicles with canvas covers on them. A selection unit made its way through the crowd in the camp splitting the people into what seemed to be anyone over the age of 16 and under the age of 30 to one side. The rest were then led to vehicles and throughout the next two days shipped off to where ever it was that the government was taking us all. The reality it turned out was that those that were shipped off in army vehicles were split into various loads dependant on which area they came from. The trucks would then drive a set distance from the city, veer off the road and the occupants where then disembarked, subjected to a merciless beating and told to go back to their rural lands and never return to the city or the same punishment would befall them.
For those of us chosen to stay, we were split down into work groups. Our task was to leave the camp each day and follow in the wake of the bulldozers and pile the rubbish lain waist by these monsters into various piles. Tin and metals in one place, wood in another, and clothing, and various other household belongings in another. I wondered many times as you saw the hordes of things that came out of the rubble left behind the diggers what would happen to the goods being sifted through. I guess in some ways it must have been somewhat like those who’d been chosen by the Germans in World War two, whose job it was to go through all the stuff left by the Jews and remove that which was useful to the state and discard that which was waist.
We scavenged a survival by eating scraps and bits and pieces of food we found as we worked, and we were lucky if at night when we returned to the camp that there was water to drink or blankets to sleep under. It wasn’t an easy survival, I was suffering difficulty with my wound, and would soon need medical attention. Others around me were in far worse conditions. On the third day we were finally allowed some attention by some international aid agency. I had my wound cleaned and dressed. I was told it’d needed stitched but as it was too late now I’d need to keep it clean and leave it to heal but it would scar badly. Small price to pay for my existence it seemed.
It took several days to work through the market. The task became quite normal after a while. Each day we sorted through what was left by the diggers and returned to our camp the following night. A group of about two or three thousand workers were there. Each night we returned to camp we’d always be asking each other if so and so had been heard from or news of so and so. At times information would come to light or we’d discover something in the ruins that told us what had happened to so and so. No news however seemed to come through about those that we really wanted to hear about. Nothing of Gilbert or Enoch. Nothing of mother or father. So life panned out, but little did we know the worst was yet to come.
On the Thursday when we the trucks arrived to carry us to our destination, there was a heavier guard than normal. We were piled into trucks, and left in a different direction to the few trucks that split off to go to the market. Faith was among those who’d been sent to market duty, and as it panned out I am eternally grateful that it worked out that way on this day. We wound through traffic, making our own convoy direct towards the shanty town and it suddenly became obvious that today we were to begin cleaning up our own town.
As I alighted from my truck and got my first glimpse of the sprawling mess before me, an image of the apocalypse and how I’d always imagined it played out before my eyes. Everywhere as far as you could see, shacks and dwellings had been levelled. Brick, tin, concrete, breeze block, cardboard, you name it. Everything had been pulled to the ground. The smell was intolerable. The smell of rotting food and flesh was all around as uncooked meat and fruit and vegetables had been left to ferment and rot. Smoke caught at the back of your throat as fires burned at various points in the rubble, belching thick black clouds where rubber and electrical cables burnt.
To our left was a huge mound of dirt and the troops were hustling the workers in that general direction. A general march forward began and we quickly made ground on the pile of earth that grew in size considerably as we got nearer. A putrid smell got stronger as we approached and suddenly a cry of dismay and anger went up from the front of the crowd, one which echoed again and again as the next set of people were able to see what those before them had seen. I began to build in trepidation as I neared the corner of the mound and steeled myself to what lay beyond. What could be that bad after all, considering what we’d all been through. As I came around the corner I realised what it was that had caused such an up cry among the people before us. Piled around that corner was a pile of corpses three to four deep in some places. To my horror I realised that this is where I’d been when I’d come too, having been assumed dead at my home. The full scale of the horror became clear in the day light as dozens of bodies lay piled one on top the other.
The area was suddenly infested with members of the Youth Brigade, vicious little cretins who are well known for their zealous and unshakable support for the ruling party. Armed with shamboks they shouted at us to gather up the hessian bales we could see at the edge of the pit that had been excavated next to the mound of bodies. We were instructed to line the pit with the sacking material, and to then wrap the bodies in the sacking and place them in the pit. This was done with great difficulty to those working with the bodies. One week into decomposition, the smell was unbearable, and many of us were uncontrollably ill, physically unable to continue from the bodies reaction to retch at the putrid smell, let alone the site of what you had to look at. Most of us had wrapped out hands in sacking material in an attempt to avoid touching the rotting flesh, and then it happened. With my T shirt high over my nose vainly trying to block out the smell, I pulled at a man’s leg and froze as a face became visible in the mix of flesh at my feet. It was unmistakeable. I felt the cry rise within my bowels as I fell to my feet and screamed.
Everything stopped. People were clearly shaken and no one knew what on earth to do as I broke down into a fit of screams. A vicious eighteen year old sprung into action and let rip with his shambok, biting into the skin of my back as he tried to whip me into action while screaming at me to get to my feet and work, but I felt nor heard nothing.
The grief of seeing my mother lying in a mound of bodies, a mound in which I too had lain could not compare to the lashes that were landing on my shoulders. Two men immediately jumped on the boy and admonished him for his actions.
“That is his mother for god’s sake!” one man cried.
“You may have no respect,” the other shouted, “But at least have a heart!”
Others moved in agreement standing as a blockade between me and the circling members of the Youth Brigade. It was clear that they were unsure of what to do from a lack of experience and not at all sure of what to do about suddenly being challenged.
Suddenly a gun shot rang out stunning everyone into silence. The Youth Brigade turned to see an Inspector from the ZRP standing there with his pistol in his hands, now clearly in charge of the situation. He nodded to two muscular brutes beside him and they instantly grabbed me and pulled me kicking and screaming away from the pit. They took me to a truck and cast me in the back standing guard at the rear flap. I sat on a bench in the truck and cried. I didn’t care who saw or what they thought, the world around me ceased to exist. With my head in my hands I wailed the pains of my world away through the tears that fell to the floor of the van. In time as the tears ceased to flow and I became aware of my surroundings I felt the presence of a person sitting opposite me. I looked up to see the Inspector from the pit studying my face. I dragged an arm across my nose and rudely retorted “What the fuck are you looking at? Enjoying watching the pain you pigs have caused?” I raged. I began to lean forward reaching out for the man before me. I felt a sharp pain in my ribs and the wind was expelled from my lungs in quick succession, leaving me flapping backward onto the bench I’d just begun to spring up from. I realised that without any effort at all, the inspector had from his seated position kicked me smartly in the ribs using the front pointed edge of his shoe to effectively wind me.
I struggled for breath and then hurled an abuse at the man sat opposite me. The whole time the Inspector remained calm and sat watching me.
“What do you want?” I spat at the man.
He took his time and then reached into his pocket and produced a quarter jack of Brandy. He offered me the bottle. Perplexed I reached out and took the bottle, slowly removing the cap. I could instantly smell the liquor vapours rise to my nose. I looked across at the man opposite me unsure what to do. Had he poisoned the brandy to get rid of me now that I’d identified one of the dead? Was I next to go? “What did I care if he was trying to kill me?” I asked myself.
The man seemed to read my mind as he leaned forward took the bottle and took a swig before handing it back to me. I was too weak to wonder any more about this man, his purpose or what he wanted. I raised the bottle and slowly took a long sip.
I hung my head and the tears quietly flowed down my cheeks once more.
“I feel your pain young man!”
I looked up, wondering if it was the man in front of me who had spoken.
“Yes,” he nodded slowly, “I feel your pain!”
I shook my head incredulously. How could an officer of the Zimbabwean Republic Police force dare to sit there before me and tell me that he felt my pain. I smirked, look at him with hatred in my eyes and took another sip from the bottle.
“What is your name young man?” he asked.
“Ruben Moyo,” I said quietly.
“Well Ruben, my name is Stanley Mpfumo.” The man told me.
“Yes, you can look at me with hatred Ruben. You can look at me as a ZRP officer. You can look at me as an officer of this government, and all these would be true!”
I shrugged my shoulders. He nodded.
“I still feel your pain Ruben. You see for you this is your Murambatsvina!”
I looked up at him puzzled where this man was going. My eyes met his eyes and suddenly I could feel his pain.
“Yes my boy,” he said reaching over and touching my shoulder, “you my son will always carry your Murambatsvina, just as I have had to learn to carry my Gukurahundi!”
Suddenly I understood. This nation of ours had met out swift and decisive bloodshed on more than one occasion. It’s a well know and documented fact that the government of Robert Gabriel Mugabe would slaughter and wipe out anyone that stood in their way, posed a threat or mounted a credible challenge to his occupation in power. Yes, this man understood my pain, for he’d been through pain of his own, probably in similar circumstances, possibly at the hands of men not so dissimilar to those who’d run amok in my home town.
I was returned to camp that night, and quickly thereafter reunited with Faith. Members of the pit gang I’d been tasked with that day came to me that night and assured me that they’d tried their best to lay my mother to rest with the most amount of respect possible. To each of them I was grateful as we’d been warned not to speak of this day at the end of a whip, and merely mentioning the burial of my mother would have risked a beating beyond thought for each of them. On the Friday morning a ZRP Santana arrived at the main gate and officers were ordered to collect me and Faith and escort us to Central Police station in Harare city centre. On our arrival we were placed in a room and left for several hours. Not really sure what was going on I was fearful that details of my incident had leaked out and we’d been brought here to arrange for our disposal, but I was way off the mark. At around eleven am, the door opened at a somewhat dishevelled Gilbert and Enoch were ushered into the room by two officers I’d never seen before. The relief was so real I could taste it. My younger brother was alive stood before me, and I sprang forward to gather him in my arms, almost as fast as Faith rose to greet Enoch. Our reunion was cut short as a group of officers arrived and escorted us out of the office and down to an awaiting police Santana. We were driven from Harare to Ruwa where we were dropped off by the Santana outside a shopping centre. Unsure what was happening we huddled around each other and took in our surroundings. About five or ten minutes after the Santana had disappeared we were approached by an old man who told us we should visit the bar around the corner. Afraid we were walking into a trap, I told the other three to remain in sight of all the people at the shops and went around the corner to the bar. As I entered I saw Stanley in plain clothes, with a scud on a table in front of him. He nodded quietly over at me, and pointed at the chair.
I sat with the police inspector and we talked of our lives. He told me he had no family left and had decided it was his last wish to help someone from a bad situation as he’d recently been told he had an aggressive form of cancer and would last a few more months. Though he did not feel unwell he knew it would be quick as he had nothing left to live for. I told him my responsibility was now to my brother as we’d lost our parents now. Though my father was already dying before it’d come to this incident, it was still very hard to accept, and what had happened to my mother still tormented my mind, especially as I still had so many unanswered questions about that night.
“That is how it’ll always be son,” Stanley said. “Sometimes we just are not meant to know the answers for they will hurt us even more.”
“Maybe so,” I said.
“Not knowing hurts just as much though!”
Stanley nodded. I nodded. We drank.
It turned out that in the scramble to try to catch the three as they had escaped from our shanty home, the burley officers stomping through a house they were both unfamiliar with, and that had not really been so well built, had collapsed the house. No one had thought to search the house till a clear up crew had discovered my father’s body in the bed. He’d died where part of the house had collapsed in on him. In my mind I was able to accept that he died a painless death, never even knowing what happened around him, and happy that he’d said good night, and I love you to my mother as he had every night since he’d gotten sick. I will never really know what happened with my mother that night, but I will go to my grave with the idea that she was out doing something good for her family when she too fell prey to the thugs that beat me. Stanley gave me enough money to get the four of us home to Mutare, where I eventually managed to get a job through a friend of his, and settled down to put my brother through school. I have a small home in Chikanga a suburb of Mutare which I share with my brother and Enoch and Faith and baby Chipo. Life for us goes on, and the horror of that day dwells only in the darkest shadows of my dreams. This is the reality of a life under dictatorship. These are the possibilities in a country able to do as it pleases without rule of law and without the consequence of the actions of its leaders. This is my story. I am Ruben Moyo, and this was my Murambatsvina.