Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Advance...Protect...Defend - A Green Bomber's Story


I sat on the bed, my back probed up with a pillow against the wall; listening to the sounds of the street gearing up for the local social soccer game. The local “boozers” league match was on and my team Black Pirates was taking on the much fancied Nketa Gunners, from the next township. The big open space behind MaGumede Beerhall would be filling up gradually, as the frozen superkool drink boys and the peanuts ladies started to stake out their selling territory before the match started.

I sat there, waiting, wanting and hoping for “JB”, my best friend and team mate to come rushing in any minute now;

“It is time, tshomie; it’s time , my friend” he would announce, and after exchanging the usual ‘hood greetings, we would begin the intricate, little ritual which Bra Pat, the team’s kit man had taught us all those years ago when we first came to the team. It involved taking off our uniform pants, laying our boots on the floor, and quickly jumping over them, three times back and forth; chanting the name of the opposition team as we did so…

I sat there, waiting for “Malume James”, my biggest supporter to shout for me from the street;
“Kateya, are you afraid of them, uyabasaba na?” he would shout, and then I would open the window, and bellow back at him;

“Hayi, angibasabi, ngiyabafuna; no, I am not afraid of them, I want them”

And so it would go on, until I emerged from the house, and with cat whistles from gathered crowds in the street, I, the star attacking defender of the Black Pirates, known to all by the name of “Kateya”; after the legendary Dynamos FC supreme; would emerge from the house, and it would be truly game on…

And so it was; that Sunday morning; I sat on my bed, hoping and waiting, but knowing that there was no hope;

There would be no “JB”, no Malume James, and no whistle calls of adulation, no adoring fans cheering me onto the field, no calls of “Kateya, Kateya” as I made my trademark overlapping forays into enemy territory…

It had been like that the Sunday before this one, and the one before it; in fact, every Sunday since I had come back, it had been like this, and I would sit there, hoping, against hope, wishing, praying, but to no avail. I was back, and I was not wanted, not by “JB”, or Uncle James, not by the Black Pirates fans, not by anybody.

And all of this because I had gone to the camps, the so called Youth Training Institutions, all those months ago…

“The township had suddenly become abuzz with talk of the new political party, sponsored by the Imperialists, whose main aim was to take away the peoples land, their houses and their farms, and give them back to whites. The New Peoples’ Movement, it was called, and the Government had stood up, and the Great Leader announced that young people needed to learn about what it meant to be a citizen of this country; to learn the history of our patriots who had shed their blood on the alter of freedom; freedom which today, these political upstarts wanted to destroy.

The Government then decided that they would ask the people for an opportunity to do some major changes to the constitution, so as to enable them to better protect us from these imperialists, and something called a referendum was done. The New Movement, my father had said, had used the money and the influence of their imperialist masters to influence the people to refuse to give the Great Leader all the powers that he needed to be able to make things better for everyone, and the people voted and said no to the changes in the constitution; and the Great Leader had not pleased, not at all!

Suddenly there was talk of “re-education” of all young people and the special schools were being set up in the farms all over the country, to give young people an opportunity to be trained and educated on all aspects of being proud of who we were, and where we came from.

The adults also began a programme to repossess “what was rightfully ours”; and the white people were being chased away from the farms, and loads of our own people were moving in, and beginning to “enjoy the fruits” of freedom.

And when my Uncle Garikayi came home one day, and with great excitement informed my parents of, firstly the work that they were doing in the east of the country, taking back most of the farms, and resettling “our landless people”; I was not surprised.

And then he had made his announcement;

“I have also managed to organise that “the boy” gets a place with next load of trainees going to the training school in Muza, northwest of the city. My friend, “Comrade Victorious” is the Camp Commander there, and the boy must be ready to go by Sunday morning”; he announced.

“The boy” was me, and my Father, agreed, hastily moving on to the pending question of whether his “allocation” had come out from the latest repossessions.

After reassurances from Uncle Garikayi that,
“Soon; my brother, soon! This country is a land of milk and honey, and it belongs to us”, he calmed down, and both matters were settled; me, to the Training Academy; and his allocation of repossessed land, soon.

And so it was, that cold Sunday morning, I had found myself, rucksack on my back, squeezing into a dilapidated van, cramped at the back with more than a dozen other young people from the township, heading northwards, to the training camp, colloquially called Camp Delta…

It was a hastily put together affair, nestling right in the middle of what used to be the very productive dairy farm called Savelkop; the owners, legend now had it, had “reluctantly given back” what was not theirs.

The milking sheds were now converted into barracks, and the farmhouse, what remained of it, was the Admin Block, fully functional with “secretaries and assistants”, young girls from the township, dressed in green uniforms; all running around, fulfilling the Commanders’ every need, official and unofficial.

We stood in a rough assembly line, a group of young people, ready to defend their country, and to advance the gains of independence, and “Comrade Victorious” had begun to address us;

“We are here today to talk about Zimbabwe, our Zimbabwe and the clear and present danger that is facing us today, and how we are going to stop it. Like the rain that washed away the chaff that was threatening our national unity, we should be ready and willing to defend our hard won independence, and to advance the gains of our democracy. The Imperialists have seen the green hills of our country, they have seen the cattle roaming our fields and the maize fields spread all over our land, and now they send their spies; our own brothers and sisters, to try and get it all back from us.”

He had gone on and on; about how the People’s Movement were all sell-outs; and how we, as young people should be ready to lay down our own lives in the defence of all that belonged to us. I was beginning to feel dizzy from standing in the blazing sun, and I was trying hard to understand what it is that Comrade Victorious was so angry about; but he carried on, punctuating his speech with “vivas”, “imperialist “collaborators” and viva “the Great Leader”.

We repeated after him as he went on and on. Apart of me felt excited, as we began to do the “toyi-toyi” the militaristic march-dance made popular by the South African liberation movements. This was good, it was exciting…

The tirade had gone on, and on; and in that time we had given a collective thumbs up to; repossessing our land, protecting our hard won independence and of course, the biggest thumbs up was given to Comrade the “Great Leader”, for leading us back on the road to democracy…We gave a big thumbs down to all imperialists and their collaborators, and Mr Blair, the mother of all imperialists, go a resounding thumbs down;

The rest of the days had gone by in a blur,

Physical training in the morning, marching in the afternoon, and the rest of the day in the political education classes – long, boring lessons given by some of the “seniors” who did not seem to know much history than what I had learned from my O’Level textbook, and occasionally got a few facts wrong; the rest of the time in these classes seemed to be spent repeating the same lessons that “Comrade Victorious” had spewed out in that first assembly, right down to the slogans and the “toyi-toyi”.

Soon the month was over, and a new group of fresh faced recruits started drifting into the camp, some on foot, and some at the back of the rickety farm vans that had been “commandeered” from surrounding reposed farms. It was almost time for us to be deployed into the “arena of battle” according to Comrade Victorious; but not before Graduation;

We had stood in the dusty square, a rugged group of tired looking mostly teenage boys, united by our fear of Comrade Victorious, our confusion about what we had just gone through in that whole month, as well as a childish excitement about what really awaited us outside the walls of this camp.

The big guys approached from the Admin Block, flanking the familiar figure of the Minister, whom I had seen on TV several times. He moved to the front of the assembled group, and sat heavily onto the chair hastily positioned behind his ample behind by Comrade Victorious, who seemed very unsure of himself this morning, running about, and constantly wiping his forehead, as he began to address us;

“Boys, your time here at Camp Delta is almost over, and today is your last day. We have a very special visitor today, and he has come to satisfy himself that you are ready to defend our democracy from the imperialist collaborators; and he also brought you a special present form the Great Leader himself;”, he said, motioning to some of the seniors, who began to move amongst the group, handing out a green uniform, complete with Army style boots to each of us, and as we quickly changed into the uniform that would later have us called the “Green Bombers”, Comrade Victorious continued speaking;

“Your training here should have equipped you with the ability to do anything to protect this country, and we have today, someone that has been a threat to this country,” he said, again motioning to some of the seniors, who hastily moved behind a building, to emerge moments later dragging the blind-folded figure of a man, kicking and beating him as he tried to struggle.

“Mr Ngwenya here is a Head master at school not far from here, and in the past few weeks, he has been associating with wrong people, and allowing them to spread the imperialistic nonsense to our children at his school. He has also, from nowhere, begun to have a lot of wealth, including a new car and some cows; we all know where these things come from, and today we would like to prove to the Honourable Minister, that we are ready, and will not let people like Ngwenya, who receive money from Britain and Blair, to derail the gains of our independence,” he said.

And then it had started; each recruit was asked to come forward, and demonstrate how anyone who stood in the way of this democracy would be “dealt with”. The man was kicked and beaten, head butted and stood upon, spat upon urinated upon , and as the queue of recruits moved forward, and my turn approached, I felt sick, the Matemba and sadza breakfast coming up to my throat. The man was lying in a very unnatural position, and as the next recruit moved forward, and yanked off the cloth from his head, he spat out a bloody concoction of cartilage, blood and broken teeth, and then as he tried to stand up , he was kicked violently in the stomach, and as he fell down in a messy heap, the next recruit landed a flying kick on the side of the head, sending him crashing to the ground, and then it was my turn; and as I moved forward, stomach churning , vomit coming up my throat like a muddy torrent.

“Okay, Comrades, enough; nothing we do now can teach Mr Ngwenya here any more lessons…” Comrade Victorious rescued me as he intervened, and the Minister was standing up from his chair and moving quickly to his Mercedes, parked behind the Admin Block.

“Be ready to ship out in an hour”, Comrade Victorious, running quickly after the departing Minister.

And more than three hours later we left Camp Delta, fresh recruits, ready to defend our country from the imperialists. We got our individual district allocations from a senior, and as quickly as we had settled down at “Camp Delta”, we piled into the rickety vans and dispersed to carry out our mandate.

We had spread out to the rural areas, where we began the intensive process of “re-educating” the people, dealing severely with those who were stubborn, or foolish enough not to be educated properly. We organised meetings, and spent nights singing and dancing in the hills, teaching people new songs, the songs of patriotism;

Teachers were a prime target for re-education as, according Comrade Victorious; they could easily pass on the wrong information to the young people in our country. In each district we visited we had to re-educate a few of them; some with disastrous and fatal results; for they were not easy to be taught, but as the people that taught our youngsters, they really needed special attention;

Some were made to run long distances, bags of sand on their backs, singing praises to the Great Leader and cursing all imperialists and their greed for our land; whilst some, especially the female ones, needed to spend a night with senior Comrades so as to appreciate the value of true patriotism.

For me, it was a very mixed experience, as I appreciated the respect that the girls gave you; and the look of fear in the faces of their boyfriends when we approached, and borrowed the girls for “patriotic services” in the ongoing battle to defend our country from these imperialist. Such services usually lasted the whole night, and if the girls were good, then the mission would linger on in the area for a day or two more. That was exciting, all that power.

But then, it was not easy for me to see an old woman being made to swallow a red blouse, or burn every red item in the home; as this colour, the colour of the People’s Movement, represented all that the imperialist stood for, and anyone caught wearing or displaying anything in that colour would suffer the consequences of not being patriotic; that was not easy for me, but as a committed youth activist, I closed my eyes, and let the big stick fall upon the back of the naked old woman.

After more than six weeks of this, I was tired, confused and failing to find any decent sleep every night; and I knew I needed to get out. My school results were due anytime now, and although I knew that the teachers were on strike, and that the exams would not have been marked at all, I decided to use this excuse and asked for time to go home and just check if there was anything yet.

“ Not all of us can be foot soldiers, Nyathi, and clever boys like you , we need in this new revolution; so go home and get those results, and then lets see where we can put you, “, my field commander, Comrade Dereki, all twenty or so years of him, was understanding, and before the week was over, I was in a commandeered bus, heading home, trying to catch a wink of sleep along the way, and jumping at each of the roadblocks that had been set up by the war veterans all over the country; but I was so glad to be going home , I did not mind; I was finally out of this madness…

That had been more than two months ago, and the madness of the Green Bombers had finally started to die down as the camps began to suffer from the endemic corruption that seemed to be creeping to every aspect of life in this country, and the young recruits began to starve due to lack of adequate food supply. The command structures of the Youth Movement had begun to collapse, and soon it was all a part of the sad history of this country…

Not for me, it wasn’t over.

It was the reality; and as the sounds of the football fans faded into the distance, my thoughts wondered to my mother; she had withdrawn into herself, and stopped going to her Women’s Fellowship meetings, as people there had started to avoid her, “the mother of a Green Bomber” they had called her; and no visitors came to our house anymore. Not a soul.

She would sit in the lounge, and look out through the window as the township came to life each morning, lived through each of its hectic days, and then wound down, with the kombis passing by, hooting, and bringing the few people from their workplaces in the city, back to the township; and still she sat there, like a zombie, and did not move. Father had gone to his allocated “farm” and only came back once in a while; my sister had left for Jozi, and as I sat up in my bed, I felt the tears come to my eyes…

I could not live in this society anymore; my friends, my family and everybody I knew had turned their back, and in their hearts and minds, I would always be the “Green Bomber”, a terror to the society, and they were willing to punish me, my mother and my family for that, and for me that was not a way of living, they had to be some other way to sort out all of this pain, all of this embarrassment, the isolation, the exclusion.

I reached under the bed, and the box was still there, where I had put it, open, ready, inviting. I brought it up, my eyes casually reading the “Ratex-Rat Poison” legend on it as I reached for the glass of water on the table. I slowly poured the powder into the glass. It fizzled a little bit, like Eno, I thought, and as I lifted the glass to my mouth , and the bitter taste hit my senses, I felt the glass fall out of my hand, and as I slumped on the bed, and heard the glass crash on the floor, and the box fall with a thud onto the bed; I saw the bearded face of Comrade Victorious flash past my face, and with his fist up in the air, his voice booming , his tobacco stained teeth exposed, he was shouting;

“Advance ….Protect…Defend….”

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