analysisBy Fortious Nhambura
Their crime was demanding that they be given equal treatment, have equal access to educational opportunities, access to the land and above all, self rule.
For that they had to be silenced. It did not matter how it was done but the settler Ian Smith regime had to deal with anyone that was believed to be behind the clamour for freedom - and brutally so too.
Black Zimbabweans were taken to restriction camps, others to detention while others had to be eliminated.
Oppression intensified and so were laws that made talk of freedom difficult. The entire military machine of the Rhodesian establishment, supported by its huge resources from the west, channelled through apartheid South Africa, was deployed to counter calls for independence and the entry of freedom fighters into the country.
The Rhodesian army was brutal, especially the notorious Selous Scouts, in thwarting any support for the freedom fighters. Shaken by the indigenous people's resolve for self-governance, the regime resorted to heavy-handedness and torture that left many people dead.
Many lie in individual shallow graves or disused mine shafts like Guinea Fowl Gold Mine and Chibondo or mass graves like the notorious Castle Kopje Farm "Butcher" Camp in Rusape.
The Herald recently visited Butcher Camp and established that the area still carries bad memories for Rusape and people of Makoni District.
It is estimated that over 1500 could have been buried in mass graves at the camp but to date only 169 bodies that were exhumed last year have been given a decent burial.
Many bodies still lie in unknown mass graves at the "Butcher".
"We know hundreds of freedom fighters, mothers and children who were butchered by the Smith regime lie at this place. Our greatest handicap is resources.
Government must mobilise resources towards the exhumation and reburials. We hope the party starts taking these reburials seriously," said Cde Marvel Bandera, Makoni district secretary general of the War Veterans Association.
Secretary for Welfare, Cde Godwin Tavashure, concurred saying all the comrades who lay in mass graves at the Butcher should be accorded proper burial.
"That is the only honour we can accord to people who met their end at the Butcher and the thousand that lie elsewhere around Zimbabwe.
"Every child who perished in the liberation war deserves a proper burial. That was their wish. I remember some dying comrades asking to be taken back to their homes or afforded a decent burial. We made promises and these should be honoured," he said.
Cde Mawuye Mabika, a survivor at the torture camp and a member of the Zimbabwe Fallen Heroes Trust, recalls his ordeal at the hands of the brutal Rhodesia forces and how he escaped death by a whisker.
He was a school teacher during the war of liberation and was arrested four times and escaped death twice at the Butcher. He was arrested for the bombing of the Nyazura waterworks, assisting freedom fighters and taking care of an injured freedom fighter.
Following a battle near Manyora Business Centre, Cde Mabika said he was instructed by a spirit to go and assist comrades who had been injured.
"I drove my Dastun pickup but when I arrived I saw that only Cde Joseph was still alive. Cde Joseph had a deep cut in the forehead and was counted dead. I picked the injured comrade and took him to a cave in a hill near my village. For three weeks I nursed and treated him with traditional and modern medicine.
"When the wound was healing, I was sold out to the Rhodesian forces that I was caring for an injured freedom fighter in a cave. The night before the raid, the spirit again instructed me to take the injured freedom fighter away. I had nowhere to take him to as I had been restricted to a five-kilometre radius of my home area after the bombing of Nyazura waterworks.
"So I decided to take him to my school house where I kept him there another week before I was again reported to the Rhodesian security forces that an injured freedom fighter was at my house," he said.
He was again instructed in dream to take the injured freedom fighter to his home.
"So I woke up around 3am and drove him to his home in Musariri Village. I don't know how I managed as the Rhodesian forces were patrolling the area. I had just parked the car when soldiers raided my school house. They searched the entire house but found nothing incriminating but I was arrested and detained for three days," he said.
Cde Mabika was later arrested and detained for six months without trial under the Emergency Powers Act.
One day, he was bundled into a Land Rover truck with five others for the notorious Kopje Farm Camp (Butcher) with their hands tied to the canopy's rails.
"I think I was the third to be court marshalled. They wanted to know my involvement with the freedom fighters and why my name "Mudhara Mabika" was always associated with terrorists. I replied that I was a school teacher.
"I then asked them why at that age it would be reasonable for someone to classify me as an old man and whether it was not a question of mistaken identity."
"The marshal looked at me and ordered that I be taken back to the truck and back into detention. I was taken to the camp with my head covered in a sack."
Three days later Cde Mabika was transferred to the Selous Scout Camp for more torture.
"There they would put your head in a drum full of water and beat you on the buttocks with plank covered with nails.
"I still bear the marks from the beating. After a day of torture we were again loaded into a truck and taken to the Butcher. I was again asked how I was connected with the freedom fighters, to which I replied that I was connected to school children. I said I was a school teacher and when I was arrested I was in front of 45 school children.
"I was taken back into the Rover and tied to the rails again. While I was in the truck I could see that those convicted were either taken to the Butcher for execution as practising targets or released, instructed to run away towards the hill but shot at as moving targets. My colleagues in the truck were all executed that day," he said.
Cde Mabika said he was only released from custody a day before elections in 1980 but with strong warning that if ZANU lost he would be killed.
"Thank God, Zanu won overwhelmingly."
That is the history of the Butcher.
The Butcher is fast deteriorating and with it the valuable history at the Castle Kopje torture camp. It is the history of the trial and tribulations that Zimbabweans went through in their quest for self rule.
Cde Gwai contends: "When I first came to know of this place in the early 2007, the place was intact. The bunker walls were standing and even the metal points where prisoners were tied to, were still intact. But of late the place has been vandalized.
"Only when we started making noise about the history of this place did someone come and smear cement on the walls of the concrete bunker, erasing the names of the people who took part in the execution of people at the camp. That was meant to destroy evidence because some of the people who worked here are still alive and now fear their past.
"It is unfortunate that many people who know the happenings at the place do not come forward with information for fear of reprisals. What they need to know is the information on the war of terror by the Rhodesian forces is an important part of the history of Zimbabwe.
"It is high time the little that has been collected from this place is documented so that we have a start. I fear most of the victims of this torture camp are dying with their knowledge," Cde Gwai said.
To date only a sign post reading "Makoni District Heroes Acre" is visible and there isn't much to acknowledge the important history that is carried by Castle Kopje Farm Camp.
Cde Tavashure said: "We have someone who is willing to assist in beautifying the District Heroes' Acre but the greatest undoing is we have not been given a go ahead by the office of the DA. As you know, all things to do with the heroes acres are the responsibility of the Ministry of Local Government. An agreement has been reached with an artist, what remains is a letter of approval from the responsible people."