03 November 2007

Chikombe the untold story

treachery, treason or mercy?
I do not know how many reporters are still around who covered the events of the bush war in Rhodesia/ Zimbabwe. If there are, this is an untold story that will shed some light on why some of them missed out on the story of Chikombe Mazvidza.

Situated in the Rushinga District, in the North-East of Zimbabwe is the Karanda Mission Hospital. It has been around for a long time and has the reputation for providing excellent medical services. I was posted to one of the Ministry of Internal Affairs outposts situated at the
Karanda Mission Hospital, during the bush war in January 1976, for a period of about two months.

View of Karanda Mission Hospital from my quarters

Shortly after my arrival there I came across Chikombe Mazvidza, while strolling though the hospital grounds. Chikombe was a victim of a gruesome atrocity, having had his ears lips and chin hacked off by terrorists, towards the end of 1975. If you want to read more about that incident just Google his name. The event did not happen in1976 as was reported in one article, but in1975.

When I first saw him, he had already received reconstructive surgery. The mission doctor who treated him had seen service in the Vietnam War and was as a result well equipped to deal with the worst kinds of wounds. The surgery was still in the early stages and the grafts looked like long weals across his face.

I never spoke to Chikombe, who tended to keep to himself, but we eventually got to the point where would exchange greetings with a casual wave of the hand.

One morning, in January or February 1976. I heard the sound of an aircraft landing and when I looked out from my office, which was situated on a hill over looking the hospital and the runway, I saw a Dakota. It had already taxied to the end of the runway and was now disgorging a group of brightly dressed civilians, all armed with cameras and note books. The local and international press I assumed. What I found intriguing though, was how the pilot brought that plane down on that little runway, which had clearly been designed for small aircraft.

I completed the work I was doing and about 30 minutes later I strolled down to the hospital, to see what the buzz was all about. I found out the answer soon enough ……. PROPAGANDA.

When I arrived the group was quite agitated – they had traveled a long way to get here, to interview and photograph Chikombe and he was nowhere to be found. The officials from the Ministry of Information and the psychological warfare boys were running around very officiously, trying to locate the missing “prize”.

The end of the runway, with an Alouette helicopter refueling

I stood and watched the circus for a while and soon got bored and left. For some unknown reason I took a more indirect route back to my quarters, through the hospital grounds. As I rounded the corner of one of the wards, I walked into Chikombe. It is a sight I will never forget. His eyes widened and he looked at me with what amounted to blind panic. He had very obviously been trying to avoid the group and had now been found. I was now faced with a choice - to tell or not to tell. It was a split-second decision and  I held up my hand and told him to relax, I was not about to tell anyone where he was.

What happened next would have probably cost me my job in those days. I stepped back so that I could see the group and monitor the movements of the “search party”, now made up of officials, police and hospital staff. With a series of hand signals and after a few narrow escapes, I managed to guide him away from the buildings to some bush, where he could safely hide out.

He gave me a wave and may even have smiled if he had been able to, just before disappearing. I turned about and I walked back to my quarters on the hill.

Later that morning the Dakota flew off with its disgruntled passengers.

That evening while having a drink with some of the members of the police force, who were also stationed there, we talked about the events of the day and they said that they could not understand what had happened to Chikombe. He was always around and no one had been able to locate him. I just smiled quietly to myself.

I had been faced with one of those situations where one is forced to make a split second decision. I could have stepped back and divulged his whereabouts to the officials looking for him. But on the other hand, when I saw the panic in his face I chose to respect his wishes and his right to privacy.

Would I do it again? You bet I will.

Updated 13 July 2015


dot said...

I think you did a very kind thing. I wonder what eventually became of him. I will google and see what I can find. Thanks for an interesting story.

karoline said...

oh ((((max))))..how heartbreaking..of course i would have done the same thing...you are indeed a kind heart..


photowannabe said...

I like your decision. It shows your strong character and I believe it was the right thing to do. I need to Google him too.

Max-e said...

Hi Dot, Thanks for you comments. I have often thought about him over the years but never heard of what happened him. That was the last time I saw Chikombe.

Max-e said...

Hi Karoline, It is horrific what man is capable of doing to his fellow man. When I saw that group waiting to pounce on him, when he clearly wanted to be left alone, I just did what I had to do.

Max-e said...

Hi photowannabe, There is also a bit of rebel in me. That was why I was at Karanda Mission at that time (that is a subject for a separrate post). But for that rebelliousness who knows what the outcome would have been.

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

Oh Max, this poor man had obviously been through enough, without being paraded atound as some form of propagander trophy. Of course you did the right thing.

Max-e said...

Hi Carol,
What you say is so true. All he wanted was to be left alone a pick up his shattered life. I never had any regrets