Zimbabwean: ‘We were the enemy’
Zimbabwean Richard Donald Munsaka, 53, told the BBC News website, via telephone from his home in the north-western town of Hwange, how he felt after hearing that the ex-Rhodesia leader Ian Smith had died.
Ian Smith was a sick old man. I don’t begrudge him for what he did – I think he felt he was doing right.
He was just an old Zimbabwean man.
But life under Ian Smith wasn’t better than it is now.
I have lived under a cruel regime and I am old enough to know the difference between the two.
When he was prime minister most of us [black] Africans used to live in what were then called tribal trust [communal] lands.
But my father worked on the railways so I lived in town – in the country’s second city, Bulawayo.
Little change left over
In those days, things like bread, although it was there on the shelves, for us it was a luxury. Our staple food was sadza [maize meal cooked with water and a little salt]. We had a desire for bread but didn’t have money to buy it.
I remember always smelling bread if I was walking near to the area where the whites lived and shopped – I loved its smell and wished I could taste it.
But I never did for many years!
Working on the railways until 1978-79, my father’s wages enabled him to buy two 50kg bags of meilie [maize] meal and have a little change left over.
My father worked as an assistant grinder – a white or a coloured [mixed race] man would weld the tracks and then my father would grind.
The most an African could aspire to be, working on the railways, was a stoker on one of the locomotives and even then that was more for coloureds.
Blacks only got the menial jobs.
But if you were an educated African you could be either a teacher or a nurse.
Blacks weren’t allowed
Under Ian Smith the job that I do now – I am an operating superintendent at Hwange power station – would have been a job for a white man.
Even train drivers were white – blacks weren’t allowed. People like me weren’t trained to learn skills.
When my dad set off to work in the morning, my mother would follow him along the railway line to look for shrubs and any wild vegetables that were growing. She would return home and cook them – without cooking oil – so we had something to eat with our sadza.
That was the life of my mother; to make sure we had a meal on the table.
And there was no tea either because there was no money for sugar.
In those days there were many silly taxes that blacks had to pay. You had to pay a sum to be able to own a dog, even a bicycle.
And if you so happened to have a few cattle to your name and if a white person came along and wanted them, they could just take them.
You would just be told: "You see that bull over there, that is for the boss." That was it. Goodbye. There was nothing you could do.
I had a cousin who left in 1978 for Angola to become a fighter. He went to war because his late father’s nine cattle had been taken away from him by a white cattle rancher. At independence he went and took his cattle back.
But I lost another of my uncles to that same white rancher. He was fishing with a few of my other uncles when they were used for target practice.
I was still a young man but I have never forgotten, up to this day.
My parents had to pay for our school fees. My two younger brothers lived with one of my uncles in the so-called tribal trust area so they could attend school.
When I visited them, I remember the soldiers – Selous Scouts and forces from the Rhodesian Light Infantry. We even knew some of the notorious ones by name.
They used to come and ask: "Where are the terrorists?"
They used to beat up the women and children if no-one answered.
I remember in 1978 there was a fight between the Rhodesian forces and the guerrillas. We all had to run and hide for a long time because the next day Ian Smith’s soldiers came, as they always did, to take all the young men away.
It was war then.
I stayed and hid at an uncle’s home. There were 20 of us in a three-roomed house. We survived on cabbage leaves cooked in plain water with some salt (no cooking oil or tomatoes!) and sadza when it was there.
I never actually joined the struggle as a fighter because by the time I wanted to fight, we were told to stay as it was said that there was so many in Zambia, Angola, Mozambique and Tanzania.
We were the enemy
The things we see now, like the bad shortages and everything, you still can’t compare.
Us Africans, we had to fend for ourselves. We were the enemy.
In those days, though, people in tribal trust lands did not suffer like those in the towns because they made sure they were self-sufficient despite that the land the blacks had to live on was not so fertile.
The whites took the best for themselves.
Then my father used to point to this land in the distance and tell me that was where our family belonged… but now since the land reform programme, our family have got a portion of our land back.
I never saw a time when I thought that Ian Smith was helping the African people.
The comparing reasons that people are making now is not right.
After 1980 and up to the 1990s, life in Zimbabwe was so good.
It was only after the 1980s that blacks could afford to buy cars, televisions, radios, furniture and houses. And everyone went to school, right up to university.
Right now I own a motor vehicle – a Toyota Hilux [4×4]. I live in a nice suburban house – three bedrooms, two adjoining lounges, two bathrooms each with a toilet, TV with satellite and I have the internet. You are phoning me on my mobile phone and I also have a landline.
And I although I am a Zanu-PF member, I am not an official. I have worked for everything I own. Apart from the land that was returned to my family.
I own property in Victoria Falls that I acquired myself, without a loan. I am having a house and guesthouse built but these days it is difficult. Getting building materials, even cement is a challenge.
Yes life is tough nowadays here.
But when I say that I am comparing it to life during the 1990s.
Not to the those during Smith’s time because about that, there is nothing to talk about – it was oppression.
Robert Mugabe is not the best leader that we can have.
I want the president to leave – he has had his go, he has had his time.
But never will Mugabe be worse than Smith.
VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Obituary: Ian Smith
20 Nov 07 | Africa
Country profile: Zimbabwe
20 Sep 07 | Country profiles
20 Sep 07 | Country profiles
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