One Among The Dead
by Temba Magorimbo
He stood before Major Mark Ridmore who was the major commanding the detachment camped in and around the Mlezu River, Chiwundura about an hour ‘s drive either way from Gweru and KweKwe. He looked into those expressionless solid steel eyes, piercing brown eyes, unmoving eyelashes. The feeling of being before the commander especially after an evening of unprompted funfair had a way of cowering really big men. It made blood go cold within their bodies. The hand of the major was still. It could slap a soldier without warning. This was because of both his post in the army commanding a section of the army set aside for Africans and also the race he had. The bellow of the major would send younger soldiers cowering. He was their commander. He was both feared and respected.
Major Mark Ridmore was white. That made his race more imposing because they were the political and economic ruling elite. He was built like an ox. When he carried a regular issue Fabrique National 25-mm rifle, in his field green, brown and leaf uniform, he was a demi-god. With his backpack holding his rations and ammunition poach holding his magazines and grenades, Mark was an imposing figure. In the thick of battle, his white face would be painted soot black all except the green eyes and a circle around them. White faces had a way of reflecting in light.
Men like Rhodesian Major General John Acland and Lieutenant Colonel Charles Aust depended on hard-core fighters like Mark. Most of his breed could be found fighting the SWAPO incursion into South West Africa. Men like Mark had fought the Mau-Mau rebellion. They had moved from Kenya to Mozambique or Angola to fight with the Portuguese again against another insurrection. When independence had come, they had moved to Rhodesia to fight again alongside their white comrades. Now most of them were in South West Africa or commanding units of UNITA against the MPLA.
Mark Ridmore was feared and he was fearless. The fact that he was white made it even worse for his charges because racism was rife in Rhodesia. This was what men like him, whites too, and had left factories, homes and farms to defend Rhodesia for.
The onslaught of nationalism was home in Rhodesia now. First these sentiments on African nationalism had started as far back as Ghana with Khrumah. Independence had befallen many an African state except for a few like Kenya, Mozambique, Angola, South Africa and South West Africa. In Kenya Major Mark Ridmore had heard of the Mau-Mau rebellion. Now Rhodesia was on fire with its own black people taking up arms and getting training as far afield as Russia, China and Libya. South Africa was fighting tooth and nail to keep its rule on South West Africa intact. The Angolans were fighting amongst themselves while at the same tight they were fighting the invading forces of South Africa. Names like SWAPO and PLAN were now synonymous with war. Mark knew them and he knew what they meant if the white soldier faltered. It meant destruction of all the white man had built around himself. It meant a Great Trek back to England, Australia, Canada, United States or New Zealand. He was not prepared top go so he had chosen to fight to the bitter end.
They wanted to maintain their economic and racist dominance of the black masses. That was why, men like Mark commanded the blacks in a war against their fellow black brothers. Mark was known to have shot deserters in the back of their heads without qualms. He physically abused the men when they erred. His slap in the face met with cowering. No black man, sane that is would slap back a white soldier even if he had no rank. That would be a court martial. That was before the Rhodesian Special Branch had finished with him.
"Lance corporal Thomas Moyo hereby standing before me shivering like he is the product of my behind is unwilling to converse," bellowed the Rhodesian African Rifles Major Mark Ridmore. The lance corporal had walked up from within the bush like a dog with its tail between his legs. He had found all the six lines of soldiers on parade, in neat rows looking at him with hidden smiles of amusement. They knew what punishment would be meted on the lance corporal for his sins of the night. They had strict orders on what time everyone was expected back in camp. But as men they at times exceeded the limit. Like they would come pushing donkeys into the camp keeping in step with the animals in order not to be seen by the sentries. They would then lay flat within as the donkeys brayed and trotted on before belly crawling to their dormitories.
The Military Police sergeant had looked at him with keen interest knowing he had a job at hand. His eyes had burnt as he had watched the lance corporal. He was thinking how this one was going to survive the detention barracks tricks when he was through with him.
"Where did you sleep last night? I take it you were not pinned down by the enemy because I could have carried a white flag for my truce. If we make a testicles inspection, I take it you used all the juices of my paternal favourite reproductive spirit," Major Mark had rumbled on as the lance corporal stood there shivering looking at his white commanding officer like a rat reporting to a cat.
None of the soldiers could laugh aloud. They sniggered casting their eyes between the two combatants on the field, the major and the lance corporal.
"Now battalion, when I was a kid, I used stickers in my ears when such adult language was discussed. You should do the same. Let's listen to the Chiwundura Nights by Lance Corporal Thomas Moyo Esq., who was wiley nily wee-weeing with the village girls," he went on. “While we are pushing the enemy from this maize and tomato basket, the lance corporal was going after the married women whose husbands are toiling day and night keeping Rhodesia afloat in KweKwe and Gweru. While we try sanctions busting activities, here amongst us is a hero who does the opposite for the Rhodesian flag. What Rhodesian party do you belong to? Do you salute the arch-terrorists Mugabe and Nkomo? I gather you found out whom the ZIPRA were screwing the most among the village girls? Give us that intelligence quick.”
"I was asleep sir."
"You spent the night asleep? Where did you sleep?"
The soldiers on parade listened keenly.
"Are you in right now?"
"No sir, in the bush."
"Do you see those tents for dormitories? If the army hadn't thought you needed them they couldn't have bothered asking all of you to sleep in those tents. Do you see those cooking fires; dug in magazine house, asbestos shed, that barbed wire, those three 'puma' armoured carriers and the ground you are on? Do you see the armoured door of the underground armoury?"
"Then why didn't you sleep anywhere else but within the perimeter fence? If you liked why didn’t you sleep inside the engine of the Bedford and Isuzu trucks?" asked the major.
“If the women were so forthright to get their thighs parted by you, why didn’t you bring one in the dead of night for your procreation activities and she could be gone by now? What does a sane woman see in you any where?”
"Sir __________ we went for girls."
"Adulterer, fornicator, do you mean that at the end of the month, you get paid in girls and not dollars, like the rest of us defending the nation? Do you get paid in condoms then? Durex brand perhaps soldier?" asked the major. “Are we fighting a war or a vice? Are you a prostitute of the male specie or a soldier? What more of the two are you?”
“Then where were you if you had your duties to attend before your pleasures. Do you mean to say all these soldiers do not like women? Parade do you hate women?”
“Then answer lance corporal!”
"Did those girls kiss those lips?"
"Shut up! What are you paid for battalion?"
"To fight!” Chorused the troops.
"Not polish the Major Mark Ridmore 's boots? All right to fight. Where you fighting last night without requesting assistance?"
"No sir it's a long story."
"Make it short."
The MP stepped forward.
"Wait, where are Joseph Chivhu and Sam Chimbwa?"
"Dead." There was silence. "Let me explain sir, what happened out there."
The sun was setting when the small group of about ten soldiers in two lines, five abreast moving, reached the river. Lance Corporal Thomas Moyo was holding a light machine gun with tripod legs. He was in command. He was halfway between the front and the back. He moved both ways. He was a veteran of the independence war. He had seen a lot of fighting and survived many a battle without knowing how he had come out alive. He had been airlifted and operated upon but he was still fighting the communist insurgency into Rhodesia.
"Two across the river," he said. "The rest prepare to cover your comrades, remember the ambush we had in Lahleki."
The soldiers obeyed. Two soldiers crossed the river on the double while the rest covered them. The two ran up the bank and fell down after choosing defensive positions. Two others crossed rifles held high until they had all crossed the river.
"I have a fire in my groin," one soldier complained.
"Don't worry, you will get laid."
"Aren't there ant dames around these places?" asked Thomas.
"The nearest village is several kilometres away," volunteered on private. "The sun is setting."
"Okay lay down and have your rations, " Thomas Moyo suggested. They had their rations before moving on. Further on they split into two groups of five. They agreed on a rendezvous and proceeded to do search operations in and around homesteads. Thomas Moyo 's group had left a sector full of residences. They crossed a road going through thick and dense vegetation, which could be ideal cover for illicit activities. Moving far apart, they scouted the terrain.
"Some people coming sir, "one private said.
The sun had set. The other four soldiers strained their eyes to see the people who were far off and coming towards them. They walked on. As they came closer, the people turned to be women chatting.
"Halt," shouted Thomas Moyo. "Who is there?"
"It's only us."
"Only 'us' who?"
"We are locals. Our home is over there," one of them pointed out. A kilometre away the forces saw traces of a yard fire.
"We are soldiers."
"Oh?" vWe aren't bandits neither," replied yet another woman.
"Come on, let's see you faces, " Joseph Chivhu suggested switching his torch on. His groin tickled as he noticed that of the three, one was tall and slender with medium breasts. She should have been a nursing mother, he thought, baby at home mostly likely. Her breasts were swinging left and right. She had something on her head, which she kept in place by one hand. The other was short, stocky with big behind and small breasts. She had a gap in her teeth but she was older than the first ‘nursing mother’ was. The other appeared the youngest and the prettiest. She was black in complexion, small in size with medium breasts. She had a limp when she walked. "Hey you are beautiful ladies."
“You flutter us.”
“You really are hot!” suggested Thomas.
And we are all married.”
“Where are your husbands?”
“They ran off to Salisbury,” one of them replied. “To work in the factories.”
“Then we will choose husbands for you,” suggested Chivhu.
The three giggled.
"We escort them home and in return…." Suggested Samu.
"We thank you," the short one said. Two privates had to continue alone as three soldiers turned escorting the ladies.
"What are your names?"
"I am Rose," the short stocky one said.
"I am Martha," said the small one.
"Tambudzai," finished the tall one.
They walked till a cluster of huts appeared. Later, after eating, there were two beds in the girls' dormitory. They decided who would use the beds by a toss of coins. Thomas Moyo was the loser the second time.
When I woke up major," Thomas Moyo narrated," there were two of my comrades, dead, froth on the mouth, on top of two graves. Yes, they were marked Rose and Martha. If you recall sir, there was a massacre in Paradise area of Chiwundura in the dead of night last year. It was blamed on the guerrilla movement. But when I recall sir, it was the Rhodesian Selous Scouts who did it because the people had hidden members of the guerrilla movement. The two dead women were victims of that massacre."