Unsung heroine; living with 100% disability for the sake of Zimbabwe

The chilling war account of Catherine Zenda, a Buhera woman who lost both eyes, had metal fragments in her body including the head and was declared 100% disabled was first published in The Sunday Mail. We reproduce the article here as we commemorate the true heroes who paid a price for the freedom of this country.


MASVINGO – Many might have paid the ultimate price for freedom. Hers cannot be described in lesser terms although she is still alive.
The blow that Ambuya Catherine Zenda suffered is painful and she continues to bear the brunt long after independence.
War injuries for the 63-year-old Buhera woman were put at 100% disability. She is now totally blind.
She stayed at Harare Hospital for a year and spent two years at Howard Mission Hospital. She is bedridden and has been like that since 1978. She suffers excruciating pain and this is worse when the weather is cold.
Five women died in the incident in which she was the only survivor.
Ambuya Zenda from Zenda Village under Chief Makumbe in Buhera has metal fragments from exploding grenades buried in her head and other parts of the body. Several of the fragments are just below the right eye and others above her upper jaw inside her mouth.
There are many others in her chest and some continue to be removed from her legs.
Her fate was from a 1978 war incident.
She instantly became blind when multiple-explosions from grenades planted in the dead body of another villager blew up in her face as she and colleagues tried to collect the remains from the roadside for burial.
Her left eye popped out of its socket when this happened. Metal fragments shot through her cheeks, opening several entries into her mouth so that when relatives fed her with porridge, it came out through the side of her mouth.
Many fragments settled in different parts of her head and they are still embedded there.
Yesterday The Sunday Mail visited Cde Zenda at her home about 2km from Makumbe Mission near Gombe Business Centre.
Mbuya Zenda recounted her hair raising story. It was a winter afternoon on a day she could not remember in 1978.
A mentally challenged man, Howard Chibvingodze had been shot dead by the Rhodesian Security Forces the previous evening. Frustrated Rhodesian soldiers who were on the receiving end of an ambush earlier that day went after everybody, but because people had escaped to safety, the only person they found was Chibvongodze.
They shot and killed him when they found him collecting water from a nearby stream.
“They convinced themselves that they had killed a Zanla soldier although the man was in rugs and had evidently not bathed for months. He also had tins tied to his waist.
“It was impossible to mistake such a person for a freedom fighter. Chibvongodze came from this village about two houses from here,” said Mbuya Zenda, covering her eyes with a doek to avoid dust from collecting inside the now empty sockets.
After killing Chibvingodze they hung the body from the bumper of an army vehicle. They went to Makumbe Mission where schoolchildren were ordered out of classrooms to come and view a dead “terrorist”.
The children were ordered to remain glued to that gory sight for hours before the soldiers drove back to their command centre at Buhera District offices.
At the centre, villagers were again forced to view the body of a “terrorist” for hours and were ordered not to blink. The body was already decomposing,” said Cde Zenda.
The army later took the body to the spot where they had had contact with the Zanla forces the previous day. They tore open the body and planted grenades inside.
They then posted a sign to a nearby tree asking people to bury their terrorist (gandanga) Big John. On the signpost they also drew a picture of a snake and warned villagers that they would suffer the same fate.
“When my son discovered the body the following day, women in the village decided to collect it for burial. Men had run away from the village since they were the target of the Rhodesian army’s brutality.
“So the seven of us went. We got to the site and found Chibvongodze’s body sprawled on the side of the road. Five of us stood by the body to lift it into a blanket which we had brought with us.
“I was just about to lift the legs while others were going for the hands and the head. There was just a slight disturbance on the body and it exploded. I found myself lying on the ground.
“It was around 2pm, there were multiple explosions going one after another, making any rescue operations impossible. I lay there bleeding until late into the evening.
“Chibvongodze’s body and the six women were torn into pieces. I endured the pain until the next day when Makumbe Mission head, a Mr Mandingwa took me in his car to Chivhu Hospital,.
Today she still suffers quietly and gets only $2 500 a month as compensation for her disability which is not enough to help her lead a comfortable life. Hers is an example of great fortitude.

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