Abel Musundire might have been the child narrator in Emmanuel Ngara’s celebrated poem on Nyadzonia, a Zimbabwean refugee camp in Mozambique, which was wiped out by Rhodesian security forces at the height of the Second Chimurenga. Both his parents and his older sister had been killed, and it was only the shelter of his mother’s body that had saved his life. From that moment on—he was just four years old—the thud-thudding of helicopter blades was branded on his soul.
After the war he had been reunited with his paternal relatives in Mutare. He grew up in the peace and relative prosperity of the eighties and early nineties. Following his A-Levels at Mutare Boys High, he studied to be a school teacher at Hillside Teachers College in Bulawayo. After graduation he was posted to Gwanda High School, where he met his future wife, Lindiwe, and where, when the Zimbabwean economy fell like a house of cards, he met the man who would lure him to a premature death.
This man was an inspector in the Gwanda Criminal Investigation Department, and a genuine war veteran with bitter memories of Nyadzonia and Chimoio, where he had been wounded in the hip. He walked with a limp, which he exploited in the manner of Long John Silver, to suggest aggressiveness. He was indeed quite a student of literature, and it was he who had introduced Abel to Ngara’s poem by reciting it, one evening, on the veranda of the Gwanda Hotel. It was uncanny how the poem reawakened in Abel that terrible moment in 1976, the mangled remains of his family and many, many other refugees. He recalled with a shudder the rattle of choppers followed by bursts of machine-gun fire. The inspector dictated the poem to him and he learned to declaim to his Commerce classes the opening stanzas:
We saw the soldiers come.
They came from the setting of the sun.
They came with armaments.
They came with fury.
They came painted like black people.
But soon we got to know,
Soon we got to know who they were,
Soon—the whole earth was athunder with bomb blasts,
Soon the whole earth was aflame with furious and frightening fire.
The fact that he had actually been present at the massacre impressed his pupils no end and they looked upon him with a new respect, not least the dreamy-eyed Lindiwe in his O-Level class.
Abel was earning the equivalent of US$8 a month, supporting a wife and four children, when the inspector took him by the elbow and guided him to the Gwanda Hotel where he was treated to a fizzy drink—his first in two years. The inspector wanted to have a heart-to-heart talk with his friend. Had he heard of Marange? Abel thought he had. After all, it was home territory for Abel, not far from Mutare. Wasn’t that where diamonds are scattered on the ground like flying-ant wings?
The inspector offered Abel a job on behalf of the wife of a cabinet minister, one of the most powerful men in the land, as a makorokoza or digger. The inspector was a gweja or dealer, who sold the diamonds in South Africa to connections in the ANC, friends of the minister’s wife. The law wouldn’t bother them because, isn’t it?—they had the wife’s protection. He dug in a pocket of his jacket and brought out a handful of milky pebbles. They made tiny musical clicks when he shook them under Abel’s nose. There’s a Toyota Land Cruiser, a plasma screen television, and enough left over to educate your children at the most expensive private schools in Harare. Abel moved to touch the diamonds but the inspector returned them to his pocket.
Abel was to work with two other diggers who had already been operating in the alluvial diamond fields in the Chiadzwa area of Marange District. They were quite close to the Mozambique border. Most of the poorer quality surface diamonds had long gone so Abel was issued with a mugwara or iron bar to dig for the larger, more precious underground diamonds, which, processed, would find their way, eventually, to wherever rich bitches and their terminal husbands didn’t pay taxes, and left their fortunes to Maltese poodles. Abel’s fellow diggers were also school teachers, both from Harare. They warned Abel not to get his hopes up. They didn’t get to keep the diamonds they found, and they weren’t paid very much, but at least it was in foreign currency; at least they could make ends meet. Abel wanted to have a word with the inspector who had promised him so much, but it was too late.
Too late—the saddest words in the world. De Beers, the original owners of the field, had allowed their claim to lapse, and it had been taken over by a British company called African Consolidated Resources. When it became clear, however, that there were rich pickings to be had, the government sent in the police to evict the foreign owners. That was in 2007. What followed was a free-for-all, a gift to the hungry peasants of Marange District from their ancestral spirits. A few of them actually got rich by Zimbabwean standards. But, bless them, the poor are not meant to get rich; they will have their reward in heaven. So in came the wheeler-dealers; then came the political heavyweights in ZANU-PF; then, and this is what spelled doom for the likes of Abel Musundire—then came JOC and Operation Hakudzokwi or No Return.
Abel’s first night in Chiadzwa was his last. They were busy filling bags of diamond-bearing soil from their trench, when Abel’s ears picked up a familiar sound—the rhythmic thud of a helicopter gunship belonging to the airforce of Zimbabwe. He screamed to his companions to run but it was too late. Those diggers who were not mown down by machine-gun fire were caught in an ambush of policemen and their vicious dogs. While the latter tore them to pieces, the former went through their pockets looking for stones and hard cash. Abel was lucky enough to be killed by the gunner in the helicopter, and he died with sound of its blades thudding overhead.