WALTER MTHIMKHULU – Interviewed by Marieke Clarke at Hull, England, April 10TH and 11th 2018

To commemorate the passing of my cousin-brother Walter on 7 July 2018, I am posting an extract of his account from the book – A Cradle of the Revolution.  Voices from Inyathi School.

CHILDHOOD                   

I was born at my mother’s place, Sinkugwe near Stanmore, Gwanda, on 19January 1940. My parents were not married.  My birth mother was MaNkosi. Her father was a white man who had two children with my grandmother.   After I was born, I was whisked away to Lupane to my father’s parents and a stepmother, MaNdlela.   

MaNdlela was really an angel to me.  All her life, she treated me like her own biological son. My father was working in town and lived in a detached cottage in Makhokhoba Township. 

When I was given my first pair of long trousers, my father said, “Your mother gave them to you.”  I did not know whether it was MaNkosi or MaNdlela who had given the trousers. So I did not know whom I should thank. I got to know months later when I was visiting Bulawayo. My birth mother asked me if I had received the trousers. I then thanked her.  

Our paternal grandmother MaNdlovu told us about our history.    

PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOL

My first school was a London Missionary Society school at Lupane, where I did Sub Standards A and B. The school had no other classes, so I went to my birth mother for further classes. I attended a Brethren in Christ school at Gwanda till Standard 2.

The Brethren in Christ were dogmatic.  They said, “You must be married by the Church.  Any other form of marriage is unholy.”

 I went to a traditional wedding with friends.  It was fun for little boys. There was plenty to eat and lively dancing.  The Brethren in Christ had sent spies to see if any of us school pupils were there. We had just taken our examinations, but were told that we could not get our results because we had been at the traditional wedding. We were only ten years old, but we were instructed to make 50 bricks each as punishment. I did not have to make the bricks because my mother took me to a white senior teacher who did not know about the rule that a traditional wedding was condemned.

I was then sent to Gloag Ranch, a boarding school for Standards 3 to 6. The principal was Rev Samson, whose son David was the same age as me. We played together. But David insulted me and I beat him up. He was covered with blood. His father called me in and prayed, “I have come all the way from Scotland and you do this!”

I replied, “I did not ask you to come and help me!”

Meanwhile Mrs Samson was cooking and we all shared a meal!  Rev Samson was a good man but rather superior.

In 1955 I started secondary school at Inyathi.  Under the liberal headmaster Kenneth Maltus Smith, we engaged in heated political debates and leading thinkers of the time came to address students.  Joshua Nkomo, Jason Moyo and Chief Khayise Ndiweni were some of the visitors during my time.

I went to Fletcher High School for my ‘A’ levels.  Within a year I was expelled for leading an anti-government strike.

INTO THE WORLD OF WORK

I had to find a job.  I went to Harare where I worked for the Ministry of Home Affairs as a Pass Officer and was sent to the district office at Gwanda.  A man called Trollip was the Native Commissioner. We did not get on well, even though he spoke fluent isiNdebele. The other pass officers were white so I had a separate office. Finally I was sacked and arrived in Bulawayo the weekend of the Zhii Riots.

Though a member of ZAPU, I got a full time job as a reporter for the Daily News.  Following the banning of the Daily News I crossed to Zambia.

FOUR YEARS IN the USA 1963 – 67. 

In 1963 ZAPU sent me to Syracuse University the USA.  During the four years, my closest friend was South African student Keorapatse Kgositsile. We had first met in Bulawayo and later in Tanzania when we were both reporters. Now we renewed our friendship. At one time the two of us nearly got killed on the way to a Black Power rally in Mississippi.

A USEFUL YEAR IN THE SOVIET UNION

Ten of us were sent to the USSR to major in Communications for one full year. We left Zambia in about January 1968 and returned around December 1968. Joshua Mahlathini Mpofu was commander of the group and I was deputy.    

REVOLT AND DEPORTATION

In 1974, after an unsuccessful revolt against ZAPU leadership I was one of the forty-five cadres deported to Britain.  I was extremely disillusioned.  I felt we had given all we had to reform the Party so that we continued to wage a just war.  We had failed.  Our former comrades now saw us as traitors taking refuge in the land of our former colonizers.  We were convinced they were the traitors. 

 In 1976 I joined Muzorewa and later was appointed UK representative for the UANC.  I thought Muzorewa was a Christian man who was trying to do his bit. I finally met him and he was sound in his own way: he felt there was a way of negotiating with Smith. Muzorewa was also very supportive to the guerrillas in practical ways.

The Geneva conference failed: Smith was very stubborn.

In 1978 I was told to return to Rhodesia. I was scared but went with some others.

INTO SECOND EXILE

By 1985, Zimbabwe was a living hell for a politician who was not a member of ZANU-PF.  In November 1985 I flew out of Zimbabwe to the UK into my second exile.

75th BIRTHDAY PARTY

Birthday celebrations are not a part of our tradition. And so, while I was growing up, I never had a birthday party.  As an adult I saw no reason for one. But on 26 January 2015, my relatives and friends threw a surprise birthday party for me. Over 30 of our great-great grandfather Dayise’s descendants and about 10 friends gathered at a community centre on Spring Bank in Hull to hug me, wish me a happy 75th birthday and dance the night away. Two cakes, one with an AK 47 outline on top, were baked.

I was touched. For the first time since I was a child, I felt tears gather in my eyes.  I had been in prison when my father died in 1972 and so I could not carry out the role of the first son at the funeral.  I was in my second exile when both my mothers died. On both occasions, relatives in the UK offered to organise memorial services, but I refused: I just wanted to be alone.

At the end of the birthday party, Terence, my nephew threatened that my 80th birthday would be even bigger.

Walter passed away in Hull, UK on 7 July 2018 and was interred in the same city on 25 July 2019.  

Full version of Walter’s account available from the book: A Cradle of the Revolution:  Voices from Inyathi School, edited by Pathisa Nyathi and Marieke Clarke.  Amagugu Publishers.

To my blog readers, I am taking a two months break from the blog to focus on the anthology of short stories.  Thank you for the encouraging comments you sent in the past six months.  I will be back.

Mzana Mthimkhulu.

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