Spirit is moulded by struggle

In 1999, on a sponsored visit to South Africa, I asked someone what I thought was a random, routine question: where is Tennyson Makiwane?

"Oh," came the rather nonchalant answer, "he was killed in the Transkei."

My sudden intake of breath so startled the provider of the answer, he turned with alarm to me. "He wasn't killed by the Boers, in case that is what you think."

I was stunned. For a few minutes I could not say a word. I tried to remember the last time I had met with Tennyson, in New Kabwata, Lusaka, Zambia.

Their house was only a few blocks away from ours. His wife, Ruth, and mine were, if not close friends, then very firm acquaintances.

I dared not ask what had happened to Ruth, fearing the worst.

Had "they" killed her too?

Calmly, my informant related a tale which so disturbed me that I tried to remember every detail of my last conversation with Tennyson, remembering how he favoured wide-brimmed hats and fawn-coloured suits. Like me, he kept a moustache, although, unlike me, he did not shave the rest of his beard.

What devil had possessed him to think he could return home and continue life as if nothing had happened in-between? He was virtually the voice of the ANC in Lusaka.

I let my informant finish the rest of the sad tale. "These things do happen in the struggle," he concluded, sagely.

On another trip elsewhere I had asked about another close friend, this one from the PAC. I was told, sadly, that he had returned to South Africa to bury his mother.

"He made a deal," this informant told me. "They would allow him back if he denounced his party."

"You mean he did?" I asked, incredulously.

"Yes, he did."

Later, when I ran this information across another South African, he vehemently denied the man had agreed to a deal with the Boers.

"He did not go there," was the firm response.

I sighed with relief.

Struggles such as those in which many Zimbabweans, South Africans, Angolans, Mozambicans and Namibians were involved, are bound to have changed lives, in some cases, forever.

Wherever humankind confronts death in one form or another, there is bound to be traumatic transformation, either of the soul, the heart and the brain, or all three.

A person who kills another human being can hardly expect to pretend to remain unaffected, untouched by the experience, for all time.

All literature on war has this thread of tragedy running through it. Whether it is War AndPeace, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Naked And the Dead, The Guns of Navarone or The Great Escape, the presence of death and destruction is always juxtaposed with incredible examples of human warmth and the heroism that has inspired young and old over the centuries to believe death in a just cause is worth the price.

There are always realistic scenes of the human spirit being stretched to the limit by temptation and evil.

Independence was always a Just Cause for all the people of southern Africa to fight for.

Today the young might wonder whether in countries such as Zimbabwe there is an appreciation among the leadership that independence, for which such a high price was paid in terms of lost lives, means more than just idle sloganeering.

Give me liberty or death - the freedom fighters declared before going into battle.

If it is death from hunger and disease they eventually confront as free people, it may be understandable for them to turn against erstwhile comrades-in-arms.

The human spirit has its breaking point too.