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HEROES DAY SPECIAL: Unsung heroine Grace Ethel Noko says ‘real’ heroes struggling to survive

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By Bulawayo Correspondent


“I am really disappointed that a lot of people who were nowhere near the struggle are now the ones who are enjoying the fruits of our sacrifices.

“We sacrificed a lot of things in our lives for the struggle but, unlike politically connected people, some of us have not been accorded the status we deserve,” Noko lamented.

AS the country celebrates Heroes Day Monday, former Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) instructor, Grace Ethel Noko remains one of the unsung liberation struggle heroines despite having played a pivotal role during the war of liberation against the racist Ian Smith regime.

Unlike some of her male colleagues who have been handsomely rewarded with farms as well as top posts and higher ranks in the country’s security service sectors such as the police and the army, Noko, just like the majority of ordinary Zimbabweans, still wallows in abject poverty.

“Everyone is a hero. I cannot say we are enjoying at the moment because the situation we are in now in the country is not what we fought for. We could be better than this if we really meant to a build real Zimbabwe for Africans, but at the moment even if we are be given the little as war veterans I cannot buy anything,”

“I think you can even see that my body does not reflect someone who is sitting pretty or who is really happy. We are suffering in our own Zimbabwe which we fought for,” said Noko in an interview with Newzimbabwe.com.

Noko said most of the male cadres whom he trained with were high ranking army officers living large.

“Most of them were also allocated farms while female cadres like myself do not own anything” she said.

Some of the male Zipra cadres trained by Noko include the late Brigadier General Sibusiso Moyo.

She bemoaned what she described as the politicisation of the national heroes status.

“The idea of a National Heroes’ Acre, from an individual point of view, is alright for historical purposes, but I still take it to say someone should be laid to rest at his or her home or people . Now that there is this Heroes Acre, that is where you find the segregation because real heroes are not taken to that place,”

“At the moment, we are told that it’s only from a Colonel and above who should lie at the national shrine, or someone who should be accorded that status by the President. Everyone fought for this country.”

“We cannot say someone fought above others because you cannot fight a struggle alone,” she said.

War veteran Grace Noko

Noko, who hails from Halisupi area in Gwanda district, crossed into Botswana in 1975 together with four other locals before she and other cadres were taken to Nampundwe Transit Camp in Zambia

“I was around 15 years old when I left the country in July 1975 together with my nephew and two other youths from the same locality. Initially, about eight youths had agreed to join the liberation struggle along with us, but they chickened out at last minute” said recalled.

Her nom de guirre was Grace Muchichi.

After crossing Shashe river, the youth proceeded to her aunt in Gobojango in Botswana where they misrepresented that they were in the country on missionary business.

After staying in Gobajango for few days, the youths managed to link up with Zipra cadres who were responsible for sending recruits for training.

“Before we were sent for military training in Zambia, we stayed on several holding camps in Botswana. Some of the camps we stayed include Selibe-Phikwe Prison. We also stayed at a Zapu house in Blue Town where we were joined by other girls from Beitbridge. At the house we also shared the house with trained guerrillas,” she recalled.

In December 1975, Noko was among recruits who included nine females recommended for military training in Zambia.

After staying for a few months at Nampundwe Transit Camp, the group was moved to the inaugural Mwembeshi military training camp which is located some 200 kilometres outside Lusaka.

“The training course was designed for everyone regardless of gender. We trained in various military aspects such as judo, combat tactics, and use of various fire arms as well as political orientation courses” said Noko.

When Zipra and Zanla formed the Zimbabwe People’s Army (ZIPA) in 1975, Noko and the rest of the group moved to Mgagao in Tanzania. While at Mgagao the two military groups clashed resulting in the group transferred again to Morogoro, where they resumed training.

After training, Noko and another female cadre, Thoriso Phiri were recommended to be instructors.

They were deployed back to Mwembeshi training camp where they trained several recruits. After staying for several months at Mwembeshi the two instructors were in 1977 deployed as commanders to Victory Camp which was a transit camp facility which had been created for women recruits while Nampundwe was reserved for males.

Noko was part of a group of 20 who was send to Cuba by the party in 1977 where she specialised in military intelligence.

Upon her return to Zambia in September 1978, she was deployed at the Zapu headquarters in Lusaka where she worked under the late Vice-President, John Landa Nkomo.

She worked with wife of the late  Zanu PF national spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo, Hazel who is a former officer-in- charge of Magwegwe police station, and former deputy Home Affairs minister, Obert Matshalaga and the late Chenjerai Hunzvi.

After independence she joined the special constabulary in the police force but later left and pursued secretarial studies.

After that she joined ZEDCO group of colleges owned by the late Sikhanyiso Ndlovu.

She has since retired from the college.

Noko is single mother and has got two children.

she is bitter because some of the aspirations of the liberation struggle have not been fulfilled.

“I am really disappointed that a lot of people who were nowhere near the struggle are now the ones who are enjoying the fruits of our sacrifices.

“We sacrificed a lot of things in our lives for the struggle but, unlike politically connected people, some of us have not been accorded the status we deserve,” Noko lamented.