The baobab tree is a unique specie which is commonly used as a source of water and food. It is sometimes also used as medicine. Known as the “Tree of Life”, the baobab is native to the African Savannah where the climate is extremely dry and arid. It is a symbol of life and positivity in a landscape where little else can thrive.
In African folklore, it is said that kings and elders would hold meetings under the Baobab tree, with the belief that the tree would guide them in decision making. Thus it is a perfect metaphor for wisdom.
Such is the uniqueness of the Baobab tree that it has acquired different meanings socially, politically and spiritually.
For ZNA deminers working along the Sango Border Post to Crooks Corner minefield in the South Eastern part of the country, a particular Baobab tree has a different meaning. Nestled in the hot and arid environments of Mwenezi, specifically on the road side about 55km along the Rutenga- Chikombedzi road, the Baobab tree has been a source of inspiration for the deminers whose work is risky and tedious. It is a symbol of hope and success.
For this writer, travelling to Dumisa for deployment for the first time was an emotional experience, not because of the thought that I would be away from my family for a long time, but by witnessing the scenes at the Baobab tree site when the convoy reached there. What captured the writer’s imagination was the dancing, singing, ululation and the photoshoots that characterised the brief unofficial ceremony of ‘celebrating a tree’. In my confused stupor, I was engulfed by a flood of questions which were later to be answered during the course of my tour of duty.
What value does this Baobab tree possess? What prompts these minesweepers to obey and respect the wild tree? A few meters from the tree, there is another Baobab tree. Why were they celebrating and paying homage to this particular one?
I was later to learn that this was a ritual that the deminers always undertook whenever they travel to and from the demining area. The Deputy Supervising Manager of the demining operations in Dumisa, Captain Proud Paradza put this somewhat bizarre ritual into perspective.
“This Baobab tree has a fundamental Liberation War history that motivates and strengthens us as the demining family. During the Liberation Struggle, the Rhodesian forces laid millions of landmines along the borders with Mozambique and Zambia in order to tactically block movement of freedom fighters from acquiring military training in Mozambique and Zambia and also deploy to the front.
“The freedom fighters used the Sango Border Post and Gaza Khomanani areas as they deployed into the country to prosecute the war. The Baobab tree, known as the Muuyu Site acted as a military strategic rendezvous for freedom fighters who had managed to bypass and escape the deadly jaws of landmines, particularly in this highly mine infested area known as Chikududu.
“The Muuyu Site is where freedom fighters who had successfully sneaked into the then Southern Rhodesia converged, to devise battle plans and consult spirit mediums to map the way forward. Thus the tree connects us with our past in that we are now fighting to remove the lethal remnants of war that were once obstacles to our comrades as they struggled to liberate us from colonial bondage. The common goal is to save our country and its people from devices and experiences that inhibit their freedom.
“We revere the tree as a way of seeking guidance and protection from our ancestors and honouring the spirits of our departed comrades who died during the Liberation Struggle. In a way, this has proved to be effective as there have been few road and landmine accidents. More significantly, the Baobab tree marks the boundary between an unsafe landmine infested zone and a safe zone,” said Captain Paradza.