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How I helped Mathenge escape from Kimathi

By | Published Sat, March 13th 2010 at 00:00, Updated Sat, March 13th 2010 at 00:00 GMT +3

By Peter Thatiah

"One of the grave consequences of joining the Mau Mau was the immediate shooting of my mother. She was shot in the backside, leading to an injury that would make one of her leg shorter for the rest of her life. But compared to what was to follow in our family, my mother was very lucky indeed.

Upon joining the movement, I came to learn about its structure. Dedan Kimathi had divided his people into battalions and Stanley Mathenge became the second in command.

Kimathi’s wife Mukami came to live with us but after some time she was taken away to a safe place out of the forest. She was suckling a baby girl called Nyambura and Kimathi was afraid of exposing the child to the extreme weather bouts of Aberdares forest.

At the beginning of 1954, which was the saddest year of my life, I was moved from the Kimathi camp and went to live in one of the camps ran by Mathenge. I immediately noted Mathenge was very different from his boss. Whereas Kimathi had a high-pitched voice, Mathenge’s was a deep baritone that drove everyone to attention whenever he romped into the camp. He was a widely travelled man who had been to countries like Egypt, Israel and Burma (today’s Myanmar) and he told many stories about these places.

We did not know then but this divergence in personalities would later bring differences that virtually brought the whole movement down. Mathenge was taller than Kimathi.

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He was over six feet tall, light-skinned, with a gap between his teeth. He was also reasonable and willing to negotiate during a crisis. I don’t know what Kimathi thought about his friend but seeing that I carried his personal effects sometimes, I guessed Mathenge made Kimathi a little uncomfortable.

Colonial soldiers

Towards the middle of 1954 the colonial soldiers achieved their dream when they caught up with my father in the forest and shot him dead in cold blood. They vowed to kill the rest of us. Two months later, my elder sister Peris Wambui was captured and shot dead in similar fashion.

I was told there was a lot of celebration in the homeguard circles when this happened. I slumped into inconsolable grief for many months, but I resolved that I would live on to see the end of the struggle. Kimathi ordered a massive retaliation and he became so confident of his success at this time he started toying with the idea of forming a government.

He gave all the people in the forest a rank. He designated the post of prime minister for himself. To console me on the death of my father and sister in the struggle, he made me a captain. There were sergeants, privates, corporals and even colonels. It did not surprise me when Mathenge turned down the offer to be made a field marshal. He said Kimathi should even refrain from calling himself a prime minister, arguing that it is the man who will survive the war who would claim the post.

There was a girl from the Kimathi camp called Wanjiru and she was one of my best friends. She told me everything that happened in the Kimathi camp and I told her everything that happened in the Mathenge camp. In early 1956 she told me the Kimathi camp was planning to take unspecified action on Mathenge. One day Mathenge was arrested and hauled for a court martial in the Kimathi camp, ostensibly because of offering to negotiate for ceasefire with the colonial establishment.

On that night it was raining and Mathenge and six of his men were tied to trees some distance from where Kimathi consulted with his council. It was at this point that I decided to untie Mathenge without the knowledge of the others. He left walking down valley and he was never seen again. Not even his body was ever found. Kimathi never talked about it either and we knew it was a closed topic.

After Kimathi was betrayed in 1956 at a village called Kahigaini in Tetu, we knew the end was nigh. I was arrested in 1957 and became prisoner number 2739 at Kamiti Maximum Prison. Luckily, my interrogator, a man called Nelson, knew my father and hatched a scheme to release me even before the year was over.

I could not even remember the way back home. People had been put in camps and everything I had known and loved was no more. Our farm had long been given away and my family made squatters.

Today we live in Nyandarua with my family, where we bought a farm and established a home.


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