The Day Kimathi died: Recollections by his wife Mukami Kimathi

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki greets freedom hero Mukami Kimathi during a graduation ceremony at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology on April 28, 2017. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]
When Mukami Kimathi received a handwritten note requesting her to go to Industrial Area Prison in Nairobi on February 17, 1957, she dismissed it as just another prank by her tormentors.

She had rejected a number of similar requests in the past because she thought the prison authorities at Kamiti were just pulling her leg.

However, she later changed her mind and decided that there was nothing to lose and agreed to go. By doing this, she granted freedom icon Dedan Kimathi his dying wish.

Ms Mukami’s recollections of her last meeting with her husband are vividly captured in her memoirs Mukami Kimathi: Mau Mau Freedom Fighter, penned by Wairimu Nderitu and published early this year.

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First visit

She remembers her first visit to a man she had last seen alive and well deep in Aberdare Forest more than two years before as he commanded a rag tag army with improvised weapons.

“When he saw me his face lit up into a broad smile. He jumped up and hugged me. When I complained about his gunshot wounds, he jumped up thrice telling me that it no longer hurt,”  says Mukami.

And for the next two hours or so, the two poured out their hearts sharing their aspirations, fears, and dreams for the future of their union, their children, and the nation.

As husband and wife talked, sharing tears of joy and pain, they were not granted any privacy as they would have liked as security agents kept walking in and out of the room.

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According to Mukami, the colonial authorities had left nothing to chance as they wanted to be sure that the man they had in custody was truly Dedan Kimathi. As for Mukami, she had no doubt in her mind that she was indeed meeting with her husband, as evidenced by the missing finger on his left hand, which he had lost while grinding grass for cattle.

Their conversation revolved around many things, but Kimathi’s main regret was that he would not live long enough to see the black man raise a Kenyan flag high or see his children grow in a free country. He was, however, content that he had done his part.

“I have cultivated and planted. I have even weeded and the crop is ready for harvest,” Kimathi told his wife as he likened Kenya to a farm.

According to Mukami, Kimathi wanted his young children to be told that he had gone to a far away country to work. “I know they are going to kill me but do not let them kill my name, Kimathi Wachiuri. If you get children after I am gone, they must carry my name because they will be my children but do not ever get married to anyone else,” Mukami recalls Kimathi’s counsel.

Although Kimathi had resigned himself to his fate of death by hanging, in her heart Mukami still entertained some hope that the colonial government would let her and Kimathi meet with their children, even if it was in the cells.

Dreams shattered

After the memorable meeting, she bid Kimathi goodbye, happy in the knowledge that she would meet him again soon. She was buoyed by the white man’s promise  that the following day she would be allowed to travel to Nyeri so that she could fetch the children to reunite with their father.

Kimathi played along and instructed her to tell the children that he needed to see them urgently as he was going to another country to work. Her dreams were shattered by the shrill sirens of Kamiti the following morning, shortly before daybreak. The alarm signified that a prisoner had been hanged.

It did not take long for Mukami to learn that the colonial authorities had lied to her for they had indeed killed her husband.

The hanging is graphically captured by historian Maina Kinyatti in his book, Agikuyu, 1890-1965: Waiyaki. Kenyatta. Kimathi. He describes how on the morning of February 18, Kimathi, whose feet and hands were manacled, was escorted by six warders and three missionaries to the execution chamber, where he was hanged. 

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Madaraka DayDedan Kimathi