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Governor Kimemia offers to foot hospital bills for Mau Mau veterans

By James Munyeki | Published Wed, December 6th 2017 at 09:09, Updated December 6th 2017 at 09:14 GMT +3

Some of the Mau Mau veterans in Nyandarua living with bullets lodged on their bodies arrive at North Kinangop Catholic Mission hospital where they are set to undergo operations to have the bullets removed. (Photo: James Munyeki/Standard)

Alarm bells usually go off when a patient walks into a hospital with bullet wounds.

But when seven elderly patients limped into North Kinangop Catholic Mission Hospital yesterday, they were treated with awe and respect.

Because these were not your ordinary gunshot victims.

They were the first batch of Mau Mau war veterans admitted to hospital for surgery that should have been conducted more than half a century ago to remove bullets lodged inside their bodies.

One of them is Juma Macharia, a resident of Nyandarua County, who has been living with a bullet lodged in his right leg for 56 years.

Mr Macharia, now 83, still remembers how and when the bullet got there.

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"October 1961," he says.

The father of eight was shot inside the Aberdare Forest in Nyandarua when British soldiers stormed a Mau Mau hideout.

There were more than 30 soldiers, and the small band of freedom fighters had only three guns between them. They were cornered.

“I used my rifle to cover my colleagues as they scampered for safety," Macharia recounts.

In the shoot-out that ensued, he was shot in the left hand and leg. Two of his colleagues were felled by the bullets.

Macharia, now living as a squatter in Kinangop, spent one month in the bush nursing his wounds with traditional herbs.

Partially paralysed

One of the bullets is still lodged in his leg, which is partially paralysed.

For years, the independence war veteran could not afford surgery to have it removed.

Long after echoes of the last gunshot died inside the Aberdares, hundreds of colonial-era bullets are still scattered in villages around the forests, lodged inside the last remnants of the Mau Mau.

Like Macharia, many of these veterans have had to live with the bullets in their bodies because they cannot afford the cost of surgery.

Macharia would need at least Sh200,000 to remove the bullet from his hand. But Hannah Wangui probably needs more.

Ms Wangui has three bullets lodged in her legs, all fired from a colonial soldier's gun more than half a century ago.

She had run away from home to hide in deep inside the Mt Kenya Forest, from where she and other women prepared meals for the Mau Mau fighters.

The British soldiers eventually smoked them out and she was shot three times and left for dead.

She is not even certain whose bullet, between the Mau Mau and the British, she is carrying.

"I found myself in between the soldiers and the Mau Mau, who were returning fire. It was then that I realised that I had been shot in the stomach, my left hand and left leg,” she recounts.

Like Macharia, Wangui relied on traditional herbs to nurse her wounds. But although effective, the herbs could not do the one thing she urgently needed - remove the bullet inside her foot.

“I was treated by medicine men in the forest but the bullet in my leg was never removed," she says.

To date, the 80-year-old war veteran can barely walk, and uses crutches to help her hop around her compound.

As the country prepares to recognise the war veterans during this year's Mashujaa Day celebrations, Nyandarua County, which was the epicenter of some of the fiercest battles between the Mau Mau and the British, is acknowledging that something needs to be done about these walking wounded.

The county government is stepping in to bear the cost of having the bullets removed, if only to make the veterans' sunset years a little more bearable.

Very sad

“It is very sad to see these people, who fought for the independence of this country, suffer. They have lived with bullets in their bodies for over 50 years without assistance," said Governor Francis Kimemia.

He said it was high time someone took responsibility.

"I have offered to pay all their expenses as they undergo surgery to have the bullets removed from their bodies,” he said.

The former head of the civil service conceded that the bullets had left many of the veterans incapacitated and in pain, especially during the cold season.

“This is a case of untold stories being experienced by our freedom fighters.They experience serious pain during the cold season as the bullets contract,” he said.

The county has also pledged to pay the National Hospital Insurance Fund fees for all Mau Mau veterans in the region.

“We have set aside money in our budget to cater for this. We cannot sit and watch as the freedom fighters suffer yet they are the ones who helped us get this far,” said Mr Kimemia.

He also promised that monuments would be set up in the county to honour its heroes and heroines.

But the veterans want more. They want the national government to chip in and help to mop up more colonial-era bullets.

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