The relatives of a freedom fighter have been forced to look for alternative land to bury their family matriarch after the State denied them a burial permit at her colonial village where she has lived all her life.
Jane Gathoni, 96, was among the few Mau Mau freedom fighters who were left at Ngaaini colonial village in Mathira, Nyeri County, post-independence as she had nowhere to go.
She lived as a squatter in Ngaaini where she bore three children.
Gathoni lost her leg in the struggle for independence and this visible scar and sacrifice reminded her family of her efforts to liberate this country.
Grace Wairimu said her mother reminded them of colonial persecution and how home guards betrayed their own to the authorities.
“She is among those who forfeited education for the sake of future generations. But she died hoping that she could receive a title deed for our sake and our children. Her hopes remained wishes and here we are with nowhere to bury her,” said Ms Wairimu.
Wairimu and her siblings were notified the land where they called home was earmarked for a hospital and they could not be allowed to bury her. “As is the norm after death, we went to the chief to get a burial permit and he broke the sad news to us. We went to the county surveyor who also told us the same thing. This left us devastated,” said Wairimu.
Confused about where to take their mother’s body, the bereaved members held a family gathering to deliberate the way forward and that is how a son agreed to bury his mother elsewhere.
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But the State directive has left the inhabitants of Ngaaini in disbelief, especially those whose children have not secured land for themselves.
Muriuki Waigwa, 97, a neighbour of Gathoni and a former freedom fighter said when he heard the news that his colleague could not be buried in a place she called home, he shivered with fear because he knew he would suffer the same fate.
Mr Waigwa has fresh memories of the detention camps he was taken to after he was labeled a ‘hardcore’ rebel. They included Manyani, Lang’ata, Kangubiri, and Sayusi, Kodiaga, and Mageta islands.
“At Lamu (Mada Island) dug a borehole that is still in use to date, while at Sayusi Island in Kisumu, detainees being ferried on a boat perished after it capsized,” said Waigwa.
He added, “In Kangubiri, then Aguthii works camp, we made bricks that constructed government houses. At Embakasi we were involved in digging the airport using our hands. I recall living in shackles for two years due to what the colonial masters described as my hard-headedness.”
He recalls being aboard a ship with 300 other inmates on their way to Lamu from Fort Jesus when the ship lost direction and they had to spend a night in the Indian Ocean waiting to be rescued.
Waigwa, who is suffering from old age-related ailments, said despite his efforts to liberate the country, he fears that he will die landless and pass on the baton to his children to continue demanding the land.
“I have buried my mother on this land and several of my family members. But the news that my neighbour will not be buried here leaves me with one certainty; that I will also not be buried here in the soil that knows me.”
He said Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who calls himself ‘son of Mau Mau’ should ensure they get title deeds as promised by the former administration.
“Tell him to remember us and award us with title deeds even if it is a plot each. The other request is for him to employ our children so as to break the generational poverty that has been the trademark of Mau Mau families,” said Waigwa.
The residents also disputed a claim by Kirimukuyu chief Munene Mathenge who had told The Standard that the affected families had been given alternative land. “They will relocate to their respective plots when issued with title deeds while the land they are occupying will be used as a public amenity.”
Antony Maina, a historian and curator at the National Museums of Kenya, explained that demarcation was done in 1958 when Mau Mau fighters were still living in colonial villages. “This meant that some were denied land while others were given small and barren lands.”