October 21, 2018 will mark 62 years since Dedan Kimathi was captured at Tetu in the early hours of that dreadful day in 1956.
Kimathi was dressed in a leopard skin headdress and cloak when he was spotted moving through the forest .
At first,the two African policemen, Wanjohi and Ndirangu, thought he was a leopard, but they realised he was a man when he started moving across a wide ditch separating a patch of forest from a Kikuyu reserve, prompting them to open fire.
He had tried to climb the bank on the forest side but it was to steep, so he ran back and climbed up on the other side when a bullet hit him on the right thigh.
News of Kimathi capture was announced over loudspeakers in many parts of Kenya. At Machakos where some loyal Africans were rehearsing to welcome Princess Margaret cheers broke out.
Later, Kimathi was moved to Nyeri Hospital for an operation to remove the bullets .Outside the hospital a small crowd of Kikuyu gathered to catch a glimpse of the mau mau leader.
Dr P. P Turner, a surgeon at Nyeri Hospital, would later tell the court on November 23rd, that he believed Kimathi was epileptic and that during the operation he had suffered seizures which might have caused him severe headaches and mental problems.
When he was eventually brought to court, Kimathi told his Counsel Fredrick Miller, that he had lived in the forest for almost four years but had parted ways with most of his companions in early 1954.
He further said that except for three leaders who were friendly , the others were opposed to a letter he had written offering to negotiate with the Government. “When the three friendly leaders told me my life was in danger i decided to relocate to another hiding place deep in the forest,” said Kimathi.
Miller: “ Since then have you carried out any anti British, anti African or any other mau mau activities?”
Kimathi: “Not even previous to that.”
Kimathi also said that the pistol which was found on him was given to him in April 1955 by a man called Macharia Kimemia to defend himself against mau mau who wanted to kill him. Kimemia had advised Kimathi that enmity towards him had grown enormously within the mau mau and therefore he needed to be careful.
“I have never used that pistol since it was given to me, or any other,” Kimathi told the court.
Mr Miller: “ you were a long time in the forest why didn’t you come out and surrender earlier since you had parted ways with your associates and your life was in danger?”
Kimathi: “ Because there was a £500 reward on my head and i knew if i came out either the police or homeguards would kill me to get the money. I have been writing secretly to the Government to meet them because i knew that if i met them and came out with them i would not be shot.”
“I was left alone and i was ill, and i said to myself it is better to come out either to be killed or to get before the Government,” he added.
Mr D.W Conroy, Solicitor-General who was prosecuting, interjected :”The Government denies that any letters offering to surrender were written.”
After a whispering consultation with Kimathi.Mr Miller said he would not ask for the letters.
Kimathi described how on his journey from the forest he was squatting under a castor tree when a man came up with a gun, “ I did not know, if he was mau mau or Government. I raised my arms and said it is i Dedan Kimathi i have come to surrender. Do not kill me.”
When the man heard he was Dedan Kimathi , “ he got down on one knee and fired at me.”
Cross examined by the Solicitor General, Kimathi agreed he had called himself Field Marshal Sir Dedan Kimathi, president of the Kenya Parliament, Knight Commander of the African Empire and Supreme Commander In Chief of Kenya and of the Land Freedom Armies.
Kimathi was hanged in 1957 after he was sentenced to death for illegal possession of a revolver. At his request a Roman Catholic priest spent a night with him in his cell.
He was first celebrated as a hero in October 1962 at an exhibition organised by Mr. Ambul Patel, a man who took care of Jomo Kenyatta’s daughter while he was serving his prison sentence .
The exhibition which was opened by Tom Mboya, described Kimathi as “ Field Marshal Sir Dedan Kimathi the great hero of the Forest Army” and also displayed many of his photos.
The exhibition angered both the Government and white settlers, with one British journalist commenting sarcastically, “ It now appears having been a member of a terrorist gangs is a valid qualification for future enshrinement as a saviour of that bedevilled country.”
However, when Mboya was confronted with criticism of the enshrinement of Kimathi, he charged:”Whether or not some people like that part of Kenya’s history is immaterial.”
Mboya further said that those Europeans who took offence at Dedan Kimathi’s photographs being displayed “should go back to Europe where statues have been erected in memory of people more rotten than anyone i can think of in Kenya. “
Dedan Kimathi was born in Tetu in 1923. Between 1949 and 1950, he worked as a teacher at Karumaini school and Ngereka Estate Ol Kalou. Among his students was Hannington Apudo Kenya’ s first Airline Pilot.
In 1951 he worked as a clerk at South Tetu Diary before joining Shell Oil Company Thomson’s Falls as a clerk .Towards the end of the same year, Jomo Kenyatta personally appointed him KAU’s secretary at Thomson’s Falls.
He took to the forest in Dec 1952 when the Colonial Government launched a crackdown on KAU leaders .
Credit: Thank you Levin Odhiambo Opiyo for the exceptional research into the last few days of Kimathi’s life.