What you need to know:
- He was cornered; unwanted by his fellow freedom fighters and hunted by the colonialists and his menials, the African home guards.
- Ndirangu and Njogi Ngatia were paid Sh3,000 as the reward for capturing the feared fighter.
- But it is evident in the records that the trial and the appeals up to the highest court then, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, were predestined to end in his death.
On October 20, 1956, Dedan Kimathi Wachiuri arrived at the decision to leave the rest of the Mau Mau in the forest and go and surrender to the colonialists.
He was cornered; unwanted by his fellow freedom fighters and hunted by the colonialists and his menials, the African home guards.
In July 1953, he had fallen out with his colleagues in the Mau Mau, who were unhappy with him for writing a letter to the Governor, Sir Evelyn Baring.
Although three of his fellow leaders of the freedom fighters were agreeable and wanted him to meet the Governor, the rank and file was not.
Kimathi was told about a plot to kill him and moved to a hideout with five of his friends. There was a second dispute in February 1954.
“That is when I finally split from the others,” he said in documents made public on Thursday by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga.
Copies of the documents were handed to the legend’s wife and family last Thursday and provide the official account of the events around his death.
Kenyans will also get an opportunity to read what the man said in his own words about his arrest and trial.
That second dispute and split from his fellow Mau Mau marked the beginning of a lonely and haunted period for the legend.
“I knew that if I came out, either police or home guards would kill me in order to get paid. Also, I have been writing frequently to meet the government because I knew that if I came out to them I would be shot,” he told the court.
This fear of getting shot and the fact that he was waiting for replies to his letters were the principal reasons for failing to come out of the forest.
On October 20, which incidentally, was the same date that Jomo Kenyatta and seven others were arrested for fomenting agitation against the government, and which is now Mashujaa Day, the man decided to present himself to the colonial authorities.
“I was left all alone and I was ill. I said to myself: ‘It is better to come out either to be killed, or if I am lucky to get to the government.’ My intention was to surrender and to give the pistol and the ammunition to the government according to the instructions which I knew,” he told the court.
He then started the walk to his destiny towards Kahigaini road, which was leading from Ihururu in Nyeri, close to the Aberdare Forest and arrived in the reserve (village) at 7.50 pm.
He had a watch. But he couldn’t go to the home guards because they would definitely shoot him.
Kimathi was hungry and went to look for food in the shambas and ended up with four maize cobs and six sugar canes.
There was a fire in a shamba and he roasted the maize but dawn arrived before he could eat it. It would be his last dawn as a free man.
He resumed his walk towards the Kahigaini Road, then a murram road into the forest from Nyeri, and was in valley below Thengeraini.
The villages known as reserves were surrounded by a deep trench that prevented access to village and forced anybody going in or out to use a manned gate.
“My intention was to come and stop near the main road and have my food and then come along the road to Kahigaini where there was a police post. I had no intention of returning to the forest. If I had intended to come back into the forest I would have carried more maize or potatoes or bananas or about 20 sticks of sugarcane, more food supplies,” he argued.
He was still in the trench when he heard a gunshot. Ndirangu Mau and Njogi Ngatia, home guards, had spotted him in the dim dawn light, shouted at him in English, “Who goes there?” Shouted at him in Kikuyu and then started shooting.
Kimathi dropped the two maize cobs and the sugarcane and started running. The shots were coming from the road he was approaching and so he turned back and ran. None of the shots hit him.
He sought refuge under a castor oil tree and after 20 minutes — he was certain because he looked at the time on his watch — he saw a man going from West to East in front of him.
“After seeing him and noticing that he had a gun I raised my arms. I did not know who he was but I noticed he was wearing a black overcoat and a whitish cap. I did not know to which group he belonged, but I thought he was one of those who kill others,” he said.
Kimathi raised his arms, dropped a stick that was in his hand and said, “It is I Dedan Kimathi. I have come to surrender. Don’t kill me. I have a pistol.”
“The man was not less than 10 or more than 15 yards away. When he heard me saying that I was DEDAN KIMATHI. I have come to surrender he ‘lowered his knee’ — got on to one knee. He hit me almost in the groin. It came out above the hip bone,” he said.
That marked the start of his arrest and eventual trial. His shooter was Ndirangu, the homeguard and their versions of the circumstances of his shooting differed.
The home guard said he shot Kimathi in flight, while the freedom fighter and his lawyer Ralph Millner argue that the home guard shot him to get the reward.
Ndirangu and Njogi Ngatia were paid Sh3,000 as the reward for capturing the feared fighter.
The documents also debunk the story, repeated over the decades since Kimathi’s death, that he was betrayed to one Ian Henderson, a British police officer.
To make it easier to convict him, Kimathi was charged with illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition rather than being a member of an outlawed organisation or even terrorism, which is what the British had put Sh10,000 bounty on his head.
But it is evident in the records that the trial and the appeals up to the highest court then, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, were predestined to end in his death.
The drip with the colonialists’ disdain of the Africans was evident in the trial.
The prosecution quite naturally won and Kimathi quite naturally lost all his appeals and at 6am on February 18, 1957, he was hanged at Kamiti Prison.