A Silent Song: Women and Zimbabwe’s Liberation
April 18, is a special day when our nation, Zimbabwe celebrates its hard-won independence from colonial rule. A nation celebrating the gallantry of its daughters and sons, who shed their blood, suffered, were imprisoned and struggled until victory was indeed certain.
I reminisce about the meaning of this day to my late mother, Mbuya Rozaria. An ordinary Zimbabwean like any other woman, she contributed the best she could, with the means she had, towards the liberation of the country. She gave her daughters and sons to the liberation, some serving as prisoners of war, others skipping the borders while others served as vana mujibha and chimbwidos.
Like other villagers, she provided food and financial contributions for the survival of the comrades' ('war vets') during the war. In the wee hours of the day, with volume turned low, she listened the voice of Zimbabwe on radio. Women's role in the liberation struggle remains a silent song, yet many of us recall vividly, that women and their daughters agonised and organised like every other Zimbabwean.
Mbuya Rozaria watched that day in 1978, when her whole village was bombed, all the houses were torched, and many children, women and men were wounded. The Rhodesian army was after the guerrillas who had been seen in the area, it is rumored. Within days all the schools in theneighbourhood were closed, only to re-open at independence.
Mbuya Rozaria joined in burying the dead, her own people. She nursed and consoled the sick and bereaved. She did not lose heart, but remained part of the many ordinary Zimbabweans who supported the struggle. In 1980, she was one of the many and thousands of rural women who walked the many miles to cast their vote. It would be the first time for Zimbabwean black women to vote. Voting for independence, voting for freedom.
I was young then, but I danced in the village as we listened to the radio and heard the election results. I did not know that 28 years later, we would hold our breath again for over three weeks, waiting for yet another election result, uncertain and with fear.
We cried with joy, as we knew that our family members scattered far and wide will come home again, and we will be a whole family again. We danced to the festive village drums (jiti) all night, going from village to village welcoming the comrades home, with life, independence and some flashy goodies.
Soon after independence, the young men and women who had been fighting the war of liberation were back home. Most of the prisoners of war were released. Those were happy days. Many young women were swept off their feet by the recently demobilised combatants, who were an enigma unto themselves.
Oh the early eighties were sweet moments for us, as girls old enough to understand the intrigues and dynamics brought by this wave of change and its possibilities. Today's young Zimbabwean girls are desperately looking for education, employment and hope.
I look back and wonder what independence celebrationa would have meant for my late mother. She would have clung to her rosary in prayer, saying as many Hail Mary’s as she could, as a devout Christian and Catholic who knew that her God is a caring and loving shepherd. She might have had her celebrations and her disappointments and yet would have remained hopeful.
She would have been sad that schools are not fully functioning with books and motivated teachers; that hospitals have no sufficient drugs and health workers. She would not have understood why we have to use the US dollar, South African rand or Botswanan pula. She could have asked many questions, would have swallowed her disappointments, and urged the younger ones to be resourceful, so that life is better and more meaningful. Like many she would be holding a breath in anticipation of the new Zimbabwe ushered in by new constitution that holds so much for women and girls of Zimbabwe.
She would still be listening to the radio and attending church as before. Definitely, and even in her 90s now, she would have been there for the Easter vigil. She died at home in 2006, at her son's house in Murewa. At that crucial moment two of her beloved daughters present said, 'Amen'. The family could afford her hospital fees, but the healthcare system had collapsed. She was a home-based care case. That day was a far cry from her independence dreams.
Years earlier, she had buried her grandson to AIDS related illinesses, then her son, another son and a daughter. She had cared for them all at home. She had been to hospital with them, only to be advised, 'Ambuya (granny), its best for you to care for your child at home.'
These were the signs of the catastrophic economic, humanitarian and health crisis in Zimbabwe. She buried her children with dignity, in the village, next to their late father's grave. She stood with her daughters-in-law, held her grandchildren and whispered that it will be okay, that they should strive to remain in school. She smiled and knew she had given her best, to her country, her children and her God. She was ready to sojourn into the after life.
As we celebrate Zimbabwe’s independence each year and remember the life of the late Mbuya Rozaria Marumisa Dizha, we honour many ordinary women who gave birth to a new nation. Just like any other veteran of the struggle, we salute them and give them our respect.
We owe them the basics that they fought for. Freedom. Life with dignity. Respect. Recognition. Prosperity. Health, education and above all the affirmation that every Zimbabwean deserves recognition as a heroine or hero. A status conferred within one's own heart.
We ask the leadership of today to respect that which was dreamed of by many Zimbabwean women and men who served with humility and invisibility, as we pray for the souls of the dear departed like Mbuya Rozaria to rest in peace. These are the heroines whose names may never be mentioned in the list of honourable members laid to rest at the National Heroes Acre.
* Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda is a founder of Rozaria Memorial Trust.