Rumbidzai Ngwenya Features Writer
WHEN we talk of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, people always think of men in military fatigues, wielding rifles, dodging bullets from Ian Smith’s army and evading bombs. Some called these men “guerrillas”, “comrades” and others “liberation fighters”.
Although these men played a crucial role in the liberation struggle, let’s not forget the women who also took part, not only by firing rifles and joining the battlefield but who fed, nursed and dressed the freedom fighters. Some even lobbied for the release of captured freedom fighters and were regularly harassed, imprisoned and tortured.
Mbuya Chahwe, the medium of the Nehanda Spirit, was Zimbabwe’s foremost spirit medium who led the First Chimurenga and was an influential figure in resisting colonial rule.
She used her religious authority to mobilise the masses against the Europeans and was later hanged. After her, there were also other women who played a pivotal role during the Second Chimurenga.
Numerous writers have bemoaned the lack of recognition of women freedom fighters.
“While many of the African male freedom fighters are well-known, their female counterparts have been largely forgotten. These women, usually left to the margins of the society, were quite instrumental in the fight for the liberation of their respective countries,” wrote Nduta Waweru, in an online publication.
“Some women went to the battlefront, arming themselves to fight off the enemies. Others opted for the civilian and activist role, ensuring that the important facets of the liberation fight were not forgotten.”
Here are some of the female heroes of Zimbabwe and Africa’s liberation who lie at the National Heroes Acre:
Sarah Francesca Mugabe (June 6 1931-January 27 1992)
Known as Sally Mugabe, she was wife to former president Robert Mugabe. Like many liberation war fighters she suffered at the hands of the colonial rulers. She campaigned and lobbied British Members of Parliament for the release of political detainees in Rhodesia.
As the war of liberation intensified, Cde Sally assumed a new role of mother figure and counsellor of the young guerrillas going to Mozambique as well as championing the cause for women’s rights in the rank and file of Zanu-PF.
She was elected deputy secretary of the Women’s League at the first Zanu-PF Women’s Congress held in Mozambique in 1978. Even after independence, she worked tirelessly to improve the welfare of children and the underprivileged members of society.
Julia Tukai Zvobgo (November 8, 1937-February 16, 2004)
She was wife to the late Zanu-PF legal supremo Eddison Zvobgo. Julia Zvobgo became a member of Zanu at its formation. She was constantly harassed and tortured by Rhodesian security agents who accused her of smuggling political messages to and from her husband and his colleagues who were detained.
She was elected administrative secretary for women’s affairs when she joined her husband in the armed struggle in Mozambique. She attended to problems of women in military and refugee camps and was one of the pioneers of the Women’s League.
She was among the first group of ZANU-PF cadres to return to Zimbabwe in December 1979 as part of election directorate and helped open the party’s office at the end of the Lancaster House Conference.
Joanna Nkomo known as Mama Mafuyana (September 18 1927 -June 3, 2003)
She was the wife of late Vice President of Zimbabwe and veteran nationalist, Joshua Nkomo.
Mama Mafuyana’s motherly love was national as it went beyond her immediate family to embrace young cadres to and from various training camps and refugee centres.
In March 1977, Mama Joanna Nkomo had to leave the country for her safety and that of the children after the colonial regime tried to kidnap her 13-year-old child.
At independence, up to her death, Mama Mafuyana worked for the unity of all Zimbabweans; mostly for the welfare of underprivileged children through the Child Survival and Development Foundation.
Cde Ruth Nomonde Chinamano (February 16 1925-
January 2, 2005)
Was wife of the late veteran nationalist Cde Josiah Chinamano.
She was introduced to veteran nationalists James Chikerema and George Nyandoro by Margaret and Stanley Moore before asking her to join the African National Congress (ANC). She taught renowned politicians like Sydney Sekeramayi and the late Dr Herbert Ushewokunze.
Together with Mrs Parirenyatwa and few other women, Cde Chinamano staged the first Black Sash demonstration against the detention of veteran nationalists Chikerema, Madzimbamuto, Nyandoro and many others. She was one of the founder members of the National Democratic Party and offered the back of her Highfield shop to be used as an NDP office in 1961. She immediately joined ZAPU when NDP was banned. In 1963, she was elected secretary of the Salisbury District of the Zimbabwe African Women’s Union (ZAWU), Zapu’s Women’s League.
At the same time she headed the women’s wing as secretary of the Highfield branch of the People’s Caretaker Council (PCC). When some ZAPU members left to form ZANU, she remained with ZAPU.
In 1964, together with her husband Josiah Chinamano, the late Vice Presidents Cde Joseph Msika and Dr Joshua Nkomo was detained at Gonakudzingwa becoming the first four inmates of Gonakudzingwa. She was the only woman at that time. In detention, she participated in the Gonakudzingwa education programme for political detainees and also ran a clinic for local people.
In 1975, she was elected ZAPU Secretary for Women’s Affairs and a member of the Central Committee in absentia, a testimony to her stature.
Consequently, she was a delegate representing PF-ZAPU at the Lancaster House Conference in 1979.
Sunny Ntombiyelanga Takawira (July 02 1927-January 13, 2010)
She was wife of the late veteran nationalist and Zanu founding Vice President Cde Leopold Takawira.
Because of her role in the liberation struggle and being married to a veteran, she suffered physically and mentally at the hands of the brutal and torturous oppressive racist regime. She hosted early nationalists when they held secret meetings at her home in Highfield.
After the arrest of her husband 1964, she smuggled letters and information into and out of prison at Whawha, Gonakudzingwa and Sikombela detention centres as well as Salisbury Central Prison.
Even after the death of her husband in 1970 she continued to work for the liberation of Zimbabwe. She treated both civilians and those who were injured in the armed struggle.
She was also involved in demonstrations organised by nationalists’ wives whose spouses were languishing in detention. She was often detained at Harare Central Police Station for these demonstrations alongside Ruth Chinamano.
She was beaten, tortured and her home searched against her will by the colonial government when she was betrayed by some sellouts for her involvement in the liberation struggle.
In 1980, Mai Takawira together with Cdes Tsitsi Munyati and Bridget Mugabe welcomed liberation fighters from Mozambique at the Salvation Army Church in Mbare.
She was appointed senator for Midlands and retired as a nurse.
Cde Maud Muzenda (October 8 1922-September 20, 2003)
Amai Muzenda, wife to late Vice President Simon Muzenda, died on August 22, 2017. She stood by her husband in the cause to liberate Zimbabwe.
She also confronted the Rhodesian colonial government and battled the administration to improve remuneration and working conditions for underpaid black professionals, like herself, a nurse. She wanted to be treated equally with their white counterparts.
She was arrested and detained for supporting her husband in the struggle. She also participated by forming an underground movement to continue supporting the armed struggle.
She treated injured freedom fighters and also supplied them with money and medicines at Mvuma Hospital, where she was working.
Cde Shuvai Mahofa (1942-2017)
Sen Mahofa was a renowned war collaborator who worked with the likes of the late national hero, Dr Simon Mazorodze, supplying clothes and medicines to freedom fighters, a dangerous role by that time.
Vivian Mwashita (September 26 1958-April 8, 2016)
She went to join the liberation struggle in Mozambique in 1975. With her colleagues, they survived the Nyadzonya massacre in August 1976. She also received training in guerrilla warfare in 1976 at Chimoio Training Base in Mozambique. Later, she went to Ethiopia for four-month training as a military instructor at Tatek Military Base. After the training, she returned to Mozambique to become an instructor and survived the Chimoio air bombing by Rhodesian forces in late 1977. As tough as it was, she witnessed the scene of the carnage, and she assisted in the burying of hundreds of fighters who were killed in the attack.
She was later deployed to the battle front in the Tete Zanla Operational Province under Perrance Shiri in September 1978 where she participated in active combat.
She later left this frontline combat role to be part of a large contingent of female combatants responsible for carrying ammunition on their backs from Zumbo on the border with Mozambique, via Chidodo, to supply fighting formations deeper in the interior.
Victoria Fikile Chitepo (March 27 1928-April 8 2016)
In 1960, Chitepo became involved with the National Democratic Party, a nationalist movement that campaigned for political rights of the black majority. She led a women’s protest at Salisbury’s Magistrates’ Courts in 1961 to promote the campaign for black citizenship.
A year later, she went with her husband, Herbert Chitepo, to Tanzania and worked as a social worker aiding black Rhodesian refugees, between 1966 and 1968. Even after Herbert Chitepo was assassinated in Zambia by agents of the Rhodesian government in 1975, she remained in Tanzania until the country gained its independence in 1980.
Sabina Mugabe and Maria Musika also played a part in the struggle for independence from white minority rule.
And as the nation celebrates Heroes Day, let’s not forget the women who played a crucial role in liberating this country from colonial rule. All these heroines of the Second Chimurenga sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Zimbabwe. We must cherish their legacy and uphold their values.