Zimbabwe: Saluting Women Who Fought for Zim's Independence

Photo: The Herald
Thousands of Zimbabweans have made way into National Sports Stadium for the country’s 39th Independence Celebrations.
18 April 2019

Zimbabwe's Independence did not come easy. Patriotic sons and daughters had to wage a long and gruelling war against the colonial administration which oppressed the black majority.

Women, both fallen and living played a pivotal role in the struggle for Zimbabwe.

Although some played a supportive role to their husbands, others went a step further by becoming more involved.

The brave women took guns to fight for the liberation of the country and for the independence and freedoms we enjoy today.

As we celebrate Zimbabwe's 39 years of Independence today, it is important to also celebrate the contribution of all women who fought in the liberation struggle, among them those who lie at the National Heroes Acre.

Sarah Francesca Mugabe

The first heroine to be buried at the National Heroes Acre, Cde Sally Mugabe, the former First Lady died of kidney ailment in Harare on January 27, 1992 and was laid to rest on February 1.

Born Sarah Francesca Hayfron in Ghana 1931, she met her husband, former president Robert Mugabe, at Takoradi Teacher Training College, where they were both teaching. The two got married in the then Salisbury in April 1961, and she was immediately embroiled into the maelstrom of nationalistic politics then sweeping across Zimbabwe. Her militant attitude and outspoken aversion to racial and all other forms of oppression compelled her to organise and urge other women to join the liberation struggle. And it was not long before she experienced the wrath of Rhodesian laws.

In December 1961, Cde Mugabe was charged with sedition and sentenced to five years in jail for leading a group of women to the Prime Minister's Office protesting against the 1961 Constitution.

She appealed against sentence, but the appeal was never heard because Cde Mugabe skipped the country and went to Tanzania.

Between 1967 and 1974, Cde Mugabe studied and worked in London. She also campaigned and lobbied British Members of Parliament for the release of political detainees in Rhodesia.

As the war of liberation intensified after the arrival of Robert Mugabe and other leaders in Mozambique in 1975, Cde Mugabe assumed a new role of mother figure and counsellor of the young guerrillas coming 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.

At Independence in 1980, as the Prime Minister's wife, she campaigned for women's rights and was instrumental in transforming the Women's League into a formidable force and pillar of the party.

She worked tirelessly to improve the welfare of children and the underprivileged members of society. As early as 1981, when she became patron of Mutemwa Leprosy Centre in Mutoko, Cde Mugabe raised money and donations for the centre and helped erase the society's stigma associated with lepers.

Her concern for children was rewarded when she was invited to be the executive chairperson of the Child Survival and Development Foundation in Zimbabwe.

In 1988, with assistance from the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), she established the Child Survival and Development Committee for Zimbabwe and increased international awareness of the plight of children in Southern Africa.

The resultant response to her worldwide fundraising efforts was overwhelming.

In 1989, she was elected the first secretary of the United Zanu-PF Women's League as well as secretary for Women's Affairs in the party's Politburo.

Julia Zvobgo

A committed nationalist and an outstanding businesswoman, Cde Julia Tukai Zvobgo died in Harare on February 16, 2004 following a heart attack. She was born of the Whande family of Shurugwi on November 8, 1937.

She went to Usher Mission in 1961 and met her future husband Cde Eddison Zvobgo, who was soon to leave for the United States on an educational scholarship.

Cde Zvobgo's earliest experience with racist repression was when she witnessed the arrest of her husband, then returning from America. He was subsequently sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment.

Having become a member of Zanu at its formation in August 1963, Cde Zvobgo and other young women bore the brunt of suppressive racist colonial rule which peaked under the Rhodesian Front.

The banning of Zanu in 1964 saw her husband detained and restricted at Sikombela and other camps of incarceration across the country.

Her commitment to her family and nationalist values made her endure the constant harassment and torture at the hands of the Rhodesian security agents, who accused her of smuggling political messages to and from her detained husband and his colleagues.

From 1968-1978, she studied abroad and later joined her husband in the armed struggle in Mozambique where she was elected administrative secretary for Women's Affairs.

Cde Zvobgo 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.

For allegedly assisting Zanla forces in the Zvishavane area, she was imprisoned for two weeks during the 1980 election campaign and was only released after the polls.

She was elected MP for the Midlands Constituency of Zvishavane at the historic 1980 elections. Cde Zvobgo was also a member of the Zanu-PF Central Committee during the first decade of Zimbabwe's Independence.

She was elected secretary for publicity and information in the Women's League in 1984 and re-elected MP in 1985 and retired from active politics in 1990 to concentrate on family business.

Joanna Nkomo

An embodiment of the quiet but unbending dignity of an African princess, Johanna "Mama" Mafuyana remained a down-to-earth character even when her husband assumed the second highest office in Zimbabwe.

She attended St Joseph's Primary School and Emhandeni before proceeding to work for the Dominican Sisters Convent in Bulawayo as a girl's matron.

This was when she met her lifetime partner Dr Joshua Nkomo, who was then in his early 30s.The two then tied the knot in 1949 and moved to start a new life in the railway compound near Bulawayo.

The couple lost their first child Temba, but they were later blessed with four children -- Thandiwe Barbara, Ernest Thunani, Michael Sibangilizwe and Loise Sehlule.

Mama Mafuyana scoffed at risks that came with being married to Father Zimbabwe and made enormous scarifies which have remained untold. With the husband's life fluctuating between long spells in detention and risky missions of the struggle, the burden of raising the family was hers. Single handedly, she fended for the family, ensuring that the children secured decent upbringing and decent education.

Her strength and resourcefulness as a mother released her husband from family chores, giving him precious time to focus on leading and prosecuting the struggle.

As she was married to the struggle, her motherly love was national as it went beyond her immediate family to embrace young cadres to and from various training camps and refugee centres.

Mama Mafuyana's matrimonial association with a figure who nagged the colonial authorities made her a prime target of the colonial regime.

At one time, Mama Mafuyana was raided at her Pelandaba home by a unit of the Southern Rhodesia special branch.

In March 1977, Mama Mafuyana had to leave the country for her safety and that of the children after the colonial regime tried to kidnap the 13-year-old Sehlule.

From 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.

It was her dedication to catering for the poor and the underprivileged, and her steadfast commitment to the cause of the Zimbabwean people which made her departure on June 3, 2003 a sad loss to the nation.

Ruth Chinamano

Cde Ruth Nomonde Chinamano, a Zanu-PF Central Committee member and widow of the late veteran nationalist Josiah Chinamano, died on January 2, 2005.

She was born on February 16, 1925 in Griqualand, Cape Town, South Africa.

The two married on September 30, 1950 in King Williams Town.

In 1955, she accompanied her husband to Birmingham, United Kingdom where she took part in a number of political meetings. She studied and practised community development for six months when her husband returned to Rhodesia.

She went back to London for further studies and returned home to teach at Waddilove School in Marondera, alongside her husband.

Cde Chinamano started showing her true political colours while in East Griqualand, South Africa, challenging the colour bar and racial discrimination.

Margaret and Stanley Moore introduced her to veteran nationalists James Chikerema and George Nyandoro 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. Cde Chimanamano 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, Cde Chinamano together with her husband Josiah, 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.

As the numbers swelled later, she was joined by Jane Ngwenya.

In detention, she participated in the Gonakudzingwa education programme for political detainees and also ran a clinic for local people.

She was later transferred to WhaWha Prison, where she remained until 1970.

Her freedom was shortlived because she was to be arrested again and sent to Marandellas Prison, only to be released in 1974.

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. She became the first woman MP for Lupane during elections held in 1980 under the proportional representation system and participating in Unity Accord negotiations.

Sunny Ntombiyelanga Takawira

The former Senator for Midlands and widow of the late veteran nationalist and Zanu founding Vice President, Cde Sunny Ntombiyelanga Takawira, died at 82 on January 13, 2010 following complications arising from an operation on the womb.

She suffered physically and mentally at the hands of the brutal and torturous oppressive racist regime because of her role in the liberation struggle and being married to a veteran Cde Leopold Takawira.

Born on July 2, 1927, in Dube Village under Chief Madhuna in Insiza District, Filabusi, Matebeleland South Province.

She married the late first vice president of Zanu, Cde Leopold Takawira, on September 2, 1955 in Gokwe, marking the beginning of her political career.

Mai Takawira hosted early nationalists when they held secret meetings at her home in Highfield. The worst came for her following the ban of Zanu in 1964 and incarceration of its leadership, including Cde Leopold Takawira.

After the arrest of her husband, she smuggled letters and information into and out of prison at WhaWha, Gonakudzingwa and Sikombela detention centres as well as Salisbury Central Prison. As a result of torture, her husband was unwell for the next five years and all this time, she visited him in prison from time to time. He died on June 15, 1970.

The death of her husband did not take away the resolve in Cde Sunny to work for the liberation of Zimbabwe.

She contributed much to the liberation struggle through treating both civilians, 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. Her home was also attacked in 1979, resulting in her two children -- Gertrude and Leopold Jnr -- being injured.

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. After the ceasefire in 1980, along with her two sons, came many freedom fighters to stay with her at the family house in Highfield.

She continued well into independent Zimbabwe to provide shelter for many war veterans.

Shuvai Mahofa (1942-2017)

Senator 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 that time.

She abhorred racial segregation and was unequivocal about challenging white colonial rule. She was well-known in Gutu for being a war collaborator.

Liberation fighters would store their ammunition at her house and also got food and clothes there. Mai Mahofa worked with Dr Simon Mazorodze, caring for comrades who required medical assistance as she had trained as a nurse.

And at Independence, she was one of only two female councillors in Gutu. She continued to be a formidable and visionary politician who championed the cause of war collaborators.

In fact, she was at the forefront of Zilwaco's formation alongside the likes of Cdes Kandemiri, Tsungirirai Hungwe and others. It would be difficult to find any woman from Masvingo who has made a greater impact in politics than she did.

She served both party and Government with distinction in different roles, among them heading the Zanu-PF Women's League's Commissariat.

She was also the MP for Gutu, a Central Committee member for years and deputy minister in various portfolios. Her contributions in Parliament were momentous as she championed women's rights. She abhorred men who deliberately blocked women from taking leadership positions at Government and party levels.

Because of her spirited character, some powerful politicians in Masvingo wanted to push her out, but she remained strong until the conspiracies subsided.

It was not surprising that she had a keen interest in all major economic projects that were taking place in Masvingo. She was passionate about seeing the people of Masvingo benefit from projects such as Tokwe-Mukosi Dam and construction of the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu Road.

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 Independence 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.

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