WOMEN are the backbone of every struggle or revolution, since time immemorial.
During the armed struggle for liberation, women played a pivotal role, which in some sectors of history is downplayed. This is because the wrath if the colonial imperialists did not spare them because there were women.
It is by such treatment that women displayed courageous and tenacious abilities and contribution to the now celebrated independence of this country.
As war collaborators popularly known as vana chimbwido, women played a fundamental role in the liberation war.
They organised or participated in demos against the colonial yoke. Many strikes were led by the women, for instance, one in 1961 against a constitution which institutionalised racism, thousands of women demonstrated in Salisbury now Harare.
Two thousand were arrested and refused to pay their fines, choosing to go to jail instead.
Women provided food for the guerrillas. These brave women would carry food supplies to the fighters, risking their lives and that of their children. It is said that at times they would hide the food between their backs and their babies. Such bravery and innovativeness can not pass uncelebrated.
Women housed the liberation war fighters and hid them during brutal searches by the whites. They also played the informative role, providing the guerrillas with important information during the struggle.
They took charge of the families left behind by men who joined the protracted bush war. They became the head of the family, making sure they provide for the children, protecting them and filling in the gap left by men. Some of them were left pregnant and they took care of the children.
They carried the arms! Female ex- guerrillas revealed that women engaged in transporting war material until around 1970 when they demanded some training in self protection as their duties exposed them to enemy attacks.
When the Zimbabwe National African Union (ZANU) was formed in 1963, only men were trained to fight the newly declared armed struggle.
Women were considered too weak to fight in a guerrilla war.
Experience in the field drastically changed this traditional view of women.
Thousands of women left their families and schools to travel for days on foot, sometimes without water and food, before reaching refugee and training camps, all in the spirit of freeing this country.
The then leader of ZANU, Cde Robert Mugabe affirmed: “Not only do women feed the front by carrying war material to it from the rear, but they also fight on the front and become exposed to the enemy’s bullets in the same way as men.
“Our women have scored numerous victories alongside the men. They have demonstrated beyond all doubt that they are as capable as men and deserve equal treatment, both in regard to training and appointments,” he said.
The then leader of the Zanla female cadres, Cde Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru declared in 1978 in her address at the Eighth Congress of the Women’s Union in Albania that: “Women comrades are represented at every level of our organisation from the National Executive through the Central Committee, High Command, General Staff Down to every level of the ZANLA forces.”
Indeed there was massive women’s contribution to the struggle.
In the pantheon of Zimbabwe’s struggle icons, one woman stands out — Mbuya Nehanda, the powerful spiritual leader.
So ignited the First Chimurenga, the first liberation struggle.
The works of the spirit medium Mbuya Nehanda who the colonial government incarcerated and executed for allegedly participating in the resistance movement against them at the close of the 19th century. It is documented that Zanla women drew a lot of inspiration from Mbuya Nehanda.
In the First Chimurenga, Mbuya Nehanda played a leading role and so powerful was she that she was also the inspiration that fired up the Second Chimurenga.
She became the first woman liberation war heroine.
And many women followed in her footsteps.
Nehanda Nyakasikana did not only sacrifice her life, but dedicated her soul and spirit to the freedom and emancipation of Zimbabwe.
It was this spirit that led many others to support the guerrillas through feeding them.
Mbuya Nehanda has acquired near mythical status and has been respected and admired for generations.
Women such as Oppah Muchingur-Kashiri, Mandiitawepi Chimene and Monica Mutsvangwa are among examples of women that dedicated their lives to liberate the country from colonial bondage.
In her book Woman in Struggle, Dr Irene Mahamba, a former liberator, writes about the role of women during the liberation struggle.
She sets the record straight, the contribution of women to the struggle, she stresses, was as equally important as that of men.
Also, in her book, “Woman in Struggle”, Dr Irene Mahamba, a former liberator, writes about the role of women during the liberation struggle.
She put across that the contribution of women to the struggle was as equally important as that of men.
The experiences of women of the liberation struggle were not all rosey. The primary grievance of women fighters was ill-treatment by male soldiers.
The guerrilla war fought with limited resources was characterised by abuses, some which still haunt female ex-combatants up to this day.
Not much has been written about female combatants’ experiences in the war or about their treatment since.
While some women have denied stories of rape and abuse, others, including Freedom Nyambuya, one of the more outspoken female ex-combatants, maintain that they were raped.
Nyambuya is on record as saying it is time Zimbabwe accepts this truth of what really happened during the war.
Some of the women returned home with children who were products of war rape.
Whatever the truth, what is clear is that the soreness of war lingers and time has not healed the scars of war among the women of the struggle.
According to research work by prolific women writers, being a woman in liberation camps was hard, especially for the poor, young rural women who trekked to the camps in Mozambique.
Dr Josephine Nhongo-Simbanegavi and Professor Rudo Gaidzanwa have researched and published work on the experiences of young women during the liberation struggle.
In her work on politics and masculinity in Zimbabwe, Gaidzanwa writes: “The war front was gendered and the masculinities of the soldiers who commanded the warriors and those who fought in Zimbabwe were the most dominant.
“The women who joined the liberation war were relegated to carrying supplies and munitions for male freedom fighters,” wrote Gaidzanwa.
Nonetheless, women gave their all for the liberation struggle.
There are many women who played key roles during the liberation struggle.
Some of female liberators include;
¶ Sarah Francesca Mugabe (June 6 1931-January 27 1992,
¶ Julia Tukai Zvobgo (November 8 1937-February 16 2004),
¶ Vivian Mwashita (September 26, 1958 -April 8, 2016),
¶ Joanna Fuyana Nkomo (September 18, 1927- June 3, 2003),
¶ Ruth Chinamano (February 16, 1925-January 2, 2005),
¶,Sunny Ntombiyelanga Takawira (July 2, 1927-January 13, 2010),
¶ Shuvai Mahofa (1942-August 14, 2017),
¶ Victoria Fikile Chitepo (March 27, 1928 -April 8, 2016),
¶ Sabina Mugabe October 14, 1934 -July 29, 2010) and
¶ Maria Musika (March 17, 1928-September 22, 2017) among many others, played a part in the struggle for independence from white minority rule.