Mothers of the Revolution: Oral Testimony of Zimbabwean Women

Irene Staunton: Publishing Director, Baobab Books

Adapted for the Postcolonial Web by David P. Lichtenstein

An Introduction

As time elapses the mind accepts some terrible things and forgets others. Now we can talk and sometimes cry about what we went through ... but then we could hardly ever talk about such things. It was not safe to talk to anyone about what was happening at that time. (Elizabeth Ndebele)

I am very thankful and am also very pleased that you went as far as my home looking for me. It's a pleasure that you now know my home although unfortunately I wasn't there to meet you. You know, when I received your letter and told my children that I was coming to meet you here in Gweru, my children asked me how we were going to know each other. I told them that we would somehow know each other because if you are looking for something people can easily see that you are after something or someone just as you realized me and I also noticed you because all of us were looking for something. (Margaret Viki)

In 1969 under the Land Tenure Act, the proportion of land between whites and blacks was 'equalized' at 41.4 per cent of the land. The land allocated to a population of approximately 250 000 whites remained in the highveld or fertile areas with comparatively regular rainfall; that allocated or re-allocated to approximately 6.5 million blacks was divided into 160 areas of much poorer land with little rainfall and over-populated by both people and cattle. The seizure and unequal distribution of land, the discrimination in education, employment, pay, and the right to vote, and the intransigence of the Rhodesian government which led to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1965, were the main reasons why the black population resorted to arms and Zimbabwe underwent a civil war which lasted from 1963-1980. Zimbabweans had lived under a white government for 94 years.

I had the good fortune to be brought up in many different rural and semi-rural areas and with parents who made us aware of the hardships faced by people in what were then called the Tribal Trust Lands. My father sometimes took me out into the rural areas with him, and my mother worked closely with many rural women. It may seem a very strange - even presumptuous - thing to say, but visiting these women in their own homes felt very much like a homecoming. There is a certitude to that emotional space where childhood memories and adult experience cohere. I had been out of the country for most of the war - safe in England, but also in a no-man's land: you appear English but you are not; you belong to a group of people with whom you cannot identify and by whom you feel betrayed; shame and guilt undermine you and make you feel that you have no role to play. Coming home after independence brought with it huge relief, and allowed me to become a part of tapestry of small stitches on a large canvas. In all the stories of the war that were being told and discussed, I felt the voice of rural women was missing. This was the reason for the book. I believed that we should hear what the women had to say about the war before their memories faded, otherwise they would remain forever unrecognized within the larger context of Zimbabwe's history, in particular its history of the war.

My approach was not strictly academic. I had no thesis to prove. I contacted the women through what might be called 'a line of trust': the women we spoke to were all first approached through people whom they knew and trusted, and who first asked them whether they would be willing to share their stories with me. I travelled with an interpreter - Elizabeth Ndebele in Matabeleland and the Midlands and Margaret Zingani in the Midlands and Mashonaland. We tried, in a comparatively short time, to cover as many different areas of the country as possible. We visited all the women in their own homes: journeys which sometimes became stories in themselves. Wherever we went, I tried to explain what I was trying to do and everyone received us with great warmth and an enormous willingness to share, even to unburden themselves, in order that the contribution made by women during the struggle for liberation might be heard. The majority of the interviews were conducted in either Shona or Ndebele and then translated into English by Margaret Zingani. As far as possible we have tried to use the words the women themselves used. I have included a little about the women's own backgrounds as these reflect their personalities, and provide the context of the experiences and the beliefs which gave them so much strength and resilience. Their hopes for, and reflections on, the future deserve to be honoured by us all.

Mothers of the Revolution is not a conventional history in which the women's words have been analysed, sifted or put into some other framework. Rather the book provides, in their own words, a context, a new perspective on the war, as it was remembered by women ten years after independence. These women, the mothers, were both victims and actors. Throughout the war, over and over again, they fed and protected the freedom fighters and they risked their lives to do so. This they know and it is a fact of which they are proud. 'The men were around, but they only used to say, "Hurry up [with the food] before the soldiers come and beat you up!"' 'But, we said, the vakomana are everybody's children . . .' This is the underlying theme which emerges strongly from these interviews and which now needs to be asserted: 'Without the women, the war could not have been won'

Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics]