The Resilience of Women During the War

Part Fifteen of Mothers of the Revolution: Oral Testimony of Zimbabwean Women

Irene Staunton: Publishing Director, Baobab Books

Women all over the world have shown huge resilience in war.

After my husband's arrest, I started to run short of food, clothes, blankets, ploughing implements and so on. But I ploughed and I grew groundnuts which I made into peanut butter, a bucket at a time. ... I was staying because I had made a vow to remain true to my husband, no matter what happened and, even though he was in prison , he was still alive. ... I wanted my children to go to school ... and I knew it would be better for me to stay in my husband's home, ploughing my fields, using my husband's oxen and working for my children. --Feresia Mashayamombe (289)

He was arrested in April of that same year [1964]. I was expecting our fourth child. There was no one to look after us. So it was necessary to find some other way of feeding my family. I could not return to the mission since Nkomo had told the missionaries that I was coming to live in Bulawayo. I had a hard time because I didn't have a house. ... I was lodging in one room with my children. I realized that it was no way of living, and I decided to use my sewing machine to make and sell clothes. This kept me going. So, when my husband was in prison, I worked hard and I also gave birth to my fourth child. I called her Sehlule which means 'we have conquered'. --Joannah Nkomo (226)

Death, grieving, the offering of condolences, burial, the offering of the dead person to the ancestors are all very important rituals in Zimbabwe. During the war, women often hesitated to bury the dead in haste thus possibly causing offence to the ancestors and violating the dead person's spirit. But his, of course, was what the women often had to do:

After he had been killed, we gathered up his remains, bundled them into a blanket and buried him. It was a very painful experience. The old man had educated his children and his grandchildren but he was buried like a dog. If he had died a natural death he would have received a good honourable burial ... --Elizabeth Ndebele (190)

And after the war if a woman's child had been killed - not knowing whether he or she was alive or not, caused a great deal of distress which could only be alleviated after the proper ceremonies had taken place:

I was so excited at the though of seeing my son. I bought a blanket for him ... I was gong to use the blanket as a kind of 'red carpet' for his homecoming ...but I never once saw him. A long time afterwards, my daughter who was going to school at that time, started behaving as if she was mad ... then a voice coming out of her identified itself as her brother who had died during the war and he explained what had happened ... [and that he had drowned] ... He said that if we had time we should go and collect his remains ... We did what he said. We appeased his spirits. We bought and killed a goat ... and we dug a grave for my son and did as we were instructed ... ... What makes it worse is that our leaders have never once said thank you to us the parents of the children who died for the country. We had gone everywhere looking for our children. The least they could have done is tell those parents whose children died in the war that they are sorry ... --Erica Ziumbwa (258-9)

It is better when one has seen one's loved ones die and have buried them. You can comfort yourself in the knowledge that the dead are at rest. But with my son it is different, because I do not even really know where he is. --Dainah Girori (267)

Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics]