Descriptions of Pre-War Life

Part 2 of Mothers of the Revolution: Oral Testimony of Zimbabwean Women

Irene Staunton: Publishing Director, Baobab Books

What I shall now do in a few readings is to let you hear the women's voices for themselves. Not unnaturally, several common pre-occupations and themes emerge from these stories. Such as fear: fear for the lives of their children who had gone to join the struggle; fear for the survival of their homes and their children who had remained behind; fear of "contacts" between the freedom fighters and the Rhodesian security forces; fear of the soldiers, fear of sell-outs. There is also, again and again, a remarkable sense of resilience and acceptance: acceptance of war, and the consequences of war, of situations over which they had little or no control, but which they continued to believe would, ultimately, bring a better life - freedom and independence for everyone.

Life for people in the rural areas was always hard, and for women it was particularly hard:

We were fifteen in our family ... [My mother] left us ... that is why my life is not of the kind that one would like to have ... My aunt was very hard on us. She let me do all the work while she did nothing. I know that every girl is expected to cook, wash dishes, fetch water and firewood ... but in my case it was much harder. I used to look after the cattle, pound the mealie-meal, fetch water, look for firewood and prepare a meal every day ... by the time I had finished cooking it would be late and I would be very tired. --Josephine Ndiweni (205)

We left the reserves because we were so poor. We could not produce enough on the land we had. The first thing we had to do when we arrived in Zowa was to clear the land for ploughing. My husband and I had to do this alone. Our children - we had ten by then - were small and they could not help us. In addition, I did all the housework. ... We cut down trees, removed the stumps ploughed and cultivated ... When we ploughed I walked in front leading the cattle while my husband held the plough. I dug contour ridges ... the women did it on their own... --Elsi Chingindi (270)

I was the eldest of seven children but all of them died at birth or shortly afterwards. My mother also died when I was a very small child ... we were such a big family that I could not even ask our father to send us to school. I managed to go as far as standard one by working in other people's fields. Sometimes the teachers sympathized with me and even if I did not have money, they allowed me to attend school. Most times I was also late for classes, but the teachers did not punish me because they knew I had to prepare food for my three younger sisters and two brothers before I left. ... I stopped going to school to give a chance to the younger ones ... when I had finished standard one, I was able to write my name and a letter which was the important thing. --Seri Jeni (page 1)

Women were, as we all know, frequently 'doubly oppressed':

I was very fortunate because my father allowed me to go to school. In those days people did not often send girls to school because parents, fathers mostly, wanted them to get married so that they could get lobola. But our father wasn't like that he was good to us ... Many girls in those days made baskets to earn money for school. I was not able to make baskets because I was very young. Instead I collected leaves for manure. If I filled a sack with leaves I got half a penny. --Mary Gomendo (137)

They knew poverty in their childhood, and often poverty in their married life:

Life was very difficult and that is why I married at an early age. But my life did not improve at all with marriage. ... one day after my first baby was born, my husband picked up a baby's knitted cap on his way back from church. It was the first hat my baby had ever had ... on another occasion he found a baby's dress made of poor quality cloth. Dresses made of that material were called 'widows' because the fabric was so stiff, that if you put the dress down it stood up without anything to support it ...--Agnes Ziyatsha (169)

Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics]