The recent passing of outstanding poet, freedom fighter, musician, gender activist and farmer, Tichaona Freedom Nyamubaya, has re-ignited debate about the Zanu PF government’s apparent lack of care for Zimbabwe’s female ex-combatants.
Some female former combatants are livid that President Robert Mugabe’s government allegedly continues to belittle their role in the 1970s liberation struggle.
The female former combatants are so angry with the establishment that they are no longer speaking in muffled tones.
Writing on her Facebook wall, former liberation fighter, Irene Zindi, said she was saddened by the passing of her fellow commando female fighter, Freedom Tichaona Nyamubaya.
She wrote: “Unsung Heroine, we are many of us comrade. Yes I did not attend your funeral but I am with you and feel exactly that is this what we sacrificed for at that tender age comrade.”
“Rest in eternal peace comrade. If we knew …”, then she put question marks, implying if they had known their role in the struggle would be so trivialized and that the independence they fought for would be enjoyed by a few, then maybe they wouldn’t have sacrificed their lives to join the liberation struggle.
Nyamubaya was fighting from the front in Tete Province while Zindi was in Manica Province in Mozambique where the guerrilla war was waged from by Zanu’s armed wing, Zanla.
Nyamubaya, who operated under the command of Air Force Commander Air Marshal Perrance Shiri during the war, was 55 when she died.
She was born in Uzumba in 1960 and cut short her secondary education at the age of 15 to join the liberation movement in Mozambique in 1975.
Nyamubaya was trained at the Tembwe Training Camp in Tete Province, Mozambique, and was among the first women fighters deployed by the Zanla guerilla army in 1978.
Zindi says then she rose to become a field operations commander, earning a reputation as a fearless and highly competent combatant and commander.
After independence she founded the rural development organisation Management Outreach Training Services for Rural and Urban Development (Motsrud), providing agricultural development assistance to small-scale farmers especially women.
Zindi says true heroes do not come any better than her late comrade, who she says should have been declared a national hero.
‘If you can declare Freedom a national heroine, then who qualifies,” Zindi asked. “If Freedom Nyamubaya was accorded the national heroinestatus, I would have felt part and parcel of that process and I would have felt like it had been bestowed on me.”
Echoing Zindi’s sentiments is another former female combatant, Margaret Dongo who accuses President Robert Mugabe of privatizing the country’s national Heroes’ Acre.
“Freedom was a political activist and at one time supported Mavombo the political party,” said Dongo.
“But Mugabe does not forgive if you leave his party and in the end deserving people like Freedom, one of the very first women to go to the front during the liberation struggle, are overlooked for an honor they rightly deserve.”
Zindi says the majority of the country’s former women combatants are languishing in poverty with the government not doing anything to assist them.
She adds she will continue to fight for the recognition of former women combatants in the country.
“We will continue to speak about the ills affecting former women combatants, the majority of whom are suffering in the rural communities without any program in place to assist them,” she said.
Dongo says it is sad that former women combatants are being divided and used against each other with those seeking an easy way out of life taking the easier route of cosying up to senior officials in Zanu PF to earn positions and remain on the gravy train.
“As women former combatants, we should unite and create our own shrine like America’s Arlington Cemetery so we can bury ourselves if they continue to sideline us,” said Dongo. “This will allow our children to see and know our real history.”
Florence Ndlovu, another former female combatant who’s now based in Chinhoyi, said she did not expect to be rewarded upon coming back from the war because she was sacrificing for her people to be free.
“At that time we didn’t even think of that because we did not know whether we were going to come back alive or not. We wanted to lift up our people and our country,” she said.
“But now it is sad that we now see some people who never really did much enjoying the fruits of independence and others who did have nothing.”
Dongo says the former women combatants are now speaking openly about the continued lack of apparent care by Zanu PF, the belittling of their role in the struggle and related issues as they continue to bury their colleagues one by one with many dying in misery.
“We are tired of being divided to such an extent that some of our colleagues who are in government are afraid to be seen talking to people like me who are regarded as renegades,” said Dongo.
“Things are changing though with the women combatants now engaging across the divide to speak about this and many other issues affecting them.”
Efforts to get a comment from Chris Mutsvangwa, the War Veterans Minister, were fruitless.