A YOUNG South African woman met a young Zimbabwean man, a revolutionary firebrand, Zimbabwe’s first ever African lawyer.
They fell in love and, in 1955, they had a beautiful white wedding, so special.
There is a girl who left home and it was for good; she had come to Zimbabwe, she was now of Zimbabwe, she meant it.
In that moment she said: “I do,” she gave her heart to Herbert Chitepo and to Zimbabwe eternally.
It might not have been apparent to everyone celebrating that wedding, but Herbert must have known.
Her name was Victoria Fikile Mahamba-Sithole and the young firebrand she married was Herbert Wiltshire Pfumaindini Chitepo.
Her father was a member of the South African National Congress, and her husband, the lawyer, was deeply involved in Zimbabwe nationalist politics.
She did not leave the political affairs to her husband but she chose to work with him.
In her life with Chitepo, she did not deny her own political background.
She cemented it with his and the couple fought jointly for Zimbabwe’s freedom.
The two opened their Highfield home to Zimbabwe nationalists so they could use it as their base. Eventually they gave the house to Joshua Nkomo so that effectively it became a home for the nationalists exclusively to use for their political affairs and the couple moved to another home.
The two knew how bitter and harsh the Rhodesians were against the nationalists so they knew they were endangering their own lives for the struggle, for the sake of the liberation of Zimbabwe.
Victoria did not say ‘this is too much, I will move back home’, but she fought side-by-side with her husband in nationalist politics.
She also fought within the ranks of the women and youth activities of the Salisbury City Youth League, another resistance movement fighting in tandem with the nationalists, carrying out sabotage activities against the Rhodesian regime.
When ZAPU and ZANU leaders were incarcerated at Sikombela and Gonakudzingwa, she was not frightened off the struggle, she continued to work tirelessly, visiting the jailed leaders, being a courier of intelligence, books and literature and other needs of the nationalists.
After her husband was invited by the Tanzanian Government in 1962 to be their director of Public Prosecutions, she continued to carry messages between Cde Chitepo and the nationalists, thus assisting ZANU to plan and carry out its activities with Cde Chitepo unhindered.
She was putting her life on the line.
She knew the Rhodesians were tracking her and how ruthless they were! Anytime they could do anything to her or the children for she was making an immense contribution to the struggle.
She did not say, ‘I have children I cannot carry out these dangerous activities’, but she ran the mile.
She continued to play this critical role even after her husband had moved to Zambia to organise the armed struggle as Chairman of Dare reChimurenga.
And after he was murdered by the Rhodesians, she did not put down the gun as she continued to work with fellow combatants in Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique.
When people marry, when they wed, it is sunny, but the rain is bound to come after sometime.
Everyone can be ‘special’ when it is sunny, but the true character emerges when it rains.
The woman we are celebrating, who was interred at the National Heroes’ Acre in a twin burial with another heroine Cde Vivian Mwashita on April 13 2016, survived torrential rain.
She was not only married to a revolutionary, she herself is a great national heroine of this land’s armed struggle, the struggle which liberated this edifice of stone.
Victoria was at Chitepo’s side during the liberation struggle, just as she was at his side at the altar the day she vowed to be his spouse.
Revolutionaries last the mile and she did.
Victoria had no illusions about who her husband was; she had seen him confront white rule fearlessly in court as he defended the nationalists.
When in 1964, ZANU’s exiled leaders chose him to organise for armed confrontation with the whiteman, she knew what that meant.
She knew that he was a wanted man, and Rhodesia would have no compunctions about eliminating him, or she and the children because he was the greatest threat to their remaining in Rhodesia, he was going to end their armed robbery of our land, Zimbabwe. The whiteman recognised what a revolutionary force he was.
When Rhodesians murdered Chitepo on March 18 1975, Victoria remained ensconced with the liberation struggle — she did not run back home.
This is a woman who did not go on leave because it was independence.
She did not say now it is time to look after the children Chitepo left me, let me work quietly somewhere.
Victoria accepted leadership in Government, a heavy responsibility, charting a new path in the newly liberated country when so much was still so contested by the outgoing racist regime and the institutions it had put in place to serve only whites.
She accepted to work at Ministerial level in government; first as Deputy Minister of Education and Culture, Minister of National Resources and Tourism, and then Minister of Information.
She also continued to work in the Party ZANU PF, holding senior party positions.
Indeed it is salutary that she died while she was preparing to attend a Central Committee meeting.
In this our great country, liberated with so much love and sacrifice, the life of Cde Victoria Chitepo, Cde Vivian Mwashita, Mai Zvobgo, Mai Sally Mugabe and many other heroic women shine like the brightest beacons.
They are women who weathered the storm of Zimbabwe’s armed struggle, denying themselves everything for the sake of Zimbabwe’s freedom.
For Cde Victoria Chitepo, we recognise she came from another country, just across the border, but she dedicated herself totally to her husband and Zimbabwe, never running home because it was harsh, dangerous or because her husband died or because it was now independence.
Indeed she said: “Where you go I will go; your people shall be my people!”
The ways of our people, us Africans, are that when you get married, it is for life. You remain faithful; even when the spouse passes on you do not abandon ship; you still remain with the family, raising your children, making a contribution to the broader family circle until you also die.
Victoria Chitepo did exactly that, raising Hebert’s Children during the liberation struggle, at the same time making her own contribution to the struggle.
She came home to Zimbabwe at independence, did not retire to her maiden home South Africa, she still served Zimbabwe, continued to contribute to the dream Herbert held so dear — a Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.
She continued to work in the party she believed in, the party she had served with Herbert during the struggle.
Cde Victoria Chitepo, wife, mother, freedom fighter, tirelessly playing a leading role in government and in the party ZANU and later ZANU PF.
We salute you comrade!
May Zimbabweans should take a leaf from this great woman and serve Zimbabwe selflessly instead of scrambling to be the only ones who get a piece of the cake.
Zimbabwe is there to be built in stone for the benefit of everyone; it is not a piece of cake to be fought over, let us remember this in this moment of our independence so expensively won.
Revolutionary greetings in this moment of our independence!