Mothers of the revolution

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IN August, we remember, consolidate and celebrate women’s participation in the liberation war and highlight the history of the struggle.
Among the most remarkable freedom heroes are Mama Johanna Mafuyana and Ruth Chinamano.
These two women demonstrated the vital role women played in the liberation struggle and after independence. 
Like many other Zimbabwean women, Mama Mafuyana and Ruth Chinamano lived difficult lives through the colonial period and fought for our freedom.
Mama Mafuyana, wife to Dr Joshua Nkomo, was born in Matobo on September 18 1927 within the Nguni royalty.
She was the second of three children of Paul Silwalume Fuyana and Maria Sithunzesimbi.
She attended St Joseph’s Primary School and she also went to Emhandeni.
Then she went to work for the Dominican Sisters Convent in Bulawayo as a girl’s matron.
During that time, she met Dr Joshua Nkomo and they married in 1949.
They found a house in the railway compound near Bulawayo.
Mama Mafuyana lost her first child.
Later on she had four children; Thandiwe Barbara, Ernest Thunani, Michael Sibangilizwe and Loise Sehlule.
Mama Mafuyana went through many trials and tribulations in her endeavour to support her husband, the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo who fought hard for the freedom of Zimbabwe.
Writing in The Herald, Tichaona Zindoga commented on Mama Mafuyana’s loyalty and commitment to Dr Joshua Nkomo throughout the struggle. “Because of the liberating choice of her husband, which meant continuous stints in colonial jails, Mama Mafuyana was left with little choice, but to marry the struggle itself.
“And she suffered for it, too.
“As she was married to the struggle, her motherly love was national as it went beyond her immediate family to embrace young cadres to and from various training camps and refugee centres.”
The veteran nationalist Dr Nkomo, in his book, The story of my life wrote about his love for his wife and acknowledged her hard sacrifices to the family and the country. 
He wrote: “My marriage was the best thing I ever did in my whole life. 
“In the 34 years of our marriage we have spent less than half the time together, but we have had a perfect understanding all the time.
“Names of married women are very private things among our people.
“My wife was given the Christian name of Johanna, but that is not what I call her.
“The name I use is an honorific form of her maiden name — maFuyana.”
Mama Mafuyana was harassed and abused by the Rhodesian colonial system. At one time she was raided at her Pelandaba home by members of the Southern Rhodesia Special Branch, detained and barred from travel.
Then she spent time in the notorious Gonakudzingwa restriction camp, sharing prison space with other remarkable mothers of the revolution including Amai Msika and Ruth Chinamano.
Despite the constant police threats, Mama Mafuyana did not give up.
She was involved in the recruitment of cadres and was responsible for passing on information between imprisoned nationalists and the outside world. 
One day in March 1977, the colonialist attempted to kidnap Mama Mafuyana’s daughter, 13-year-old Sehlule. 
The situation was no longer safe for the family.
She then begged for Dr Nkomo to leave the country.
Mama Mafuyana died on June 3 2003.
She outlived her husband Dr Nkomo who died on July 1 1999.
A news report on ZBC titled “Remembering Mama Mafuyana” on Thursday August 5 2003 noted that she was a most remarkable woman who was married to the struggle for Zimbabwe’s liberation from colonial rule.
President Mugabe described Mama Mafuyana as an embodiment of the “quiet, but unbending dignity of an African princess; born and married to the turbulence of the struggle, never to enjoy the physical company of her beloved husband Joshua, never to share the burden of bringing up her children.”
He also noted that she stoically accepted, “that the man she married was the man she would lose and cede to the struggle, making herself a virtual widow, her children, virtual orphans.”
Her life, struggles and triumphs highlight her role as one of the women revolutionaries who helped free Zimbabwe from colonial rule.
She is indeed remembered as an outstanding mother of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.
In the struggle for freedom, Mama Mafuyana was not alone.
Among the most prominent women to fight for freedom was the late Mai Ruth Chinamano.
Originally, she came from South Africa.
She was married to the late liberation hero, Josiah Chinamano.
Mai Chinamano was determined to fight for the rights to vote.
She mobilised women and challenged the colonial authorities on the discriminatory practices and abuse of Africans.
Mai Chinamano was arrested and detained in April 1964 at Gonakudzingwa Prison.
Speaking from a position of one who knew her well, the music writer and columnist, Joyce Jenje-Makwenda wrote about Mai Chinamano’s life. Makwenda noted that Ruth Chinamano and her husband were later transferred from Gonakudzingwa to Hwahwa Prison and stayed incacerated till 1970.
After a short release with mobility restrictions, the Chinamanos were arrested again and imprisoned till 1974.
In the end, Mai Chinamano played a key role in the formation of the new black majority rule government.
Mai Ruth Chinamano and many others sacrificed the time from their families so we could have the right to vote.
Mama Mafuyana and Ruth Chinamano defied the stereotype of women of the colonial period.
During their time, political engagement or participation by women was totally out of question.
Doing so meant risking imprisonment as was the case with some of their women compatriots who also represent the prominent women liberation heroines of Zimbabwe.
They did not only support their husbands in the struggle, but they were independent strong nationalists who participated in the liberation movement. They endured the pain of loss, death and burying sons, daughters and brothers. Memories linger and we remember the sacrifices made.
The wartime gains made by these two mothers of the revolution are to be remembered, honoured and celebrated.

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