The tragedy of female excombatants

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THIRTY-ONE years after the country attained political freedom, one aspect that has been overlooked is how the liberation struggle affected female fighters. It is now a public secret that most female ex-militants had trouble is setting up and maintaining a home after the war and 31 years down the line after hanging their guns, the problem remains evident. A layman can acknowledge that most prominent female ex-fighters that have hogged the limelight since independence have either failed to make it into the marriage institution while some of the few that have been legally married, divorced. The less prominent ones that reside in the high-density areas where families’ privacy is less pronounced have been blamed of bashing their husbands and domineering in the marriage institutions. What boggles the mind is the reason for such a scenario that continues to recur three decades after the war ended. For one to get the truth, numerous questions spring to the fore as to why female exmilitants have been masked with the face of the devil. Is it difficult for former freedom fighters to set up a healthy home? Did the war turn them into ‘monsters’ that are not able to love? Do men get jitters when they hear that the woman they intend to court is an ex-militant? Do the men feel insecure and emasculated at the thought of getting married to a former fighter? This barrage of questions immediately comes to the fore when you attempt to delve into the intricacies affecting female ex-combatants in setting up a lasting love-nest that is ordained by a priest. A wide-ranging survey by The Patriot revealed that a number of female comrades had failed to settle down mostly because of the skewed perception men had of them. In an interview with excombatant Mandy Chimene, she said most men misunderstood the former fighters as bigots who would emasculate their men-folk in a marriage. She said since the war was fought by both men and women, the female fighters managed to prove their mettle demonstrating admirable leadership qualities, even in the face of adverse challenges. The trials and tribulations women faced during the war, Chimene said, conditioned them to emerge effective fighters with amiable leadership qualities proving to men that women were just as good as them. After the war, however, female fighters have since found themselves entrapped in single motherhood because men remain intimidated by their history and physic. “What is usually overlooked by most men is that the war did not change my gender,” said Chimene. “I remained a woman and we would distinguish ourselves from the men because we bathed more often, hence cushioning us from contracting a myriad of hygienerelated ailments that usually dogged our male counterparts. “As a human being, I want to be loved and I am also… capable of loving someone just like any other woman hence I find it disturbing that we have been wrongly painted black in the eyes of many.” Another former militant, Tambudzai Mugoni, said Zimbabwe’s female excombatants faced a peculiar predicament than other African countries because the country waged a protracted armed struggle that spanned two-and-a half decades. “Most women who fought during the liberation struggle were single mothers at independence,” said Mugoni. “I was one of the women who got married after the war, but I was fortunate that my husband was an ex-combatant as well hence he understood my background.” Most female ex-fighters, Mugoni said, required a man who could stamp his authority in the house and not be intimidated by his wife’s history. “All women share the same view on wanting to feel secure in the household,” she said. “I have a friend who had a nasty fallout with her husband, a civilian, when she told him that he was not man enough. “According to her, the man would wake her up every time they heard a sound in the house, saying that as a former soldier, she was better placed to protect the homestead and that puts a woman off.” On the contrary, the men interviewed by The Patriot pointed out that there was a stigma surrounding the female war veterans which contributed to most men shying away and relegating them to the entrapment of singlemotherhood. Tonderai Bosha, a male war veteran who married a fellow comrade, said it was difficult for men to stomach the thought of embracing a holy matrimony with a former cadre because they feared being emasculated. “I married my wife in 1979 when the ceasefire was called and that was in Mount Darwin,” said Bosha. “I had known her for more than three years, but part of the rules during the liberation struggle were that you should not be involved in an intimate relationship lest you invite strife upon your life. “After identifying the woman who had caught my eye, I decided to approach her when the war ended, and I am sure she already knew that I already had a soft spot for her.” Added Bosha, “What I realised was that most civilian men had a skewed perception of a female comrade,” he said. “They would look at her as if she was a ‘gandanga’ (terrorist) who was accustomed to lawless behaviour in the bush.” He said all these factors, coupled with a misconception that the freedom fighters were of loose morals had largely dented the image of the women who played a key role in weaving the fabric of liberal democracy in Zimbabwe. Shadrek Nzounhenda, a former freedom fighter who escaped the gruesome Chimoio attack, echoed the same sentiments, saying there was need to demystify the perception of female fighters whose ultimate sacrifice to unshackle the country from the colonial yoke had backfired on them, even three decades after the war. “It is unfortunate that men are intimidated by excelling female freedom fighters including the likes of Cdes Nyasha Chikwinya, Mandy Chimene, Shuvai Mahofa, and Oppah Muchinguri among others,” said Nzounhenda. “These women proved their mettle during the war and continue to excel in other areas not necessarily the marriage setup mostly because the thought of an empowered and powerful woman sends jitters down a man’s spine.” While the challenges faced by female ex-militants remain stark, it is time their concerns are taken into consideration with the view of rewriting the history of a focused womankind that nearly compromised their femininity when they joined the liberation struggle which spanned about many years. Like other women, these distinguished individuals should be treated with respect and honour and showered with passionate love as tribute to the role they played in reclaiming the heritage being embraced by Zimbabweans today.

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