Untold stories of the war …our mothers, sisters deserve respect

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WHAT has remained stuck in my mind for a long time that I must try and explore is the life and experiences of female comrades who went to the war. This is because when I look at my life as a woman and the things that make me a woman I just wonder how our mothers and sisters coped with the liberation struggle. Our biological makeup makes us extremely vulnerable whether we like it or not. For instance, we must go through our monthly periods and get pregnant. How did the female comrades cope with all this? I know there are rumours flying around about how when the women crossed the border, their monthly periods automatically stopped. It sounds bizarre but some suggest ancestral spirits might have intervened, which is not exactly true. I have asked people about this and there is a school of thought that says our mothers were injected with some medicines so that the menstrual periods could not be a hindrance during training and the war. While some might doubt it, those who experienced it swear it happened. The others I spoke to told me that during the first few months, they did go through their monthly periods. In such cases, they used tree leaves or tore off pieces of their clothes to contain the flow. When it came to the worst, they would just let it flow. It is common for women to use pieces of cloth during their periods, but it is hard to imagine a leaf absorbing blood and even worse, to let the blood flow without anything to contain it. Most of the comrades say they never went through menstrual periods, but for those who stayed at Chimoio’s Nehanda Camp, you might remember the stories about some comrades who thought they were pregnant because they had skipped their periods. These are things none of them would want to talk about because they feel it probably strips them of their dignity. Those who had to menstruate know how hard it was to cope with using whatever material for their periods because they had to struggle with the thought of not using anything at all. They had many other problems to worry about. What was paramount was food. For the officials, the thousands of people gathered in the camps needed food to eat and sanitary wear was not as important and it would be difficult to get anyway. As one male comrade put it: “He who had the soap or whatever resource had the power.” Our mothers were subjected to a three-dimensional form of struggle because they had to fight against many enemies. First, it was the Rhodesians, then their physical environment which included food and water scarcity and then, of course, sexual abuse from those in power. There is nothing as devastating for a woman as having sex with someone she does not love or have feelings for. Situations that were created by some of those who had the power led to many choosing between hunger and a plate of sadza, which came along with some sexual concessions. It was difficult, but these are things they had to get used to and live with. Thus those who were exposed to such situations died many times before their death as this abuse was sometimes repeated many times over the years. “It was worse when you refused and you saw your friends who had consented washing with soap, getting food or being promoted,” said one comrade who asked for anonymity. “It was also the gruelling physical training which led to premature menopause.” These are some of the stories that remain untold because of the fear of stigmatisation that lies deep in the hearts of our mothers. The wounds of abuse still remain unhealed. Their scars lie deep in their souls and bleed profusely every time they relive the memories. They lost their person and personalities. They came back physically, but a part was lost that day they were stripped of their dignity. While they might have never been abused at gun-point, that experience on its own was like a gun pointed to their heads. These are painful memories which many of us have never allowed to cross our minds and yet they affect our mothers. To our mothers who lived in Chimoio’s Nehanda Camp, Freedom Camp in Zambia, Doroi, Tembwe, Osibisa, Chibawawa and all the other camps in Zambia, you deserve our deepest respect.

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