Letter from the editor
I must have been about fifteen or sixteen when the questions; “Who am I?” and “What am I doing here?” first crossed my mind. This was after reading Things Fall Apart for the first time. For me; that book asked so many questions and left it up to me to answer them for myself. I would call myself a feminist for the remainder of my high school years because of the novels by African women that I was reading. These novels told stories that were both familiar and distant about all the suffering and joys of womanhood. Something that I had not quite experienced or at least appreciated during these formative years
For a while I was confident that I knew who I was now, that is up until the first day I set foot in university in South Africa. I remember these questions flooding my mind; once again; the entire orientation period. I guess this is natural when you’re surrounded by 27 000 people from all over the world; who seem to know their story. It didn’t help much that, there were only a handful of people from my hometown Bulawayo. This meant that I could go a while without being able to speak my language. This had a way of sort of amplifying the loneliness and highlighting how different I was in that space. I was a fish out of the water.
Naturally, I turned back to reading; a very interesting angle that I stumbled upon was black feminism or womanism. This angle told stories of matriarchal societies, queens that led empires and women that were important political figures in history. The most interesting thing was that I knew some of these women already, even though I had never internalized that they were heroines let alone womanists. For example; I learned about Mbuya Nehanda all my life, but I had never internalized what it meant for her to have been a woman standing up to a powerful British government. I always knew about Queen Nandi and Mkabayi’s influence in the creation of what is now known as the Zulu kingdom; without really appreciating what it took for them to exist fully as themselves in those times.
I was excited for a while until I realized that for me; these were borrowed heroines. They were inspiring but who were the prominent women from my own culture that had done amazing things? Everyone seemed to have a sort of wonder woman in their own culture that they could hashtag and change their social media names to; except for me.
Learning about the amazing women that fought in the liberation war of Zimbabwe from films like Flame changed my entire perspective. This is when I began to learn about the erasure of women’s stories in history. Firstly; I realized that surely Mbuya Nehanda wasn’t the only woman to fight against colonialism. If men could have multiple heroes, why couldn’t we? This movie showed me how easy it was for women’s stories to be swept under the rug as soon as independence arrived.
Then as fate would have it I l discovered Thenjiwe Khumalo Lesabe. One of the first people to join the second liberation war under the Southern Rhodesian ANC (ZAPU). I later learned about women like Ruth Nomonde Chinamano who was one of the first women jailed for fighting against colonial oppression. These women led me to down the rabbit hole to Queen Lozikeyi Dlodlo; who led the Impi Yehloka Elibomvu (war of the red axe) against the colonial government in 1896. This war went on to directly inspire the beginning of the second war of liberation in the 1970s. These are just some of the stories about the impact women had; that we don’t get to read about in our textbooks or in mainstream media. It taught me a lesson about representation and taking charge of our history; because up until then I had resigned myself to the thought that I had no superhero from my own culture. You see there are those of us who suffered the double jeopardy of erasure for being women and minorities. That is why individuals need to take charge of their stories so that no one distorts them or erases them from the future.
Today women may not be in a war against a settler government, but we have such a long way to go to realize the dreams that all these women fought for. Our bodies are still crime scenes and political playgrounds. This is because we still don’t have full agency over our bodies as there are laws that undermine our reproductive rights. Pay gaps, sexual and domestic violence, as well as child marriages, are unfortunately the order of the day for a lot of us.
Most of our forebearers did not have the privilege of an education that would have enabled them to document their stories, but we do. I hope that when you read the stories of the women in this issue, you can consciously take charge of your power as a woman. National freedom and a seat at the table was the gift that our mothers gave us, it is up to us to not only fight for ourselves but for the women that will come after us. They made it easier for us and thus we must make it easier for ourselves and the generations to come. With this issue, we honor the unsung stories of the women that came before us, the unknown women that fight for us today and the women that are coming to fight for us tomorrow. Amandla Ngawethu! The Power Is Ours!
Sunny Ntombiyelanga Takawrira
Victoria Fikile Chitepo
Emely Mkwananzi Parirenyatwa
Photo Credit: Zenzo Nkobi
“ZAPU through Zenzo Nkobi’s lens” http://www.saha.org.za/zapu/?folder=zapu