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African Writers’ Corner

Zimbabwe’s women liberators: An interview with Freedom Nyamubaya

Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa

2010-03-04, Issue 472

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Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa interviews Freedom Nyamubaya, one of the few field operation commanders in Zimbabwe’s war of independence. She is now a writer and rural development activist. Makoni-Muchemwa finds Freedom shaped by her past: ‘If I weren’t in the struggle, I wouldn’t be the same person. It was an education in itself; it was managing to live with nothing.’ When asked about her past desire to start a political party in Zimbabwe, Freedom states: ‘Politics is no longer about any ideologies, or policies, it’s not about building the country. I would like to be remembered as somebody who contributed to the development of the youth, or the development of Zimbabwe.’

Freedom Nyamubaya is a writer, poet and rural development activist. She cut short her secondary school education to join the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army in Mozambique in 1975. During the war she was one of the few female field operation commanders. Later she was elected secretary for education in the first ZANU Women’s League Conference in 1979. She is a prolific writer, having published two volumes of poetry: On the Road Again (Zimbabwe Publishing House, Harare, 1985) and Dusk of Dawn (College Press, Harare, 1995). More recently her short story ‘That Special Place’ was published in ‘Writing Still’ (Weaver Press, Harare. 2003.). Source: Poetry International

UPENYU MAKONI-MUCHEMWA: Why did you leave school to join Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (ZANLA)?

FREEDOM NYAMUBAYA: There are multiple reasons. First, I didn’t have sufficient school fees. When I was in Mutoko after I finished form two, that’s when I heard about the comrades. I wasn’t the same person; I wanted to do something to change society. I really wanted to be a comrade. At the time, there was a kind of fascination with the war. It was the idea that you could change something.

UPENYU MAKONI-MUCHEMWA: How have your experiences during the Liberation Struggle shaped who you are today?

FREEDOM NYAMUBAYA: I think I’m blessed. If I weren’t in the struggle I wouldn’t be the same person. It was an education in itself; it was managing to live with nothing. For a girl, you are so vulnerable and you learn to be an adult after that. In terms of mindset, I’m quite liberated. I can say what I feel, even when I know it doesn’t change much.

UPENYU MAKONI-MUCHEMWA: Do you think that the situation during the war changed the status of women within our culture?

FREEDOM NYAMUBAYA: I don’t think every woman who went to war is liberated like I am. If you were liberated then you were supposed to be the ones who were, in Shona we’d call them, ‘vane msikanzwa’ because you are asking too much and you are questioning what is right and what is wrong. A lot of women who went into the war are very much inside themselves. They don’t want to be reminded or they are scared or they don’t want anyone to know about it. It’s also got to do with the way we came back. When we came back, the men were heroes, but the women were not heroines. We were called prostitutes and mischievous people.

UPENYU MAKONI-MUCHEMWA: What do you think ordinary Zimbabweans should be doing to bring about their own freedom?

FREEDOM NYAMUBAYA: From an individual perspective you should be a person who has got goals for your life. Any girl or woman should start to think about her life before she thinks about getting involved with another person. In that process you are liberating yourself. You know who you are. If anyone wants to be in your life then you will tell him or her your terms and they will tell you their terms.

UPENYU MAKONI-MUCHEMWA: How did you start writing?

FREEDOM NYAMUBAYA: Before I went to war I wrote a book called ‘Tambudzai’. It was about a lady who had problems; she was fighting all the time. I think I was writing about myself. I sent it to the then Rhodesian Literature Bureau. At the time I felt it was very unfair that I was bright but that my parents could not send me to school. Those who were not bright had parents who had money. I wondered about the justice of God. During the war, I was one of the mischievous ones, because of questioning. When I got there I was sent to prison for assessment so that the comrades could make sure that [Ian] Smith did not send me. But because I was in prison, I was isolated and people did not want to associate with me. So, because I was very lonely I started writing. I wrote poetry and songs. I started a group and we sang Chimurenga songs. Then I started writing because I thought we needed entertainment and we needed to understand more about what we were doing.

UPENYU MAKONI-MUCHEMWA: What experiences in your life have informed the way you write and what you write about?

FREEDOM NYAMUBAYA: The published work is about the war. I write about those things that people don’t talk about. When we talk about war there is so much emotion from the comrades. There were a lot of problems in managing ourselves, especially with [the] women. We needed to understand how to cope with it. I write because I think there’s a gap. There’s very little information on what a day was like in the camps for a woman or what was a day was like for the comrades.

UPENYU MAKONI-MUCHEMWA: What is MOSTRUD, the organisation that you founded, and what projects are you working on?

FREEDOM NYAMUBAYA: MOSTRUD means Management Outreach Training Services for Rural Development. Right now MOSTRUD is involved with youths. We are doing something called talent development. We are in the rural areas, looking at young people who are good at sport or art. We take those individuals and help them to become role models for their communities. There are a lot of youths who for the past ten or fifteen years, have been doing nothing, so they have become gold panners or prostitutes or cross border traders. We are looking to give them alternatives and develop their talents.

UPENYU MAKONI-MUCHEMWA: In 2007, on national public radio, you once expressed a wish to start your own political party. Do you still want to do so?

FREEDOM NYAMUBAYA: I’ve decided to concentrate on things that I can achieve. Politics is no longer about any ideologies, or policies, it’s not about building the country. I would like to be remembered as somebody who contributed to the development of the youth, or the development of Zimbabwe. Or even as someone who contributed to the literature on the war.


* This interview was conducted by Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa for and was originally published on 19 February 2010.
* Kubatana works to harness the democratic potential of email and Internet in Zimbabwe.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

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