An African-American theatre company will on May 31 present a play to honour the life and contributions to Africa’s liberation of Amai Sally Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s late First Lady.
Written by Obi Egbuna Jr and titled “Sally Mugabe Lives Forever”, the play will be presented in the US capital of Washington DC, as a post-Africa Liberation Day celebration.
The play is presented by Roots Public Charter School and Sankofa Home School Community.
Ghanaian by birth, Amai Mugabe succumbed to kidney failure on January 27, 1992, after having been with Robert Mugabe from 1961 when the two got married and through the liberation struggle that culminated in Zimbabwe’s independence on April 18, 1980.
The play was written to mark the 20th anniversary of her passing, with playwright Egbuna saying in his synopsis, “When you take into consideration she left independent Ghana to organise the women in colonial Rhodesia, I consider her the modern-day Harriet Tubman (an African-American opponent of slavery).
“Amai Sally Mugabe’s life validates the assertion of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah when he said, ‘The best way to measure the degree of a country’s revolutionary awareness is by the political maturity of its women’.”
Egbuna adds that there has been a neo-liberal media attempt to write Amai Mugabe out of history, with little being said about her contributions to the liberation struggle as well as to Zimbabwe’s development after 1980 – particularly in her work for women and children’s rights.
The play sees seven people – from girls to women – taking the role of Amai Mugabe in the various phases of her life.
Born in 1931 in Ghana (which was then still the British colony known as Gold Coast), she grew up in a political family that was actively involved in the nationalist push for independence.
She met Robert Mugabe at Takoradi Teacher Training College in Ghana where they were both working after the latter had briefly left what was then known as Southern Rhodesia.
In April 1962, they wedded in the Rhodesian capital of Salisbury, and immediately set about busying themselves with the liberation agenda with the bride from Ghana swiftly embraced as “Amai”, which means “mother” in the Shona language.
Coming from a newly-independent Ghana, Amai Mugabe could not stomach the openly racist structure of the Rhodesian society and set about organising women’s resistance to colonialism.
In December 1961, the Ian Smith colonial government charged Amai Mugabe with sedition and sentenced her to five years imprisonment after she led a group of women to the Prime Minister’s office protesting against the 1961 Constitution. She appealed against the sentence and was restricted to her Harare home until the hearing.
However, she skipped the country into Tanzania soon afterwards to join the nationalist leaders there who intended to form a government-in-exile.
In 1963, the couple was blessed with a baby boy whom they named Nhamodzenyika (which means “troubles of the country/land”). The pregnancy was described as a complicated pregnancy due to high blood pressure, lack of proper medical care and the general political uncertainty of the time.
For the sake of the child, the couple decided that Amai Mugabe return to Ghana with the baby while Cde Mugabe returned to Rhodesia, where he was immediately imprisoned and would spend the coming decade in and out of prison.
Sadly, young Nhamodzenyika died in 1966 after contracting cerebral malaria; while Amai Mugabe’s father was also to pass away in 1970. Compounding the tragedy was that Cde Mugabe could not bury his own son as he was in a colonial jail.
By then, Amai Mugabe was in the United Kingdom where she led campaigns for the release of political prisoners and for the British government to stop supporting Smith’s racist regime.
By 1974, when Cde Mugabe had left the country for Mozambique, Amai Mugabe’s stature in the struggle had grown to the point where she was considered the mother figure and counsellor for the young guerrillas who were joining the armed struggle.
In 1978, she was elected the first deputy secretary of the Women’s League of the ZANU-PF party that was championing independence.
After independence, she worked hard to improve the lot of children, orphans, women and other disadvantaged people.
But her long battle with renal complications was to cut short her life at the age of 60 in 1992, at which time she became the first woman to be interred at the National Heroes Acre in Zimbabwe.
For many people, that burial was one of the few occasions that Cde Mugabe has ever been seen crying in public; the other notable time being at Samora Machel’s funeral.
Many people from all over the world cried with him as the mother of the nation was laid to rest.
On the 10th anniversary of her death in 2002, Zimbabwe issued four postage stamps in her honour.
But Egbuna feels that perhaps enough is not being done to preserve the memory and legacy of this remarkable woman, who is the subject of his short play on May 31.