Remembering the "Voice of Freedom"

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Gracious Madondo

 

Zimbabwe this week celebrated Heroes and Defence Forces Day on 12 and 13 August respectively in an atmosphere that reflects the great strides made since independence in ensuring peace, freedom and security.

 

Behind the Heroes and Defence Forces festivities, lies abundant rich and enduring stories of selfless individuals who sacrificed their lives to free Zimbabwe from the oppressive Rhodesian regime.

 

In an effort to restore and safeguard national memory, some of those who participated in the armed struggle have written enduring tales of that heroic struggle.

 

Many names readily come to mind. These include the late Alexander Kanengoni, the late Dr Felix Muchemwa, the late Dzinashe Machingura and Thomas Bvuma.

 

Very few of the war narratives are written by women except for one written by Dr Fay Chung. While Dr Chung's narrative leans more on the academic recount of the war, the late Freedom Nyamubaya's accounts of the war uniquely stand out as reminders of the equal contributions made by women in the fight for majority rule.

 

The late Nyamubaya was born in 1958 and died in July 2015.

 

Her secondary school education was cut short when she decided to join the war under the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (Zanla), the military wing of ZANU in Mozambique in 1975

 

During the war she served as one of the female field operation commanders in 1979 and was elected Secretary of Education at the first conference of ZANU's Women’s League.

 

Nyamubaya is one of Zimbabwe’s most celebrated “guerrilla fighter poets”.

 

She belongs to an elite group of guerrilla fighters who are also celebrated poets among them Bvuma (pen name Carlos Chombo) and Dukas Chifamba.

 

For Nyamubaya and the rest of the guerrilla fighter poets, the liberation struggle was not a blood thirsty venture but a necessary suffering for the cause of freedom, justice, equality and independence.

 

Nyamubaya has two published poetry anthologies namely, On the Road Again: Poems During and After the National Liberation of Zimbabwe (1985) and Dusk of Dawn (1995).

 

As Zimunya (2010) rightly points out, Nyamubaya's uniqueness arises from being the only female ex-combatant gifted with the talent and the discipline to reflect on her good and bad ugly war experiences through the art of poetry.

 

Nyamubaya’s poetry is layered with many voices, voices from voiceless male and female war fighters, critiquing all the ills of colonialism, neo-colonialism and African patriarchy.

 

In the anthology “On the Road Again” Nyamubaya exposes the ills of civil war in the poem titled “Tribal War”.

 

Nyamubaya depicts how the effects of war run deep and how they are immeasurable.

 

“Struggle is not a destination

 

But a river that runs forever.”

 

The title poem “On the Road Again” the poet speaks on the continuity of political consciousness, a consciousness raised by the Potuguese popularly saying “Aluta continua”.

 

"Schools have holidays,

 

"Workers days off,

 

"Dogs rest too,

 

"But struggles to go on, go on.

 

"Still on the road,

 

"One endless journey."

 

In another poem titled “Tribal Wars”, the poet exposes the ills of civil war in defence of tribe while being funded by foreigners who seek division among Africans to their own gain.

 

“We are a misinformed army

 

"Pointing a gun at ourselves.

 

"Our enemy has job for Africa

 

"Advising and monitoring power-thirsty monsters”.

 

In the poem “Mysterious Marriage”, Nyamubaya laments how the liberation struggle was not only betrayed but also how its ideals were also betrayed in post independent Zimbabwe.

 

“Independence came

 

"But Freedom was not there

 

"An old woman saw Freedom’s passing shadow

 

"Walking through the crowd, Freedom to the gate

 

"All the same, they celebrated for Independence”.

 

Some of the themes in Nyamubaya’s work include the sacred call for justice and freedom, self-sacrifice for a common cause, the morality of the struggle particularly on issues of warfare, shedding blood and killing as well as betrayal and disillusionment.

 

As Zimunya (2010) notes in his article on the life and works of Nyamubaya, her work was brutally honest in dealing with issues of national building, corruption and the betrayal of the independence by selfish political leaders.

 

“Nyamubaya may have been a product of ZANU’s military and ideological training, but when she puts pen to paper…in writing she only proclaims faith in the values for which the same ZANU and the people fought because these values matter more than individuals,” said Zimunya.

 

Speaking in an interview in 2010, Nyamubaya said she would love to be remembered more for her contribution to Zimbabwean war literature.

 

“Politics is no longer about any ideology, or principle, it’s about building the country. I would like to be remembered as someone who contributed to the development of the youth, or the development of Zimbabwe. Or even someone who contributed to the literature of the war,” Nyamubaya said.

 

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