Have We Lost Nehanda’s Legacy?
Nehanda was the leader of the resistance organized by the Mashona people against white-settler colonialism in Zimbabwe. She was captured and executed by the British for her fearless struggles against British imperialism., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Have we lost Nehanda’s legacy?
Tuesday, 19 June 2012 12:00
Christine R Chihambakwe
Every Zimbabwean knows who Mbuya Nehanda is, we might differ on what we think of her depending on our religious experiences, but the fact still stands, she is the mother who gave birth to the struggle for the return of black dignity.
While she is revered as a national figure, we her daughters in Zimbabwe have failed to carry on her mantle. Mbuya Nehanda was a woman whom the white men in colonial Rhodesia feared so much they issued a warrant for her arrest.
While today historians celebrate her role in fighting the white man, history has put aside her sex and bequeathed her with a mystic form where she is neither male nor female, but stands as a figure of great strength and power to which there is no measure.
Nehanda was a woman; she was someone’s daughter, sister, wife, aunt and mother. Colonialism affected her in more ways than historians care to dwell on, but most importantly, the white man came and dispossessed her of her rights as a woman.
Historians agree that Shona culture always held women in high regard. The saying “musha mukadzi” denotes that the family unit is held together by the woman, it is she who bears the children, nurtures them, cultivates the fields and at the end of the day knows where everything in the house is (and in today’s world she knows where the remote and the cars keys are).
The notion of the inferiority of women to men came with colonialisation not only were our values and customs pushed aside many including lobola where misconstrued and today have lost their rich significance.
In the Shona culture marriage was a union not of two people but of two families, lobola/roora was a token of appreciation not the selling of a girl child to become free labour as interpreted by the missionaries and the BSAC. A married woman had property, upon giving birth to her first child; she moved from her mother-in-law’s hut into her own, she was given her own field, she could own livestock and trade.
Proof of this is the fact that when this woman died before any arrangements could be made her relatives would require seeing her “dura” and her “danga” which were considered her property and would be given to her children, siblings and other relatives as custom dictated. This being the case, it is safe to assume that the land and livestock that the British stole in Zimbabwe belonged to both men and women.
The British did not hold their women in high regard, with the exception of the queen of course. Their women folk were seen but not heard, they married off their daughters without even taking into consideration whether or not these girls/women were in consent to the unions. A woman who spoke her mind was regarded as insane and every effort was made to silence her. This is what they brought with them when they came to Africa, overriding our customs and values and leaving in place a culture of violence towards women and children.
Women have always held and played a significant role when it comes to leadership on this continent. Africa has witnessed the birth and reign of mighty queens, princesses, chiefs and female warriors since way before the white man made it to the shores. They fought in wars and maintained long periods of peace and successful reigns.
Queen Nzinga M’Bandi of N’Dongo and Matamba 1623-63 (Angola and Congo), also Known as Pande Doña Ana I. Souza or Jinga, she assigned women important government offices. Constantly driven east by the Portuguese, Nzinga organised a powerful guerrilla army, conquered the Matamba.
Two of her war leaders were reputedly her sisters, her council of advisors contained many women, among others her sisters, Princess Grace Kifunji and Mukumbu, the later Queen Barbara, and women were called to serve in her army. She was daughter of N’Gola Kiluanzi Kia Samba and succeeded her brother.
Ret Abudok nya Bwoc of Shilluk 1661-67 (Sudan). The Shilluks have a divine king who symbolises the whole realm, and they created life sized representations of their first king, Nyikang. They also made clay pipe bowls, hyena figurines, and masks. The Shilluk are agriculturalists and herdsmen.
They raise cattle, sheep, and goats. The men hunt, herd the animals, and milk the livestock. Both sexes take part in the agricultural work.
Historically they were unified under one King or Reth chosen from the sons of previous kings. Abudok was the only female ruler of the people.
The Iyoba of Uselu in Benin, she was mother of Oreoghenen, who ruled between 1689-1700. As Queen Mother she was a senior town chief. She lived in her own palace outside the capital. She did not appear in public and did not have an official role in the political system, but she was always “consulted” by important political decisions, and her vote was necessary in the political decision process.
Chieftainess Kaipkire of the Herero Tribe in the 1700s (Namibia), she led her people in battles against British slave traders. There are records of Herero women fighting German soldiers as late as 1919.
Akyaawaa Oyiakwan for Asante (Ghana) was a daughter of the Asantehene Osei Kwadwo (1764-77), and headed two different diplomatic missions that successfully negotiated the Maclean Treaty in April 1831 with the British and with the Danes at Christiansborg Castle in August of the same year.
In the late 1800s Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana believed to be in her mid to late 30s and mother of two daughters and a son mobilised the black masses against white rule. She called for a stand to be made against the colonisers.
Fearing her influence over the masses, a death warrant was issued against her by the colonisers. During a criminal session of the High Court, held on March 2, 1898, Nehanda was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. It is claimed that it took three attempts before Nehanda eventually succumbed to her death. Before she died she prophesied that her bones would rise again.
Grace Kwinjeh in an article titled “Feminist reflections on gender violence, political power and women’s emancipation” wrote about the sorry state of women in Zimbabwe’s politics today.
“Women protestors, against the unfair sacking and treatment of the Women’s Assembly chairperson, Lucia Matibenga, were beaten up in front of the party’s head-quarters Harvest House, on Sunday the 18th of November. The known assailants used fists, kicked, threw stones, to subdue and stop the female demonstrators, from proceeding with the protest in which they were demanding audience with their MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, over the unresolved women’s chair matter.”
“The assault on MDC MP Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, twice at party events, in one attack she was with feminist Janah Ncube. The psychological or emotional abuse, of Sekai Holland when the men, callously removed her as secretary for International Affairs.”
Trudy Stevenson was brutally attacked by youth from her part in an MDC constituency, no one was ever called to book about that, and yet the assailants where known party supporters.
Theresa Makone took over the Women’s Assembly not through the democratic process by through the back door because she was part of Tsvangirai’s kitchen cabinet and as such felt she deserved to be rewarded through a senior post in the party.
Women in politics have been relegated to mere passengers who have no real voice in politics. It has become the norm for politicians to use women as tools in their battle for dominance in politics, women are given constituencies in order to blackmail opponents from running for office, many of the women who then replace these male figures belong to a faction and time and again they have failed to articulate the needs of their constituents and concentrated more on strengthening their factions power bases.
Those who attempt to break away from this mode are labelled all sorts of notorious names by men but with the support of other women. This has made it difficult for women from all walks of life that are passionate about their country to venture into politics.
Who wants to suffer the fate of Ambassador Trudy Stevenson or Minister Misihairambwi-Mushonga who were labelled prostitutes and CIO spies for voicing their dissent to undemocratic procedures in the MDC?
Zimbabwe does not need women politicians who rubber stamp decisions made by others, women have to be in politics by merit for them to be able to achieve more than their male counterparts.
Many of the women who are already in politics have gotten there not because of merit but through various channels. These are the women whom you find stripping naked in front of subordinates. They do not value themselves and fail to understand that they represent us as women despite they got to where they are on their backs and know very well that their political parties cannot discipline them without risking, the opening of closets with skeletons.
How can women’s agenda be articulated by women who are themselves disenfranchised from their fellow women, it can certainly not be articulated by men who view them as a threat to their political hegemony?
The mass graves in Nyadzonia and Chimoio are not filled with men alone, but even women occupy them. Women have given their blood for this country and yet many continue to be denied the space to fully participate in the political sphere.
Women constitute a greater percentage of Zimbabwe’s population, but when it comes to having our voices heard, what is meant to be a thunderous shout is a mere whisper.
Time has come to reclaim our legacy because it is our right and by not doing so we dishonour our African heroines who went before us. We are the bones of Mbuya Nehanda and it is time we rose up to the calling.