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The Heroine of Matabeleland is fallen! Matabeleland has heroes and heroines too!

27 Feb 2019 at 18:56hrs | Views
The beautiful ones were born, but not acknowledged; these are women from Zapu - Matabeleland: Soneni Ngweny-Matiwaza is a nations' heroine: who cares today!

The lyric from Bob Dylan goes like this: "What will your mother say pretty Peggy O, What will your mother say if she finds you gone away?" This is the song that came into my mind when I received the news of the passing on of my dear friend, Mrs. Soneni Ngwenya-Matiwaza. I quickly thought about my mother, Mrs. Sihwa how was she going to receive the news of the death of Soneni, her daughter; a girl she loved as if she was her biological child. In this case death is good and bad at the same time. My mother was going to be devastated and was going to collapse at the death of her daughter Soneni Ngwenya-Matiwaza. I am told Comrade Jane Ngwenya: a Zapu stalwart is battling with the news of Soneni's death; she cannot comprehend her flower-girl, Soneni declared dead before her own passing on! What a life and how unfair, she said!

The passing on of Soneni means two things to me: on one hand, I can now celebrate my mother's death and on the other hand, really mourn the passing on of Soneni Ngwenya. It has always been my mother's wish to die before her children so that she is spared of the agony of mourning their death. Of her eight children, she had Soneni Ngwenya, Phillip Chigaru and Victoria Mcwabeni as her children too that constituted to her household. I can say with equal truth that my mother loved them as her own children because they were her children's friends: the friendship that had transcended beyond just friendship but to some strong bonding. Soneni had unquestionably become a member of our family and my mother, because of her affinity to intellect and beauty in girl-children she was fascinated about Soneni's beauty, intellectual muscles especially; she loved her dearly because she was a no-nonsense growing up girl.

Soneni was a student at Mpopoma Secondary School; a high flier academic: l, on the other hand, I was already a school drop out in the early 1970s. We were both the same year; 1954, I was born in January and she was born in November. Those social mobility differences never mattered in our relationship for some reason. I was just 15 years old, and so was Soneni Ngwenya when we became friends. We played together, laughed together, and attended the Tshabalala Youth Club together. We were regular teen beets attendants most of the time and we were the girls in Tshabalala hey days: some of the Tshabalala girls of our age looked up to us for whatever reason. We had something to give to give and share with each other. I would invite her to come to our home for lunch; isitshwala and umbida wolude, a "special" dish we served with knives and folks. We both struggled to balance the knives and folks because it was a code subscribed to us in our home by our brother Raymond who thought we needed to know that aspect of "civilization" in our development. To this day, Flora Thodlana still laughs at the thought of eating umbidha wolude with knives and folks! However, she was not in our group as she was younger than us.

One of the evidence of how much my mother loved Soneni Ngwenya: Mrs. Sihwa, my mother was a social worker at Bulawayo municipality. There was a yearly fundraising event of Jairos Jiri in Bulawayo that was to be celebrated at Barbour fields Stadium. It was in 1973 when there was a contest on "beauty pageant" from all social clubs in Bulawayo. We were groomed in speech and dressed to kill on the occasion.  My mother, who was a dress maker as a hobby, prepared a costume for me to shine out that day. At the same time she made sure Soneni had the decent dress code that permitted the status of a beauty pageant. A queen was to be selected from all townships in Bulawayo to bless the occasion: Soneni and I represented Tshabalala Township. Pegged with academic flair and intelligence, Soneni beat all of us in the contest and became queen, I came fourth. My mother was happy about the results because Soneni was the choice to all judges that day.

Soneni and I dreamt loud about our future plans, what we really wanted to become when we grow up. We would draw pictures on the sand on what we wanted to be later in life. Soneni wanted to be a teacher: I wanted to be an engineer. Back then it was so unrealistic to dream about becoming an engineer, I was out of school then, I had dropped out with a standard six qualification in my name, here I was dreaming of becoming an engineer. We were young girls and were allowed to dream and we dreamt. It was clear to me that Soneni looked up at my mother as her role model. It is in this loaded context that she may have been radicalized my mother's political involvement in Zapu. My mother was a teacher, a social worker and a Zapu politician. When my mother talked to Soneni she elevated her to her position, they talked at eye-level contacts together, as equals on the same page. To my surprise, but I was never an equal to my mother by any stretch of my imagination.

Soneni Ngwenya and I were inseparable in all aspects of our development as growing up girls in Tshabalala - Bulawayo until I had to leave for Zambia to pursue my secondary education at the age of 20 years. Soneni completed her secondary education and pursued her dream career of becoming a teacher. That radical edge in her caused her to drop from the United College of Education; she had become too political, the politics that started at her early secondary school life: she understood politics of Rhodesian racial separate development more than me back then. It was Soneni and other students at Mpopoma Secondary School in 1972 that organised a NO to the Pearce Commission. The British Commission had arrived in Rhodesia to test the general populace: black and white, an exercise that would see the end of Rhodesia's rebellion to the British Crown.  
Dressed in Mpopoma uniform that Soneni had given me, we matched the streets of Bulawayo joined by other secondary schools to protest against the Pearce Commission proposal singing and chanting revolutionary songs: "yithina labe sihluphekayo, elizeweni labo Khokho bethu, elalibuswa ngu Mzilikazi, lamhla selibuswa ngabamhlophe".  That was the climax of our early contribution to the struggle; young as we were we made a mark: the Pearce Commission failed. But which black government knows Soneni Ngwenya today: her remains are lying cold in the South African mortuary, her sterling contributions to the revolution are unsung or even unspoken because she is a woman coming from the wrong side of Zimbabwe: Matabeleland?  
My mother had actively joined Zapu without the knowledge of the Rhodesia Front then; she was a civil servant, was supposed to secretly identify students inside the country who would be sent to eastern-bloc countries for academic studies all that in preparation for an independent Zimbabwe in preparation for the economic independence of Zimbabwe: The Soviet Union, Cuba, East Germany, Rumania, Yugoslavia and all those communist countries that had diplomatic ties with Zapu organisation.  Soneni was given one of those Zapu scholarships and she left for Zambia via Botswana – Francistown, a journey was not without its challenges: When she arrived in Zambia, she had to work at Zimbabwe House; there was no scholarship to talk about.
Soneni worked at Zimbabwe House in Zambia at the administration department and she excelled in her work: the President, Comrade Joshua Nkomo recognized her diligence and her organisational ability and capabilities in executing party functionalities at Zimbabwe House. Because of her eloquence and evident intellectual abilities she was further selected to work for the Zapu presidency in the administration and together with other young women: Nomathemba Ndiweni, Sithembile Ndlovu just to name those few, were then sent to Kenya to embark on courses related to the party administration.
Mrs. Soneni Ngwenya-Matiwaza
Before she left for Kenya Soneni came to see me at Roma Secondary School, in Lusaka, she had looked for me until got the wind that I was at a boarding school in Roma, Lusaka. My situation was not pleasing to her, she could cry to see me in that state but she pleaded with me to be patient and finish the secondary education. Her second visit, she brought me bread and sugar to make koro out of it. (koro is a mixture of water and sugar) This is how we substituted our food servings at Roma boarding school. She was not well herself, physically and emotionally but she just said to me, well we are in the struggle for independence Nomazulu. That statement said it all about her stay at Zimbabwe House residences.

Upon completion of her diploma course in Nairobi Soneni went back to a "free" Zimbabwe: a free Zimbabwe celebrated only those in Mashonalands and never beyond those defined borders. In some parts of Matabeleland there was war: genocide was prevalent in the south and western regions of Zimbabwe: Zapu and Ndebele peoples were purged, butchered and maimed; women and girls were raped by marauding Fifth Brigade.  Firstly she worked at a college near Mguza that Zapu had opened to train young women to be secretaries in various government departments. It was one of the projects that the new Zanu PF dispensation maliciously shut down, Mugabe and Zanu would have none of it to see Zapu developing its structures for the good of the region of Matabeleland.

Mrs. Soneni Matiwaza was a highly qualified woman and held several degrees and diplomas in her name. She was a lecturer at the Zimbabwe Open University and her subjects were Communication &Scholarship, Leadership in Organisations and Principles of Business Management. Prior to the University post she worked at Wankie Colliery as a Training Officer in commercial studies, was a secretarial instructor. She left to join the Polytechnic College in Bulawayo and she lectured in secretarial studies.
Soneni was a devoted Christian of the Methodist Church and was a church leader and has been in most cases the person who comforted the bereaved, prayed for those who had lost loved ones. She rose to become a local preacher with time and experience: Her eloquence and oratory gave the push to higher evangelical offices. "Preaching and teaching the word of God" She was direct assistance of to the District Bishop of the Bulawayo District and sat on several institutional boards: Matjinge Schools, Thekwane Schools and Mathew Rusike Schools. Her outstanding experience as a regional administrator authored her confidence with the peoples of the regions of Matabeleland as a whole. Still Zanu PF will not recognize these contributions worth a heroine status. It would appear as if the peoples especially from Matabeleland can never be heroes except those of Matabeleland who bootlicked the powers that be.
The next most pertinent question we have to ask ourselves is: who will be there for us to comfort our painful hearts when we lose dear ones? Soneni was our emotional pillar that we trusted and relied upon for years. It is well worth mentioning the role Soneni Ngwenya played when we lost our sister-in-law: Venelia Nomuhle Mhlaba-Thatha not long ago. Before she died, Soneni made daily prayer visits to the hospital to pray for her and when Sis Venelia passed on she was again there for us to give comfort to our loss. When she spoke, I felt comforted; she had the comforting voice that soothed the burdened soils.

Mrs. Soneni Matiwaza is a mother of four children and several grandchildren. I am sure they will be comforted by the works their mother did to the nation: it is not only politics where she made sterling contributions but her evangelical work is exceptional; the Methodist Church in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and SADC region have lost a giant. Soneni was a brave woman and she tested the trials and tribulations of life with great humility. She looked well above the narrow confines of tribal inclinations and confinements. Soneni was her authentic self at all times. In a just society she would have done more I am sure because she had the leadership traits of Joshua Nkomo, her mentor and leader she worked for before she went to Kenya for further studies. At her wedding with Matiwaza, Joshua Nkomo was the guest speaker. It is said that he (in a joke) threatened any Kalanga that would abuse Soneni in her marriage.

Soneni was the friend I had known for years since I was fifteen years old. It is hard to come to terms with her death. I do not have any girlhood friend anymore and it means when I get to Bulawayo there is nobody to share those sweet memories of growing up in Tshabalala Township. Those 1972 student demonstrations we went together, those Mpopoma Christian camp meetings I was allowed to take part in because she always asked the school if I could attend them: Each time we met later in life we would talk about our girlhood experiences over and over again as if it happened yesterday. With a very heavy heart I say goodbye to my dear old friend: God be with you till we meet again! You will always be my heroine in my heart: I will love and forever cherish those good old days of our girlhood times. Sleep well Mama Africa because you have done your part with excellence.

Source - Nomazulu Thata
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