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Toponymic identity in Bulawayo and the need to recognise Black women

by Staff
28 Jul 2021 at 13:42hrs | Views
Histories of many states and nations in the world are generally histories of men and in some cases a few outstanding women, seemingly those whose absence in the historical narrative may discredit history or make it incomplete. The same holds for the black women in precolonial, colonial and even the contemporary African states. From the times of the Mfecane, we encounter historical narratives created around male figures with women coming in very few numbers and far between. From the Nguni states, we meet women in the mould of Nandi and Mkhabayi who stand out as astute political figures without whom the history of such nations can never be complete. In the Ndebele state the rise of such women as Lozikheyi, Xhwalile and brought about major changes in the course of history of the polities yet on a general scale, women have always been on the periphery of the societal histories. Such is the Victorian historical narrative - women are otherised and pushed to the periphery of history.

Fast forward to modern day Zimbabwe. Our history as a nation seems to be falling into the same pitfalls as the Victorian narratives of history with women having been rendered invisible particularly as we seek to immortalise heroes of our struggle through toponymy. In many parts of the world, public buildings, streets and other institutions are named after certain individuals as a means of bestowing honour and immortalising them. The naming of places is one of the most common ways of immortalising people in many societies. In Bulawayo for example, streets were named after missionaries, explorers, traders and army generals of the Anglo-Ndebele wars.

Upon attainment of independence in 1980, the country carried out a renaming exercise where several urban streets were renamed in honour of heroes of the war of liberation. However, the conspicuous absence of names of women on street names is worrisome. A survey of Bulawayo's linguistic landscape paints a gloomy picture of the contribution by black women. The male political figures and Liberation stalwarts have been honoured and immortalised in street names, buildings and public institutions. We have roads and schools in Bulawayo named after the war of liberation commanders such as Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo, Josia Tongogara, Gorge Silundika, among others, with some of these immortals hounred in more than one way. There is Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo school in Gwanda, Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo Street and a section of Luveve suburb known as Ziyaphapha. With the exception of precolonial figures such as Queen Lozikeyi, Queen Loziba and Princess Famona there is virtually no other black woman honoured through toponymy in Bulawayo. This makes our history a biased one that fails to recognise the contribution of women in our society yet there are so many of them that deserve such honours.

Bulawayo City Council's Commercial entity, Ingwebu Breweries had set a good example by going all out to honour and immortalise African women through names of its beer gardens in the likes of MaDlodlo, MaKhumalo, MaShumba and Sidudla among others. It could be said that the gesture was a tribute to the hospitality of women in our society especially considering that beer brewing was an art practices by women, hence a befitting honour for them.

Why black women? A survey of the city's street-names and other institutions shows the presence of non-black women names. An outstanding example is Ilanda suburb on the eastern side of the city centre which has street named exclusively after women, all of whom are white. Other suburbs such as Killarney have streets named after women too. We do have public institutions too such as Edith Dully, Princess Margaret, Eveline, among others. It is understandable that those immortalised in these names were not ordinary people, women of influence and rare calibre. Why then don't we have black women as immortals? Don't we have such extra ordinary women who were/are of great influence or it is a case of selective memory? We choose what to remember or forget. The answers to these questions are simple. Yes, we do have immortals among black contemporary women across many sectors in our society. If efforts are not made to include them on the toponyms, their names will be rejected to the headstones in the cemeteries.

On the political landscape, we have many outstanding women the likes of Jane Ngwenya, Angeline Masuku, Thenjiwe Lesabe, Joana Mafuyana, Ruth Chinamano as well as Thokozani Khuphe. We also have women as immortals in other sectors such as health and education but it only takes us to relook at their contributions to modern society before we can realise their immortal nature. In Bulawayo, we have the first black nurses in the city in the mould of Silibaziso Dube, Polyanah Mahlangu and Milia Macala Dube who are luminaries of the nursing profession in the country. Such figures as Mrs Polyanah Mahlangu who were the first black nurses in the 1950s are the brains behind the Ekuphumuleni Geriatric Centre. Her contribution to society remains unmatched and to forget such figures can only expose our hypocrisy as a society.

In other fields such as education, we have veteran educationists in the mould of Mrs Tumisang Thabela, the current permanent secretary for education and first female Provincial Education Director for Matabeleland South and Mrs Olica Kaira the current and first female Provincial Education Director for Bulawayo Metropolitan. Under the leadership of Mrs Kaira and a team of dedicated, mostly female school heads, Bulawayo Metropolitan Province has continued to shine in terms of national ratings. At some point, the two Matabeleland provinces were led by women with both having resident ministers Thokozile Mathuthu and Angeline Masuku while the education directorate was also under two women Mrs Tumisang Thabela and Mrs Boitumelo Mguni. It is such women that society needs to honour and recognise, otherwise the dream of gender parity will become even more elusive. These and other women who are too numerous to mention have made history and deserve to be honoured, especially considering that a good majority of them have served society with distinction.

There are vast opportunities for us to honour our mothers. We may not even need to change any institutional names or street names because with the growing cities, every new construction site offers us an opportunity to immortalise our heroines. If the settler government found it befitting to have a whole suburb's names dedicated to women, why can't we do the same? What is so difficult with engaging land developers particularly of the new residential areas and request that they dedicate some of the street names to women? If we could have beer gardens named after women, why can't we name all council run clinics after women of influence as a way of immortalising them? After all, most of these clinics are named after the suburbs where they are found. Is it too much to ask for to have a hospital named after great luminaries of the nursing profession such as Mrs Polyanah Mahlangu or Mrs Milia Macala Dube? It is certainly not. We have Parirenyatwa group of hospitals named after the country's first black doctor. We have barracks recently named after luminaries of the liberation struggle and commanders like Josia Magama Tongogara.

As a society, we need to take a stand and honour our women as much as we honour male figures or else history will judge us. We need to see more of women on our street names, institutional buildings and other public institutions. The government has set a good example for us by naming the Hwange Government complex after the late Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs Minister Thokozile Mathuthu. The onus is on local authorities across the country to spare a thought for women whenever they are naming streets and public institutions.

It is befitting to have women from all walks of life honoured and immortalised through toponymy. We do not have to wait for them to die before we can honour them. We can pick a leaf from South Africa where a stadium has been named after the Olympic champion Caster Semenya. Roads and hospitals have been named after such women as Winnie Mandela, Lillian Ngoyi and Albertina Sisulu among others. We look forward to having Polyanah Mahlangu Martenity Clinic, Joana Nkomo High School, Angeline Masuku Drive, Jane Ngwenya Memorial Library in the not so distant future.

Mthokozisi Moyo is a Language Researcher at the Midlands State University Language Institute and writes in his personal capacity

Source - Mthokozisi Moyo
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