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Jane Ngwenya the first black woman nationalist to join active politics in Rhodesia

08 Aug 2021 at 12:44hrs | Views
Comrade Jane Ngwenya was the first woman who dared the men spaces, a domain of male occupation: politics. When my mother came to Zambia running away from the obvious incarceration at Chikurubi prison by Smith regime, I remember Josephine Masipeta, my cousin said to me: "What do dresses want in politics? These are the women who will derail the struggle for independence. Women are supposed to stay home and look after children: men only are to take the fight for independence". That was 1977, Jane was then a veteran of the struggle for independence. Jane never listened to those gender profiles: she was above narrow confines of gender stereotyping.

Jane Ngwenya sat in the room with men-only executive committee forming a political party Zimbabwe African Peoples Union. They had to accommodate her. The men-dominated party Zapu realized the real power behind her. Jane was above average woman, evident in her speeches she made. Jane was charismatic, was fearless, she communicated gender issues: women were marginalized and were cannon fodder in the scheme of things: changes were made to put it kindly to my party Zapu.

Jane sat in the committee related to strategizing the armed struggle, she was listened to with reverence. For decades Jane championed the cause for women both at home before she fled to Zambia and when she was in Zambia, she took radio broadcasting from Zambia to Rhodesia. She was a permanent voice that was heard in Rhodesia, a voice that kept the black nation informed about the struggle right inside Rhodesia.

I lived with Jane Ngwenya, Eunice Sandy-Moyo, Thenjiwe Virginia Lesabe, I forget the other woman who was in the National Executive of Zapu those days in Kabulonga Lusaka. The years from 1977 right up to the Lancaster conference were the craziest ever in the struggle for freedom: It was life and death. On several occasions I ran away from Victory Camp for women because of bombings that targeted civilian camps equally. I would then go and live with my mother at Kabulonga Zapu house where Zapu women in the NEC stayed.

Despite the precarious situation we were in, Jane Ngwenya and Eunice Sandy-Moyo were the light-hearted. They tried their best to uplift the "moral" (we used to call it then) of their comrades. Thenjiwe Lesabe's son Ntando had been bombed in Freedom Camp, he survived the bombings but remained a splitter attached to his spinal code; was never to be removed to avoid imminent death or risk permanent disability: paraplegic. Joana Lesabe, her daughter was at VC seriously ill. She had typhoid like other women at VC camp, the water they used was contaminated, resulting in numerous casualties.

Jane Ngwenya was always present in mass burials in both men and women freedom camps. She was the voice, the person who managed to sing freedom songs under those desperate circumstances. Looking at those lifeless bodies lying in a mass grave Jane Ngwenya found her voice: To paraphrase her: she said: "this is the price we shall pay to free Zimbabwe she would lead the song: "Sekuru Lobengula, hondo yenyu yatanga"; we replied hesitantly and unsure if it was appropriate to sing under such circumstances, tichaitora nemasimba".

Amid sombre and deep sadness and open despair during mass burials, Jane Ngwenya mobilized and generated second lives in young, traumatized freedom fighters once more, they found reasons to fight on. In her own way, she removed doubt in us about the armed struggle. "Who is selling the struggle"? She would reply, "we know who they are, we shall deal with them when time comes. It was time to fight first; to identify who the enemy of the people are, was set aside for later date. Later date?

My mother, Mrs. Sihwa left Zambia for Senegal where she represented the party Zapu. She left me under the guardianship of Dabengwa and Jane. In my mother's words to Jane: "look after my Alice in wonderland Sis Jane". My homelessness befitted the term: "she should be given a scholarship and leave Zambia as soon as possible. It did not matter where she got the scholarship anymore. To my mother's relief, Mzingaye Mabhodhoko was sent to a centre for agriculture near Lusaka. Nhlanhla Mpofu was sent to East Germany, it was organized that I had to leave with a Cuban scholarship. But Auntie Jane wanted me to go to the Soviet Union where her daughter was studying medicine. We could be of positive influence on each other said Jane. If I could be allowed to indulge Jane Ngwenya and Joseph Msika openly loved me and they openly told me.

The First Secretary: Erich Honecker arrived in Lusaka early 1979: His assistance to Zapu was practical. Having been shown humanitarian catastrophes in freedom camps, his offer of assistance was to decongest the freedom camps. Hardly time had passed, Dabengwa gave instructions to Jane Ngwenya to inform me about an available scholarship to East Germany. I moved from where I was hiding to stay with Mrs Zodwa Dabengwa, then fiancée to DD. I left Zambia for East Germany in 1979 to study engineering metallurgy.

Comrade Jane Ngwenya was the family consolation in 1982 when we lost our mother. She was present in our loss and assured us that she was there for us: it helped. It is challenging to write an obituary about Comrade Jane Ngwenya. She had become part of the family. I really appreciate the assistance my brother Raymond Bigboy Thata gave to Auntie Jane. In return, she appreciated the assistance Bhudi Ray gave her. Jane Ngwenya had become his mother to look after. Those regular groceries from South Africa made her life easier and she looked forward to his visits and the privilege to recall and reflect her bitter-sweet times in Zambia together with our mother. Amai Sihwa, Amai Sihwa, Amai Sihwa: nhai Amai Sihwa; this is how they greeted each other at the camps in Zambia: she will burst out laughing. Hugs and tears of joy compounded with imminent uncertainties lingering in their midst.

Comrade Jane Ngwenya is a mother that lost a daughter about 35 years ago. Pain never left her. She was a single mother who fought the war on one hand, a mother who had to cope with bringing up two children single-handedly. Jane was a heroine to me and to many who knew her during the struggle and when she came back from Zambia after the struggle for the liberation of our country.

The painful tears they shed when Zapu lost elections, Jane is now able to tell all of them what happened to independence now only for the few. She is answering serous questions: Why are the children we fought for remained second class citizens in their country of birth? Why are Chinese enjoying our freedom and the natural resources not Zimbabwean children we fought to liberate?

The sacrifices people made to free Zimbabwe is too big to comprehend it. So many lives were lost carelessly sometimes. What are the dividends of the liberation war if only a small section of the population enjoy the freedom and the rest are as poor as church mice? How many children are languishing in the towns and cities; have become street kids? The very colonisers are coming back to rescue street children, I am sure they are laughing at our philosophy of Ubuntu: where and how do you comprehend Ubuntu if you cannot rescue the very niche that defines the nation: children.

If those hungry children demonstrated, they will be shot at their backs. They must remain silent while Zanu elite is busy eating on our behalf. Yes, Jane must tell them, those that have left, those who died in the bush fighting to free Zimbabwe. If they had stayed home perhaps and never went to war; looked after their children, lives would have been saved. This is not the freedom we envisaged: freedom for the few and poverty for the 95% of the population. Jane must tell them that it is not yet Uhuru. This country will be colonized by the Chinese, and it will take a century to free it from Chinese colonialism.

Source - Nomazulu Thata
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