By Margaret Kamba
The role that women played during the war can never be underestimated. What exacerbated their challenges during the liberation struggle is their biological make up, which makes them a rare breed with unmatched resilience and hence the need to honour them.
In as much as women are hard workers, taking up the shield to fight for the emancipation of Zimbabwe did not come on a silver platter, because the different women needed to turn themselves into men, something they were not before, in order for the country to be liberated.
What has remained stuck in my mind for a long time that I have always tried to explore is the life and experiences of female comrades who went to the war. This is because when I look at my life as a woman and the things that make me a woman, I wonder how our mothers and sisters coped with the liberation struggle.
There is talk about how women who crossed the border had their monthly periods automatically stopped. It sounds bizarre but some suggest ancestral spirits might have intervened.
I have asked people about this and there is a school of thought that says our mothers were injected with some medicines so that the menstrual periods could not be a hindrance during training and the war. Others talk about how the gruesome physical training literally had the menses disappear.
While some might doubt it, those who experienced it swear it happened. The others I spoke to told me that during the first few months, they did go through their monthly periods. In such cases, they used tree leaves or tore off pieces of their clothes to contain the flow.
When it came to the worst, they would just let the blood flow. It is common for women to use pieces of cloth during their periods, but it is hard to imagine a leaf absorbing blood and even worse, to let the blood flow without anything to contain it.
These are things none of them would want to talk about because they feel it probably strips them of their dignity. Those who had to menstruate know how hard it was to cope with using whatever material for their periods because they had to struggle with the thought of not using anything at all.
Their menses during the liberation struggle must have been a secondary issue. They had many other problems to worry about. What was paramount being food. Their struggle was multi-dimensional. It was the Rhodesians, then their physical environment which included food and water scarcity.
It was also the gruelling physical training which led to premature menopause. These are some of the stories that remain untold because of the fear of stigmatization that lies deep in the hearts of our mothers. Their scars lie deep in their souls and bleed profusely every time they relive the memories. They lost their dignity in search of independence, freedom and self-rule.
They came back physically strong, but a part was lost that day they were stripped of their dignity. While they might have never been abused at gun-point, that experience on its own was like a gun pointed to their heads. These are painful memories which many of us have never allowed to cross our minds and yet they affect our mothers.
To our mothers who lived in Chimoio’s Nehanda Camp, Freedom Camp in Zambia, Doroi, Tembwe, Osibisa, Chibawawa and all the other camps in Zambia, you deserve our deepest respect.