Gender Gender

Unsung heroines of uhuru

Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
THIS being the week when we are celebrating Zambia’s 53rd independence anniversary, stories have been told about how much our forefathers sacrificed for the political and socio-economic benefits we are reaping today.

From political mobilisation, so as to woo the support of compatriots to sacrificing their own lives, the gallant men and women gave too much to free us that the current generation cannot thank them enough.

Much has been said about what the heroes did to free us from colonial oppression, but very little of what the heroines did to support the cause for political freedom is told.
Save for the story of Mama Julia Mulenga ‘Chikamoneka” and her half-naked parade in front of a visiting British Secretary of States for the Colonies Ian Macleod, very little is recorded in the history annals of what the women did to get Zambia to where it is today.
In the recorded history, there is mention of prominent personalities like Mama Chibesa Kankasa, Mama Betty Kaunda, Princess Nakatindi Yeta Nganga and of course Mama Chikamoneka.
Apart from that, nothing much is said of the heroines of the liberation struggle. Understandably, during that era, our tradition could not allow women to traverse the country to address political meetings in different regions.
But the nature of the struggle indicates that the women must have done more than what the historians penned.
Apart from the women who assumed political positions after independence, such as Princess Nganga (first elected woman parliamentarian), Mary Fulano, Mama Kankasa and Dr Mutumba Bull, who became the first woman Cabinet minister (Health), very little is known about other women and their role in Zambia’s independence struggle.
But from the scantily recorded information that I came across, the women took part in non-violent protests in their communities, including those against European shops and butcheries that served the black community through the window.
Some stayed home to take care of the families while the men went out for political campaigns, and others provided food to the freedom fighters to keep them going.
Well, these may sound like insignificant contributions, but they weren’t. Stories have been told about how some freedom fighters left home to galvanise political support in other towns and countries, and only to return months later. First President Kenneth Kaunda was one of such leaders who would go away from their families for a long time, leaving their wives to take care of the children.
Our founding fathers were able to go away and fight for the freedom of this country because they were comforted by the fact that their families were in safe hands.
They did not fear to be thrown in prison for a just cause because their political allies, the women, were there to carry on the fight and provide inspiration, morally and materially.
On my visit to Chilenje house 394, Dr Kaunda’s former residence in 1960-62, which is known as the Old state House (although it was not a State house), the curator told the little- known story of women’s role in the liberation struggle.
He said the women bore a great responsibility of providing for their families during the liberation struggle because the men who were known to be gallant liberation campaigners were normally targets of political oppression. Some men were often arrested and thrown in jail, while others had to flee their homes for their own safety.
So the women had to find means of fending for their families, otherwise some children would have starved or not set foot in school.
Some women worked as domestic workers for the British expatriates, some as marketeers, others ran cottage businesses to provide for their children.
The curator at Chilenje house 394, which is a national monument, shared that former First Lady Mama Betty Kaunda, a trained teacher, resorted to charcoal burning to provide food for her children while KK was out on national duties.
Obviously many women at the time did some odd jobs or ran small businesses to keep their families going, thus giving momentum to the fight for freedom. If they didn’t, families would have disintegrated, children would have had no proper structures of support and socialisation to our norms and values.
The male freedom fighters had homes to return to because the women kept the families intact while they were away.
That strong families are the foundation of a great nation, is a well-known fact, and this is exactly what this country needed during the pre-independence period.
The unsung heroines deserve commendation for holding families and communities together during the liberation struggle.
Stories are also told about the important role that women played in taking care of political detainees and the other heroes that would flee their homes to avoid being arrested.
History further records that the women did take part in mobilising financial resources to bail out political detainees.
Mama Chikamoneka and her team were among women that actively supported the liberation struggle by collecting money from indigenous Northern Rhodesians to free their compatriots that were in detention. Some women became active members of UNIP, and others took on the responsibility of recruiting new party members.
Unfortunately the names of these and many other heroines aren’t documented. Probably, the cultural system then did not favour the recognition of women as leaders, hence very little is known about what they did for this country.
Nevertheless, our foremothers laid a foundation on which the current generation of women is building on.
Our uhuru heroines were not that educated, but they valued education and supported girls’ education.
In the colonial era, women were actually not legally allowed to join formal employment but they fought so hard, with little resources to supplement the family income and take their children to school.
The few women in the limelight, especially politicians, must have been the role models that inspired our forefathers and mothers to educate their children, girls inclusive.
Of course the call to give girls and boys equal access to education is an ongoing campaign, but a lot of progress has been made over the years.
In the early post-independence era, our mothers had big families to cater for, but they juggled motherhood with commerce to provide for their families.
Mostly without domestic servants, our mothers performed their triple roles of care-giving, fending for the families and childbearing.
They did small businesses to support their husbands to fend for their families. Some sent their children to school as single parents and widows. The fighting spirit of the pre-independence women has continued in many women of this era.
Now we have a considerable number of women in the labour force, more girls going to school, and a notable, though not desirable, number of women in decision-making positions, because of not only what Government is doing, but what the families have been doing. Occasions like Independence Day should prompt the women’s movement to revive the uhuru spirit, with the focus on the socio-economic emancipation of women and gender parity in every sphere of human endeavour.
In my view, the women of Zambia have always been heroines in their own right, though not recognised as they should.
If we don’t get complacent with the current achievements, we can win one day. Phone 0211-221364/ 227793.

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