|A mother of the struggle|
|Wednesday, 08 August 2012 00:00|
The widow of Father Zimbabwe Joshua Nkomo, Johanna — who died on June 3, 2003 — could best be described as the mother of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle. This is not only because of the fact that Mama Mafuyana, as she was affectionately known, identifies with the towering iconic figure of the late nationalist.
Her relationship with, and commitment to Father Zimbabwe remains a poignant mark of the sacrifices of the wives of nationalists. Because of the liberating choice of her husband, which meant continuous stints in colonial jails, Mama Mafuyana was left with little choice but to marry the struggle itself.
And she suffered for it, too.
Thandiwe Barbra, the daughter of the national heroine, is one other person who has vast respect for Mama Mafuyana. She says her mother was committed to the struggle and the people of Zimbabwe.
She says Mama Mafuyana’s departure left a void.
“She kept the family going by raising the family and was there for us for all our lives. She was the matriarch,” Thandi told The Herald in an interview.
She says Mama Mafuyana’s role demonstrates the vital role women played in the liberation struggle and after Independence.
Her absence is being felt in the community.
“She was one person who would be present at every funeral and social gathering . . . her void is being felt as people have nowhere else to go and they always miss her,” she said.
She stated that Mama Mafuyana’s responsibility to better communities was highlighted by the heroine’s involvement with the Child Survival and Development Foundation founded by another national heroine, Amai Sally Mugabe.
Thandi said the 10th Anniversary commemoration of the life of Mama Mafuyana will be held next year.
A church mass will be held in Bulawayo.
The veteran nationalist Father Zimbabwe, in his book “The story of my life” makes these points clear.
First, he loved his wife dearly.
Second, he acknowledges the role and sacrifices she made to the family and the country.
He writes: “My marriage was the best thing I ever did in my whole life.
“In the 34 years of our marriage we have spent less than half the time together, but we have had a perfect understanding all the time.
“My wife has always borne the main responsibility for such property as we have owned: more, she has kept our family together, because all of us have always been confident that she would be there whatever happened.”
She earned the respect of her husband — loads of it.
He demonstrates in his autobiography: “Names of married women are very private things among our people . . . My wife was given the Christian name of Johanna, but that is not what I call her. The name I use is an honorific form of her maiden name — maFuyana.”
On her tribulations, at one time, Mama Mafuyana was raided at her Pelandaba home by a unit of the Southern Rhodesia Special branch.
She had countless brushes with the illegitimate settler law herself which saw her being detained and barred from travel. Such was the order of the colonial day where a paranoid white settler regime even regarded mothers as threats.
She even had a stint in the notorious Gonakudzingwa restriction camp — which expectedly was a crucible of nationalists — and she shared this unwanted habitat with the likes of the Amai Msika and Ruth Chinamano.
She did not relent in her contribution to the struggle as she was involved in the recruitment of cadres and acted as a conduit of information between incarcerated or exiled nationalists and the outside world.
In March 1977, Mama Mafuyana had to leave the country for her safety and that of the children after the colonial regime tried to kidnap the 13-year-old Sehlule.
In an earlier incident, hardly a week after the birth of Sehlule, Mama Mafuyana was raided by a unit of the Southern Rhodesia Special Forces.
The incident was in vengeance of the death of one Father Possenti whose death at Regina Mundi in Gwaai the regime blamed on freedom fighters.
Typically, Mama Mafuyana staved off the attack of the brutes. And her weapon: she hurled a can of lactogen meant for the little one at the intruders. She would earn herself detention at Western Cammonage.
With the husband’s life fluctuating between long spells in detention and risky missions of the struggle as well as exile, the burden of raising the family was hers.
In his book, Father Zimbabwe describes an incident, during the post-Independence disturbances, when she literally begged for Dr Nkomo to leave the country and “return and help the country out of its present problems”.
She emphasised her role to take care of the family.
Mama Mafuyana would be called to single-handedly fend for the family ensuring that the children secured decent upbringing and decent education.
Her strength and resourcefulness as a mother released her husband from family chores giving him precious time to focus on leading and prosecuting the struggle.
As she was married to the struggle, her motherly love was national as it went beyond her immediate family to embrace young cadres to and from various training camps and refugee centres.
President Mugabe described Mama Mafuyana as an embodiment of the “quiet but unbending dignity of an African princess; born and married to the turbulence of the struggle, never to enjoy the physical company of her beloved husband Joshua, never to share the burden of bringing up her children . . .” He noted that she stoically accepted “that the man she married was the man she would lose and cede to the struggle, making herself a virtual widow, her children, virtual orphans.”
President Mugabe said that although Mama Mafuyana came under “enormous pressure” from the settler regime, she would neither crack nor betray the cause of her husband and the country. Born in Matobo on September 18 1927, Mama Mafuyana’s upbringing was richly grounded in African culture and values which prepared her for her future role as wife to a leading founder and maker of the Zimbabwean nation. And President Mugabe’s description of her as an “African princess” was not just complementary or misplaced.
Mama Mafuyana was born within the Nguni royalty.
She was the second of three children of Paul Silwalume Fuyana and Maria Sithunzesimbi.
She attended St Joseph’s Primary School and Emhandeni before proceeding to work for the Dominican Sisters’ Convent in Bulawayo as a girls’ matron.
This was when she met her lifetime partner, Dr Joshua Nkomo, who was then in his early 30s.
(And she did give him a tough time to prove his worth for the princess! She is quoted as having said that at first she didn’t take the proposal of the “handsome young man” seriously because she thought he wanted “to fool around with me since my sister was married to her father and I was from another clan”).
The two then tied the knot in 1949 and moved to start a new life in the railway compound near Bulawayo.
Sadly, the couple lost their first child Themba but they were later blessed with four children, Thandiwe Barbara, Ernest Thuthani, Michael Sibangilizwe and Loise Sehlule.
Behind the illustrious revolutionary commitment and leadership of the late Father Zimbabwe was this steadfast mother of the nation, Mama Mafuyana, who scoffed at risks and made enormous scarifies which remain untold.
At Independence, up to her death, Mama Mafuyana worked for the unity of all Zimbabweans; mostly for the welfare of underprivileged children through the Child Survival and Development Foundation.
It was her dedication to catering for the poor and the underprivileged, and her steadfast commitment to the cause of the Zimbabwean people which made her departure a sad loss to the nation.
She was buried at the national shrine.
Additional reporting from A Guide to The Heroes Acre.