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Women’s poetry of resistance



Today, I want to settle on a few names of special women from our liberation movements, who, other than participating in resisting colonialism, racism and apartheid; were also able to write poetry. Samora Machel’s first wife, Josina Abiathar Machel (neeMuthemba) who tragically died on 7 April 1971, at the very young age of 25, was a poet and a key member of the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO). It is not known how many poems of Josina have survived, but she is a distinguished guerilla and “an exemplary educationist and a high quality cadre…” During the struggle for the freedom of Mozambique, Josina was to write a poem that has actually gone viral over the years. It is called “This Is The Time.” It goes: “This is the time we were waiting for Our guns are light in our hands The reasons and aims of the struggle Clear in our minds The bloodshed by our heroes make us sad but resolute. It is the price of our freedom We keep them close in our hearts… revolutionary generations are already being born. Ahead of us we see bitter hardships But we see also Our children running free Our country plundered nomore. This is the time to be ready And to be firm. The time to give ourselves to the revolution” Josina was born in Vilanculos, Inhambane, in the southern part of Mozambique, into a family committed to anti-colonial activism. She once observed: “The colonialists wanted to deceive us with their teaching; they taught us only the history of Portugal, the geography of Portugal; they wanted to form in us a passive mentality, to make us resigned to their domination. We couldn’t react openly, but we were aware of their lie; we knew that what they said was false; that we were Mozambicans and we could never be Portuguese.” At the age of 13, whilst at school, she became active in politics. At the age of 18, the politicised Josina fled the country with other students in order to join FRELIMO in Tanzania. Among her comrades were the future President of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, and seven others (both young men and women). Josina went to Nachingwea, the name of the military training camp in southern Tanzania for training in 1967. It was in the liberated area of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, where Josina trained that she met Samora Machel. He was director of the training center in the province. In May 1969 she married Samora Machel in southern Tanzania. In November of that year they had a son, named Samito. She died in Dar es Salaam from leukaemia. Josina’s photographs are often used as iconic embodiments of what a woman can do and achieve if she sets her sights to it. Together with Samora Machel, they scribbled a few poems in the middle of the night for Mozambique Revolution, FRELIMO’S official organ/journal and these have lived to the present day. Carolina Noémia Abranches de Sousa Soares, known as Noémia de Sousa who lived between 20 September 1926 – 4 December 2002, was a poet from Mozambique who wrote in the Portuguese language. She was also known as Vera Micaia. In the early 1950s, de Sousa became involved in the Moçambicanidade movement. Moçambicanidade was the name for a new and revolutionary literature that spread throughout Mozambique during the 1940s and 1950s. This literary movement was an open platform for the citizens of Mozambique to open dialogue on issues concerning race, class, and politics. In her very long and elaborate poem called “The poem of Joao,” she writes about Joao the typical everyday Mozambican because Joao was the mother, the father, the brother of multitudes, a person who goes to the Asian bazaars, Joao could not have been Joao without Mozambique, he longed to live and to conquer life but the system killed him as he resisted exploitation but: “Joao is not alone Joao is a multitude Joao is the blood and the sweat of the multitude, and Joao, in being Joao, is also Joaquim, Jose, Abdullah, Fang, Mussumbuluco, is Mascrarenhhas…” As you read this winding poem, the ultimate message is that individuals do not matter much because they are a drop from a whole pool of expectations and consciousness that lives longer in the multitude, even long after the demise of the individual. During this period, anti-colonial literature in Mozambique was at its peak and de Sousa was one of many Mozambican women writers active in the resistance. One of de Sousa’s initial contributions to the movement was sharing her literary works with news outlets that supported the resistance. From South Africa, the late poet and diplomat, Lindiwe Mabuza, grew up in the resistance of apartheid. That saw her travel the world as an activist and ambassador and her poetry speaks for itself. In one of her poems, she sings praises to the heart of revolutionary conscious Soweto. She is militant: “With gun in hand I could feel the fire of joy for I would be one with many.” In an interview in 1995, she stated: “Poetry is part of the struggle. You use the armed struggle; you use political methods…. You recite a poem. It’s better than a three-hour speech. It gets to the heart of the matter. It moves people.” In the late 1970s, Lindiwe Mabuza, sent out a call for poems written by women in ANC camps and offices throughout Africa and the world. The book that resulted, published and distributed in Europe in the early 1980s, was banned by the apartheid regime. Lindiwe felt that her poetry was part of a bigger international movement against exploitation of man by man. She saw the role of women beyond biological motherhood. The late Freedom Nyamubaya, a Zimbabwean rural development activist, dancer and writer, cut short her Secondary School education in 1975, she left to join the Zimbabwe Liberation army (ZANLA) in Mozambique. While battling on the frontline she achieved the rank of FFOC (Female Field Operation Commander), later being elected Secretary for Education at the first Zanu women’s League Congress in 1979. Until her death, Freedom published 3 books : “On the Road Again’’ published in 1986 by (ZPH) Zimbabwe Publishing House; “Ndangariro” 1987 published by Zimpfep Zimbabwe Foundation for Education with Production; “Dusk of Down” published by College Press 1995. She died in 2015. Freedom Nyamubaya’s first collection of poems, On the Road Again contains, as indicated by the sub-title of the book: ‘Poems (written) during and after the National liberation of Zimbabwe’. On the road again seeks to investigate how post-independence developments in Zimbabwe make her revisit and recount Zimbabwe’s liberation war of the 1970s. Her poetry revisits the war to reveal its pains and horrors, and to appraise the sacrifice made by the freedom fighters who participated in it. Her recollection of the war poetically reinscribes into Zimbabwean society’s memory of history the sordid details of the experiences of the past. Her very first poem carries the idea of being ‘on the road again.’: “Now that I have put my gun down For almost obvious reasons The enemy still is here invisible My barrel has no definite target Now Let my hands work – My mouth sing – My pencil write – About the same things my bulletaimed at.” This means that it is the creative artist who should intervene to bring about positive change through an imaginative review of the socio-historical processes within the newly independent country. This is evident in the transition of the persona from soldier to writer. Nyamubaya thus perceives writing as a tool for social criticism and by saying the enemy is still around, she is very much aware that colonialism has shifted to neo-colonialism and that the enemy is nolonger necessarily white. Nyamubaya’s idea on the role of the artist in an independent African country ties up well with one of her poems called Poetry: “One person said, you are not a poet, but forgot that, poetry is an art and – Art is meaningful rhythm. Now what is rhythm If I may ask? Some say it’s marching syllables, Others say it’s marching sounds, But tell me how you marry the two. We fought Shakespeare on the battlefield Blacks fought the Boers with their spears These are marching syllables And is art to some, But how can I marry the two? How about a different rhythm? People die in the ghettoes, From police raids and army shots. Workers suffocate under coal mines, Digging the coal they can’t afford to buy For cooking daily to feed themselves. Poetic stuff this. Then let’s agree to disagree – Art serves.” That poem intrinsically suggests that Art should be in the service of humanity, much as the war of liberation was meant to liberate people. Art should not be an end in itself and it should highlight the oppression and the suffering of the people. There is even a more acute suggestion that a community creates a type of art that is relevant to the needs of that particular society. Once more, the war to totally liberate the people has to be carried on through art. The idea of the persona staying on within the struggle of the common people is also handled in the title poem itself, “On The Road Again.” In that poem, Freedom Nyamubaya , is refusing to disengage from the struggle and this theme is central to her poems in this book. Life is an endless struggle. Nyamubaya is more comfortable with describing the war itself, coming very close to merely worshipping its physicality. In “Daughter of the soil” the woman fighter’s “blood spurted above the trees” and she was laughing the laughs of pain” . Nyamubaya’s is a rigorous poetry, not comfortable with quiet reflection. It hurries combatively and undigested even in the face of peace as in: Mai emotion is hurt I see blood I hear bombs – I smell gunpowder – I taste napalm – I eat fire – I chew hate – Can’t swallow this earth!!!” In her other poem called “The Train Was Over –Booked” she draws an illuminating parallel between the fate of the former freedom fighters and law-abiding Zimbabweans who are excluded from the country’s resources, when, on a train journey from Mozambique, where Zanla guerrillas, war refugees and some politicians were based, those with tickets fail to make the journey. The train journey itself is not only a metaphor symbolizing the dissoluteness of the ‘crooks’ who have opportunistically hijacked Zimbabwe’s independence to exploit its resources at the expense of the majority of Zimbabweans, but also connotes how such practices militate against social justice, one of the underpinnings of the ideology on which the liberation struggle was premised. For the Nyamubaya persona throughout the anthology, the war is associated with love and the erotica. There are images of longing, betrayal and sometimes divorce that litter these poems. Good examples are in poems such as ‘A mysterious marriage’, ‘Hey man, Come with me!!’, ‘Loving and struggling’, ‘Thinking narrowly’ and ‘Home sweet home’. In ‘A faked love’ the gun is considered an intimate partner: ‘I liked it / I loved it/’ and ‘A cuddle at night/ and daytime pillow…/ falling in love with my SMG…’ The connection between the fighter and the inanimate gun goes to show commitment to the struggle on the part of the persona.

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