FREEDOM Tichaona Nyamubaya, who died in Chinhoyi on Sunday aged 55, was one of Zimbabwe’s few celebrated guerilla fighter-poets. Born in Uzumba in 1960, she cut short her secondary education at the age of 15 to join the liberation movement in Mozambique in 1975.
BY ARTS CORRESPONDENT
Nyamubaya was trained at Tembwe Training Camp in Tete Province, Mozambique, and was among the first women fighters deployed by the Zanla guerilla army. She was deployed into the frontline in 1978 where she became a field operations commander, earning a reputation as a fearless and highly competent combatant and commander.
After independence she founded the rural development organisation Management Outreach Training Services for Rural and Urban Development (MOTSRUD, providing agricultural development assistance to small-scale farmers especially women.
Later, she worked on attachment to the United Nations in Mozambique and in West Africa, but she found working for large development organisations distasteful and ineffective and soon returned home whereupon she embarked on a new career as a farmer in Mhangura. She developed a successful game conservancy on her farm, but continued her work with poor farmers through MOTSRUD.
In 2010, she joined hands with several other prominent Zimbabwean figures from across the political spectrum in establishing the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Trust (ZPST), whose aim was to contribute through the provision of impartial and professional technical assistance to the effective and sustainable modernisation and transformation of the security sector in Zimbabwe.
Nyamubaya published her first anthology of poetry, On the Road Again, in 1986 and was immediately acclaimed as one of the first genuine voices of liberation poetry. As Zimbabwe’s celebrated poet Musa Zimunya wrote: “Nyamubaya is unique for being perhaps the only living female ex-combatant gifted with the talent and the discipline to reflect on her good, bad and ugly war experiences through the art of poetry. Her poetry is layered with the many voices of the voiceless comrades, fellow sojourners in the cause of freedom, justice and other values of the struggle.
“Nyamubaya’s vision of the struggle is pivoted on her commitment to the noble values and goals that guided it. Her involvement is so passionate that she cannot be an outsider looking in, but an active fighter or critic of all the ills of colonialism, neo-colonialism and African patriarchy.”
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In 1995, she published Dusk of the Dawn and continued her relentless pursuit of freedom and justice in the new selection of poetry, which as Zimunya explained, “chastises hypocrites and false leaders, just as she castigates those shameless opportunists who have hijacked the revolution and taken the places of genuine travellers on the metaphoric freedom train, and she bemoans the loss of freedom’s values and decries the sidelining of genuine liberators when rewards are finally handed out”.
Her revolutionary feminism led her to explore themes that had been off-limits in the official liberation histories, as in the almost unbearably painful poem For Suzanne in which she narrates the ordeals of a woman who sacrifices her life to train and carry arms for freedom before suffering humiliation through rape, when her body becomes “a church/For high-ranking monks to relieve their stress/From hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness”.
As Zimunya observed, this is “a poem of a woman from the heart of a woman and for all women. It is a fitting anthem in praise of the enduring strength of women in the most humiliating conditions created by colonialism and African patriarchy. It is also a poem about the irony of defeat in this triumph, of confusion in the certainty of motherhood: is a mother close to God, given all this?”
Nyamubaya’s own story was published as Special Place in Writing Still, Weaver Press, 2003.
Freedom is survived by her son Naishe (19). Mourners are gathered at 9110 Ruwimbo Phase Two, Chinhoyi. Funeral arrangements will be announced in due course.