Warriors or Workers? Women in the Zimbabwean Liberation War
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Though a wide body of interviews that began to emerge in the 1990s show that women were involved at almost every level in the struggle, women still remain largely absent from the existing historiography on the Zimbabwe liberation war. What is missing from the previous accounts is a specific focus on how women were involved in the war in three key areas, as teachers, providers, and combatants. A re-examination of the sources, namely a comparative examination of autobiographies and edited interviews yields a new interpretation of the involvement of Zimbabwean women in the civil war: that black Zimbabwean women were used by the almost exclusively male nationalist leadership and military high command as cheap labour during the war in order to achieve a version of liberation “on the cheap” whilst maintaining the patriarchal status quo. Despite the fact that the rhetoric surrounding women’s involvement in the war promised them equal opportunities and parity with their male counterparts, Zimbabwean women were not offered genuine opportunities for advancement. Notwithstanding the attainment of independence, many women continued to feel exploited and that their sacrifices had been in vain. They painted the new black nationalist leadership with the same brush that they had painted their colonial oppressors. Using an intersectionality and gender studies approach, this thesis investigates a range of edited interviews and autobiographies, in order to unpack women’s experiences of Zimbabwe’s liberation war. How were women involved in the liberation struggle? How did they perceive themselves and how did men perceive them? It is argued that women did at times have some agency as teachers, providers and combatants. However, the mass involvement of women in the guerrilla forces from 1972 onwards was more likely an attempt by the high command to exploit the ambitions of women in order to gain a strategic advantage over the Rhodesian forces than a progressive policy of women’s emancipation.