‘It all started in Makokoba’


WE CON­TINUE to chronicle Cde Jane Ng­wenya’s po­lit­i­cal life as she nar­rates it in a con­ver­sa­tion with The Sun­day Mail Deputy News Edi­tor Levi Mukarati in Bu­l­awayo. This week, Cde Ng­wenya re­veals how she was black­listed as a teacher and the “Zhii” era of Bu­l­awayo. Q: Af­ter the meet­ing ad­dressed by Cde Burombo in 1953, what did you do next? A: The peo­ple at the gath­er­ing dis­persed and I left for home. My hus­band was not around be­cause he would travel out­side the coun­try. He was a truck driver. When he re­turned, I told him that I had at­tended a meet­ing ad­dressed by Burombo and was im­pressed by how peo­ple at the meet­ing spoke against un­fair labour prac­tices at the hands of their white bosses, as well as against ill treat­ment of our peo­ple in the ru­ral ar­eas. I didn’t know that my hus­band ac­tu­ally knew Burombo. He told me he was aware of the meet­ings and sup­ported the cause. From time to time when my hus­band was around, we would go to­gether to these meet­ings and when he was at work I would go alone. The meet­ings be­came fre­quent as other unions also held theirs. The sit­u­a­tion at that time was that peo­ple would just go to these trade union meet­ings even if they were not em­ployed in the sec­tors they rep­re­sented. As a re­sult, I ended up also go­ing to meet­ings ad­dressed by Ja­son Ziya­papa Moyo and Joseph Msika, which were for builders. These trade union­ists were united and they would in­vite mem­bers of oth­ers unions to their meet­ings. You see, these were all-black with the same agenda, and there was no way they would be in­di­vid­u­al­ism be­cause our in­ter­ests were sim­i­lar. These were the meet­ings that I at­tended which, if I re­flect now, marked my en­try into ac­tive pol­i­tics. The meet­ings dis­cussed pol­i­tics and they later gave birth to the po­lit­i­cal par­ties. It is from there that I was sharp­ened. That is where I got the def­i­ni­tion of “po­lit­i­cally-minded”, which I had been la­belled as in school. Q: Be­fore you go on, you men­tion these meet­ings for em­ploy­ees; were you em­ployed that time? A: Yes, I was a teacher. But I was to be rec­om­mended for black­list­ing as a teacher. This was af­ter I had caused prob­lems at work, just like I did in school when I was ac­cused of be­ing po­lit­i­cally-minded. I was a teacher in Kwekwe and dur­ing that time we had the African Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and our pres­i­dent was Gideon Mh­langa. In 1959, we had our as­so­ci­a­tion’s con­fer­ence in Gweru, where we were told that the wife of Humphrey Gibbs was go­ing to visit schools. I am not sure of the month. Gibbs was not yet Gover­nor of South­ern Rhode­sia, he was to as­sume the post in De­cem­ber that same year. We had white ed­u­ca­tion in­spec­tor Mr McHugh, who was greatly feared be­cause he was very strict and short-tem­pered. He is the one who wanted us to pre­pare for Mrs Gibbs visit, so the mes­sage was re­layed at the con­fer­ence. At the con­fer­ence we had teach­ers like James Ba­sopo, Tso­tai Kat­sere and VaMukonoweshuro. The pres­i­dent of ATA, Mr Mh­langa, asked the fe­male teach­ers to make prepa­ra­tions to wel­come Mrs Gibbs. These in­cluded lo­gis­tics for teas, flow­ers, dé­cor and food. At that meet­ing I stood up and said; “I don’t want to pro­vide any­thing or com­mit my­self to pro­vid­ing any­thing.” Mr Mh­langa asked me why I was say­ing that. I said, “Mrs Gibbs is wife to an in­flu­en­tial per­son. She knows that African lady teach­ers do not get a huge in­come com­pared to their male coun­ter­parts. As such, ask­ing me to take money from my mea­gre earn­ings to con­trib­ute to­wards wel­com­ing her is some­thing I can­not af­ford. “For me to take two pound ten, three pound sev­en­teen and six to buy a cloth to lay on the ta­ble for the Mrs Gibbs is ask­ing too much of me.” My state­ment was first greeted with si­lence, then some mur­murs from other con­fer­ence del­e­gates and later out­bursts. Some teach­ers said I was out of my mind while oth­ers said I was right. The con­fer­ence be­came charged as we were ar­gu­ing on how we were go­ing to re­ceive Mrs Gibbs in our schools. The likes of Ba­sopo, Mukonoweshuro and Kat­sere were on my side and said they agreed with me in to­tal. At that stage, I re­alised Mr Mh­langa was get­ting ag­i­tated be­cause of the chal­lenge. He told me that I risked be­ing black­listed as a teacher for try­ing to in­cite oth­ers not to make any do­na­tions to­wards wel­com­ing Mrs Gibbs. I said to him if it meant be­ing black­listed, let it be so be­cause I per­son­ally was not con­tribut­ing any­thing. It was then that most of the fe­male teach­ers who were at the con­fer­ence joined in and said they were also not con­tribut­ing any­thing to­wards a per­son who was al­ready en­joy­ing life with huge wealth. Mr Mh­langa rec­om­mended I be black­listed and that was it. I left teach­ing. I think I was too stub­born and had these con­tro­ver­sies. Re­mem­ber the Rev­erend Mu­pantsi is­sue and then my re­fusal to con­trib­ute to­wards Mrs Gibbs visit? Af­ter that, I con­tin­ued with my po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties. This time we were now go­ing into var­i­ous

ar­eas mo­bil­is­ing the peo­ple. Be­fore In­de­pen­dence and even be­fore the real armed strug­gle, there were wider con­sul­ta­tions among our peo­ple. We would travel the length and breadth of this coun­try ad­dress­ing peo­ple and mo­bil­is­ing them to sup­port our cause and also in­form them that the prob­lems we had were col­lec­tive ones. The whites had given the blacks a tor­rid time to a point it was unan­i­mous we needed to take ac­tion against their con­tin­ued rule. That is why we had peo­ple ral­ly­ing be­hind

us. We were ad­dress­ing meet­ings in ar­eas where we were un­known. We would be stung by var­i­ous in­sects such as tsetse flies and other blood-suck­ling pests like chicken mites as we mo­bilised the masses. But I should say, peo­ple were very wel­com­ing and the way we were re­ceived in the vil­lages was just amaz­ing. We were strangers but in most cases we

would get a place to sleep and the vil­lagers gave us food. They were very ac­com­moda­tive. The Na­tional Demo­cratic Party was to be formed in 1960 led by Joshua Nkomo and it was fol­lowed by the Zhii era. We were the lead­ers and we had our youths strate­gis­ing var­i­ous sab­o­tage acts.

Q: Can you nar­rate the events that led to Zhii?

A: What I want to make clear is that the 1950s era was a pe­riod of trade union­ism which was against the white op­pres­sion, es­pe­cially of work­ers. Since those peo­ple who were be­ing treated un­fairly had their roots in ru­ral ar­eas, the mes­sage against whites nat­u­rally found its way there. Pol­i­tics was strength­ened by the works of the trade unions. The trade unions were then to mu­tate into fully-fledged po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Then in 1960 there was a meet­ing here in Bu­l­awayo at Stan­ley Hall in Makokoba. The meet­ing saw James Chik­erema and Ge­orge Nyan­doro who were na­tion­al­ist lead­ers in Harare be­ing in­vited. Here in Bu­l­awayo we had lead­ers like

Joshua Nkomo and Joseph Msika. At the meet­ing John Stone­house, a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for the Labour Party in Lon­don was also in­vited. The Labour party back then sup­ported the blacks in South­ern Africa, they un­der­stood our cause. I went to that meet­ing in Fe­bru­ary and

it was all fire. We had ad­dresses by sea­soned politi­cians like Nkomo, Chik­erema, Nyan­doro and Msika. This meet­ing had few women and I re­mem­ber I was there with three other women, I don’t re­mem­ber their full names, but one stands outs and we used to call her aunty MaNy­athi. John Stone­house made his ad­dress when peo­ple in the meet­ing were al­ready fully-charged, de­ter­mined and des­tined to win their cause. Stone­house said: “Do not fear and do not be in­tim­i­dated. If it means you will be ar­rested, then let it be so. If it means they will kill you, then the world will see that you are be­ing killed for seek­ing your rights.” Peo­ple at that meet­ing seemed to have

been filled by the same spirit of de­ter­mi­na­tion to fight col­lec­tively for their rights. At the end of the meet­ing, as peo­ple were go­ing out of the hall, some­thing hap­pened. We had a man in that meet­ing called Ben­jamin Madlela. Madlela, from nowhere and with deep emo­tional tone, started to sing “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrica.” The re­sponse was some­thing else. Even up to this day, I fail to un­der­stand it. You can imag­ine that af­ter such a meet­ing peo­ple will be talking as they are go­ing out. But when the Madlela started to sing it seemed as if some­thing swept in­side ev­ery­one and all of a sud­den there was a dead si­lence with this man’s voice be­ing the only sound re­main­ing. As soon as he fin­ished singing the first “... iAfrica” ev­ery­one joined to sing the sec­ond line. The singing was low, but when we got to the third line, we all in­creased our voices and it you could feel peo­ple were singing from the bot­tom of their hearts as we moved out. We got out of the hall and to the street as we sang. You could see peo­ple com­ing out of their homes to join us. I re­mem­ber we passed through a beer-hall and peo­ple left their drinks to join us. It was a rare mo­ment where I saw peo­ple iden­ti­fy­ing with each other and quick to un­der­stand our mis­sion with­out even get­ting a brief from any­one. As I say this, I am get­ting goose­bumps. The whole of Makokoba sub­urb came to­gether. Women, men, boys and girls joined what was now a march­ing party. There was a sea of peo­ple and I can vividly vi­su­alise the day as it was around 4pm, a few hours be­fore sun­set. But when­ever there is such a group­ing, there are those who take ad­van­tage to en­gage in illegal ac­tiv­i­ties. What had started as a pas­sion­ate march, turned oth­er­wise af­ter some peo­ple be­gan to loot things, de­stroy prop­erty and bar­ri­cade roads. Since we had been the ones whose meet­ing had spilled into the streets re­sult­ing in vi­o­lence, lit­tle did I know we had crossed the white gov­ern­ment’s line. That marked the be­gin­ning of trou­bles in my life and the po­lice were al­ways on my trail.

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