The Erecting of Nehanda

by Tinashe Mawere

 Please note: This is part of a longer draft paper “In search of a curved Nehanda” in which I focus on the Mbuya Nehanda statue and its impacts on the recognition and (re)positioning of women. I show how the erection of the statue is a continuation of the grand nationalist-patriarchal version of Nehanda that follows the patriotic trend and continues a gendered (re)positioning of women, especially by putting them on pedestals to service patriarchal ends. This includes the glorification of women’s gendered responsibilities of (m)otherhood and care. I argue how the need to maintain such a narrative of identities relates to the debate around the ‘image’ of Nehanda to be visibilised, (re)membered, honored and appreciated as ‘our’ (his)tory, hence the preference of an ‘old’ Nehanda to that of a ‘youthful’ Nehanda as a public statue for Mbuya Nehanda.


Introduction: Statues, erections and (re)membering Nehanda

There are both visible and insidious connections between gender, sexuality and nationalism in Zimbabwe’s memorialisation and erection[1] of the statue of Mbuya Nehanda. I concur with Butler’s (1990) sentiments that gender and sexuality are performed in the everyday lives of the subjects of the nation. Statues, by their very nature, are phallic and erectile objects as they stand firm, visible and threatening, pointing to masculinities and particular forms of power that invite visibility and obedience to power.

On the 25th of May 2021 on Africa day, I watched a live broadcast in which the Mbuya Nehanda statue was finally unveiled by the Zimbabwean president, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa. This was after delays in finishing the project and also after the rejection of the earlier model (due to its youthfulness). Just like the burial of national hero/ines, the unveiling of the statue of Nehanda (albeit under the covid-19 global pandemic) was turned into a major national event that feeds into Zanu-PF’s politics of the spectacular. Among others, works such as Mawere (2021, 2020, 2019, 2016), Ncube (2014), Fontein (2010, 2009), Muchemwa (2010), Ndlovu-Gatsheni & Willems (2009) and Thram (2006) have reflected on some of Zanu-Pf’s politics of the spectacular such as heroes burials, galas, songs and campaign advertisement in ways that resonate with Askew’s (2002) perspectives on performance.

Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, who is popularly known as “Mbuya Nehanda”, was a powerful spirit medium and heroine of the 1896/7 First Chimurenga war against British settler colonialism (Beach 1979; Cobbing 1977; Ranger 1967). She is one of the greatest African female heroines who shaped and influenced the early African liberation struggle against colonialism and allowed herself to be captured to avoid more bloodshed. The Nehanda medium, Charwe was hanged in 1898 for her contributions in mobilising communities against colonial rule. Before she was hanged she declared that her bones would rise again (Shoko 2006; Beach 1979; Cobbing 1977; Ranger 1967) to lead a new, victorious rebellion. The symbolism of rebirthing (which is articulated by her rising bones) which relates to Nehanda’s status as a woman is very significant in the construction of her identities, location(s) and belonging. In narratives of Zimbabwean nation-building, Nehanda has been associated with loyalty to her people and nation, mobilisation in defence of the nation, re-birth of the nation and (re)production of citizens.

The Nehanda statue was erected at Julius Nyerere and Samora Machel junction in Harare[2]. Since Nyerere and Machel, (nationalists and former presidents of Tanzania and Mozambique respectively) played significant roles in Africa’s liberation struggles, locating Nehanda’s statue at this intersection seems to give Nehanda a regional or African appeal. The statue is also close to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, the courts and the parliament of Zimbabwe which are some of the city’s grand spaces.

There were diverse views regarding the erection of the Nehanda statue, mainly around costs, priority, and politicking. Some dismissed the project as a non-developmental issue, hence an undermining of important projects. Although some saw it as necessary, they disagreed with the timing and considered it a non-priority issue in the face of failing health, roads and economic systems. Some people argued that the erection of statues is anti-cultural as evidenced by their absence at sites such as Great Zimbabwe. However, others saw the Nehanda statue as a symbol of liberation and called for more such monuments, regarding those who disagreed with the erection of the statue as people full of self-hate who do not appreciate history and heritage. Proponents of the landmark also argued that colonial/empire statues (such as Rhodes’ grave and David Livingston statue at Vic Falls) already exist, so why not liberation war aligned statues?

The above are very valid points which should be critiqued in depth. I, however, depart from the above debate and focus on issues around the statue model that was rejected by Mnangagwa and the one that he accepted as representative of Mbuya Nehanda. In The Herald newspaper, the presidential spokesperson George Charamba said, “The President didn’t agree and as it turns out that youthful face will be put away and will have a Nehanda who is closer to how the good lady looked in real life which means a lot more wrinkled” (The Herald 19 December 2020).[3] The National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe Executive Director, Godfrey Mahachi, pointed out that the picture used in the creation of the statue came from the National Archives of Zimbabwe, which is the image of Mbuya Nehanda as ‘most known Zimbabweans’ (The Herald 4 June 2021)[4]. During the unveiling of the accepted statue, Mnangagwa posits; “This statue is a bold and unapologetic statement that we are a people who know who we are and where we come from. It is a declaration that we stand proud of our nation and history” (The Guardian 26 May 2021).[5] In the above statement, Mnangagwa makes the problematic issues of identity, nation and history very simplistic.

Monuments in general and statues in particular are tangible or physical representations of places, people or events that have value and significance to a community, people or nation. They help people to remember or associate themselves with their past(s). However, memory, memorials and monuments are political assemblies, recalling and (re)presenting histories and identities selectively, drawing popular attention to specific events and obliterating or obscuring others for specific purposes (Becker 2011; Ranger 2009; Thram 2006; Osborne 2001).

The erection of the Nehanda statue and the narratives around it should invite us to question what history is (re)captured, what memory is (re)captured and (re)membered, what past, present and future is performed and for whose benefit. In discussing the erection of the Nehanda statue, I problematise the fundamental ideological and discursive issues around gender and sexuality, focusing primarily on the gendered nuances characterising the erection of the statue.

The normal and the expected: Nehanda statue, cityscapes and (re)positioning of women

It is normal and expected that the erection of the Nehanda statue is seen as progressive to the recognition and empowerment of women. This is because (re)positioning Nehanda in public space seems to be breaking power hierarchies associated with space and giving agency to women. However, the choice of an old image of Mbuya Nehanda over a young/youthful and curved one to occupy the public space makes one rethink the state’s intentions[6]. The celebration and honoring of Mbuya Nehanda is one example of how women are often revered when they make sacrifices (Mawere 2021). This is in contrast with heroics of war (for men) which are often connected to less passive and more aggressive tactics as shown in Mugabe’s (2001) account of heroes.

Generally, space is highly politicised (Schmidt 1990, 1988). Spatial arenas are often politicised along lines of race, ethnicity, gender and class regimes and the politico-aesthetics of inclusion and exclusion. Cityscapes have long been contested terrains where issues around gender, masculinities and sexuality have played out. Historically, the city has been conceptualised as a space for men, hence women who enter the city find themselves negatively labelled, perhaps as in crisis or vulnerable. Generally, there has been considerable surveillance and policing of women in the city, since the city is taken for granted as a space for men (Mawere 2019, 2016; Gaidzanwa 1993, 1992, 1985).

The erection of the Mbuya Nehanda statue at a public and popular junction in the city of Harare is narrated as a move for gender parity and the reimagining and recognition of women in the Zimbabwean society.  The presence of women statues even in countries such as the US and UK is very low (Buchholz 2019).[7] This keeps historical contributions of women insignificant and therefore their presence in the public invisible, setting the agenda for patriarchal magnificence.

The Nehanda statue signifies the personal contributions of the historic Nehanda, as well as the contributions of women to the struggle and national discourse, hence adding another narrative to dominant discourses of gender and space. Mnangagwa takes the position of a god, bringing back the dead Nehanda to life and glory in the cityscape, an urban space traditionally associated with men. By locating Nehanda at the centre of the cityscape, one is tempted to think that the state officially and publicly recognised the agency of women in public spaces. The performance would then be seen as challenging sexual and gender categories that normally marginalise feminine sexualities and relegate women and femininities to marginal and boxed locations such as the home and care.

However, a deeper discursive analysis of the political aesthetic of the statue and the politico-aesthetic around its creation challenges our thinking of the erection as a (re)positioning (in the sense of relocating and decentering marginal identities). Instead, what the erection achieves is a (re)positioning of Nehanda and women in general in a sense of (re)producing or repeating and affirming the present and dominant narratives.

Noting the acceptance an old image of Mbuya Nehanda, I argue that what the state erected is a cornered[8] Nehanda and cornered womanhood/femininities, devoid of any erotic and agentive power. In many ways, the ‘erect’ statue amplifies the history and culture of the surveillance of women in Zimbabwe. It visibilises the ways in which bodies that are threateningly sexual and ‘contagious’ are directly and or indirectly denied public space. It reveals how these ‘impure’ bodies are disallowed to provide role models for patriotic nationhood and (m)otherhood. As such, the erection of the Nehanda statue promotes the invisibility of women in public and important spaces and promotes a narrow model of womanhood and motherhood that advances Zimbabwe’s patriotic and gendered nation-craft.

Satisfying the male gaze and celebrating a cornered Nehanda

The status of women and their voices in the public arena is generally mediated by men (Schmidt 1992), hence history continues to be written largely by men. The involvement of women in the whole process of the Mbuya Nehanda statue erection is questionable, more so their involvement in performing active and agentive roles. Rather, women’s role in the making of national narratives is deliberately undermined and ignored by nationalist historians and politicians (Mawere 2021, 2019; Ranger 2005; Zhuwarara 2001). The erection and (re)location of Nehanda is not outside her popular gendered role of national mobilisation, (re)production and (m)otherhood (looking over the nation and her children). This is buttressed by the politico-aesthetic surrounding the erection of the Nehanda statue.

As articulated by Charamba, Mnangagwa “disapproved the widely condemned statue of the first chimurenga heroine Mbuya Nehanda due to its youthfulness which did not depict her true physical appearance” (The Herald 19 December 2020). The popular picture of Nehanda, which was then used to create the unveiled Nehanda statue was when Nehanda was old, tired, captured, fleshless and about to be hanged. Making use of that picture continues the colonial dehumanisation, as well as the nationalist-patriarchal narrative of her gendered identity and roles in the nation. Thus, from colonial captivity, Nehanda lands into the captivity of patriotic and patriarchal history and parochial national imagination.

In an interview with the Herald, the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe Executive Director, Godfrey Mahachi, commented that the statue of Nehanda is meant to “remind us of how our forefathers resisted colonial conquest” (Herald 13 July 2020)[9], hence reflecting that this had nothing to do with ‘foremothers’ and apparently excluding and marginalising women as beneficiaries of the Nehanda statue as well as subjugating them to male power. The statue is affirming the patriotic and patriarchal shape and nature of Zimbabwean citizenship. In many ways, the statue keeps Nehanda and women in general in the bondage of both colonial and nationalist patriarchs. In this sense, the statue performs the ordinary script and fails to (re)imagine an agentive Nehanda and agentive womanhood and motherhood.

Looking at the image of Nehanda that was accepted and acceptable, its placement in the cityscape and the popular narratives around the statue, one sees a creation of the male gaze. Nehanda’s magnificent power is limited to overlooking the nation[10], watching and modelling womanhood and (m)otherhood as defined by the patriarchal gaze, taking care of the nation and like a hen, enclosing her children under her wings, hence her limitations to the (re)productive role, (re)producing citizens.[11] The presence of Nehands’s statue symbolises the ways in which women are (re)presented in society, their (re)presentation and normalisation as care givers and (re)producers of citizens and the ways in which their visibility in the public space and political arena should drive and sensitises the important location of (m)otherhood in a patriarchal and nationalist sense.

The cornered Nehanda (who is shaped by (his)tory) expresses both women victimhood and patriarchal normativity. In this sense, silence is promoted since this Nehanda story is the common one in colonial, nationalist and patriotic (his)tories. A performance of this story obviously silences the other voices and other imaginations that are possible in the rejected and unspeakable curved Nehanda.

The twitter satire/meme that links the curved Nehanda to Zimbabwe’s controversial socialites like the late Moana and Madam Boss or the ‘Slay Queen’ tradition[12] is reflective of how ‘normal’ certain voices have become to the extent that alternative voices and imaginations are seen as absurd and unspeakable. Old stories have been repeatedly performed to the extent that only their narrations are sensible.[13] However, in some ways, the memes that are generated in the public media in response to the curved Nehanda also offer disobedient voices. The memes confirm that characters like Moana and Madam Boss are public figures and have already occupied the public space. The rejection of the curved Nehanda (who is as curved as Moana or Madam Boss) reflects the surveillance, policing and attempts to invisibilise women who entre the public arena. This has been characteristic in Zimbabwe as women politicians and entertainers are always policed and several attempts to silence them are made (Mawere 2019, 2016).

The rejection is an example of how women’s sexuality should be concealed. The rejection of the youthful Nehanda with her erotic body-visible and powerful sexuality embodied in the image buttresses the surveillance, censoring and physical and psychological elimination of young and powerful women from public spaces (Mawere 2019, 2016). This also relates to the historical policing of women’s dressing in Zimbabwe (Mawere 2019; Gaidzanwa 1993). Those women who make it in the public arena are given negatives terms such as Slay Queens, hence one twimbo referred to the curved Nehanda as Slay’handa[14].

In many ways, the above associate women public figures with contagious sexualities and associates their prominence with the absurd and presenting women as witches (Mawere 2019; Gaidzanwa 1985). The rejection of the curved Nehanda is a clarion declaration that particular bodies are unwanted and unspeakable, that the state will not allow young and erotic women into public spaces. It is also a call that women and their sexual bodies should remain boxed and only allowed public spaces and recognition if they express a parochial and gendered identity that tallies with gendered roles and nation-craft. This resonates with Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s (2009:8) sentiments that nation-craft is “a highly sedimented phenomenon that has operated through privileging certain features of social life while suppressing or de-emphasising others that are considered repugnant to its chosen agenda” of what Ranger (2005, 2004) terms patriotic nation-building, which is grotesquely gendered and sexist.

The curved Nehanda offers some imagination of women’s resistance against socially constructed and constrictive gender relations and a whole corpus of patriarchal determinism and oppression. It is in the rejected curved Nehanda that lies silenced voices, empowerment and provocative agency for women. The curved Nehanda imagines an irresistible body worth recognising, celebrating and emulating, and not one that is ‘mournable’, ‘unagentive’ and inviting sympathy. The curved Nehanda (who is rejected because she is not embracing (his)tory) offers a departure from unrepresentative (his)tories and moves beyond constructed margins and centers. This, in many ways challenges the notion of history as fixed and unchangeable and the future as predetermined, hence questioning Mnangagwa’s idea of a known identity and a known history. The unveiled Nehanda statue reveals the apparent patriarchal uses of particular women and their visibilities to regulate and censor women; hence the censored expression of women in the public space is symbolically performed by the rejection of the curved and erotic Nehanda.

Thus, the choice of a rather non-erotic frail body with a full garb is a censored expression of womanhood, a mark of women’s limitations, especially if allowed to enter the public space. On the other hand, the rejected statue depicting a young and curved woman shows the ‘unacceptable’ and uncensored expression of womanhood. Even as a statue, Mbuya Nehanda’s burden continues as the statue is now a visual text through which patriarchy speaks. This shows that (re)presentation is a contested and ambivalent subject.

The images of women articulated by the accepted Nehanda statue show women as victims and biological mothers, thus in victimhood and (re)production, with men like Mnangagwa acting as their saviours by recognising and idolising their roles in the national script.  The Nehanda statue turns to be a continuation of what Gaidzanwa (1992) terms the domestication of women and this is even evidenced by the renaming of the maternity ward at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare to Nehanda maternity ward.

Snatching Zanu-PF’s own tool and using it to demonstrate the Zanu-PF led government’s failure as done with the Zimbabwean flag by Evan Mawarire (Mawere 2020), the Almagamated Rural Teachers’ Union members performed a flash demonstration at the unveiled statue. They made symbolic cries of hunger and as children, asked the maternal Nehanda to feed and take care of them amidst Zanu-PF’s neglect. Although sending a disobedient voice to the partisan interest of Zanu-PF, the union also cemented Nehanda’s role as (m)othering and caring for the nation.

Considering the above, we still have what Wilson-Tagoe (2000) conceptualises as narratives of history rather than narratives out of history. I argue that the curved Nehanda represents narratives out of history. In many ways, the cornered statue shows the precarious nature of women’s lives as long as they are conduits for national and patriarchal excesses.

The youthful image of Nehanda, with a daring figure (re)present the erotic, but suppressed realities and voices of women, which is basically the source of their power and agency (Mawere 2019, 2016; Lorde 1982; McFadden[15]). There is a general fear, surveillance and suppression of female sexuality in public spaces, unless if it satisfies or serves a male (and often colonial gaze). So, the unveiled statue of an old woman appeals to the nationalist, gendered and sexualised discourses that drive Zimbabwean nation-craft. Rather than (re)presenting the agency of women and their positive and active occupation of public spaces, the statue visualises and performs the existing patriarchal script.

In many ways, the erected statue (re)presents the (re)productive abilities of women that give rise to citizens rather than a sexuality and a gender that has agency. The statue is a loud voice shouting and compelling normative and naturalised identities and roles for women, and dramatising honor for sacrificing for and (re)producing the nation. The Nehanda statue (re)locates women and femininities in positions of care, especially when linked to how she is located in the dominant patriotic-nationalist narratives. In this sense, Nehanda the woman, the myth and the unveiled statue symbolises the apparent presence of honorary women who enforce subordination by acting as role models. There is a sense in which the statue symbolises women who are used to guide and mobilise other women to stay within their boundaries to drive the patriarchal agenda.

Conclusion: a suppressed erotic, in search of a curved Nehanda

For Mnangagwa, the increasing presence of heroines at Zimbabwe’s national heroes’ acre, where they perform as role models of wo(man)hood, (m)otherhood, female patriotism and good citizenship was not enough. Zimbabwe’s nationalist history (re)presents the figure of Nehanda as symbolic, sacrificial, resilient, and as unyielding and stubborn to colonial ‘penetration’ and measuring up to the expected principles national loyalty. The concepts of purity, morality, chastity, care, emotional, sacrifice, resilience and loyalty are glorified characteristics associated with ‘respectable’ and celebrated women in Zimbabwe, hence Nehanda is (re)invented as an ultimate link to and exemplar of (m)otherhood.

By erecting the statue of Mbuya Nehanda as a symbol of honor, an ambivalent discourse which affirms gendered roles in nation-craft is (re)produced. The erection of the statue is symbolic of the retrieval of the imagined threatened (m)otherhood and its material and symbolic presence. This was very important following narratives that Grace Mugabe and earlier on Joice Mujuru as well as the feminised and homosexualised opposition MDC wanted to take over presidency, hence gender boundaries had to be reaffirmed (Mawere 2019).

Nehanda’s symbolic occupation of the cityscape (a public and popular space) might show women’s occupation of spaces previously reserved for men. However, the form and shape that the statue takes in this public and popular space complies with gendered expectations and the limitations of women’s identities and roles. The statue appropriates the identity layers that embody the romanticised national woman. The stereotypical portrayal of women, depicting stagnant identities, unchanging and limiting roles is very patriarchal.

The cornered Nehanda that is (re)imagined by the unveiled statue of Mbuya Nehanda (re)represent a cornered history and cornered identities satisfying parochial and patriarchal ends. The statue lacks mythical consciousness best suited for legends and which give room for reinvention. I concur that “Mbuya Nehanda, both the woman and the myth, has been appropriated by male nationalists, and her image has been transformed into a patriarchal instrument of power (Muponde & Taruringa 2002: xi).

The Mbuya Nehanda statue is a phallic object representing male erections, excitements and power. Mbuya Nehanda returns under patriarchal control, with no superior identity, claim or assertiveness, but as the ‘ordinary’ woman with no indication or energy to fight other struggles. Once again, this presents a battlefield over women’s bodies in the making of Zimbabwe’s national history. The rejection of the youthful and curved Nehanda statue should be understood in terms of how it frustrated the normalised identities and roles of women because of its inherent erotic aesthetics. A curved Mbuya Nehanda would challenge violations and allow the ‘unsilencing’ of narratives that have been boxed/constrained/oppressed. It would mean many more and diverse narratives of Mbuya Nehanda that are fluid to circumstances and that show stubbornness in being contained.


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[1] I regard erection in a dual sense of the physical construction of the statue and also in the symbolic sense of the phallic where male power is constructed and asserted.

[2] The accepted and unveiled ‘cornered’ Mbuya Nehanda Statue in Harare:

[3] Mbuya Nehnda statues to be redone:

[4] The Mbuya Nehanda picture from the National Archives of Zimbabwe:

[5] Mnangagwa praises the Mbuya Nehanda statue:

[6] The rejected young/youthful and curved image of Mbuya Nehanda:

[7] Gap between male and female statues in monumental:

[8] I use cornered to denote the normative and linear as well as to denote entrapment.

[9] Mahachi on Mbuya Nehanda statue:

[10] Geo-location of Nehanda statue in the city of Harare:

[11] This (re)presentation of women as (m)others and taking care of children (and citizens) also characterise the recent memorial statue of Princess Diana erected at Kensington Palace:

[12] Nehanda memes:

[13] The sensible falls within the boundaries of what is affective, visible and audible, what is within the boundaries of spaces and times and is carefully re/constructed to instill particular thoughts, emotions, behaviors and actions that tally with prevailing dominant ideologies (Mawere 2016; Birrell 2008; Ranciere 2006)

[14] Zimbabweans mock Nehanda statue:

[15] Patricia McFadden, Standpoint. Sexual Pleasure as Feminist Choice

The Zimbabwean National Heroine: (Re)reading Nationalism, Gender and Sexuality

by Tinashe Mawere

Introduction: Zimbabwean nationalism and gendered identities

Broadly, the literature of nations and nationalism neglects the question of gender (Walby 1997) while nation-gender theories still lack the impetus to provide a comprehensive analysis of how the complex interrelations of gender and nation add to the (re)production of nationalism (Smith 1998) as well as the (re)production of gendered and sexualised national identities. Scholars such as Lewis (2007, 2008), McFadden (2002), Zake (2002), Nagel (1998), McClintock (1995), among others address this gap. In this paper, I contribute to this growing body of knowledge by exploring how the heroine subject is a (re)production of Zimbabwean nationalism. I go further to show the ways in which this (re)production repeatedly performs and (re)produces inherent sexualised and gendered identities and binaries that sustain, authorise and legitimise Zimbabwe’s patriarchal nation-craft.

In most Southern African societies, dominant discourses such as nationalism have, by and large, been shown to be prescriptive, coercive, gendered and dangerous (Lewis 2008; McFadden 2002; McClintock 1995). As such, discourses of nationalism tend to (directly and insidiously) violently coerce individuals and groups into prescriptive, normalised and naturalised national identities that tally with patriarchal national projects. Zimbabwe is one of the Southern African countries where nationalism has been revived with unequalled intensity since the year 2000 (following the formation of a strong opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change MDC in 1999 and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Party Zanu-PF’s loss in a constitutional referendum). The period also witnessed an increasing presence of heroines at Zimbabwe’s national heroes’ acre[1], where they performed as models of womanhood, female patriotism and good citizenship in Zimbabwe’s nation-craft. In addition, they also (re)produced power hierarchies within the Zimbabwean ‘national family’. In many ways, this continues to have a pronounced effect on gender imbalances, gender injustices and their (re)production in people’s everyday lives.

In Zimbabwe, considerable emphasis has been placed on propagating national unity and loyalty based on a narrow, authenticated and officiated historical past which Ranger (2003) terms ‘patriotic history’ and uncontested foundation concepts of the nation and national subjects (Christiansen 2009). This ‘patriotic history’ (which has partly triggered the Patriotic Bill[2] parliamentary motion by the Zanu-PF legislator, Alum Mpofu in March 2021) intensified from the late 1990s. The late 1990s saw the majority of Zimbabweans disillusioned by independence and from 2000, Zimbabwean nationalism was revived to (re)generate loyalty to the Zanu-PF. Although violent and authoritarian nationalism haunts Zimbabwe and is an instrument used to authenticate belonging and citizenship (Mawere 2019, 2016, Sachikonye 2011), non-violent and ideological methods have also been used to turn people into willing products and producers of the fundamentals of nationalism (Mawere 2016).

Despite the use of violent means to revive Zimbabwean nationalism, Turino (2000:14) states that Zimbabwean nationalism banks on cultural and artistic domains, “with language, music-dance, sports, food, religion, and clothing style often being central.” In line with this, Kriger (2003) asserts that Zimbabwean nationalism is scripted on the specific party slogans, symbols, songs, and regalia used by national bodies at national ceremonies. These become cultural texts performing Zimbabwean nationalism. Cultural texts are sign systems, storytelling tools and symbols that contribute and shape a society’s culture and have underlying cultural meanings which require certain cultural knowledge to be comprehended[3].

Chikowero (2008, 2009); Muchemwa (2010); Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Willems (2009, 2010) examine how some cultural events and activities as well as the appropriation of heroes like the former Zimbabwean Vice President, Joshua Nkomo, are cultural texts used to instil Zimbabwean nationalism. In this paper, I explore how the heroine subject is employed as cultural capital to perform Zimbabwean nation-craft and how this performance is an extension of naturalised sexual and gender identities that are both binary and based on power hierarchies that privilege patriarchy and authorise its power. In many ways, the paper problematises thinking within gender binaries and highlights the need to rethink gender beyond binary.

The National Heroes’ Acre as symbolic material culture

Many African states, emerging from a protracted struggle against colonialism, have built shrines in honour of those who participated in the liberation struggles. In Zimbabwe, shrines have been constructed at the district, provincial and national level (Bvira in Goredema and Chigora 2009). The National Heroes Acre, which is found in Harare, is where those conferred with the highest honour and named national heroes/heroines are buried. Mandima in (Goredema & Chigora 2009:077) clarifies, “National heroes or heroines are those that led the national liberation struggle.” Describing the purpose of the National Heroes’ Acre, the Zimbabwean government stated;

The national heroes’ acre has been established to honour a specific and exclusive type of hero. It is that hero, whose courageous deeds were designed for and connected with one sole objective – the liberation of Zimbabwe. Those who risk their lives. (Sunday Mail of October 1982).

The hero status is determined on a case-by-case basis, which perhaps reflects inconsistence in the criteria employed. However, in the article “President Mugabe clarifies hero status” (The Herald 1 October, 2010) Robert Mugabe, the then-President makes it clear that the National Heroes Acre is a preserve for those who fought in the liberation struggle. As such, “The national heroes’ acre is the pride of the people of Zimbabwe. It is a symbol of bravery and selflessness of those whose remains are laid to rest there” (Ministry of Information and Publicity 1989:3). The National Heroes’ Acre, as well as those buried there, are thus rendered material symbols of Zimbabwean nationalism.

Important to note is that the burial of a national hero/ine is turned into a major national event that feeds into the Zanu-PF’s politics of the spectacular. On this day, as part of the ‘drama’, the national flag is lowered, and citizens are given free transport and encouraged to attend the burial. To extend and further visibilise the spectacle, the death and burial are given exclusive coverage, especially by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporations (both the ZBC TV and radio stations), and state-controlled newspapers under the Zimbabwe Newspapers (Zimpapers Ltd) stable. In addition to this, the signified body of the dead person is taken to different locations of symbolic significance (such as the Josiah Magama Tongogara army barracks – formerly King George VI, KG6 where hero/ines’ bodies lie in state the night before burial) before it is finally taken to the National Heroes Acre where more often than not, the President gives a speech.

The National Heroes Acre and those buried on the site become cultural texts that are products of, as well as (re)producers of, Zimbabwean nationalism. This offers an explanation as to why, when the death of a hero/ine occurs, the nation is usually taken back to the contributions not only of the fallen hero/ine, but of all the Zimbabwean hero/ines and the liberation struggle in general. The death and burial of an individual hero/ine is thus always an evocation, commemoration and ritual appreciation and celebration of all hero/ines. I argue that it is also a celebration, enactment, commemoration and reification of a particular kind of Zimbabwean nationalism. I further argue that it is a celebration, (re)production, performance and reification of the gendered and sexualised identities inherent in Zimbabwe’s nation-craft.

In this paper, I take note of the debates and contradictions pertaining to the conferring of the national hero/ine status, but primarily, I deal with conventional categories of gender and sexuality, that are embedded in Zimbabwean nationalism as both its products and (re)producers. I employ Althusser and Foucault’s Ideology and ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) and Bio-power respectively in understanding the heroine subject in Zimbabwe. I posit that conventional gender and sexual discourses have, in an interestingly complex and ideological manner, informed the conferring of the heroine status in ways that tally not only with the Zanu-PF’s construction of Zimbabwean nationalism, but also dangerously (re)producing patriarchal and binarised gendered and sexualised identities.

Zimbabwe’s national heroines: The need for national (m)othering

Prior to 2010, there were six heroines at the National Heroes’ Acre. Only one heroine, Sarah Francesca Mugabe (former President Robert Mugabe’s first wife) had been laid there before 2000.   She had died on the 27th of January 1992, was celebrated as the mother of the revolution and the mother of the nation, and was laid at the National Heroes’ Acre on the 1st of February 1992.

In this paper, my primary focus is on the national heroines who died between the years 2000 and 2010, who arguably embodied the (m)otherhood that Sarah (Sally) Mugabe had. During this period, a total of five heroines found their way to the national shrine and were instrumental in dramatising Zimbabwe’s urgent need for (m)othering[4] in face of threats endangering nationhood and citizenship.

Firstly, there is Johanna Nkomo who died on the 3rd of June 2003. She was 74 years old at the time of her demise. She was buried on the 7th of June 2003. She became the second woman to find her way to the national shrine. Secondly, there is Julia Tukai Zvobgo, who died on the 16th of February 2004. She was 67 years at the time of her death. She was buried on the 19th of February 2004, becoming the third national heroine at the shrine. Thirdly, there is Ruth Chinamano who died on the 2nd of January 2005. She was 80 years old at the time of her demise. She was buried at the National Heroes Acre on the 7th of January 2005. She became the fourth heroine at the national shrine. Following is Sunny Ntombiyelanga Takawira who died on the 13th of January 2010. She was 82 years old at the time of her death. She was buried on the 18th of January 2010, and became the fifth heroine at the acre. Lastly, there is Sabina Mugabe who died on the 29th of July 2010. She died aged 75. She was buried on the 1st of August 2010, becoming the sixth heroine at the national shrine.

Most of the debates around national hero/ines oscillate around issues that are economic, political and historical and rarely focus on the ways in which the politics of gender and sexuality play a significant role in the conferring of the Zimbabwean hero/ine status. Still, those who have attempted to focus on gender seem to focus on the obvious issue of the number of women against that of men, and do not address the fundamental ideological and discursive issues around gender and sexuality (Mawere 2019).

Goredema and Chigora (2009) argue that it is disturbing that the national heroines laid at the national heroes’ acre are all wives (except Sabina, who is Mugabe’s sister) of nationalists who were and still are Zanu-PF elites and prominent figures in the state (namely, Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo, Eddison Zvobgo, Josiah Chinamano and Leopold Takawira.) Secondly, they point out that these women were the ones given political positions during and after the liberation struggle. Thirdly, they find it very problematic that “…these… were the only heroines the president saw as risking their lives at a national level of the 10 000 women who joined the struggle…can the…women who lie at the acre explain the number of women who risked their lives during the war…” (2009:077-078). Goredema and Chigora (2009), therefore, implicate the ideology of femocracy in the conferring of national heroines and objectively dismiss the official reasons given for the conferring of the heroic status on the current heroines. They posit that “Femocracy is an ideology which believes that in order for women to rise in the political arena they have to be linked to men in political positions…” (Goredema and Chigora 2009:076).

The arguments raised above are interesting, full of substance and topical in Zimbabwe, especially if one considers the relationship between all the named heroines and men in power and authority as those named above. Goredema and Chigora (2009) assert that there is an omission of history somewhere. The omission is that some deserving women were denied the heroine status and also that the number of national heroines does not tally with the number of women who risked their lives for the nation. In this paper I look at the heroine subject and its intersections with Zimbabwean nationalism in light of Althusser’s subjective consciousness which is enabled by ideology and ISAs and Foucault’s ideas about the construction of a nationalised body, which is enabled by the scientific knowledge about the body. In general, I argue that the conferring of the hero status embodies Zimbabwean nation-craft and responds to real and/or imagined national threats. Specifically, I posit that following the perceived national threats that arose with the emergence of the MDC, there was need for national (m)othering and the national heroines conferred from 2000 to 2010 served that purpose.

Subjective consciousness, bio-power and the creation of the Zimbabwean heroine

Louis Althusser (1971) argues that for the state to govern its subjects in a more effective and persuasive manner, it uses ISAs which create present conditions as rational truths, therefore enabling the subjects of the nation to enact them willingly (subjective consciousness). He argues that it is this subjective consciousness that constructs the citizen/national(ist) subject. Althusser goes on to posit that the subjects of the nation who are produced by ideology and ISAs, and concretised as free, in turn reproduce the nation/the system that has produced them by willingly and ritually performing it and therefore, are instruments of its (re)production (interpellation). Relatedly, Foucault (1977, 1983) posits that power enables the creation of scientific knowledge of the subject’s body. This provides a rationale for ‘self-discipline’ and ‘self-surveillance,’ leading to the construction of a ‘national body.’ He argues that this is more effective than openly coercive means, since it is based on scientific knowledge and rationality which may be verified. In this way, power uses reason and scientifically-based knowledge to make the subject willingly and reasonably yield to its system. This results in the subjects performing the system as well as reproducing it through bodily effects of ‘discipline’ and ‘self-surveillance.’

The above concepts by Althusser and Foucault may provide some insights for understanding the subjectification of the Zimbabwean national heroine by the ideology of nationalism. My concern is offering an understanding as to the ways in which the ideology of Zimbabwean nationalism, in its project of creating the nationalist woman, relies on subjective consciousness as well as scientific and rational knowledge about the bodies of women. Using The Herald’s coverage of the deaths and burials of those on whom heroine status is conferred in Zimbabwe; I present certain (re)presentations and meanings as outlined below.

Firstly, the heroine is a product and (re)producer of the expected, naturalised and common-sensical feminine patriotism that serves the interests of Zimbabwe’s macho patriotic history as expounded by Ranger (2003). Secondly, there is a nexus between womanhood/wifehood, nationhood and the heroine subject. Thirdly, is the qualification of the marriage institution (and its accompanying features such as loyalty, sacrifice and (re)production) in the heroine construct. Following, is the normalisation of (m)otherhood as a heroine construct. There is also instrumentalisation of the heroine to appraise fecundity and normalise heteronormative identities. Lastly, I consider the concepts of purity, morality, chastity, care, emotional, sacrifice, resilience and loyalty as the heroine’s indispensable qualities, but also as glorified characteristics through which women are subordinated and marginalised. The above presentations and constructs, however, are closely connected, and intersect, to embody the Zimbabwean heroine.

In many ways, the ways in which heroines are identified and their stories narrated and acted out, does not only resonate with common-sensed everyday feminine embodiments, but repeatedly perform them.

The national heroine and feminine patriotism

Althusser (1971) reflects that a shared national history and memory is crucial to the creation and (re)production of subjective consciousness. Jonathan Friedman (1992:838) calls national history “a meaningful universe of events and narratives” necessary for the “nationalisation” of each individual. They enable individuals to define the present social world as non-coincidental, historically rooted and authentic.” A number of scholars have reflected that Zimbabwe’s national selfhood is premised on the (re)invention of its history (Ranger 2003; Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2009).

From 2000, when Zimbabwean’s selfhood was seen as weak and ‘threatened’ by imperialists and their ‘surrogates’, there was an intense effort to (re)create it. This history that reflects Zimbabwean nationalism has been termed ‘patriotic history’ by Ranger (2003). Interesting to note is that this patriotic history creates its subject with homogeneity and as founded on the same memory. So, the general idea in Zimbabwe is that the nation and its subjects are products of patriotic history and that this patriotic history should be jealously guarded and passed on to other generations to such an extent that the patriotic history has become “an invariant substance” (Baliber 1991: 86). As such, the purpose of this patriotic narrative is to enable subjects to (re)construct themselves as the ultimate realities and expressions of sameness, as chemically bonded by Zimbabwean nationalism, which in this case graphically illuminates in patriotic history.

In Zimbabwe, the ‘Chimurenga’ (revolution) myth, which is traced to Nehanda and Kaguvi[5] is part of the foundation of Zimbabwe’s patriotic history and is used to construct Zimbabweans as both products and (re)producers of nationalism. It is this patriotic history that is used to embody and reflect acceptable foundations for unity and allegiance as traceable to the past that is essential in marking current identities in general and specifically, the heroine identity and in enabling its continuity. This makes sense in light of Althusser’s sentiments about how a common history that unifies a people based on a shared past can be used to create subjective consciousness (Althusser 1971).

Patriotic myths enable the continuous performance of Zimbabwean nationalism as well as its (re)production (its interpellation) in the everyday lives of Zimbabweans. The heroines under study have been (re)invented and made usable as ‘concrete’ reflections of women’s contributions to Zimbabwean nationalism, but also as reflections of everyday gendered spaces and roles. Interestingly, their deaths during the period that witnessed a massive resurgence of Zimbabwean nationalism made their dead bodies available ‘texts’ for nation-craft. Biggs (1999) posits that the way nationalism writes the past is similar to how nations are essentially represented by maps and territorial shapes, hence, fitting into what Althusser (1971) points out as the role of ideology and ISAs which make sure that subjects have no other way of seeing things except that intended by ideology and ISAs. Chung (2006) deals with the male-female relationships during Zimbabwe’s war of liberation and how the male gaze ‘naturally’ and ‘sensibly’ used women as ‘objects’ satisfying the male guerrillas such as Josiah Magama Tongogara.[6]

The heroines at Zimbabwe’s national shrine help to institute feminine patriotism, which is necessary for the (re)production of women patriots/nationalists. What is said about their heroic acts situates them in a particular and intended location that is normalised by the patriarchal society. Zimbabwe’s national heroines are texts where one may read discourses of wifehood, (m)otherhood, matrimony, heterosexuality and their sub categories of culture, purity, morality, chastity, care, loyalty, resilience and sacrifice. These characteristics link the heroines to the patriarchal-nationalist depiction of the figure of Nehanda, who is (re)invented as an ultimate link and exemplar to the heroines who are often named ‘mothers of the revolution’, as well as to (m)otherhood in general.

Zimbabwe’s nationalist history (re)presents the figure of Nehanda as symbolic, sacrificial, resilient, and as unyielding and stubborn to colonial ‘penetration’ and measuring up to the expected principles in defence of the land/tribe/family/nation. The Herald’s coverage of the deaths and burials of the heroines portrays them in a similar fashion to such an extent that they reflect and exemplify Nehanda as well as (re)producing her (re)invented image which dominates patriotic history. In many ways, this construction (re)invented normative traditions around women’s contributions, roles, and identities in nationalist discourses. Zimbabwean heroines are thus modelled to (re)appropriate Nehanda’s image which is articulated in patriotic history. Each of the heroines under consideration are thus seen as revolutionaries in a feminine sense; they have certain prescribed roles that they internalised and performed for the sake of the nation and these are set as unique and normative to their gender and sexuality, and contribute immensely to Zimbabwe’s hetero-normative nationalism.

The national heroine is “interpellated” in relation to Nehanda and this determines and explains the present and future in terms of the (re)presentations and positions of patriotic women. Just like Nehanda whose bones (re)produced (mapfupa angu achamuka/my bones shall arise), the heroines are praised for giving birth and taking care of children, marking fecundity or their (re)productive capacities as central to Zimbabwean nation-craft. All heroines, except for Ruth Chinamano, have been noted to have stayed home taking care of the children while their husbands were fighting the struggle for independence (The Herald 4-7 June 2003; The Herald 15-19 January 2012). Their patriotism is enshrined in (re)production and (m)otherhood, taking after Nahanda, who allegedly gave rise to revolutions and revolutionaries. This (re)presentation of heroines speaks to the assertion that women are located as biological producers of members of particular collectivities (Mazarire 2003; Yuval-Davis and Anthias 1989). The Herald articles reflect heroines as mothers of the revolution. For example, when Sunny Ntombiyelanga Takawira dies, in a feature article Tendai Manzvanzvike writes;

MOTHERS of the revolution are women who were in the inner circle, living and sharing the pain and sorrows that their nationalist husbands who were spearheading the liberation struggle went through. They were women of valour whose bravery, resilience and perseverance were tested beyond limit, but they never relented (The Herald, 18 January 2010)

Manzvanzvike even elaborates this by positing that these mothers of the revolution “nurtured the liberation struggle, each in her unique way” (ibid). Emphasised here is (m)otherhood and care as inextricable from feminine patriotism. Central also is their victimhood which enables them to share experiences.

However, what is more striking is the performative, but insidious, patriarchal language that Munzvanzvike employs in describing and glorifying the mothers of the revolution. The idea of the ‘inner circle’ reveals ways in which particular in-groups are created, legitimising certain performances of femininities and obviously marginalising others. The inner circle also alludes to the inner, intimate and hidden space that women are supposed to occupy, thus relating ‘good women’ to those who stay at home. This is in contrast to the phallic imagery and phallic space associated with men. The nationalist husbands are said to be ‘spearheading’ the liberation struggle. Both the ‘spear’ and the ‘head’ are phallic symbols that connect the husbands to masculinities, but also connecting masculinities to militarism, leadership and public spaces. This is why men who did not ‘actively’ participate in the liberation war are feminised (Mawere 2016, 2019).

Also, all the articles mention the resilience, commitment and love and care for the weak, such as the sick, children, women, the poor and the lame that was displayed by the national heroines (“National heroine stood for poor, vulnerable groups”- The Herald 7 January 2005; The Herald 18 January 2010). The National Heroes Acre and the heroines have thus been made usable in providing the ‘correct’ and ‘acceptable’ version and model of women patriots, whose roles and identities are centred on and located in normalised gendered roles. The (re)presentation of the heroines as continuous with the Nehanda ethic echoes Althusser’s suggestion that in (re)producing national(ist) history, ISAs aim to create a distinct and unique national subjective consciousness, which is concretised and rationalised with a sense of roots, embedded in notions of a historically continuous identity and national future aspirations. The memory of the shared national past (such as the Nehanda heroine ethic) in Zimbabwe’s patriotic history is persuaded to become the destiny of the Zimbabwean women and (m)otherhood.

Each of the articles in The Herald chronicles the heroines as resilient and as having displayed an uncrushed and stubborn endurance in face of the colonial regime, while at the same time displaying total commitment to their husbands and marriages in general (The Herald 18 January 2010). It is interesting that these heroic qualities are a continuity of the image of Nehanda that is (re)presented in nationalist history. Nehanda is figured as a resilient and enduring character who sacrificed herself for the land (nation) and so displayed unequalled loyalty to her people. Endurance, sacrifice, resilience and commitment to family/nation feature prominently in the coverage of the deaths and burials of national heroines. These are the qualities associated with patriotic women. It is interesting that this (re)presentation emanates as texts that (re)produce gendered categories and normalise the location of women in particular gendered spaces. In many ways, their appearance elsewhere is taken as an inversion of the sensible and therefore undesirable.

Taking into consideration that the nation is more often than not conceptualised as a conventional biological family (Lewis 2008; McClintock 1995, 1993), the heroine, who is embodied with feminine patriotism, comes in support of the hero, who embodies masculine patriotism that rescues the nation. This gender dynamic is accomplished by supporting the husband’s cause, taking care of the children and remaining loyal and committed to marriage. In building the national project, all this becomes evident and easily projected and normalised if the wives of leading nationalists are conferred with the heroine status.

Wifehood, nationhood and the heroine subject

While growing up, the stories of Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, the First Chimurenga heroes who had resisted colonial rule, were commonplace. Personally, the idea that Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi were wife and husband was stitched into my mind. The (re)presentation of the figure of Nehanda in nationalist discourses made it challenging for me to stop thinking of her as Kaguvi’s wife. That one is presented as “mbuya” and the other “sekuru” (grandmother and grandfather) respectively created an irresistible suggestion of wife and husband. This idea was buttressed by the fact that most pictures depict them side by side. Moreover, Nehanda is rarely mentioned without mentioning Kaguvi, again giving them some unique proximity. Related to this is that Nehanda and Kaguvi are usually (re)presented as persons rather than spirits. In many ways, women are taken seriously and ‘recognisable’ within the ambits of wifehood.

In The Herald’s coverage of the deaths and burials of the heroines, all of the women are identified as ‘wives’. Important to note also is that their personal identities are constituted by their husbands’ identities. Moreover, for them, identification as wives appears in the heading and or in the first sentence of the articles. Interesting also, is that for all of them, their contributions seem to be seen through the contributions of their husbands. This is evidenced by how the articles make efforts to reflect on the heroic deeds of the husbands, rather than sticking to the heroines’ contributions. The only exceptions are Ruth Chinamano and Sabina Mugabe. Although Ruth Chinamano had been married, her identification as a wife comes much later, since she is identified in terms of the crucial positions she had held. Also, she is given a personal identity and not one that is constituted through her husband (“ZANU-PF Central Committee member and veteran nationalist Cde Ruth Chinamano is no more”-The Herald, 3 January 2005). As will be discussed later, Ruth Chinamano’s ‘foreign’ roots might have created the complexities surrounding her unique identity. As for Sabina Mugabe, her identity is constituted through her brother, Robert Mugabe, for whom she stood as a mother figure. What is implied is that women cannot solidly stand on their own, in the absence of husband, the sons or the fathers are used to make the women ‘recognisable.’

As has been shown above, almost all heroines have been portrayed as wives. There is a recurrent trend in the articles to name the heroines as wives of their husbands. The article on the 4th of June starts with “JOHANNA NKOMO, the wife of the late Vice-President Dr Joshua Nkomo…” (The Herald 4 June 2003). This continues in almost all the articles about her death and burial that appears in The Herald. The Herald’s coverage of Julia Tukai Zvobgo also has similar features. The first story that appeared in The Herald when Sunny Ntombiyelanga Takawira died was titled “National hero Takawira’s widow dies” (The Herald 15 January 2010). Just like other coverage of other heroines, her identity as a wife came first and it is the one that was used to construct her heroine identity. It is important to note that being a wife is taken to be what is natural and normal to all women. Important to note also is that it is being wives that kept almost all, if not all, heroines at home, away from the battlefield, taking care of the nation’s children and giving support to husbands. There is an effort, therefore, to show the place and roles of a good wife as much as there is an effort to show that being a wife makes a good woman patriotic. Wifehood is used to demonstrate Zimbabwean nationalism as well as to (re)produce it. Besides Sabina Mugabe who is identified with her brother, Robert Mugabe, there is only one heroine who is treated differently. Ruth Chinamano’s identity is based on her own person, although later on, she is acknowledged as a wife, showing the futility of escaping wifehood and its meanings.

It is a surprise that Ruth’s coverage in most of the articles is very distinct from the rest of the national heroines. Ruth’s identity seems to be centred on her own person rather than that of her spouse, as is the case with other heroines. Presumably, it is because as having South African roots, she cannot suit the ideal wife embodied in Nehanda. However, it is also clear that Ruth seems to be given a masculine character or gender rather than a feminine one, “she broke the norm and faced head on the colonial powers, plunging herself into the murky waters of detention without trial,” “In the streets where we demonstrated and fought pitched battles with the Rhodesians, especially in High fields…Ruth was there in the thick of things..”- (The Herald, 5 January 2005). This is because there are suggestions that she had a controversial character (ibid), that she could stand against men seen as formidable (“Having been a member of the House during the era of the late Lazarus Nzarayebani and Sydney Malunga – hotheads to say the least, Cde Chinamano was the only woman who could stand up to them”- ibid), that she was outspoken and fearless, that she fought alongside men and did not spend much of her time at home with the children, but was in the thick of the struggle (“Chinamano: A true Warrior,” “…Cde Ruth Chinamano too was a firebrand member of Parliament during her days in the House..”- ibid) makes her distinct. Ruth’s identification as a comrade (Cde) masculinises her and relates to her ‘active’ role. All these characteristics are seen as alien to other women and this suggests that she was living outside the expected gendered categories.

However, having such rare character does not dissociate her from wifehood, how she is associated with the areas of (m)otherhood and care, which the rest of the wives fall into implicates her as a wife. In fact, it seems her warrior character was actually in defence of the roles of a wife as conceptualised by patriarchy. For example, “It is undisputable that the nation has been robbed of a fiery fighter, a mother and a true champion of the total liberation of women” (The Herald, 6 January 2005) identifies her as a mother and patriarchy closely relates (m)otherhood to wifehood.

The fact that most if not all of the heroines do not have identities that stand absolutely on their own reflects that women do not have a complete or whole personal identity in patriarchal contexts. Identifying them through their husbands becomes a way of acting the patriarchal society that exists. “The wife of…” that characterise most of The Herald articles sets the heroine’s identity as resting on the identity of a hero-husband. It appears we can only get to know about the women through knowing the identities of their husbands. Nagel (1998:257) reflects:

our presence in the masculine institutions of state – the government and the military – seems unwelcome unless we occupy the familiar supporting roles; secretary, lover, wife. We are more adrift from the nation, less likely to be called to ‘important’ and recognized public duty, and our contributions more likely to be seen as ‘private’, as linked only to ‘women’s issues’, and as such, less valued and acknowledged.

Bringing the husbands to the fore reveals the centrality of patriarchy in society, whilst at the same time reinforcing dominant (patriarchal) gendered scripts for social relationships. Also, almost all the articles take time and effort to reflect on the heroic acts and identities of the husbands instead of focusing on the late heroic figure. This suggests that heroines do not have any history or any story to tell outside the his/tory of the hero.

Essentially, the emphasis that has been placed on wifehood chronicles its value and significance in patriarchal spaces. In patriarchal gender configurations, legitimate wifehood entails (m)otherhood and therefore naturalises the gendered occupation of certain spaces and the enactment of certain gendered behaviours and practices. Also reflected is that however controversial a woman’s character may be, she still cannot escape from wifehood. This makes wifehood an instrument and model that is used to control women, and it continues to be bolstered in Zimbabwean society. The articles from The Herald reveal that the heroines lived like patriotic women since they were wives and had managed to live up to the expectations of wifehood.

Important also is how this resonates with Foucault’s (1977) sentiments about self-discipline and regulations. Being a wife, the woman has to discipline her body. So much is said about the heroines sacrificing their own interests to live up to expectations of wifehood, they also remain committed to their marriages despite the husband’s absence and they did not remarry after the deaths of the husbands. This reflects qualities of self-discipline and self-control which are associated with normative expectations for women’s genders and sexualities. Since wifehood entails that the heroines are identified within patriarchy, by associating them with heroes, they have an incomplete heroic identity. This means that their heroine identities do not reach fruition unless they are associated with heroes, whose acts were more public and acknowledged than theirs. Since the heroines are associated with wifehood, it becomes necessary to qualify the marriage institution as a heroine construct. This is because as wives, the heroines in question find themselves in the institution of marriage.

Qualifying matrimony on the heroine construct

The identification of the heroines as wives is a normalisation and instrumentalisation of marriage in Zimbabwe’s nation-craft. Foucault (1977, 1983) mirrors how considering the nation as a body entails that people conduct themselves in ways that make the nation healthy and therefore (re)productive. In addition to laying the foundation of a heteronormative nationhood, the marriage institution is used to provide some guidelines as to how individuals discipline themselves to contribute to the nation’s well-being. Naming the heroines as ‘wives’ automatically locates them in the institution of marriage and dramatises Althusser’s (1971) role of ideology and ISAs in this institution. This kind of identification thus reflects and buttresses the value that is associated with the marriage institution.

The value that is placed on marriage may be evidenced in the case of Ruth Chinamano, suggesting that women should not put on mini-skirts as this tends to destroy marriages because men leave their wives and rush to women wearing mini-skirts (The Herald 5 January 2005). There is a suggestion that it is natural and normal for a woman citizen to find herself in this space. It is also important to note that the marriage institution is closely related to the institution of the family and as such, the female heroines are meant to carry family values. Talking about the heroines as wives is thus an attempt to reflect that the heroines have been in a marital situation and therefore have lived as ‘normal’ women.

Important also is the fact that all the articles mention that the heroines kept on holding to their marriages despite being left by their husbands when they had gone to fight for liberation, or that they did not remarry despite the deaths of their husbands. It is also important to note that the marriage institution is mirrored as an institution that the heroines valued, and stayed committed and loyal to till death.

The above speaks to ideas of purity and sexual surveillance that are associated with the bodies of women. Being committed to the marriage institution becomes synonymous with being committed to the nation. Women’s marital discipline therefore becomes symmetrical to one’s commitment to the nation; women come to embody the cultural boundaries of a nation that cannot be broken, a nation that remains unwavering and unique. This sounds very familiar as the nation is usually conceptualised as feminine by the use of pronouns such as ‘she’ and ‘her’ (Yuval-Davis & Anthias 1989) as well as by the axiomatic expression, ‘mother of the nation’. Staying in the marriage institution becomes synonymous with being inside the family, with being unique and private and, therefore, with being a pure and able (re)presentative of a nation’s unique culture and well-being. In many ways, this leaves going beyond the family, defending the family and the nation, as man’s natural business.

The ways in which the marriage institution is used metaphorically to show the relationship between the nation and its subjects is made clear by Mugabe’s sentiments that juxtapose Johanna Nkomo’s commitment to her marriage with her commitment to the struggle. Mugabe says, “Mama MaFuyane represented the quiet but unbending dignity of an African princess born and married to the turbulence of struggle” (The Herald 4 June 2003). Important to note is the quietness and incorruptible dignity associated with ‘good’ or legitimate women. Interesting also is the construction ‘African princess’, which tries to link Johanna Nkomo to a pastoral past in a bid to reflect cultural preservation. Quite interesting, however, is the marriage metaphor that is used. Also referring to Johanna Nkomo, another Zanu-PF and government top official and now current President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, says, “You stood by your husband during and after the struggle and continued to be a torch bearer for the empowerment of women…” (The Herald 8 June 2003).

For Julia Zvobgo, Mugabe reveals how she supported her husband and his cause by smuggling political messages and mobilising medicines for the liberation fighters. It is interesting, therefore, that seeing the nation in marriage terms entails conceptualising it as a human body, that should be disciplined and under surveillance, but also (re)produce. Johanna Nkomo’s marriage to Joshua Nkomo is symmetrical to the relationship between an individual and the nation. The nation is seen as a living body that enters into marital relationships and obviously desires qualities such as commitment, chastity, obedience and sacrifice (evoking Foucault’s (1977) discipline and self-surveillance), without which the marital relationship becomes strained or collapses.

When Mugabe refers so much to qualities displayed by Johanna Nkomo and other heroines in their marriages, inter-alia, commitment, sacrifice, loyalty, resilience, quietness, dignity and resilience, he means much more than this. The issue goes beyond individuals, or personal marital relationships, to become a microcosm of national identity and national order. The bigger picture here is how individuals and groups should commit themselves to the fundamental ideals of nationalism and live within them without any blemish. This is further supported by what Mugabe says in the same article that Johanna Nkomo “…symbolised the hopeful and uncomplaining self-denial of a marriage whose joy and comfort the pangs of struggle took away” (The Herald 4 June 2003).

What is implied therefore is that while men do a practical and direct service to the bigger marriage partner, the nation, the women should be supportive and remain committed to the micro marriages since these are functional to the creation and survival of the nation. The functionality of the micro marriage to the macro marriage is graphically illuminated in this article in the words of Mugabe who says, “She came under enormous pressure from the occupying racist settler colonial Rhodesian regime. But she would not crack, she would not betray the cause of her husband which was the cause of her people” (The Herald 5 June 2003.) The way in which heroines remained committed to their marriages and faithful to their husbands metaphorises a commitment and faithfulness to the ideals of nationalism.

The association of the national heroines with the marriage institution depicts them as products of nationalism in as much as it (re)produces nationalism. Belonging to a marriage institution is shown as the normal and natural thing to do. In this case, the marriage institution works as a tool to (re)produce nationalism. Locating the heroines in this institution also means loading them with certain expectations, and behavioural practices that are gendered and sexualised, to satisfy a patriarchal and hetero-normative culture. Notably, patriarchy has made it almost impossible to think of the marriage institution without the normalisation and naturalisation of (m)otherhood, making it challenging to think of Zimbabwe’s heroine construct outside marriage and (m)otherhood.

Normalising (m)otherhood and the heroine construct

Foucault (1977,1983) warns of ways in which power and authority use scientific knowledge and reason to rationalise prevailing systems, thoughts and ideas to make them cyclic or a continuous repetition. Being a wife, and belonging to the institution of marriage, the woman is more often than not, expected to be a (m)other and or demonstrate qualities of (m)otherhood.

Based on the above argument, it is intelligible that all the heroines at the National Heroes Acre portray (m)otherhood as inextricably linked to nationhood and they also (re)produce it and normalise it as part of Zimbabwean nationalism. All of the articles express that national heroines had children and performed (m)otherly roles. This figures the woman as a body that (re)produces and cares for the nation to ensure its continuity; hence they are called ‘mothers of the revolution’ (The Herald 19 January 2010). The feminised body is also seen as a useful ‘other’ whose occupation of particular spaces and performance of particular roles is seen as ‘functional’ to nationhood.

The articles reflect on ways in which the heroines were good (m)others who managed to take care of the children and give them an education. Dr Samuel Takawira said “the family had lost a mother figure who stood by the family” (The Herald 15 January 2010) and this is confirmed by Mugabe who says, “She was a true mother to all her children” (The Herald, 16 January 2010).

For the heroines, it appears the period they were left alone by their husbands during the liberation struggle was a litmus test which proved that m(otherhood) is a role ‘natural’ to women. It also appears that their abilities to be good (m)others are linked to their location, which ultimately is the home, the family, and the institution of marriage. In addition, after independence, most of the heroines are associated with helping the poor, disadvantaged children and women, and people with ‘disabilities.’ Basically, they are located within the institution of care, love and compassion, which are difficult to distinguish from m(otherhood). For example, Johanna Nkomo was the patron of the Children of Hope Foundation (The Herald 5 June 2003) and all other heroines are associated with domains of the weak, disadvantaged and poor.

Noting the above, the value that is placed on (m)otherhood is illuminating and the given narratives and commemorations of the heroines make attempts to show that they lived up to it. The Herald articles covering their deaths and burials emphasise on ways in which these narrations and commemorations are of significance to the nation and to nationhood. In respect of Johanna Nkomo, Mugabe says, “We were convinced that she…would continue to be with us, reflexively playing her warm, motherly role our nation had grown to take for granted” (The Herald 5 of June 2003). Commenting on Sunny Ntombiyelanga Takawira, Victoria Chitepo alludes to ways in which the late heroine had been instrumental in the formation of women’s social clubs and nursery schools for children (The Herald 18 January 2010). On the same heroine, Acting Prime Minister, Arthur Mutambara, says Sunny was “mother of the whole nation” (The Herald 16 January 2010) and continued to say that Zimbabweans should learn the lessons of sacrifice, commitment and perseverance from her. There is, therefore, an effort to write and read heroines not only as mothers to their specific children, but as (m)others of the whole nation, reflecting ways in which women are valued because of their (re)productive capacities as well as their performative abilities to give care.

When Johanna Nkomo dies, the then Vice President of Zimbabwe, Simon Muzenda says, “Her death is not only a loss to the Nkomo family, but to the nation at large” (The Herald 5 of June 2003”) and the article is entitled, “Zimbabwe has lost an illustrious mother” (ibid). Zimbabwe is taken as a living being, a body that had been born of a woman. In this case, Zimbabwe ceases to be a geographical space and becomes a living organism that feels. Even Ruth Chinamano, who appears to have abandoned her children for the struggle (The Herald 5 January 2005), is located in defence of the weak as the then vice-President Joseph Msika says the, “National heroine stood for poor, vulnerable groups” (The Herald 7 January 2005). This is reflective of her protective (m)otherly nature and the very fact that this statement stands out reveals that it testifies to everything that surrounds her character. Also, her primary concerns in the parliament seem to be the general primary and marginalised concerns which patriarchy has associated with femininity. Ruth is known for fighting for the poor, children, families of the late freedom fighters and also raising women ‘issues’ in parliament. However she did this, and whatever the results, it is clear that she is associated with the weak and her role is in caring, mothering, loving and supporting. Even her so-called ‘ferocious fights’ and controversial lobbies are located in the perimeters of (m)otherhood, hence Msika rightly points out that she stood for the vulnerable (ibid) and that “She always reminded the government of the need to take care of the welfare of the children and spouses of fallen heroes” (ibid).

I therefore argue that in as much as Ruth Chinamano could stand up to some men, in as much as she had a ‘controversial’ character, and in as much as she was fearless and ferocious, all this made her life oscillate around care, welfarism and love, which are gendered spaces. It seems that even the struggle itself failed to transform her or enable her to break the gender boundaries prescribed by patriarchy. Instead, she becomes nothing but an active performer of the female gender script. She, therefore, does not stand outside the boundaries that are associated with the other heroines.

Looking at the foregoing, one may be forgiven to link Zimbabwe’s heroines to Nehanda (a shared past), who is figured as a mother who raised (nationalist) children who fought against the colonial regime. Thinking of the (m)other as such reflects how she should be ‘protected’ and, therefore, stay in the home so as to continue performing her role of bearing children, raising them and, therefore, supporting the struggle in her own unique sense. More so, the fact that Nehanda’s (m)otherhood is founded on sacrifice, relates to ways in which heroines in particular, and women in general, are taken seriously or put on a pedestal only when they sacrifice to (re)produce the nation.

It is in the above context that Zimbabwe’s current heroines qualify to be such. Being wives of known nationalists, who supported husbands, took care of the children and demonstrated (m)otherly love and care to their families and the nation, they become worthy archetypes of the woman patriot/nationalist, hence their deaths are a loss to the whole nation. Nagel (1998) argues that by performing traditional roles assigned to them by nationalism, like supporting husbands, caring for children, and doing any other service to their families, women become performers of nationalism. Consequently, they become performers of gender and sexuality.

Nagel’s (1998) sentiments become lively when Mugabe comments on the heroic acts of Johanna Nkomo. Mugabe says:

Through shear effort and determination, she raised her family virtually all her children single handedly, ensuring that they receive good education while their father was in detention or had left the country to lead the struggle. She took most of the pressure thus keeping her husband sequestered and thus focused on the enormous challenges of leading the struggle for independence, therein lies her heroic contribution.” (The Herald 5 June 2003).

Mugabe does the same with regard to Sunny Nombiyelanga Takawira. He notes that Sunny had all the qualities of motherhood such as love, humility and care, and lived up to them (The Herald 18 January 2010). The above sentiments by Mugabe naturalise the family, and the home as a natural space for women and naturalise (m)otherhood as a woman/wife’s normal role. He seems to articulate that this is the way in which women serve their nation as opposed to men who should be away from home fighting the enemy. In this case, the article constitutes childcare as a preserve for (m)otherhood as well, as that it is difficult for the woman to live the marriage, or family.

The above reflects that women (re)produce the nation; they give birth to it through care and support. The women’s roles in the families become a microcosm of the roles of women in the nation. Many theorists of nationalism have noted the tendency of nationalism to liken the nation to a family (McClintock, 1991, Skurski, 1994); it is a male-headed household in which both men and women have ‘natural’ roles to play. This echoes Yuval-Davis and Anthias’ (1989) seminal assertions that while women may be subordinated politically in nationalists’ movements and politics, they occupy an important symbolic place as mothers of the nation, with impeccable purity. Resultant is the nationalists’ special interest in the sexuality and sexual behaviour of their women. While traditionalist men may be defenders of the family and the nation, women are thought by traditionalists to embody family and national honour to an extent that women’s shame is the family’s shame; the nation’s shame is the man’s shame.

As reflected above the national heroines are the exemplifiers of nationalism in as much as they (re)produce it. All the heroines at the National Heroes Acre, therefore, signify and (re)produce the general location and expectations of women in Zimbabwe. Any patriotic woman would discipline and submit herself to such a system. As mothers, both of children and of the revolution, the women patriots involve themselves in areas of education and mobilisation. It is important to note that they function ‘well’ in these areas because they are at home and not at the war front, they are within the families with children, and that they are wives of known nationalists.

Yuval-Davis and Anthias (1989) further note that women are central in the (re)production of national culture. This makes a lot of sense considering that women are left with the role of socialising the children. Important also, is how the role of mobilisation is associated with women. All the heroines have been praised for being transmitters of the nation’s culture, which is evidenced by their abilities to raise children and their morality. They have also been praised for their abilities to mobilise others as well as sourcing material needs for their husbands.

The then-minister of Information, Nathan Shamhuyarira, notes that the Zanu-PF Women’s league highlighted Mama MaFuyane’s contribution in mobilising women within the party and her social welfare work. Again, her contributions are associated with educating and caring. Shamhuyarira says, “It was an unanimous decision spearheaded by the Women’s league. She was very helpful in mobilising women in the provinces within and outside the party” (The Herald 5 June 2003).

The same is also said about the rest of the heroines. This reflects that mobilising, educating and moralising are roles that are left for women. Since this has to be done while the husbands are into politics, it reveals that the role of women in the Zimbabwean nation is to protect the nation’s culture and to pass it on to the next generations, while men’s role is to defend and fight for the nation. Shamhuyarira’s sentiments were repeated by Zanu-PF Women’s League spokesperson who says, “We will always cherish her deep-seated values of hard work, family centeredness and cultural preservation” (ibid).

Important to note is that the qualities that are associated with the family cross their immediate boundaries and go on to figure the qualities of nationhood. Significantly, this is commensurate with the female gender. I argue that the worthiness of these women to be accorded with the heroic status is primarily because they had managed to perform their gendered roles as required by the imaginations of Zimbabwe nationalism. In many ways, the narrated practices and behaviours of the conferred heroines polarise gender and sexual identities. In addition to revealing the politics of (m)othering in Zimbabwe, the ways in which the heroine is constructed and (re)produced imagines and performs Zimbabwean nationalism as heteronormative.

The heroine and the normalisation and naturalisation of heterosexuality

So far, the paper has reflected on how nationalist history force Nehanda into wifehood, and ways in which her figure is usually depicted together with that of Kaguvi, suggesting a marital relationship. In addition, the paper has reflected how all the heroines, except Sabina Mugabe, who is Robert Mugabe’s sister and is largely seen as a mother figure to him, are located in the marriage institution as wives, as well as the ways in which heroines have been used to normalise marriage and (m)otherhood.

Ultimately, the above sections reflect how the national heroine exemplifies and (re)produces a conventional heterosexual family where female fecundity is valued. The implication is that patriotic women should be wives, married, have children, pass on the national culture and perform roles that (re)produce and support the fundamentals of Zimbabwean nationalism. It is alleged that if they manage to do this, then there will always be a healthy and (re)productive nationhood. In this case, heterosexuality becomes the rationale in so far as it ensures the said national continuity. Subjects thus have to discipline their sexuality to make sure that the nation remains healthy. It is in this sense that the heroines’ identification as wives and (m)others perform and (re)produce the heterosexual ethic of Zimbabwean nationalism. Coupled with their dead or alive husbands, the heroines become archetypal (re)presentatives of a Zimbabwean family where the wife belongs to and is identified through the husband, where the couple lives under the guidance of the marriage institution, where family continuity has to be guaranteed by giving birth to children and therefore, where heterosexuality is the norm and the natural.

With the kind of family that is exemplified by the national heroines, with the kind of space that they have been located to, and with the kind of roles and responsibilities ascribed to them, it is unimaginable to think of any other family formation that goes beyond the heterosexual ideal in Zimbabwean nationhood. Wifehood, m(otherhood) and all their associated characteristics normalise, naturalise and (re)produce the heterosexual family that enables Zimbabwe’s dominant nation-making. Images of (m)others and fathers pervade The Herald coverage of the deaths and burials of national heroines. This is an attempt to bring in binary gender and sexual divisions which cannot be crossed if the well-being of the nation needs to be preserved. Interestingly, the image of Leopold Takawira as “the Roaring Lion of Chirumhanzi”, and that of Sunny Ntombiyelanga Takawira as “a roaring lioness” (The Herald 18 January 2010), seem to reflect the ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ gender and sexual categories that characterise Zimbabwean nationhood. Members of these binary categories work in their unique ways towards national imperatives. Having couples at the national shrine, and the tendency to turn to the marital profiles of heroines and their late husband’s, is meant to reflect on the nature of the national family in Zimbabwe.

The (re)presentation of the national heroines constructs a conventional family that has polarised gender and sexual roles for its subjects and where these binary gender and sexual practices are supposed to be respected for the well-being of the nation. Nationalism defines the practices of each gender and sexual category and provides some kind of rationality for the different practices characterising each gender and, therefore, enables the continuous performance of such practices. This situation brings sense to Butler’s (1990) sentiments that gender and sexuality are performed in the everyday lives of the subjects of the nation. Zimbabwe’s heroines are shown to have lived up to the expectations of nationalism. More importantly, however, the narratives of their heroism have been drawn to live up to the expectations of the conventional gender and sexual binaries. Constructing them as heroines and having them on the national shrine is materialising the gender and sexual meanings that they embody.

Heroines, glory and marginality

Descriptive words such as purity, morality, chastity, loyalty, care, sacrifice, resilience and emotional are usually associated with a particular gender and sex to such an extent that it has been internalised. In the above sections, I have reflected on the ways in which most of these descriptive words feature in what is said about the heroines. The Herald articles reveal that all heroines have been described using a number of the above terms. It appears all the current heroines have been praised for not entering into other marriage commitments after the deaths of their husbands. One may suggest that another marriage was going to disturb child care, pollute the heroine’s body and dishonour both the husband and the nation. Thus, it was commonsensical to maintain their purity and chastity by avoiding other marriages that would contaminate them. This actually puts them in the realm of morality, which is very important in figuring the nation’s uniqueness.

Chastity and commitment to the ideals of the marriage and husband is equated to unquestionable loyalty to the ideals of Zimbabwean nationalism. In any case, Mugabe makes it amply clear that the cause for which Johanna suffered for was that of her husband and her people (The Herald 4 June 2003), and so one may be forgiven for suggesting that it was not her own cause, she did it for others.  All kinds of suffering and denial should be expected and endured as sacrifices to one’s husband, as well as in the service of nationalism. This is why Mugabe sings praises for Johanna Nkomo, for “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” (The Herald 5 June 2003). The other heroines are also highly praised for having many of the above qualities.

If commitment to the husband and the children makes a woman remain within the family, then it means that the family is very essential to her. She cannot survive without it. On a broader level, the family represents the nation, and what is articulated, therefore, is that one’s commitment to nationalism should never be betrayed. More specific to this work, there is an imperative that one should be committed to one’s gender and sexual ‘identity’. All the heroines are glorified as having been fully committed to the family and nation to motivate patriarchal and national control on women’s bodies as well as to encourage self-surveillance.

Many theorists of nationalism have noted the tendency of nationalism to liken the nation to a family (McClintock, 1991, Skurski, 1994); it is a male headed household in which both men and women have ‘natural’ roles to play. While women may be subordinated politically in nationalists’ movements and politics, they occupy an important symbolic place as mothers of the nation, their purity must be impeccable, and so nationalists often have a special interest in the sexuality and sexual behaviour of their women (Nagel, 1998). As such, the dressing of women becomes important. Ruth Chinamano is well known for her parliamentary suggestions that women should be banned from wearing mini-skirts and that modelling should be banned as it exposed the bodies of women, thereby robbing them, and consequently the nation, of dignity (The Herald 5 January 2005).

The above alludes to Foucault’s sentiments of reading the woman’s body as that of the nation. There are therefore attempts to control the sexuality of women in Zimbabwe as well as to set boundaries for their gender. When it is mentioned that the heroines did not marry when their husbands died, and when it is mentioned that they remained loyal to their marriages, it becomes clear that purity, chastity and loyalty are very essential qualities of nationalist women and therefore of heroines. Taking it from this sense, therefore, being a nationalist woman means living within certain confinements of gender and sexual categories that are characterised by particular descriptions.

Referring to Johanna Nkomo, Mugabe underlines her sacrifices, loyalty, resilience and commitment to the family as very crucial. He says;

To be the wife of a nationalist politician in those days was not easy. One was exposed to a hard life in cruelty, pain, self-denial constant danger and tragedy. Mama Mafuyana met all these pressures but labored steadfast, unflinching, loyal, virtuous and committed to the family. (The Herald 4 June 2003)

Emmerson Mnangagwa added to the above point by saying, “We will remember you and your resilience, inspiration, dignity as a mother and determination” (The Herald 8 June 2003). The issue of suffering, commitment, hardworking and undefeated love for the family is also echoed by Maud Muzenda as she reflected on Sunny Ntombiyelanga Takawira’s life (The Herald 15 January 2010). Moreover, Rugare Gumbo, the-then Zanu-PF deputy secretary for administration commended “She belonged to the generation of brave and enduring women…” (The Herald 18 January 2010) and described her as ‘consistent’, and ‘resolute’ woman (ibid).

Suffering and endurance seem to be qualities that are associated with femininity. I argue, therefore, that when Sunny suffered and endured because of the preoccupations of her husband, she was actually performing her own gender, just like the rest of the heroines. She was acting loyal and subservient. Julia Zvobgo is also shown to have been committed and loyal just like the rest of the heroines. It is evident that the traditional roles of women are receiving applause and I argue that the current women at the Heroes’ Acre have been rewarded for performing their gender in line with the expectations of Zimbabwean nationalism.

Above all, there is also an attempt to associate all the heroines with care. As has already been mentioned in the previous sections, all of the heroines are described, in one way or the other, as full of love and care, qualities that are linked to (m)otherhood. I argue that by qualifying the above terms on the heroines, the heroines are shown to have lived up to the expectations of nationalism. More important to my case, however, is that they have lived up to the expectations of conventional gender and sexual binaries. Constructing them as heroines and having them on the national shrine is materialising the gender and sexual meanings that they embody.

Conclusion: Politics of the spectacular, nationhood and citizenship

Power and authority are enabled by the formation of the subject in a manner that identifies and (re)produces the subject (Althusser 1971; Foucault 1977). Nationalism in general, and in Zimbabwe in particular, is embedded with power and authority that has created and (re)produced the national heroine in particular ways that naturalise women’s subordinate identities and the framing of their abilities within (m)otherhood. Looking at those on whom heroine status is conferred in Zimbabwe, specifically from 2000 to 2010 (a period dubbed the third Chimurenga by the Zanu-PF), nationalism has created a gendered and sexualised national (m)otherhood that tallies with the ideals of ‘patriotic’ history. The national heroine subject is both a product of nationalism, thus she has been selected and (re)created as a national model for (m)otherhood, and is also an instrument of nationalism, in that she is used to (re)present, (re)produce and perform the ideals of nationalism in its gendered and sexualised sense. The idea of honouring, of nationalising, of preserving, of distinguishing, of symbolising, of continuous reference and commemoration, and of incepting into history, gives rise to the (re)production of the nationalist woman and a performance of gendered and sexualised identities.

The paper has shown the ways in which nationalism, gender and sexuality are conventional and polarised discourses that can be read on those on whom heroine status is conferred. Althusser’s (1971) concept of ideology and ISAs, which organise social life so that the dominant ideology can create subjects who (re)produce the social order, has been important in tackling the conferring of the heroine status as a discursive issue. According to Althusser, the goal of those in power is achieved by constructing ‘subjective consciousness’ through socialisation and interpellation. Accepting and glorifying the heroine status in Zimbabwe evidences the idea of interpellation. Hence, Althusser argues that subjective consciousness is both produced and guaranteed by power relations. I have used this concept to unravel the hidden, complex and often neglected discourses behind the conferring of national heroines in Zimbabwe.

While nationalism produces the heroine, the heroine also (re)produces a Zimbabwean nationalism which is gendered and sexualised. As such, in as much as the heroines are constructed and performed by Zimbabwean nationalism, the heroines are texts that (re)construct and perform Zimbabwean nationalism, thereby (re)producing some kind of continuous repetition. In the same way, Zimbabwean nationalism constructs and performs a gendered and sexualised heroine in as much as the gendered and sexualised heroine is a text that constructs and performs Zimbabwean nationalism and, thereby, maintaining conventional, dichotomised gender and sexual discourses and maintaining a particular kind of Zimbabwean nationalism.

Also, Foucault (1977) brings to fore the concept of bio-power, which is very useful in the analysis of the bodily aspects of the subject formation, which in this case is the Zimbabwean national heroine. Foucault posits that power and authority are founded on scientific and expert knowledge about individuals as both social and biological beings and thus modern forms of governments make use of this knowledge on the subjects to keep them at bay. The heroine construct, which is a product and (re)producer of nationalism, is “anchored in familial scripts and the invention of the nation as biological families” (Lewis, 2008:107). This reflects that scientific knowledge about human beings, whether social or biological, is a useful resource in the (re)construction and (re)production of nationalism as well as gendered and sexualised bodies. Thus, social and biological scientific knowledge about human beings has (re)constructed a ‘patriotic’ and nationalist heroine who conforms to the principles of Zimbabwean nationalism patriarchal citizenship.

The selection of heroines falls more into the complex body politics of Zimbabwean nationalism than it is simply the result of the relationship between the heroines and the men in powerful positions. It is an ideologically-driven process that ensures the knowledge about national bodies is concretised and performed. I argue that far from “falsification of history in Zimbabwe” (Goredema and Chigora 2009:76), the selection of heroines actually adds on to Zimbabwean history, which has seen its nationalism constructed through the complex interplay of gender, sexuality and ‘patriotic’ nationalism.

All of the heroines buried at the national shrine fit the gendered and sexualised text that is used to construct the Zimbabwean nation, especially if one takes into cognisance that nationalism figures a country as a biological being where different subjects enact or perform certain roles in the well-being of the whole body. The connection dramatically completes the nature of the conventional family that is constituted by patriarchal, gendered and sexualised connotations. By bringing in this particular group of women and their narrativisation into patriotic history, the Zimbabwean family is (re)constituted and so is Zimbabwean nationalism. The point being made is that Zimbabwe is a family because of family unity and because the members of the family are guided by loyalty, commitment and particular boundaries related to their specific roles.

Therefore, the conferring of the heroine status in Zimbabwe is an (un)conscious and insidious process of inclusion and exclusion that is meant to (re)produce and (re)construct the nationalist woman and her place; as well as (re)produce, naturalise and authorise inherent gendered and sexualised identities and hierarchies in the making of Zimbabwean nationalism and citizenship. This process is founded on the complex but existing interconnectedness between gender, sexuality and nationalism and reduces the heroine to both a product and also an instrument of Zimbabwean nation-craft under the Zanu-PF. The Herald coverage on the deaths and burials of the heroines dramatises the ways in which gendered and sexualised discourses have been internalised, naturalised and normalised in a complex way that sustains them. While the deaths and burial processes of national heroines are symbolic of the imagined threatened (m)otherhood and nationhood, the deaths, funeral proceedings and burials at the national ‘shrine’ also (re)presented the material and symbolic presence of (m)otherhood and nationhood. This (m)otherhood and nationhood could be retrieved and performed by the living to (re)generate the ‘threatened’ (m)othering and nationhood. Those who fail to retrieve and perform the presented and visibilised texts of Zimbabwean nation-craft are automatically excluded from nationhood and citizenship.


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 The Herald coverage:

Sunny Ntombiyelanga Takawira

15 January 2010


page 1: National hero Takawira’s widow dies

page 5: continuation

16 January 2010 page 1: President consoles Takawira family
18 January 2010 page 1: Amai Takawira to be buried today

page 2: continuation

page 3: Mai Takawira: Still waters that ran deep

19 January 2010 page 1: We’re masters of our destiny, says President



Ruth Chinamano

3 January 2005 page 1: Veteran Nationalist Chinamano dies

page 4: continuation

4 January 2005 page 1: Chinamano declared national heroine

page 4: continuation

5 January 2005 page 1: Chinamano to be buried tomorrow

page 7: Chinamano: A true warrior

6 January 2005 page 1: President consoles Chinamano family

page 2: continuation

7 January 2005 page 1: Chinamano laid to rest

page 2: continuation

12 January 2005 page 1: President pays tribute to Chinamano

page 2: continuation

Julia Tukai Zvobgo

17 February 2004 page 3: Julia Zvobgo dies
18 February 2004 page 4: President consoles Zvobgo family
19 February 2004 page 6: Politburo to decide on Julia Zvobgo status
20 February 2004 page 1: Julia Zvobgo declared national heroine

page 2: continuation

page 9: Julia Zvobgo leaves a legacy of endurance

21 February 2004 page 14: Heroine’s body leaves for Masvingo
23 February 2004 page 1: Amai Zvobgo hailed

page 2: continuation

Johanna Nkomo

4 June 2003 page 1: Johanna Nkomo ‘Mama MaFuyane’ dies

page 2: continuation

5 June 2003 page 1: Mama MaFuyane declared national heroine

page 2: continuation

page 8: Zimbabwe has lost an illustrious

6 June 2003 page 4: Mama MaFuyane’s body to be flown into Harare today
7 June 2003 page 2: Mama MaFuyane’s body arrives in Harare


[1] The national heroes’ acre is where those identified as national hero/ines are buried



[4] I use this concept in a dual but related sense. First, to reflect the glorified and superfluous identities of mothering related to purity, care, provision, protection, sacrifice and perseverance. Second, in a subversive sense that teases the particularisation of motherhood as a marginalised ‘other’ and with specific roles and spaces within patriarchal families and nations.

[5] Nehanda and Kaguvi are Zimbabwe’s most revered spirit mediums

[6] Josiah Magama Tongogara is an honoured and glorified national liberation hero, he was a military commander and chief of defense during Zimbabwe’s war of liberation.

Fighting for Pure Lands: Land Purity, Polluting Figures, Male Power and Violence in Zimbabwe

by Tinashe Mawere

Introduction: Contextualizing the Zimbabwean land question

In Zimbabwe, land became a prominent political and ideological issue after colonisation in 1890; catalysed by the ‘invading’ masculine British South Africa Company (BSAC) and its violent ‘penetration’ and appropriation of land. The physical and symbolic violence that can be associated with land ‘invasion’ is gendered through the figure of Charwe, a female spirit medium housing and personifying the spirit of Nehanda, Zimbabwe’s most revered ancestral spirit. The ‘purification’ of the colonial-polluted land thus relied predominantly on the reproductive and generative capacities of Nehanda, whose bones would “rise again.”

The land ‘invasion’ led to armed struggles, primarily over land, and chimurenga became the code for each of these wars, but also a pedestal for national masculinisation and violence, as the notion of chimurenga is associated with grand masculinities and a war ethic (Mawere 2019; Vambe 2004). The First Chimurenga was waged in 1895-6 and is associated with popular ancestral figures like Nehanda, whilst the Second Chimurenga of 1964-1980 (Ranger 1967; Bhebhe 1989) is associated with the current war veterans in Zimbabwe, whose narrative has been appropriated and monopolised by the ruling Zanu-PF party. The Second Chimurenga brought independence through protracted battles between the Rhodesian Forces and the Patriotic Front armed groups, i.e. the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) and the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA).

ZIPRA was the military wing of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), while ZANLA was the armed wing of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). In 1987, the ZAPU and ZANU merged into one party (ZANU-PF), through a Unity Accord (Bhebhe 1989). Based on the prophecy of mapfupa angu achamuka (my bones shall arise), which is ascribed to the spirit of Nehanda, the Second Chimurenga fighters have positioned themselves as the rising bones of Nehanda, or as Nehanda’s sons (Mawere 2016; Shoko 2006). This positioning imagines and entangles Zimbabwean struggles and Zimbabwean nationalism in the politics of regeneration and re/production. Those without the reproductive and generative capacities and those falling out of amadoda sibili (real men able to purify the land and restore the lost reproductive and generative capacities) (Mawere 2019, 2016; Muwati etal; Mugabe 2001), had their citizenships erased and violence authorised against them.  At the same time, fighting for the invaded land has been synonymous with fighting to restore the imagined dignity and respectability of Nehanda’s ‘raped’ womanhood, as well as to restore the masculinities and honour of national men.

Zanu-PF’s greatest challenge to power came from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which was formed in the late 1990s. This strong opposition party brought about competing masculinities that challenged Zanu-PF dominance. The formation and impact of the MDC gave rise to the Third Chimurenga, led by war veterans and Zanu-PF, which is associated with the violent repossession and occupation of white-owned land. The politics of re/production that personified and gendered land became instrumental to the discourses used by the State and by Zanu-PF. I posit that land has garnered a great deal of symbolic significance, with political aesthetics playing out in physical, social, psychological, political and economic everyday spaces.

Land and the g(j)endered metaphors of re/production

In Zimbabwe, connections to land are figured profoundly in terms of gendered, biological re/production and the fecundity of the female body. In light of this strongly gendered imagining, contests over land could not be reduced to a struggle over a physical place, but a special, almost mystical affiliation to a space that inhabits history, identity and livelihood and ensures survival. Patriarchal fabrications locate land as a key marker of identity and this is why Zimbabweans are referred to as vana vevhu (children of the soil). This suggests that Zimbabweans gain complete identity by being in touch with their source, the motherland, vindicating the government’s efforts to repossess land and get rid of national pollutants. In this logic, land symbolises statehood and nationhood, whilst its absence signifies the absence of both. In discourses of land, there is a re-telling, re/production and repeated performance of naturalised power configurations, gender and sexualities that propels belonging and citizenship. Beyond the materiality of land, deeper and affective symbolic discourses ensuring the survival of patriarchy are capitalised.

Just like nationalism, the land question, which is core to Zimbabwean nationalism, “has sprung from masculinised memory, masculinised humiliation and masculinised hope” (Enloe 1989:44). It is in this sense that land is tied to both “gendered” and “jendered”[1] metaphors of re/production. “Gendered” refers to the associations of land with hierarchical differences in and performances of masculinity and femininity, while “jendered” refers to the use of the testicles, which implies the forceful and violent enactment of masculine power and patriarchy (Mawere 2019, 2016). The appropriation of land, and the language of appropriation by the state and Zanu-PF, echoes a patriarchal enforcement of gendered and sexual categories. Talking of land in nationalist terms implicitly communicates naturalised gender and sexual meanings and behaviours that are acceptable to the state. Land, which traditionally provides space for sustenance, also manifests as a space for the performance of power, and a space for struggles around citizenship and gender.

The re/construction of the Zimbabwean nation, as founded on the land question, provides a space for the institutionalisation and naturalisation of sexual categories and gendered differences, and the naturalisation of knowledge around productivity, re/distribution and survival. The Zimbabwean land question is thus imagined in terms of g(j)endered metaphors of re/production that oscillate around conventions within heterosexual-familial space, where male power and patriarchal violence are tied to land re/productivity. This has sensualised permissible and natural sexualities and has given rise to particular g(j)endered hierarchies where those that are feminised and perceived as without testicles are marginalised. In a bid to maintain what is permissible and natural, “jendered” male power is instrumentalised to rid the land of polluting figures and thereby restore land purity.  Thus, the identity of land as a political signifier and a space where violence is performed has been, to a great extent, acted out through gendered and sexualised national bodies. Thus, the discourse around land, and land and re/production perform surveillance and discipline on the genders, sexualities and power of national bodies.

In dominant ‘nationalist’ texts, there is a symbiotic relationship akin to marriage, where land acquires a feminine identity associated with fecundity and national re/production. Articulated in these texts is a naturalised connection between land and the people, but also between Zanu-PF, the custodian of the land, and the people, who are both fathered by Zanu-PF and also identified as children of the soil (vana vevhu). At the same time, Zimbabwean citizens embody a national purity which runs according to Zanu-PF’s patriarchal imaginations and dissenting voices are thus imagined as pollutants and consequently denied citizenship.

Polluting figures and g(j)endered power

The opposition party MDC has been positioned as a pollutant, a threat to the purity and the re/productive and generative capacities of the Zimbabwean nation. A discourse of protection over feminised land aligned with Zanu-PF, against the incursion of the MDC, emerged in the post-2000 period. However, it is a resurgence and recirculation of historic discourses constructing feminised land, first established by British imperial imaginings of the colonised territories as feminised sites ready for British men’s conquest. Zimbabwean anti-colonial fiction, for example, Feso and Pfumoreropa by Solomon Mutswairo and Patrick Chakaipa respectively, is replete with portraits of land as female subject needing protection by valiant sons of the soil against the white intruder. So, the shift here is the notion of some indigenous sons as traitors and unworthy of the land; in the tensions between MDC and Zanu-PF, which were either prefigured in the Nkomo-Mugabe or ZANLA-ZIPRA conflicts that resulted in the Gukurahundi, where an estimated 20 000 civilians in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland and Midlands provinces were killed by the state.

Tagging Zimbabwe with familial notions, the feminization of land and the ‘jambanja’ (violence) associated with land takeover as Third Chimurenga gives moral justification to Zanu-PF in its fight against national penetration, allegedly aided by the polluted oppositional voices like the MDC. As in war situations and family defense, enemies have to be vanquished. The attacks on pollutants are performed through the techno-politics of some Zanu-PF jingles such as ‘Tinoda kudeleta Machinja ose’ (We want to wipe off all MDC members). [2] The grotesquely technical term ‘delete’ used in the jingle conjures visual images of violent annihilation of people refusing to conform to Zanu-PF nationhood and those supporting the MDC, as one can relate ‘delete’ to how one gets rid of unwanted texts from the popular mobile cell phones (Mawere 2016). As dissent has been feminised in a nation requiring amadoda sibili and sexualised outside heteronormativity in a nation focused on reproduction and regeneration, violence against oppositional figures is authorised. I concur with Manganga (2011) that in a new millennium Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF perceive male respectability and responsibility as instrumental in the surveillance of bodies and protection of ‘national interests’ by any means necessary, and it would mean eliminating enemies. This echoes earlier sentiments by Muchemwa and Muponde (2007:2) that in the post-2000 epoch, “…outside the war ethic, driven by an excess of masculinity, individuals whose gender does not contribute to the war economy are under threat.” This is because they do not serve the projected image of the Zimbabwean nation, which needs masculine figures.

The state and Zanu-PF have thus feminised certain men who cannot perform the expected male roles and whose characters fail to act “manly”, hence their re/invention as homosexuals in a hetero-normative nation whose thrust is centred around and towards purity, fertility, re/production and regeneration (Mawere 2019, 2016). The construction of oppositional voices as homosexuals is symbolic of how some men are perceived as failing to tally with the national project of regeneration and reproduction. The conflict between Zanu-PF and the MDC thus reflects a longer history in Zimbabwe and Southern African politics; a history characterised by male-led political parties where the national project becomes a phallocratic contest between men over a feminised national citizenry, and by extension, over land.


Although most literature discusses land as a physical, historical and economic space, I posit that land has garnered a significant deal of symbolic significance and political aesthetics, playing out in physical, social, psychological, political and economic everyday spaces. Land, in its feminised discursive nature, is constructed as a pure source for male satisfaction and requiring strong/masculine security. The land, once taken over by white-male British settlers, was ‘bastardised’ and the wars of liberation were, therefore, an attempt to reconfigure the ‘purity’ and sanctity of land, now as a re/productive figure and also ‘our mother’. Similarly, the hegemonic nature of the Zimbabwean state has relied on re/constructing the white settlers, and ‘now’ local opposition political figures, as polluting figures whose agenda was to poison the ‘land’ and dispossess it of its food, re/production and ‘motherly nurturing’ roles.


Bhebe, N. 1989. “The Nationalist Struggle, 1957-1962”, in C. Banana, ed. Turmoil and Tenacity: Zimbabwe, 1890-1990, Harare: The College Press:50-115.

Chakaipa, P. 1961. Pfumoreropa. Harare: Longman.

Enloe, C. 1989. Bananas, beaches and bases: Making feminist sense of international politics. Berkeley and London: University of California Press.

Manganga, K. 2011, Masculinity (dodaism), gender and nationalism: The case of the Salisbury bus boycott, September 1956. In Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni & James Muzondidya (eds.), Redemptive or grotesque nationalism? Rethinking contemporary politics in Zimbabwe, Oxford: Peter Lang, pp. 133-134.

Mawere, T. 2019. Gendered and Sexual Imagi(nations), the 2018 Zimbabwean E(r)ections and the Aftermath. Pretoria: CSA&G Press.

Mawere, T. 2016. Decentering Nationalism: Representing and Contesting Chimurenga in Zimbabwean Popular Culture. Thesis (PhD). University of the Western Cape.

Mutswairo, S. 1982. Feso. Harare: Longman

Muwati, I., Mheta, G. & Gambahaya, Z. 2010, Contesting ‘patriotic history’: Zimbabwe’s liberation war history and the democratization agenda, South African Journal of African Languages, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 170-179.

Ranger, T. 1967. Revolt in Southern Rhodesia: A Study in African Resistance. London: Heinemann.

Shoko, T. 2006. ““My bones shall rise again”: War veterans, spirits and land reform in Zimbabwe.” African Studies Centre, 68.

Vambe, M.T. 2004, Versions and sub-versions: Trends in Chimurenga musical discourses of post-independence Zimbabwe, African study monographs, vol. 25, no. 4, pp 167-193.


[1] After Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC got more votes than Robert Mugabe of Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections, one Zanu-PF youth who was leading a pro-Mugabe campaign team of more than 200 Zanu-PF supporters ahead of the run-off election bulldozed into a bar where I was among some patrons. Wielding a big Okapi knife, the youth declared “Mugabe panyanga zvejende!!” Panyanga is a Shona word literally meaning, at the horns. In the Zimbabwean everyday language, it means being at the top/helm. The Shona word for testicle is jende and zvejende literally means using testicles, but in the Zimbabwean everyday language, it means use of brute and masculine force to demonstrate one’s manhood (Mawere 2016).

[2] Watch

(Un)masking other dangerous pandemics within the Covid-19 lockdown

By Tinashe Mawere

Introduction: Silencing ‘disobedient’ voices

On 13 May 2020, some youths from Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party, the MDC Alliance, performed a flash demonstration in Warren Park D, in Harare (Zimbabwe’s capital city). They were protesting against the state’s failure to provide care and sustenance for the disadvantaged and vulnerable during the Covid-19 lockdown. Later on, reports emerged that three women, namely, the Member of Parliament for Harare West, Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, who had been part of the demonstration, had been arrested and were in police custody. These women were accused of breaking the rules and regulations of the Covid-19 lockdown. The police, through a government-run and pro-government newspaper, the Herald, confirmed the arrest. In a story published in the Herald, the National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner, Paul Nyathi, confirmed: “the police arrested the three in Harare today in connection with an illegal demonstration, which occurred in Warren Park earlier in the day. They are in our custody and we are still making further investigations into the issue,” (Maphosa 2020). Subsequently, details emerged that the three women could not be traced and the police and government officials denied having ever arrested them. After two days, there were reports that the women had been found dumped on the outskirts of Bindura, some 120km away from Harare, and that they had been beaten up, forced to drink each other’s urine and sexually harassed by state security agents.[1]

Within this story, there are contestations, with state authorities claiming that the abduction was stage-managed to damage the national image of the country[2] while the women were claiming to have been abducted and tortured because they had protested against the government. With the Zimbabwean state having a history of abducting and torturing oppositional voices (Mukoko 2016; Wilkins 2012; Sachikonye 2011), and earlier acknowledgement by the police that the trio had been arrested, the issue remains sensitive and there have been calls for independent investigations into the matter. In the midst of all this, the deputy minister in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Energy Mutodi, posted a very interesting Tweet with regards to how the women found themselves in the troublesome situation. I posit that Mutodi’s Tweet reveals the considerable extent to which masculine authoritarianism and patriarchy remain deeply embedded in the nation of Zimbabwe.

Mutodi’s Tweet: Prototyping the sexualities of woman-public figures

Mutodi’s Tweet read as follows: “Details emerge MDC youths Joana Mamombe, Netsai Marova & Cecilia Chimbiri went out for a romantic night to Bindura with their lovers who are artisanal miners. They parked their car at a police station for safety but tragedy struck when they demanded foreign currency for services” (Energy Mutodi Tweet May 20, 2020).[3]

Since stories of abduction are not new, as shown by scholars above, I locate abductions as discourses of state-making in Zimbabwe. Whether real or re/imagined, abductions are part of the ‘everyday’ and are discourses and performances of the Zimbabwean nation that should be problematised. However, rather than focusing on the raging debate about whether this particular abduction was real or stage-managed, in this work, I focus on the above abduction story as a discourse of state-craft. Mutodi’s Tweet can be located discursively within the broader politics of gender, the silencing of women, and the mis/representation of women and women’s images in dominant patriarchal texts of imagining the nation. This discursive analysis exposes that Mutodi’s Tweet re/represents and performs the prevailing and naturalised surveillance of women and women’s bodies that characterises Zimbabwe and other patriarchal societies. The Tweet was meant not only to shame and silence the three women politically, but also to silence the impetus narrative of women abuses in Zimbabwe, to silence women’s political and public participation, as well as to silence women’s sexualities and sexual liberties. Moreover, the Tweet produced the effect of cementing existing and dominant patriarchal narratives pertaining to women and their identities and also their place and space within the nation.

Normalising dominant images of women: “…went out for a romantic night…”

As a public and official figure, deputy Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Mutodi’s Tweet epitomises the position of the state and reveals and drives public opinion. His expression that “MDC youths Joana Mamombe, Netsai Marova & Cecilia Chimbiri went out for a romantic night to Bindura” should not be read as misplaced satire, but rather as satire that is re/produced within and is performing particular dominant knowledges and culture. The lack of empathy that the Zimbabwean state has towards women who experience abuses, especially sexual abuses, is revealed in the Tweet. Also revealed is the lack of seriousness and the denials that the state makes on cases of women abuse, especially sexual violence. In Zimbabwe, many cases of women abuse are not reported, while others are not attended to (Mashiri & Mawire 2013; Shamu et al 2013) because of this denial.

Since Mutodi draws attention to the women’s unexpected romantic outing, there is a clear perpetuation of dominant discourses that associate ‘obedient’ women with the home and the private space, thereby shifting the blame on the survivors of abuse for inviting trouble to themselves by venturing into the public space. The glaring patriarchal narrative in the Tweet is clear. Mutodi is simply articulating that the home and the private is the only appropriate space for women, and that public spaces are unsafe, hence women who cross boundaries have themselves to blame if they get into trouble, or if they face the precariousness of the public space. This is a continuation of the Zimbabwean state’s actions where operations that criminalise the ‘unsanctioned’ presence of women in public spaces (like streets, for example) are implemented (Masakure 2016, Mawere 2016; Gaidzanwa 1993). Following Mutodi’s Tweet, and dominant knowledge around images of women, only those women who are defiant, liars, poisonous/evil and with sexual liberties get into trouble (Mawere 2019, 2016; Sathyamurthy 2016; Gaidzanwa 1985).

To destroy the political aspirations and social standing of women, patriarchy turns to the discourse of sexuality, where it banks on the normalised script of women’s sexual purity (Mawere 2019). This is a very strong weapon, considering how female sexuality is a social taboo and how making it public erodes respectable notions of womanhood. In Mutodi’s Tweet, associating the women with an act of the ‘night’ invites the public to view them as sex workers. In a society like Zimbabwe, where sex work is stigmatised, this is a deliberate aim to position the women as social deviants and as poisonous to the nation. With such alleged impurity, the women cannot fit into ideas of archetypal womanhood that comply with Zimbabwe’s expected ‘mothers of the nation’ (Mawere 2019; Chadya 2003; Hunter 2000). This discourse of impurity, often associated with women in politics, those who come into the public arena and those with ‘voices’, associates women with negative images such as those of ‘whores.’ Considering the patriarchal identity that remains central to Zimbabwean nationhood, this robs the three women (and any other woman who dares to transgress patriarchal boundaries) of social and national standing. Associating them with the ‘night’ reduces them to the common media image of ‘ladies of the night’, which is typically associated with transactional sex and the poisoning of national men and nationhood. The same method has been used to shatter the political ambitions of Zimbabwean women like Grace Mugabe, Thokozani Khupe, and Joice Mujuru, who have been delegitimised in the eyes of the Zimbabwean public, primarily because of their perceived transgression of patriarchal rules (Mawere 2019).

The public, official and yet insensitive nature of Minister Mutodi’s sentiments reflects a misogynistic society that has, for years, normalised and typified the identities of women. Mutodi is requesting the society to pass moral, cultural and national judgements on the case at hand. In patriarchal societies, there tend to be strong sentiments that women invite trouble for themselves, owing to their wayward characters and/or failure to conform to expectations. Survivors of rape and gender-based violence are usually blamed for inviting the perpetrator, hence cases of sexual violations have been peripherised. Mutodi’s Tweet confirms the official and societal view that stories of women abuse, sexual violence and other violations are manufactured or part of the package for their deviance. This is a backlash against efforts that are being made to raise awareness of the existence and ugliness of these issues.

(Un)mothering defiant women: “…the lovers are artisanal miners…”

Considering the public and media image of makorokoza (artisanal miners) in Zimbabwe, the association of Joana, Cecilia and Netsai with artisanal miners is used to erase them from the narrative of mothers of the nation. This association confirms the women to be immoral, careless, dirty and pathogenic. This is in the context of the negative images that characterise artisanal miners in Zimbabwe.

Although artisanal miners at times possess large sums of money from their mining activities, they are frequently accused of spending it recklessly on alcohol and commercial sex workers. By and large, makorokoza are associated with social deviance, carelessness, dirt, and diseases, especially sexually-transmitted infections like HIV/AIDS. A narrative that links the three women with artisanal miners simultaneously delinks them with the imagined mothers of the nation. The deputy minister’s assertion that the women’s “lovers are artisanal miners” therefore sensualises an imagination of the three women’s contamination.

Mutodi’s Tweet can thus be regarded as a way of presenting Joana, Cecilia, Netsai and all ‘disobedient’ women not only as morally, socially and physically diseased, but also as politically diseased and inadequate to offer anything positive to the nation. This is especially true in the context where Zimbabwean ‘black’ women symbolise “an uncontaminated essence, the custodian of ancestral traditions” that co-exists with them being symbolically coded with land and its ‘purity’” (Lewis, 2004:198). To push Lewis’s idea further, in the Zimbabwean state’s macho nation-building projects that are characterised by the symbolic configuration of womanhood for masculine political projects, such as being ‘mothers of the nation,’ women’s sexual activities that are disassociated with national re/production and focused on satisfying women’s own pleasures are debased. This speaks to cultural taboos and claims that view sexual pleasure and freedom as dangerous and irresponsible for womanhood (McFadden 2003; Lorde 1982).

Mutodi was, therefore, deliberately asserting that abuses of women who are dirty and national pollutants do not deserve national attention, and ultimately, that the women do not deserve justice. He was calling for the wider Zimbabwean society to dismiss allegations that the women had been abused. As members of the MDC Alliance, their contaminated nature and inadequacy, which is buttressed by their physical contact with the ‘pathogenic’ artisanal miners, mirrors the contaminated nature and inadequacy of their party, hence inviting citizens to ditch the polluted and polluting party.

Evoking “Karma is a bitch”: “…tragedy struck when they demanded foreign currency for services”

Mutodi buttresses his assertion that the three women are defiled national bodies by locating them within discourses of transactional sex. For him, what befell these women is normal and expected, given the space they had chosen to occupy. In many ways, Mutodi is not only aligning himself with the insensitivity of the state towards commercial sex workers, but is also avowing that sex workers should not have agency and justice in Zimbabwean society, where the sexual purity of women is valued. The intention of this narrative is likely aimed at tainting the three women’s (and all oppositional women’s) social, political and national and images.

In addition, Mutodi’s insensitive patriarchal narration of what befell the three women reveals the ‘common-sense’ discourse of women, which constructs young urban women and particularly women in politics as ‘prostitutes’ (Mawere 2019; Gaidzanwa 1985) as he identifies them as providers of sexual services. This is very disturbing, especially in the context where the women made claims of sexual harassment and assault. What is apparent in Mutodi’s use of discourse is that the women got into trouble as a consequence of breaking the boundaries and demarcations of national (patriarchal) space. Mutodi’s Tweet is therefore, very significant and instrumental to the socio-economic and political control of all women, as it demonstrates the consequences of disobedience. Controlling women’s bodies and sexualities through public ‘acts’ that other citizens can witness is a very powerful metaphor of cultural surveillance and state control (Mawere 2016). Through the Tweet, the deputy minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services in the Zimbabwean state is simply acting out the control of women and their bodies and warning women and other subjects of the nation that they are under national surveillance.

Conclusion: The common narrative

Dominant patriarchal narratives suppress women’s public participation, female pleasure and female freedoms by constructing female eroticism as unspeakable (Mawere 2019; Birrell 2008; Ranciere 2006; McFadden 2003; Lorde 1982). Following the above therefore, the public space is positioned as unsuitable for women and what befell the three women who had ‘escaped’ from their confinements is a result of the taboo acts of being at wrong places, seeking erotic pleasure and ‘transacting’ their sexual ‘purity’ for money. The women’s participation in oppositional politics is equated to ‘selling out’ their bodies and therefore making them defiled national bodies who deserve punishment and who are not worth any national sympathy or agency.

Mutodi’s and the state’s reason for shaming the three women is to limit the contagious possibilities of their ‘rebellious’ bodies. It is clear that women who break spatial boundaries and occupy public spaces that are dominated by, and seen as the preserve for men, are associated with sexual freedoms and are thus seen as threats to societies since sexual freedoms have been associated with defiance and power. The erotic is a crucial source of power and agency for women and its suppression is instrumental to the reproduction of patriarchal systems (Mawere 2016; McFadden 2003; Lorde 1982). The close ties between sexuality and power make sexual pleasure and eroticism fields of political significance (McFadden 2003; Lorde 1982). Silencing women by embarrassing them through the exposition of their real or imagined sexual behaviours to the public is characteristic of Zimbabwean politics (Mawere 2019).

In a context where respect and honour for women is tied closely to their ability to keep their sexual lives private, such exposures are meant to undress (discursively and at bodily levels) the women, shame them and take away their agentive power. Mutodi’s attempts to embarrass the three women portray an image where the sexualities of the three women are contaminated. This enables him to naturalise and sensualise the confinement of “serious national women” and “Mothers of the Nation” to private and domestic spaces. This is clearly a surveillance of the three women’s and any woman’s political and public participation. What we witness in Mutodi’s Tweet is ultimately a spectacle of the other dangerous pandemics besides Covid-19 that require urgent questioning and critique. These dangerous pandemics include state repression, gender violence, toxic and patriarchal nation-building projects and many forms of physical, structural and symbolic violence.


Birrell, R. 2008, Jacques Rancière and the (Re) distribution of the sensible: Five lessons in Artistic Research, Art & Research: A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 1-11.

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Gaidzanwa, R. 1993, The politics of the body and the politics of control: An analysis of class, gender and cultural issues in student politics at the University of Zimbabwe, Zambezia, vol 2, no. 2, pp 15-33.

Gaidzanwa, R. 1985, Images of Women in Zimbabwean Literature. Harare: College Press.

Hunter, E. 2000, Zimbabwean nationalism and motherhood in Yvonne Vera’s Butterfly Burning, African Studies, vol. 59, pp. 229-243.

Lewis, D. 2004, Revisioning patriarchal nationalism: Yvonne Vera’s ‘Nehanda’, JCAS Symposium series 20. pp 193-208.

Lorde, A. 1982, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power. In Zami/Sister Outsider/Undersong, New York: Quality Paperback Book Club.

Masakure, C. 2016, ‘We will make sure they are rehabilitated’: Nation-building and social engineering in Operation Clean-up, Zimbabwe, 1983, South African Historical Journal, vol. 68, no.1, pp 91-111.

Mashiri, L & Mawire, P. 2013, Conceptualisation of gender-based violence in Zimbabwe, International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 3, no. 15, pp 94-103.

Mawere, T. 2019, Gendered and Sexual Imagi(nations), the 2018 Zimbabwean E(r)ections and the Aftermath. Pretoria: CSA&G Press.

Mawere, T. 2016, Decentering Nationalism: Representing and Contesting Chimurenga in Zimbabwean Popular Culture, PhD Dissertation. Cape Town: University of the Western Cape.

McFadden, P. 2003, Sexual pleasure as feminist choice, Feminist Africa, issue 2, pp. 50-60.

Mukoko, J. 2016, The Abduction and trial of Jestina Mukoko: the fight for human rights in Zimbabwe, Sandton: KMM Review Publishing

Ranciere, J. 2006, The politics of aesthetics, Trans. Gabriel Rockhill, with an afterword by Slavoj Zizek, London: Continuum.

Sachikonye, L.M. 2011, When a state turns on its citizens. Institutionalized violence and political culture, South Africa: Jacana Media.

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Maphosa, V.  2020, “MDC-A legislator Mamombe, 2 others arrested” Herald, 14 May 2020 (Available at, accessed 20 July 2020).

Wilkins, S. 2012, Ndira’s wake. Politics, memory and mobility among the youth of Mabvuku, Harare, MSc Dissertation, Oxford: University of Oxford.


[1] Abducted MDC Joana Mamombe and Cecilia Chimbiri speak on the painful ordeal

[2] Zimbabwe accuses MDC activists of made up state torture claims

[3]  Energy Mutodi’s Tweet can be found on the following link;*joana+mamombe+abduction&rlz=1C1GCEU_enZA897ZA897&sxsrf=ALeKk01n9XLS4NR76J9vP5NYrLn0yPAM8w:1597319230433&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjxosrqjZjrAhXDoXEKHXIdC0wQ_AUoAXoECAwQAw&biw=1366&bih=657#imgrc=qOaoCGXJFZxxuM

CSA&G Statement on Gender and #ZimbabweanLivesMatter

On 24 July the UN’s human rights office, the OHCHR, expressed concern over reports of [Zimbabwean] “police using force to disperse and arrest nurses and health workers”, for breaching lockdown restrictions while trying to protest for better salaries and conditions of work.

It also noted a “pattern of intimidation” surrounding events in May when three female members of the main opposition party were allegedly arrested and detained for taking part in a protest during the Covid-19 lockdown. Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, alleged that after State security officials abducted them from a police station, they were tortured and sexually assaulted. They were then subsequently charged with breaking the lockdown rules and faking their abduction.

If the allegations of abduction, torture and sexual assault are true, such actions are meant to frighten and silence women and present a continuation of a culture of fear and silence that existed before the new dispensation. This is counter to the country’s attempts to give voice to women and girls and to end violence against women. It therefore amounts to a negation of all the efforts for gender sensitivity, gender equality and gender justice being made by different progressive state actors and various organisations in and outside Zimbabwe.

In addition, investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and an opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume, were detained and charged for calling for citizens to protest. The state authorities have claimed that the two were arrested for calling for citizens to disobey Covid-19 regulations as well as for citizens to overthrow a constitutionally elected government. However, arresting people for encouraging citizens to express themselves on corruption has raised concern. Also, in the case of Hopewell, arresting him soon after exposing corruption by top officials has been viewed as vindictive and linked to silencing citizens. As a result of these events, the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter has arisen, to signify regional and global concern for the lives, dignity and rights of all Zimbabwean citizens.

The Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender would like to express its concern about the above alleged and related developments in Zimbabwe, especially in the context of the hope that many had in the ‘second republic.’ In particular, the alleged use of sexual assault against any citizen detained by the state is very unfortunate and a cause for great concern. Not only is this a violation of international norms and conventions, it goes to the heart of gender oppression, regarding women’s bodies as objects which can be used to express power: male power and the power of the state.

Writing in the Journal of Global Security Studies, Volume 3, Issue 4, October 2018, Pages 417–430, Christopher J Einolf states that “Sexual torture and rape employ existing gender hierarchies to intensify dominance of the torturer over the victim and increase the pain, humiliation, and coercion of torture.”

When and where they occur, such sexual assaults have a number of dimensions. First, in some cases they are opportunistic criminal acts, undertaken by security personnel taking advantage of their positions of power. Secondly, some perpetrators used rape and sexual torture as methods of last resort, to force a confession. Third, interrogators use the threat of rape or rape of female relatives as a way to force male relatives to confess.

In all dimensions, such acts, where and when they occur, are an insult to human dignity and decency. While individuals might be targets of such acts, the acts also serve a symbolic purpose where they become examples of what happens to individuals and groups who might be seen as disobeying the state or state actors.

If the state has been abusive, or if state actors have abused their power, we believe the dignity and lives of Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova matter. The dignity and lives of Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume matter. The dignity and lives of nurses and health workers matter. The dignity and lives of all Zimbabweans matter and should be properly addressed by the authorities so as to build a better Zimbabwe. We believe that the above allegations and issues are very sensitive and that justice should be correctly served so that Zimbabwe is seen as a safe place for all.

In addition to this statement, staff of the CSA&G will be writing about their own personal experiences of violence – whether this be symbolic, normative, physical or by the state. These will be published in a short collection.

The J(g)endered nation: Zimbabwe’s heroic and macho-currencies

by Tinashe Mawere

Introduction: Heroism and national masculinities

Contestations around national heroism have been rampant in Southern Africa in general and in Zimbabwe in particular (Mawere 2016; Becker 2011; Willems 2010; Goredema & Chigora 2009; Kriger 1995). In Zimbabwe, apart from being buried at national monuments, being commemorated on specific days and having structures and institutions named after them, heroic figures have featured in national (his)tories and artistic compositions such as songs, poems, plays and novels (Mawere 2016; Chitando 2005; Mugabe 2001). A number of scholars have reflected on the contested identities of heroes and subversions of heroism and heroic acts (Mawere 2019, 2016; Ndlovu-Gatsheni & Willems 2009; Goredema & Chigora 2009).

Clear enough is that globally, national heroism has been attached to nation-craft, but in Zimbabwe, this has been very much pronounced. The connotations of heroism have been attached to notions of struggles or chimurenga[1] which is foundational to Zimbabwean nationhood (Mawere 2019, 2016; Vambe 2004). The conflation of nationhood with chimurenga, which is re/imagined as violent reactions to national attacks that are acted out by the nation’s amadoda sibili/varume chaivo chaivo (real men) is problematic in relation to the ways in which masculinities are re/imagined in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. Due to its association with heroism and violent nationhood, rather than being associated with attributes and qualities that boys and men have or do not have, masculinity has landed as a field of discursive inquiry, connected to broader issues of knowledge re/production that are associated with socio-economic and political issues of dominance, oppression, inequalities and violence.

Apart from formal narratives imbibing or contesting Zimbabwean heroism and its performance and re/production of state-craft, in the face of hyper-inflation, Zimbabwe’s currency regime has performed and re/produced how Zimbabwean heroism and nationalism are re/imagined. In this work, by analysing the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ)’s 2006 initiative, ‘Zero to Hero’, I show an unfolding spectacle of Zimbabwean heroism and masculinity. I demonstrate how Zimbabwe’s currency and its ‘chimurenga’ or struggle against the ‘targeted’ crushing and loss of its value-mirror manliness, militarism and notions of masculinities that are foundational to Zimbabwe’s imagi(nation). This ultimately adds to the configuration of Zimbabwe as a j(g)endered nation – a nation founded, performed and re/produced through ‘politics dzejende’ (the politics of the balls/violence) and the politics of gender (Mawere 2019, 2016).

‘From Zero to Hero’: Re/reading the Zimbabwean currency inside the chimurenga

From the 2000s, Zimbabwe saw unprecedented and world-record-breaking levels of inflation (Kangira 2007; Muzondidya 2009). As part of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ)’s 2006 intervention to curb hyper-inflation, which then was at over 1000%, Gideon Gono, the RBZ governor, established and implemented some programs for curbing inflation and strengthening the Zimbabwean currency, popularly known as the Zim dollar. Some of these measures have continued to be applied to a corpus of Zimbabwe’s pseudo-currencies such as bearer cheques, bond notes and the RTGS (Real-Time Gross Settlement).

On 31 July 2006, the state, through the RBZ governor, Gono, announced a Monetary Policy Review Statement branded ‘Sunrise: A New Beginning/Zuva Rabuda (Shona)/Ilanga Seliphumile (Ndebele)’, which was also known as ‘Operation Sunrise’.[2] “Gono gave the impression that the Monetary Statement was a panacea to all the economic woes bedeviling Zimbabwe” (Kangira 2007:23). I posit that ‘sunrise’ framed Zimbabwe within the nationalist discourse of a new nation coming out of the dark tunnel of ‘foreign’ manipulation and naming it an ‘operation’, a war strategy, sensualised militarisation of the ‘sunrise’. The victorious currency announced by Gono was therefore some symbolic imagi(nation) of a new Zimbabwe that had militantly redeemed itself from ‘Western’ control. This spectacle was synonymous to the popular Hero’s Day Celebrations which also marked Zimbabwe as a ‘new beginning’ coming out of the heroic chimurenga struggles.

Gono popularised the ‘Zero to Hero’ (Mawere 2016; Kangira 2007) advertising campaign, which was meant to restore the value of the Zimbabwean currency and therefore masculinise and ‘empower’ it. This meant the slashing of three zeros from the Zimbabwean dollar denominations, where $1000 became $1 but still maintained its value. This was done “to make people believe that once the three zeros were removed from the currency, all economic problems would be a thing of the past” (Kangira 2007:23). Kangira used rhetoric analysis to show the state’s and Gono’s attempt to create a ‘common ownership of the economic crisis’ and a common bond among people to fight the crisis through his analysis of ‘together words’, buzzwords and an emotive call. He reads ‘Zero to Hero’ as a failed attempt to envision a strong and stable Zimbabwean currency.

I go beyond Kangira (2007)’s rhetoric analysis by reading the monetary re/vision as an ideological base re/producing and performing Zimbabwean masculinities and militarism, which are the hallmarks of Zimbabwean nationhood, especially in times of crises and alleged adversaries (Mugabe 2001). This reading confirms the state’s view that the apparent weakness or feminisation of the currency, which also translates to the weakening and emasculation of Zimbabwe, was a result of ‘foreign’ attacks on the Zimbabwean nation. The removal of zeros was therefore symbolic of and dramatised amadoda sibili’s politics dzejende (necessary masculine aggression) against the emasculation of the nation. Thus, the masculinisation and militarisation of the currency was a call to masculinise and militarise the nation to dispel ‘foreign’ aggression and the feminisation of the nation since a weak nation can easily be ‘penetrated’ by others. This is very sensitive in the context where being ‘penetrated’ is synonymous with being controlled.

The campaign was massive and it featured on television, radio and newspaper advertisements (Mawere 2016). The timing of this campaign was therefore not accidental, but well appropriate within the expected and intended discourse of nationhood. The new denominations took effect on the first of August 2006, in the obvious knowledge that in Zimbabwe, the month of August is regarded as the month of heroes since the Heroes Day is on the 11th of August. The struggle, rising, militancy and victory of the currency (which had been ‘imprisoned’ and puppeteered by ‘foreign’ nations) was a semblance of the heroic Zimbabwean nation which was founded on militancy nationalism (chimurenga).

It is also crucial to problematise Gono’s choice of the hero terminology. The notion of “Zero to Hero” is as controversial as the notion of heroism in Zimbabwean state-craft and which has been associated with national masculinities, ‘amadoda sibili’ and militarism, since the Zimbabwean hero is broadly re/imagined as militant (Mawere 2019; Vambe 2004). When unpacking masculinities, it is crucial to focus on how they are perceived and how they are performed and re/produced. I argue that Zimbabwean masculinities are re/presented in symbols and objects through a discursive analysis of heroism as a symbol of masculinity and the resistance, struggle and victory of the Zimbabwean currency regime as performances of heroism and therefore, of national masculinities.

The RBZ initiative therefore, was not related only to the masculinisation or strengthening of the currency, but also to a re/production of masculinities that perform Zimbabwean nationalism. Restoring the value of money became an affective and insidious reorientation on the ‘value’ of masculinity and militarism in Zimbabwe, since the ‘victorious’ currency was equated to the nation’s heroic and militant history, symbols and figures. Threats by ‘outside forces’ to the currency’s value were positioned as a manifestation of ‘foreign’ threats on national masculinities and therefore, a disruption of nationhood. Zimbabwe’s re/invention of macho-currencies amidst a ‘struggle’ against the allegedly ‘foreign’ engineered devaluation and economic lapse falls in line with Zimbabwe’s j(g)endered nationalism: a national identity that thrives on the politics of the balls and militarism. Zimbabwe’s currency regime, especially in the post-2000 era is, therefore, a spectacle of Zimbabwean militant masculinities which are foundational to Zimbabwean nationhood. Performances of heroism and nationhood (such as the masculinisation and militarisation of the Zimbabwean currency regime) help to illustrate how citizenship, gender, and sexual scripts; and cultures and knowledges of dominance, entitlement and violence are re/produced and performed.

Re/Valuing hegemonic and violent masculinities

In Zimbabwe and many other nations, men and particular performances of masculinity are given more value than women and femininity and this explains why betrayal and weakness are often associated with women and femininity (Mawere 2019, Sithole 1970). Proverbs such as uyo murume chaiye (that one is a man), which is used to praise both men and women who would have proven to the ‘society’ that they are extra-ordinary, are part of the everyday in Zimbabwe. These help to prove the different values that are associated with men and women as well as masculinity and femininity. The feminisation and homosexualisation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and its leaders in Zimbabwe, the historical feminisation of the nationalist, Joshua Nkomo by fabricating stories that he escaped the government of Robert Mugabe while dressed in a petticoat (Mawere 2020, 2019, 2016; Nkomo 2001) exemplify metaphors of weakness and the hierarchical positioning of masculinity and femininity in Zimbabwe.

The performance of the masculinities of the Zimbabwean currency regime centralises male domination and masculine violence in nation-craft. Adding and violently-enforcing value to the Zimbabwean currency regime is an act of naturalising and normalising hegemonic and violent masculinities in Zimbabwean nation-craft. This aestheticisation of Zimbabwe’s state-craft invokes Ranciere (2006)’s ‘distribution of the sensible’, which is “…the system of divisions and boundaries that define, among other things, what is visible and audible within a particular aesthetic-political regime” (Ranciere 2006:1) and therefore makes politics performative. The cultural promotion of masculinities naturalises the subjugation of women and the feminisation of others in Zimbabwe’s game of power and discourses of development. The militarisation of the Zimbabwean currency, in line with the nation’s militarisation of heroes, extends militarism and Zimbabwe’s war ethic to the economic zone, turning livelihoods into real war zones. Vulnerable groups are drawn into war without consent, without being prepared and without the necessary resources to maneuver in situations of combat and conflict. Much literature has reflected, for example, on how women are abused, victimised, mis/represented and dishonored during wars and nation-building projects (Manganga 2011; Charumbira 2008; Chung 2006; Lewis 2004; Chadya 2003; Nhongo-Simbanegavi 2000; Anthias & Yuval-Davis 1989; Cock 1989). Understanding the Zimbabwean economy as a war zone (as shown by the militant and masculine Zimbabwean currency) thus enables us to re/think the position of women and other disempowered populations in the struggle for livelihoods.

Subverting national masculinities

There have been subversive voices contesting the state narrative of heroism, leading to a rejection of some of the people iconised by the state such as Chenjerai Hunzvi, Border Gezi and others (Mawere 2016). This counter narrative has also produced alternative heroes. Ibhetshu LikaZulu, a subversive group in Bulawayo attempted to celebrate Gwasela and Gayigusvu, ‘state dissidents’, as heroes during the National Heroes Holidays in 2009. Some MDC members allegedly ‘assassinated’ by security agents such as Tonderai Ndira (nicknamed Commander/Serge/Sergeant) have also been identified as heroes by the MDC. This demonstrates the complex ways in which people receive the hero status and reflects that people do not just accept dominant meanings that make no sense in their lives (Mawere 2016; Wilkins, 2012). The state-driven representations and performances of heroism and masculinities are ridiculed in the popular mockery of Gideon Gono’s intervention measure to fight inflation in Zimbabwe.

Gideon Gono was satirically called Giden Gn, after removing the three Os (the likeness of zeroes) in his names (Mawere 2016). This iconoclastic humour, analogous to Bakhtin (1994)’s Rabelaisian laughter visualises how ordinary people contest dominant heroism and the glaring vulgarity, simplicity, fictitious and irrationality of its masculinities. The laughter has continued throughout the years as the Zimbabwean government fictitiously gave value to bearer’s cheques, bonds, RTGs that it has used as currency or legal tender, with at one point in time, the 1 bond being at par with 1 US dollar. The fictitious nature and instability of the Zimbabwean currencies, is ironically reflected by the fiction and instability of the hero identity. This is shown by the state’s controversial inclusions of the likes of Joseph Chinotimba, Chenjerai Hunzvi and Border Gezi as heroes and the undressing of people like Joice Mujuru and former president Robert Mugabe as befitting heroes as a result of ugly factional fights within Zanu-Pf (Mawere 2019, 2016; Mugabe 2001).

In the context of the hardships that have been experienced by ordinary Zimbabweans especially from the 2000s, even to the extent of laughing at the folly of those who considered themselves technocrats like Gono, and the state which considered itself powerful, masculine and invincible, ordinary people have emerged as survivors. Willems (2010) discusses how a joke that was circulated at the eve of year 2007 contested the narrow definition of struggle and heroism, by reflecting how ordinary people were the real heroes, since they managed to survive economic and other livelihood challenges despite unfavorable odds. This invites us to problematise notions of heroism and masculinity in Zimbabwe and the kind of nationhood they re/produce and perform. The heroism and masculinity of Zimbabwe’s currency has proved to be fictitious and simplistic as reflected by gross economic instabilities. This also ruptures notions of heroism and masculinity that are at the center of Zimbabwe’s national construction.

Conclusion: Many ways to kill a cat

Zimbabwean masculinities are re/presented and re/produced in the popular, in symbols and objects that are part of the everyday. Heroism has broadly been coined with Zimbabwean nationhood and masculinities. I have argued that Zimbabwe’s currency regime has been turned into a war zone where the nation expresses or performs and re/produces its masculinities and nationhood, naturalising and performing hierarchical and gendered identities. In many ways, these masculinities have been re/imagined in silos of violence and have violated the livelihoods of ordinary people, especially women who are culturally given liminal spaces in a nation where violent masculinities are normalised and central for livelihoods. The masculinisation of Zimbabwe’s currency regime is therefore an ideological warfare to its actual dispute with the West (foreign powers), but also a performance and naturalisation of its gendered script in nation re/construction. In the midst of state performances of heroism and masculinity, however, it is possible to rupture dominant knowledges and to re/think subversive and dissenting, bottom-up heroism and masculinities that offer positions of refusal and give agentive power to those that are dominated and at the mercy of state manipulation. The failure of the state’s and Gono’s monetary strategy, ‘Zero to Hero’ is laughable and undresses state pretentions. This failure urges us to re/think masculinities and militarism as foundational to society and central to state-craft.


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[1] This is a veneration of military masculinities in Zimbabwe and originates in the Shona ancestor, Murenga Sororenzou, who was a hunter, great warrior, war genius, war-song composer and nation-builder (Vambe 2004).


Food, symbolism and gendered identities in Zimbabwean Politics: Mama Grace’s ice cream and the 2017 Zanu-Pf leadership change

Introduction: Food, an inquiry

I seek to provoke deeper inquiries into the centrality of food, food substances, food and the spectacular, and ways of and the sub-texts of serving and consuming food, as well as the ways of imagining food in Zimbabwean politics. Globally, food has become an increasingly contested site for re/thinking about power, imagi/nations, re/distribution, access and agency. This work focuses on the symbolic, cultural and political significance of the ice cream served by Mama Grace Mugabe, (Zimbabwe’s former First Lady) during rallies. The acceptances and rejections of the ice cream, and Mama’s love, care, visibility and naturalized role in the nation graphically reflected the emergent factions within Zanu-Pf and also helped to widen them. To this extent, food, and specifically, the ice cream, acted as an agent of change leading to the ‘new dispensation’ led by Emmerson Mnangagwa. In addition, the ice cream or food serving in general, sprung as an agent of gendered identities as well as their re/production.

Food and the everyday

In Zimbabwe and elsewhere, food emanates as central to the socio, religious, economic and political aesthetics of groups. Food, consumption habits and culinary rituals are rooted in and exhibit social symbolisms and meanings related to kinships, friendships, political relations and class (Edwin 2008). In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, there are “various meanings that food, eating, and hunger acquire in the portrayal of Okonkwo” (Olufunwa 2000:1). The late Zimbabwean controversial writer, Dambudzo Marechera, in most of his works, especially The House of Hunger, focuses on the centrality of food in households and the emanating disorder and violence that results in the absence of food, or its unhealthy and unappetising state. Marechera shows the vulnerability and vulgarity of those who are weak, poor and feminized through food distribution and food disorders. As the narrator says “I couldn’t have stayed on in that House of Hunger where every morsel of sanity was snatched from you the way some kinds of bird snatch food from the very mouths of babes” (Marechera 1978:1). He goes on to show the politics of food even playing out in the imagery of violent gastral outlets and how that relates to the socio-economic, political and religious facets and a human di/satisfaction that goes beyond the physical. Among other works, Coming of the Dry Season (1972) and Waiting for the Rain (1981) by Charles Mungoshi imagine the importance of food through an imagination of droughts or dry seasons, poverty and deprivations. However, an analysis of the central themes in the above works reveal the concepts of hunger and food as going beyond just the physiological as hunger and deprivations relate to identity politics and issues of lack of freedoms and disempowerments. As Lewis (2016:6) argues, “Since eating is perceived to fill the place of some other desire, hunger is seen to result not only from food deprivation, but from other denied or withheld yearnings.”

Apart from being a means of life sustenance, food is also a system of communication, a body of images, a decorum of usages, situations and behaviour (Barthes 1975). In the African pre-colonial period, food was important to traditional events and meetings. In the Ibgo society in Nigeria and elsewhere, a kola nut is used by a host as a ritual for welcoming guests into his home. This is a powerful symbol of mutual respect, hospitality, friendship and community (Edwin 2008). This view is supported by Kammampoal and Laar (2019) who posit that the Ibgo consider the kola nut as very important in formal and informal gatherings and has enormous cultural capital in satisfying socio-religious functions. It is used as a token of friendship, benevolence, and honor, and is given to a visitor as a sign of hospitality, personality and civility, making it central to Igbo livelihood. The renowned writer and critique, Chinua Achebe makes the kola nut ritual central to his writings by evoking that, ‘He who brings kola brings life.’ Relatedly, Achebe notes; “A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it from his own compound” (Achebe 1994:166-7). Though the language is patriarchal and centred on a man’s world, these proverbs are very powerful in revealing that food, food rituals and gatherings have social, religious, economic and political meanings and relevance. In South Africa, research on food reveals there are gendered implications of access to food and gendered labour manipulations in food production and preparation (Lewis 2016). In Zimbabwe, the Shona proverb, Ukama igasva hwunosadziswa nokudya (relationships remain incomplete until you partake of a meal) reveals the importance of food during gatherings and how the serving of food is important to kinship, friendship, loyalty and harmony. Food is central in, among others, traditional ceremonies, family gatherings, funerals and weddings. This links to Freud (1938)’s and Madeira (1989)’s sentiments that eating and drinking with someone symbolically confirms social community and mutual obligations and that food performs social interaction, status and acts both positive and negative social relationships. In the same sense, I see Grace Mugabe’s serving of ice cream at rallies as a political and gender aesthetic.

Food and Zanu-Pf’s politics of the spectacular 

Historically, Zanu-Pf has used food to entice, especially the disadvantaged and impoverished people to vote for it rather than voting for opposition parties. Banking on its ability to provide food, Zanu-Pf situated itself as the mother-provider making sure that children in her nest do not starve, or do not have feelings of starvation and negligence. Those children seen as rebels or refusing to embrace Zanu-Pf are denied food provisions and considered worth dying in a way that evokes Mamdani (1996)’s notion of citizen and subject where state sovereignty use biopolitics to create some kind of ‘death worlds’ for those termed non-citizens. The politicization of food in the context of climate-change induced drought as seen through Zanu-Pf’s selective distribution of food along party lines can be used to exemplify this. Opposition supporters are denied access; they are deemed undeserving by virtue of their political identity – they deserve to die. Food politics is therefore part of the manipulation, electoral malpractices and bribery prevalent in Zimbabwean politics.

More interesting, however, is that food has also featured in Zanu-Pf internal politics, particularly its 2017 factional politics, especially in the context where Grace Mugabe (a member of the G40 Zanu-Pf faction), assumed the role of mother-provider in her contest for power and authority with the Lacoste faction headed by Emmerson Mnangagwa. The 2017 Zanu-Pf factional fights therefore, mirror the symbolism and cultural politics of food in Zimbabwean politics and Zanu-Pf politics in particular. Thus, food was instrumental as the basis for surveillance, for getting to know the loyal and disloyal. As Grace Mugabe served ice cream at rallies and other events, many expressed gratitude towards Mama’s generosity and made public spectacles of gratitude, satisfaction and loyalty to Mama’s love, care and visibility. However, emphasis on eating Mama’s provisions belittled many in the process who then became fed up with Mama and rebelled. This became a performance of refusal and rejection to toe the line, a reflection of oppositional voices and dissent and has therefore been a metaphor for change.

Apart from food being used for rallying people behind particular parties, groups and individuals, food has been used as a show of power, a demonstration of gendered and sexual identities. This complex has occurred in a context where the Zimbabwean ‘national family’ has been seen as “an imaginative construct of power relations” (Hunt 1992:196). It is sensible to argue that food has discursive underpinnings in patriarchy and issues of power and resource re/distribution. For some time, Grace Mugabe found agency and political manoeuvring within Zanu-Pf politics by re/producing and performing her gendered role of feeding and caring. However, considering Grace’s fall from grace, challenging simplistic ideas about agency forces us to question the entrapment in patriarchal networks of food sources, food re/production and food re/distribution that link with abilities to control food access and be active political agents.

It is therefore imperative to focus on the discursive underpinnings of food. The ice cream narrative reflects how a naturalized and normalized order of mother provisions, which itself is anchored on patriarchy, is used in the contest for power and authority in Zimbabwe. Food, and in this case, ice cream is packed with massive symbolic and cultural politics associated with Zanu-Pf’s politics of the spectacular and Zimbabwean nationhood. There is therefore a close relationship between food and speech (Olufunwa 2000), hence food and food ways constitute discourse and discursive subjects.

Ice cream and mother/ing the nation

Considering that nations are recurrently figured out through the iconography of familial and domestic spaces (Mawere 2019, 2016; McClintock 1993; Yuval-Davies 1997), Grace Mugabe was imagined as the mother of the Zimbabwean nation by virtue of being the First Lady. Motherhood in the Zimbabwean cultural context is associated with many positive attributes. The worthiness of a mother is framed within the mother’s ability to care for and feed her children. Grace’s distribution of food visualizes and memorializes motherhood and mother-child intimacy.

Grace owns a huge dairy farm in Mazowe, Mashonaland Central. At this farm, other dairy products such as yoghurt, and ice cream are produced. It is important to locate Grace Mugabe’s power and influence within Zanu-Pf and the nation in her innovative projects such as food production and processing at her farm. To some extent, Grace’s efforts speaks to food sovereignty as it relates to women appropriation of food, the value of women’s contributions and the recognition of their contribution to production (Sachs 2013). At the peak of Zanu-Pf’s factional battles, Grace Mugabe addressed many ‘meet the people rallies’ around the country and considering her role as the mother of the nation, the ‘meet the people rallies’ were avenues where the mother met her children and distinguished between the loyal and the disloyal. Zanu-Pf leadership was expected to attend these rallies and participate accordingly. Failure to attend was seen as a sign of insubordination and not supporting the mother’s efforts to assemble, watch over, nurture and take care of the children and one could be labelled a saboteur of the national project.

When Grace Mugabe fed people at rallies with ice cream, itself a by-product of milk, she attained the symbolic role of a mother feeding and caring for her children and a national mother feeding and caring for the Zimbabwean nation. Breast feeding is considered as a physical, psychological, economical and symbolic presence of a mother. Motherhood is associated with love, care, compassion and sustenance which allow individuals and nations to grow. To this extent, negative motherhood is associated with individual and national death. The ice cream given at rallies came from the Mugabes’ Gushungo Dairy farm, which however is more associated with Grace to underwrite, naturalize and normalize her gendered role as a mother caring for and feeding her children as well as a mother in touch with the soil and therefore with positive femininities. The meanings of land (the Gushungo farm) and the re/productive body of women (Grace) as the source of food and national sustenance is spectacularly demonstrated by Grace Mugabe’s distribution of ice cream from the Gushungo farm, giving women’s labour in general and Grace in particular, some agentive power. Through the distribution of the ice cream made at her farm, Grace shows her industrious, entrepreneurial and innovative skills and therefore, her ability to perform her naturalized role as a mother who takes care and feeds the nation.

One is forced to re/imagine the Gushungo farm as Grace Mugabe’s extended breasts from where the nation gains sustenance and livelihood, again buttressing the dominant gender categories in the re/constructions of nationhood but also subversively re/imagining the power of women in their marginalized identities. The ice cream both symbolically stands for breast milk and also as a symbol of modernity. Although this links well with Grace’s acquired identity as a modern woman associated with flamboyance, it also positions her as a powerful and innovative woman who moves beyond traditional food ways.

Anyone who fed on the ice cream was symbolically feeding on Grace Mugabe’s breasts, an act which reflected the recognition of her motherhood and her role as the mother of the nation. Since Grace Mugabe was associated with negative motherhood (Mawere 2019), this performance of her children’s loyalty, contentment and happiness helped to dispel negative images. In providing and feeding her children, Grace managed to “create sustaining relational bonds, generating a sense of security, wellbeing and contentment” (Lewis 2016:3) for herself and those whom she fed. Through the control of food distribution, which basically is a feminine and undermined role, Grace attained power and authority over Zanu-Pf and Zimbabwe, she because a central point of both life and death in Zimbabwean and Zanu-Pf politics. To some extent, this speaks to “how productive freedoms [and power] are embedded in socially neglected practices” (Lewis 2016:2-3) that are associated with the domestic space. Within the domestic space, Grace Mugabe acquired some agentive powers that made her central to both Zanu-Pf and Zimbabwean politics. Thus, by performing her socially expected role as a mother, Grace attained power and authority and managed to perform surveillance on the nation which for some time, enabled her to secure and protect her power and ambitions.

However, “Unhealthy eating habits can be seen as a form of ‘hunger’, an embodied ‘emptiness’ that results from eating food that is disconnected from relationships of responsiveness, care and intimacy (Lewis 2016). Following this argument, poisoned or contaminated food substances such as is alleged by the Lacoste faction on Grace Mugabe’s ice cream are characteristic of the hunger and the emptiness of Zimbabwean nationalism as they are indicative of self-centredness, extractive and impersonal tendencies rather than mutuality, unity and communal. Refusing Grace’s ice-cream was a performance of the rejection of a poisoned motherhood and a poisoned nationalism.

The Ice cream, Lacoste victimhood and poisoned nationhood

Positioning themselves as victims of ice cream poisoning, and a poisoned motherhood, Mnangagwa and the Zanu-Pf Lacoste faction did not see Grace’s poisoning as only physical on targeted bodies, but also as symbolic of national poisoning and destruction caused by a woman who had broken boundaries. The poisoned ice cream or food offered by the mother of the nation alludes to national food insecurity, which would negate national growth, especially within the narratives of Zimbabwean nationalism where food and re/production is central to nationhood. Thus, the absence of positive connections between the mother and the nation is mirrored through the poisoned ice cream. The poisoning or imagined poisoning of Mnangagwa’s body is characteristic of the poisoning of the national body by Grace Mugabe. Due to her alliances with the G40, who were considered undesirable elements, Grace Mugabe had become contaminated (Mawere 2019) and as a mother of the nation, her breast milk (and ice cream) was now poisoning and destroying the nation. What is more interesting is that ice cream poisoning situates Grace and women into the dominant discourses that characterize women as witches and witchcraft as a feminine characteristic (Mawere 2019; Gaidzanwa 1985).

As a response to the poisoning, immediate action (such as done to Mnangagwa to detox and save him) was supposed to be taken to detox and save the Zimbabwean nation, hence the coup d’état framed on Operation Restore Legacy which took the nation by surprise was swiftly carried out by the military junta. Even though Mnangagwa might not have been poisoned by Grace or poisoned through the ice cream, and even if his illness was just some drama, the poisonous ice cream became a metaphor for rejecting Grace’s love and care, and Grace as a mother of the nation. For the Lacoste faction, Grace’s breast was poisonous and produced poisonous milk which if the nation had continued to drink, it could have been fatally contaminated. This discourse is made reasonable through Grace Mugabe’s association with the G40, group which had been virtually homosexualized, dislocated from the Chimurenga ethic and ultimately regarded national pollutants (Mawere 2019, 2016). Thus, the same source and driver of Grace’s power, which is food distribution, was altered through a discourse of poison which sensitized that the seemingly source of life was the source of death, that the nation was drinking from a poisoned breast.

In addition to the allegations of Grace poisoning both Mugabe and Mnangagwa as fitting in with witchcraft troupes, there is also a ‘femme fatale’ idea (often depicted in film noir), that is associated with Grace. This idea positions women as tempting seductresses and their offerings as ‘toxic’ to men, as they offer a ‘dangerous sexuality’, causing powerful men to fall (Sathyamurthy 2016). The femme fatale relates to the Shona proverb, mukadzi munaku akasaroya anoba (if a beautiful woman is not a witch, she is a thief), which basically associates beauty and seduction with danger. This is interesting in relation to Grace allegedly seducing Mugabe and possibly ‘leading him astray’. Characterized as a loose, urban and flamboyant woman and nicknamed marujata or Gucci Grace, before and in her marriage to Mugabe, and postured as an adulteress (Mawere 2019), Grace Mugabe is associated with a poisonous sexuality that enables her to dominate and control men. Defying dominant feminine sexualities which are posited as private, pure and loyal provides reason for the ‘poisonous’ label given to Grace and provides justification for her rejection as mother of the nation. A revelation of female eroticism is out of touch with nation-craft as seen through various attempts to control the bodies of women and to keep women in specific spaces (Mawere 2019, 2016). It is in this sense that Operation Restore Legacy was also an operation to ‘cleanse’ womanhood and restore women to their ‘proper’ places. The refusal of Grace Mugabe’s offering or dish by the Lacoste faction can therefore be read as a refusal to be trapped by Grace’s ‘poisonous’ sexualities and an effort to decontaminate national motherhood, which is the source of national livelihood and survival.

Conclusion: The paradox

It is essential “to make food and the politics of food visible…as a way to tackle directly issues of patriarchy, capitalism, the ecological crisis, power and agency in our own spaces, and to truly decolonise food” (Andrews and Lewis 2017:7). Grace Mugabe fell into the trap of dominant discourses that provide binary spaces for men and women, and that locate the joys of motherhood in domestic spaces such as caring for and loving children. It is crucial to know that it is this effort to submit herself to the expectations of motherhood and the dictates of patriarchy that contributes to and trigger narratives that disqualify her motherhood. By trying to impress and perform the gendered role of providing as expected of motherhood, Grace’s efforts suffer a backlash as the same expectation which she had fulfilled and marked her as a mother and powerful woman became instrumental to her enemies. The same food, or ice cream which she provided to the children became a weapon in the hands of the Lacoste faction as narratives that Mnangagwa was given poisoned ice cream circulated. This meant that the nation’s motherhood was poisonous and therefore dangerous to the nation’s being. The same ice cream which Grace used to claim and perform motherhood and attain power became a metaphor for her failure as a mother, leading to the collapse of her power, that of her husband, Robert Mugabe, setting the pace for Mnangagwa’s new dispensation.

This article was first published on Gender Justice, a CSA&G project.


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New publication: Gendered and Sexual Imagi(nations), the 2018 Zimbabwean E(r)ections and the Aftermath.

The CSA&G is proud to announce the publication of our latest monograph: Gendered and Sexual Imagi(nations), the 2018 Zimbabwean E(r)ections and the Aftermath from the Gender Justice project.

Gendered and Sexual Imagi(nations) attempts to answer questions that have been central to scholarship within the humanities. Drawing on the concepts which Schneider refers to as the basic building blocks of society, i.e. “the quartet of kinship, economics, politics, and religion”, Mawere explores, on the one hand, the historiography of the Zimbabwean state, specifically the Mugabe era, and the particular ways in which it has been underpinned by a deeply rooted system of patriarchal values. On the other hand, this text asks questions which most authors have shied away from asking. Rather than constructing a perspective which imagines leaders of ZANU-PF and the MDC in natural opposition and fundamentally different because of divergent political visions, Gendered and Sexual Imagi(nations) asks its readers to take note of the commonalities shared by male leaders of these parties, and, in fact, held by most male politicians.

In the first part of this monograph, Mawere tells the story of three women – Joice Mujuru, Grace Mugabe and Thokozani Khupe – and how ultimately these women were deemed unfit to occupy the political sphere because of their gender. The text highlights that it was because of their gender, rather than owing to their actions, that they were regarded as undesirable in the political terrain. Through a discursive analysis of the 2018 presidential campaigns, Gendered and Sexual Imagi(nations) draws attention to the misogynism that characterised both Chamisa’s and Mnangagwa’s performances. Throughout their campaigns these men drew explicitly on notions of hegemonic masculinity, naturalised gender roles and their own sexual (in)abilities.

Mawere compels us to take a step back and to ask whether social justice is possible while women continue to be marginalised, vilified and objectified. The ways in which we imagine possible futures are crucial for those of us who work within the space of social and gender justice. Gendered and Sexual Imagi(nations) reminds us, however, that we need to do more than imagine futures in which the men at the top change while the fabric of society remains the same. Instead, it asks us to imagine a society that appears, thinks, and acts in radically different ways to the ones that we know. We need to ask whether and how we can imagine a society in which women are not relegated to the domestic sphere, and where women who challenge the status quo are not labelled immoral, irresponsible and irrational. However, this would require dismantling of the patriarchal ideologies that prevail as yet another generation of young men flex their muscles, calling for the strongest rooster to step forward.

Mawere cover