via Struggle is not a destination, but a river that runs forever | zimbabweland 10 August 2015
These lines come from a poem – ‘Tribal Wars’ – by Comrade Freedom Nyamubaya who has sadly died at the age of 55. She was a powerful poet, an ex-combatant and a passionate advocate for land reform and rural development. She joined the liberation war in 1975, abandoning secondary school for the struggle, and later became a field operations commander with ZANLA. Later her poetry provided important insights into this period, and she took up the struggle after Independence with a deep commitment to development. Appropriately, it’s Zimbabwe’s Heroes Day today.
Along with the loss of Chenjerai Hove, we have lost two greats of Zimbabwean literature; superb commentators on life and politics, and inspirations for many of us.
When I heard of Cde Freedom’s passing I found my copy of On the Road Again, the anthology published in 1986 by ZPH. It is a slim volume, so it took a while to find, but I read it all again in a sitting. Even though written 30 years ago, the poems remain highly charged, and deeply pertinent today.
Cde Freedom was not shy to criticize those in power. She did not glorify the role of a freedom fighter. Indeed many of her poems are harrowing accounts, showing how women fighters were so often mistreated.
In ‘The Dog and the Hunter’, she explores betrayal by a new elite, and how some take the rich pickings, while others despite the hard work and commitment just get thrown the bones. In ‘A Mysterious Marriage’, she complains:
An old woman saw Freedom’s passing shadow
Walking through the crowd,
Freedom to the gate
All the same, they celebrated for Independence’
Here is the poem that gave the title to the anthology.
Nine months in the womb
Innocent and comfortable,
Never again will I rest.
Always on the go to nowhere,
Since I left that safe haven.
I creep, I walk,
Many times I run,
But most times I get pushed around.
A student in the morning,
A teacher mid-morning,
A builder at noon,
A slave in the afternoon,
A dog at dinner:
A combatant the rest of my life.
School has holidays,
Workers days off,
Dogs rest too,
But struggles to go on, go on.
Still on the road,
One endless journey.
A 2009 appreciation of her poetry can be found here, along with some more of her poems on the same Poetry International site.
As in the lines quoted in the title of this blog, she did not regard Independence as the end of the struggle. Indeed her commitment to farming and development was translated into the creation of Management Outreach Training Services for Rural and Urban Development (MOTSRUD). I met Cde Freedom once back in the 1980s, when the promise of Independence was still vibrant, and I was working with another inspiring product of the liberation war, Zephaniah Phiri.
Cde Freedom has been buried on her farm near Chinoyi a provincial hero; but even her passing continues to generate controversy. Her visions for Independent Zimbabwe have still not been realised. The struggle continues, like the river, forever.