Black History Month: Celebration Through the Lens of a Zimbabwean Female Liberation Fighter, by Shingi Hopkins

Maggie Caroline Katsande, former liberation fighter

Black History Month is a celebration of outstanding excellence from the black community. In the spirit of celebration, this blog explores the feeling of jubilation amongst female liberation fighters of the Second Chimurenga of 1965-79. The Second Chimurenga resulted in a ceasefire which liberated Zimbabwe from the white British minority government of Ian Smith. Thus, there were two critical moments of celebration for those involved in the liberation struggle: first, the end of the war marked by the ceasefire as a result of signing the Lancaster Agreement 1979 and, second, 18 April, the official date of when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe after the British-supervised independence election of 1980, which resulted in Robert Mugabe becoming the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. 

I asked a former fighter what celebration means to her when she remembers these two events. Maggie Caroline Katsande, who joined the movement at 15, stated the following about what these dates represented:

‘When the ceasefire was called, we were not pleased. We thought it was a trap. There were rumours that when we arrived at the camp, we were all going to be killed point-blank. So it wasn’t a happy day’.

The imagery of the ceasefire in Zimbabwe’s collective memories is that it was filled with song and dance. The triumph and strength of those who were responsible for the country’s liberation is vividly represented in videos, pictures and books on the liberation struggle. In reality, after years of living in the terra incognita of Mozambique working as a political commissar, trust was not easy, and celebration was not immediate.  

In contrast, her memory of the 18 April celebrations (when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe) was filled with the hope of a new dawn for the nation she for which she fought. Finally, there was a purpose to the journey she had embarked on several years before. Maggie continues: 

‘We were happy, but we were still vigilant because we were taught to be always vigilant. Although we were on edge because we were commanders in a group, there was a sense of security, so we celebrated in full. Our hearts were full of happiness about what we had achieved. We cried tears of joy, but we were still ready to fight if anything happened’. 

Looking at the current Zimbabwe Maggie states: 

‘When thinking of Zimbabwe today, we celebrate because we managed to see a free nation. At the same time  sad because my fellow Zimbabweans who fought with us did not manage to see Zimbabwe today. They never made it out of the war and are not here to see it. Therefore, celebrating is bitter-sweet’. 

Celebration during Black History Month brings up a complex mix of emotions. We celebrate the accomplishments of the movement of equality for black and ethnic minorities, but do not forget that for us to celebrate today others had to suffer. As questions continue about the long-term impact of the changes professed during the second wave of Black Lives Matter and meaningful representations of diversity & inclusion in practice, we can see parallels with the complex, mixed emotions Maggie felt as she celebrated liberation in our experiences of celebration during this Black History Month.

Shingi Hopkins is a Phd student in African History at the University of Reading. She specialises in Zimbabwean history during and after colonialism with a keen focus on the feminist movements and ideals throughout that time.

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