October 18, 2022, by ahzsa

Dr. Kate Law examines women and nation-building in Zimbabwe

Questions of belonging, particularly in relation to the process of decolonisation in Southern Africa, remain an enduring research interest of mine. Yet scholars of the end of the empire have been remarkably slow in embracing gender as a serious category of analysis. Challenging this orthodoxy, my 2020 open-access article, ‘“We wanted to be free as a nation, and we wanted to be free as women”: Decolonisation, Nationalism and Women’s Liberation in Zimbabwe, 1979-1985’ opens up a new way to understand one of the most intractable problems that a newly independent nation encounters: the dissonance between the rhetoric of a revolutionary movement and its subsequent treatment of women in nationalist projects. Based on interviews, archival research carried out in periodicals, newspapers, and Hansard, this article – through a case study of post-colonial Zimbabwe – examines the ways in which women were expected to consume, but not produce, new forms of nationalist culture in Zimbabwe in the 1980s. Exploring women’s variegated roles during the country’s war of independence, the article argues that many women believed that their participation in national liberation would be a precursor to a broader programme of cultural and societal emancipation. Yet, as is shown, governmental thinking emphasised the importance of so-called ‘traditional’ gender roles once the transition to independence had been achieved. In particular, the grim reality of the situation was unambiguously shown just three years into independence through ‘Operation Clean-Up’, whereby thousands of women in Zimbabwe’s main cities of Harare and Bulawayo were indiscriminately detained with state machinery arguing that the women were prostitutes, vagrants and beggars. A blatant effort to curtail women’s autonomy in urban spaces, the machinations of ‘Operation Clean-up’ demonstrated an uneasy coherence between colonial and post-colonial thinking regarding the ‘appropriate’ place for women in the new nation. In a broader sense, my article encourages historians of decolonisation to think beyond the transfer of power, and rather focus on longer historical processes that can help to explain the incomplete, fitful and contested legacies of decolonisation, such as those personified through the exigencies of women’s liberation. Anyone interested in these issues should watch Ingrid Sinclair’s 1992 film, Flame, an unflinching look at the plight of women combatants in the country’s revolutionary struggle. From 2023, we will also engage these issues in my new, third- year module, “From Federation to Liberation: Zimbabwe, 1953-1980.”

Link to full article.

Posted in Uncategorized