Mai Musodzi – Ngomakurira 53

‘She was poised to compete with commercial farmers’

The constant phrase, toitei? (what can we do?) with its response hapana (nothing) is becoming our habitual attitude. Hopes that once resided in civic society or political

opposition have melted. Hopelessness has taken over. There is a feeling our leaders no longer respect us. They are now laughing at us. They have us where they want us: helpless and submissive. The best we can do is simply to survive and wait for better days.

If there is some truth in this diagnosis we need some symbols of hope to lift our spirits. We know there are women today – Netsai Mushonga, for example – who do give us hope. But sometimes their names and deeds get buried in the mass of news and documentation which is our daily fare and which lulls us into directionless confusion.

Perhaps it is good to remember that there were other times when other figures stood up against the prevailing climate of hopelessness. Japanese historian Tsuneo Yoshikuni has made a study of Mai Musodzi, a resident of Harare in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. Over half the entire population (3,837) of the location turned out to her funeral in 1952. The African Weekly of the 6th August that year called her ‘amai to every African in the township.’

Musodzi was born in about 1885 in the Gomba valley south of the present Mazowe Dam and her family was part of Chief Hwata’s people who were active in the first chimurenga. She lost her parents in the fighting and sought refuge with Chief Chinamhora who placed her under the care of the Dominican sisters at the newly opened Chishawasha mission. There she learnt many practical skills and met her future husband, Frank Kashimbo Ayema, a member of the BSAP and who came from Barotseland.

The 1920s were difficult times for blacks as the colonial government squeezed out competitive entrepreneurs. In 1924 Musodzi was already producing, ‘five bags of mealies, five bags of monkey nuts, five bags of rice, 50 pumpkins and 35 bags of rapoko.’ She was poised to compete with commercial farmers. And what is more, her example was being followed by other women who were despairing of their marriages and looking for divorces as their husbands did not share their wages with their families. An elderly Hararian told Yoshikuni, ‘most marriages survived because of this woman.’ She helped them to be self-reliant.

Mai Musodzi went on to start the African Women’s Clubs and she introduced ‘true nursing’ through the Red Cross. A few lines here cannot due justice to this woman but it is clear that she was an inspiration to the Harare community for over three decades. Even the Queen recognized it when she invited her to dine at Government House in 1947.

Mai Musodzi is not included when the heroes of Zimbabwe are recalled, nor is she buried in their Acre. But she gave an example to her generation because she got up and did things that lit a fire in others. When the fire blazes there is no sign of the original match – but there was one.

Post published in: Opinions

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