Date: Sat, 24 May 97 10:28:59 CDT
From: rich%pencil@PSUVM.PSU.EDU (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Women Ex-Freedom Fighters Meet in Africa
/** headlines: 139.0 **/
Give us our piece of the pie
By Lewis Gaba, AfricaNews, issue 13, April 1997
Feeling unappreciated and marginalised in post-independence Southern Africa, women ex-freedom fighters held a convention early this year in Johanesburg, South Africa, where they resolved to fight back.
Paulina Matens Nkunda risked life and limb in the struggle for freedom in Mozambique against Portuguese colonialism. An ex-army major, Paulina is among the women ex-freedom fighters from the southern Africa region who attended the first convention of the region's female ex-freedom fighters in Johannesburg, South Africa, early this year.
Thousands of her former comrades-in arms were, however, not so lucky. Thousands of them who saw active combat against colonial rule in Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola and South Africa are either dead or wallowing in poverty and disease.
Though no official figures are available, it is estimated that there are about 200,000 women ex-freedom fighters in the southern African region. And only a tiny fraction of these number hold high positions in the armies of the countries they fought for, the government or even the private sector.
In Mozambique, for instance, Paulina says there are just about 200 women ex-combatants left in the army. Thousands of her former colleagues have left the army frustrated and dejected to start an uncertain civilian life in the countryside.
She blames the Mozambican government for being insensitive to the plight of women ex-fighters. It (the government) has completely forgotten about the women ex-freedom fighters, she complains.
Women ex-freedom fighters found themselves at a great disadvantage compared to their male colleagues after the struggle was won because of their high levels of illiteracy. Worse, as Thandi Modise, a South African woman ex-combatant in the struggle against Apartheid, men freedom fighters had "a patronising attitude toward their female colleagues that pervaded all liberation movements."
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of the South African President Nelson Mandela, attributes the marginalisation of women ex-freedom fighters in decision-making in post-independence Africa to a culture that trivialises the role of women in society.
The stereotype of the woman as feeble and fickle, the participants noted, had permeated all levels of society to the detriment of women ex-freedom fighters particularly in the army.
Ms Madikizela-Mandela, however, sees culture and tradition merely as excuses by the independence governments not to deliver on their promises. But as our other story elsewhere in this issue on Zimbabwean ex-freedom fighters points out, it is not just women ex-freedom fighter who are wallowing in poverty and dejection: men ex- fighters too seem to have their fare share of crises after demobilisation.
The plight of the women ex-freedom fighters is made worse by the fact that most end up as farmers after demobilisation. And in the southern Africa region, land mines have turned milllions of hectares of otherwise productive land into killing fields. The Southern African Women's Ex-freedom Fighters Networking Committee is advocating for speedy demining of the region and settlement of the victims of armed conflicts.
Of the 17 countries worldwide affected by landmines the scourge of landmines, seven of them are in Africa. The southern Africa region is estimated to have about 20 million land mines with Angola taking the lion's share of this instrument of death and maiming. Landmines recognise no ceasefire and long after conflicts have ended, they continue to maim and kill the innocent, render farmland unusable and disrupt transport and other sectors of productive life.
Worldwide, it is estimated that someone steps on amine every 20 minutes. In Mozambique, about one million landmines remain. The other countries in Africa's badly affected list are Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Indeed, every country in the Southern Africa region except Lesotho and Mauritius has had landmine incidents.
It costs between US$ 300 - 1,000 to clear a landmine and the Networking Committee says it will mobilise resources to assist victims of armed conflicts in the region. The Committee will liaise with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the UN and NGOs to monitor the effects of armed conflicts in the region particularly on women and children and conscietise governments about the need for long-term measures to end conflicts.
Indeed, the participants resolved be represented in the on-going efforts to resolve the conflict in Zaire. Zaire is presently caught up in a civil war pitting the Banyamulenge rebels attacking from the east and ailing president Mobutu Sese Seko's demotivated army.
The rebel advance has captured most of eastern Zaire and analysts expect that the Zairean capital, Kinshasa could be in rebels hands before the close of this year. The address for the Southern Africa Women's Ex-freedom Fighters Networking Committee is C/o Thandi Modise, The African national Congress Women's League Department, P.O Box 61884 Marshalltown 2107; Fax 27-11-330 7144; Tel 27-11-330 7143 Johannesburg South Africa.