I can’t help but ponder over the influence of one almost forgotten Zimbabwean woman. Luphi Mushayakarara – the late.
If you sought rational thinking, provocative analysis and objective criticism tinged with courageous cynical confrontation, you could not have looked any further than writer, publisher, political activist, mother, businessperson, daughter, sister and scholar Luphi. She was an amazing oasis of literary and activist innovation.
For those like me who met her late in our lives, we were amazed and inspired by the depth with which she perceived and defended liberty, willing to confront and contradict with her former liberation comrades in pursuit of simple truth. The power of women was at the core of her activism – preaching their virtues in her monthly magazine, Everyhome, with unyielding consistency. As if that was not enough, Luphi established the Institute for the Advancement of Freedom [IAF] that became the local centre of liberal excellence and the cradle of student activism. By the time she was co-opted into the ‘journalistic hall of fame,’ millions of Zimbabwe Independent readers had already put their seal of approval on her candidature in part because of her insightful, tell it all weekly column. Yet this is only half the story about Luphi.
In one way, I am happy that her journey to Harvard and eventual passing on in USA protected her from witnessing Zimbabwe’s disappearance in the plughole of political and economic mismanagement. It is hard to see how she would have been kept out of Robert Mugabe’s prisons, for I know, although Edison Zvobgo lured her to Chidyausiku’s fateful constitutional commission from the National Constitutional Assembly, Luphi would have continued to agitate for a perfect liberal democracy. Although I had been involved in protest art and writing since mid-1980s, I myself was a beneficiary of IAF’s progressive brand of liberal critiques, a journey that took me from Luphi’s humble Eastlea base to the glitzy capitals of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Cologne, Casablanca and Washington DC. It was her who told me that the difference between a good and bad writer is one thing – the truth. It was Luphi who warned me the Robert Mugabe-inspired ZANU-PF rule would eventually degenerate into an unforgiving, vengeful dictatorship that would leave no stone unturned in pursuit of lustful political power.
My encounter with Luphi’s readers in Everyhome magazine offered me a rare perspective of how women think and why they should be respected. She gave me one responsibility – to plan, coordinate and run the Everyhome ‘readers forum,’ a monthly gathering of women opinion and policy makers to share challenges and solutions to life’s issues. I harbour lasting memories on great women I either met during my work with Luphi, or later in life as my political activism gathered critical momentum. Women are but a great gift to mankind by God. Their beauty, charm and intelligence are forever etched in the depth of the conscience of my mind. They have to be protected, nurtured, loved, respected and given a chance to lead. I know what I mean. I have a wife, mother and five older sisters. It was Luphi who taught me to respect the choice of a woman, that when she says no, she means no. I have learnt not to do anything for, about or to a woman until I am sure there is one hundred and one percent consent on her part.
I have also known, spoke, worked and shared moments with great Zimbabwean ladies in my life, some who I met through Luphi. Ruth Chinamano, Grace Kwinje, Trudy Stevenson, Gloria Mukombachoto, Beatrice Mtetwa, Hilda Sibanda, Everjoy Win, Priscilla Misihairabwi, Margaret Dongo, Joyce Kazembe, Tracey Coventry, Jestina Mukoko, Monica Mutsvangwa, Busi Ncube, Ennie Chipembere, Amy Tsanga, Joyce Makwenda, Charity Manyeruke, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Rudo Gaidzanwa, Betty Makoni, Yvonne Mahlunge, Amanda Atwood, Bertha Jambaya, Sekai Holland, Mildred Sandi, Jana Ncube, Edwina Spicer, Brenda Moyo, Marah Hativagone, Jenny Williams ... and of course Zinzile, the mother of our four– and the [very, very!] last and ‘controversial’ crèche-to-twelve-year-generation-gap boys!
I do not for one day advance a purist theory that all women are as perfect as they are born. Like any other human, Luphi had her low points in life. Her family disintegrated in a fireball of acrimony – losing a property in Waterfalls, the other in Eastlea and of course, a failed marriage. My everyday encounter with her mother, sisters, brothers and children portrayed a collage of interpersonal contradictions that at times resulted in me playing a calculated mediation role. Not everyone agreed with her life’s solutions – not least her ‘political’ competitors. Those that loathed her probably had good reason, yet those like me who knew her motives were always overwhelmed by her sense of forgiveness. She was a woman of influence – defining the course of every funeral, celebration or ceremony in her family. Luphi had an eternal depth of sarcasm – and I now know one needs it to contend with forces of ZANU-PF political machinations. I remember when she was meant to moderate a high level political meeting. Temperatures were heightening because she was late. The politicians requested that she apologise for keeping them waiting, but she snapped back: “Ladies and gentlemen, I had a nobler task to do – picking up my daughter from school!”
When her beloved young brother died, Luphi decreed that his body would neither be brought back from the parlour nor any fires lit in his or her home: “Why would people want to spend the nights making noise? Don’t they have homes to go to?” At one time she caused a storm when she wrote how she had turned down Chidyausiku’s ‘advances’ while they were overseas seeking funds for constitutional reform. There are also those that say her volatile character typified a woman struggling with life’s challenges in a male-dominated family environment. Once I was late, but when I walked into the office her husband was storming out of an advertising morning brief. It later turned to be a story that she had said to the father of her children: “When serious people discuss serious business, your opinion does not count!” Love her or loathe her, Luphi meant a lot to thousands, if not millions of Zimbabwean women. It is during these sixteen days that I believe those of us who were touched by her life must consider a monument in her honour.
By Rejoice Ngwenya
CEO, COMALISO, Harare Zimbabwe