Rhodesia - Intaf

Callsign - Lighthouse

Maia Chenoux-Repond
Women Advisers Mashonaland East with PCDOW Maia Chenoux-Repond 1976
Development Workers Mashonaland East with PCDOW Maia Chenaux-Repond - 1977
DWs and Maia with avillage trunk.

Kukumbirana Club House being built

DWs at Charewa Camp (Mtoko) digging a fertility trench
DWs accomodation Nyakosoro
DWs accommodation Chingururu
DW Nyamana with her literacy class - Nyamande PV
Children in Nyamara PV with puzzles
made by Alfred Beit School Standard 4s
The Community Development Section (Women)

CDSW = Community Development Section (Women);  PCDOW = Provincial Community Development Officer (Women);  WA = Women Adviser; DW = Development Worker.


I submit this article to the Dudley Wall website on IntAf – for the section entitled ‘Women in Intaf’ – mainly as a tribute to the Women Advisers (WAs) and Development Workers (DWs) I worked with as a former Provincial Community Development Officer (Women) – PCDOW – in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  I also dedicate it to my husband, who, though very concerned about my safety, gave me support during those years, and to our daughters, who have encouraged me so to write up ‘the work you did while we were growing up’. 


Since there are no documents whatsoever in the National Archives of Zimbabwe about the Community Development  Section for Women (CDSW) of the Ministry (and not much on the Ministry itself since the seventies), I had to rely on such papers as are in my possession and on my memory.  Thus the article only covers the period 1973-1977 and the former province of Mashonaland South in which I worked during this period, ie the Districts Mudzi, Mtoko, Mrewa, Wedza, Marandellas, Goromonzi, Gatooma and Hartley. 


A list of officer staff of the Section and a list of field staff for the province is appended. I worked most closely with PCDOW Dorienne Graham-Jolly, Training/Field Officer Penny Ross (now van der Linden), Assistant Executive Officer Philippa Mundangepfupfu (now Maphosa) and District Officer Debbie Allan (now Enslin).  The latter had been a PCDOW for a year, but later joined the Administrative Section of the


Dorienne Graham-Jolly, appointed in March 1974, covered the province of Mashonaland North.  When the two Mashonaland provinces were divided into three (Mashonaland East, Central and West), in September 1975, every post, every office and every desk for the new offices had been provided for in the budget, but the additional PCDOW’s post had been forgotten.  Thus Dorienne and I continued to cover the same districts as before, gaining an additional PC to report to.  Penny Ross, appointed in September 1975, took on the field work in Mount Darwin District in addition to her training duties.


Sadly, Dorienne died about 10 years ago of cancer.  Wyn Wilson, Alison Stewart (Manicaland) and Nancy Laws (Training Officer) are also deceased.  Most other Officers left the country soon after they resigned from the Ministry and I lost all contact with them years ago.  Only Betty Mtero, Philippa Maphosa, Kate Gondo and I are still in Zimbabwe and Philippa and I have kept in communication over the years.  To my great joy, I re-discovered Penny Van der Linden in Australia and Debbie Enslin in South Africa, while I was writing up the ‘history’ of the CDSW, as exemplified in one province.  Penny, Debbie and Philippa have contributed to my reminiscences, though their contributions are contained mostly in my much more comprehensive article about our work (not as yet published), and are not rendered here.


Many of the section’s field staff are also known to be deceased by now.  A few – notably Norah Chitekwe, Dinah Nyakabau and Philippa Mukonyora – tragically became casualties of the war.


My memory is not entirely dependable, of course, and the papers I have are by no means complete.  Thus I would welcome any corrections that anyone may wish to make – and I would greatly welcome any comments.


I retain copyright of this article and of the photos accompanying it.  You may quote from the text, of course, as long as you duly acknowledge its source. 


Maia Chenaux-Repond

[email protected]

The Community Development Section (Women)

The Community Development Section (Women) – CDSW– came into being in 1964 with the appointment of Winifred (Wyn) D Wilson as Senior Community Development Officer (Women) – SCDOW – and Betty Mtero as Training Officer.  It became operational with the training and stationing of the first fifteen Women Advisers (WAs) in 1967.  20 additional WAs’ posts per year were granted thereafter. Wyn Wilson, who had researched the needs of women in the Tribal Trust Lands (TTLs) for many months before instituting the Section, had the following vision[i]:


“To nurture latent talent, goodwill and the burning desire to learn.

To foster self-reliance and the confidence to initiate action.

To develop the ability to define problems and find solutions.

To encourage a sense of community service and individual responsibility to pass on knowledge.

To reap a rich harvest – health, progress, a happy family and community life among the people of Rhodesia.”


We worked hard on the first four items and witnessed the positive changes in many an individual’s and family’s life.  Watching individual women grow and then, from their own need for self-actualization, involve themselves in community work provided us officers with much job satisfaction and inspiration.  As our method we adopted the ‘non-directive’ approach appropriate to community development (CD).


In late 1974 – preparing the Provincial Policy for Mashonaland South – I paraphrased two sections from the Prime Minister’s Directive[ii], substituting the word ‘women’ for the term ‘people’: 

“Community Development is not a plan or program prepared by any Ministry to be imposed

on women:  it is a process stimulated from outside, but essentially operated by the women themselves which leads to their own plans and programs within the law.” 


It is our role “….. to assist women to acquire the attitudes, knowledge, skills and resources required to solve through self-help and through organised groups, as wide a range of their felt needs as possible, in their own order of priority.”


Thus our primary purpose was to develop individual women and women’s groups, so that they could undertake such material development as they wished.  Women Advisers[iii] – our initial field staff – called our method “leading from behind”.  Mainly on request we dropped ideas and provided information as to how felt needs could be met, or problems solved.  We established links with individuals and organisations that could help with resources, notably expertise, but women set their own priorities and learnt to achieve their goals by themselves.   There was no foreign aid to boost projects.  As a Section we stayed doggedly true to our non-directive approach, which brought about some tensions between us and some individuals in the Administrative Section of the Ministry, or its paramilitary wing, particularly as the war intensified.


Community Development:  Why two sections – one targeting women only? 

Rhodesia’s Community Development Policy as the basis for developing rural African areas was in theory directed at communities.  In reality it had two target populations and two purposes. 

Councils and physical development

Paragraph 16 of the “Prime Minister’s Directive” made it clear that Community Development (CD) had

a definite purpose:  ‘CD – leading to Local Government’, which later would in due course take over the running of services such as schools and clinics, and did indeed do so. 

16. (a) ……… at District Level Government’s primary purpose is local self-government. The means or process whereby this purpose is to be promoted is community development.”

This was the domain of the male Community Adviser (CA), of whom ca 250 were appointed in 1963.

To foster the establishment of councils and community boards below them, the CA and officer staff of IntAf, almost exclusively male, talked mainly to the ‘tribesman’.  In addition, a forward looking Deputy Secretary – Roger Howman – insisted that rural women were a valuable resource to be tapped for the development of Tribal Trust Lands (TTLs) and African Purchase Areas (APAs).  They would have to be supported by women….. Thus he pressed for the establishment of a Section staffed by women to work with women.


The CDSW was involved in all aspects of development.  To illustrate: at the end of 1974 I asked the WAs of the province to list for their work areas (a) community projects, started and mostly completed during the year, in which both men and women participated[iv], (b) new interest groups formed by women and men together, (c) new projects undertaken by women alone, and (d) new groups (over and above home-craft clubs) formed solely by women.


Projects in which men and women participated

‘Brick and mortar projects’ in which both women and men participated included the building of dams, bridges, roads, clinics, schools, school latrines, chiefs’ court houses, dip tanks and even a beer hall, the sinking of wells and boreholes and the planting of woodlots.           

Probably far more women than men laboured on these community projects.  This was not only because there were more women than men living in TTLs.  Where each household had to provide a member to work on a project, it was the male head of household who decided who would do so, and he often decided that his wife would.  Where a woman was convinced that a project would benefit her family, she usually did so most willingly.  Together, men and women formed and participated in cooperatives, farming groups, poultry raising projects and savings clubs. 

Women’s Projects

WAs encouraged women to take part in community projects – this was part of their job description – and, in addition, to ‘solve their own problems’ and to meet their own needs through self-help.  Thus groups composed entirely of women built and equipped modest women’s training centres, women’s club houses, wells and Blair toilets; women alone formed poultry rearing and egg production groups, fertilizer buying groups, general farming groups, ‘societies’, savings clubs, credit unions, bible study groups, committees running pre-schools – over and above numerous women’s (home-craft) clubs.

Women organised ‘look and learn visits’ to widen their horizons, attended courses offered by the various women’s organisations and arranged local training courses for themselves, calling on outside trainers where necessary. 


In all districts took women took part in all these activities before the chimurenga, though less so in the more outlying districts, like Mudzi and Mtoko and the northern part of Mrewa, than in the others of the province.  There simply were fewer community projects there.


Government funding

For ‘brick and mortar’ projects classified as community projects some grants were usually forthcoming from Central Government and/or Councils.  In contrast, women had to finance most of the building projects they initiated themselves. 


Government sponsored courses were directed at men.   There were sponsored courses for councillors, tribal authorities (chiefs and headmen) and members of community boards – structures composed almost exclusively of men.  Thus women got little training in the concept of community development and none in civic affairs.  After all, men were the ‘natural’ decision makers.  Indeed, most council warrants denied women voting rights and the right to be elected as councillors.  According to men their role was in the home and on the fields….....  However, many had aspirations over and above the roles ascribed to them ‘by nature’.  Above all they had a burning desire to learn.  They raised the necessary funds for learning activities themselves.  Only during the early years of the CDSW had there been some money on its modest annual allocation for assisting locally held courses for women.  The women’s clubs, too, were self-financing.


Women’s Clubs

The CDSW did work with women’s clubs, of course, because they were the most numerous example of women organising themselves into groups to meet their felt needs.  In these clubs women learnt domestic skills such as cooking, baking, knitting, sewing, crocheting and embroidery, following written patterns and recipes, they learnt about balanced nutrition, and the prevention of diseases.  The teaching of home-craft skills was principally the domain of the several voluntary organisations to which the clubs were affiliated.  The CDSW concentrated on fostering democratic governance and organisational skills, hence WAs were allowed to teach club management, the planning of programs and to assist with the organisation of area and district shows, at which club members competed for prizes (which the clubs themselves largely financed).  Women’s clubs – like other interest groups – also provided ideal forums through which to disseminate general information.


I forever had to dispel the misconception amongst the male staff in the Administration that the WA was the district women’s club organiser and the PCDOW the provincial one, in other words that we were concerned with the dissemination of home-craft skills.  Partly this misconception arose from the male chauvinism that pervaded Rhodesian society in general and the Ministry in particular at the time.  This misapprehension also prevented male administrative staff to take due interest in the WAs' activities.  Most assumed that ‘women’s work’ was boring.


The male chauvinism I am referring to is perhaps epitomized by the words of the inimitable Deputy Secretary for Internal Affairs Noel Hunt, who used to regularly introduce me at official Internal Affairs functions as follows:  “And this is Mrs Chenaux-Repond - she teaches mafasis to make cheese soufflés in kaffir pots, no wonder their husbands beat them”.  I would, however, hasten to add my appreciation of the unstinting support for my work, and that of my field staff, given by District Commissioners (DCs) Charles Collett (Mudzi), John Saunders (Mtoko)  and Brian Lucas (Marandellas) in particular.  Debbie Allan gave outstanding support as Cadet, then DO, then SDO and later ADC in Marandellas, because she knew what the CDSW was about.  My first Provincial Commissioner (PC) R C Woollacott thoroughly understood and believed in the concept and methods of community development and gave me much support.  So did his successor L Leach, at least until towards the end of 1977.  But my fellow officers and I also had a few clear enemies in the District Administration, who made our work very difficult. 


The Women Advisers (WAs)

WAs were principally animators.  To summarize their detailed job description, their role was (a) to disseminate ideas, (b) to help women to identify their and their families’ needs, to decide how to meet them and to achieve their goals through their own initiative and their own resources – as far as possible, (c) to encourage women to form organised interest groups to meet their needs, (d) to encourage them to widen their knowledge by participating in educational opportunities offered and to organise local courses and ‘look-and learn’ visits for themselves, (e) to help interest groups with overcoming organisational difficulties and with programme planning, (f) to motivate women to attain better standards of living for their families[v] (g) to identify and encourage leadership potential amongst them (h) to stimulate women’s participation in community projects organised by community boards and councils, (i) to help them to gain the support of tribal leaders for their goals, (j) to liaise with and co-ordinate her work with that of field staff employed by Internal Affairs and other Ministries, and (k) to act as links between women and the District Administration – helping women to understand Government policy and making the Administration aware of women’s needs and goals.


They wore a distinctive green and white checked uniform, and a hat from the same material, which they sewed themselves during their initial and refresher courses.  They moved around their work areas on bicycles, though for long distances they were allowed to board buses and claim a travel allowance.


WAs were selected from the areas in which they were to work after training.  We looked for married women who were their husband’s only wives, but also accepted widows or divorcees.  Their educational qualifications had to be Standard 6.  Most of all we looked for the right personality, ie for women who themselves had demonstrated ‘a burning desire to learn’, had ‘involved themselves in community action’, had rendered community service on a voluntary basis and had demonstrated their willingness ‘to pass on knowledge’.  We wanted evidence of their acceptability amongst the women amongst they were going to work.  Having participated in community projects, in women’s clubs and other interest groups and having done extensive voluntary work in the area, usually provided proof.  In some areas, when a vacancy for the job as WA was advertised women’s clubs held an area general meeting and elected the women they wanted to become their Women Adviser.


Once we had shortlisted applicants, they also had to bring a letter of support from their chief and from their husband.  The latter was necessary as WAs had to travel frequently, be away from home overnight and work with the male field staff of other departments.  Occasionally a husband got fed up with this independence of his wife and wrote to Wyn Wilson, telling her that he was terminating his wife’s employment.  In response she would invite him for an interview and after talking with him for a while she would show him his letter of support.  He invariably withdrew at least his overt objections.


In some areas it was difficult to find women with a Standard 6 education, other than wives of teachers or agricultural demonstrators.  If at all possible, we avoided selecting wives of government workers, as their husbands were subject to transfer.  Having been involved in women’s clubs, the applicants usually had considerable experience in the teaching of home-craft skills.  After appointment WAs where expressly forbidden to teach such skills.  The role of the Development Worker (DW) is described later in the article, in the section ‘from peace to war’. 


The Provincial Community Development Officer (Women)

According to the advertisement calling for applications, the post of a PCDOW entailed:

Qualifications: Applicants should have a degree in social science or community development or its equivalent.  Practical experience in the field of African welfare or women’s clubs would be an advantage.

Duties:  To encourage the participation of African Women in the development of communities and in civic affairs.  This will involve working in close cooperation with voluntary organisations, women’s clubs and government specialist departments, integrating work with women’s organisations into the existing policy of community development and undertaking the supervision of field workers and the training of local leaders.  These duties will involve extensive travel in rural areas.


My job certainly involved extensive travel.  My work area was vast.  It potentially comprised all TTLs and APAs in the Province of Mashonaland South – an area the size of 42’711 km2 – roughly the size of Switzerland.  The TTLs and APAs took up only about half of the total area, but I mostly had to travel through the European areas to reach them, the latter merely adding to distances I had to travel.  The TTLs and APAS had a population of 440’00[vi] at the time, of whom ca 90’000 were adult women, my target population.  The distance between the two WAs stationed furthest apart was 450 kilometres, about half of it not on the best of roads.  


The CDSW was never allocated government vehicles.  Thus we had to use our own cars and claim a travel allowance.  Luckily my Renault 6 thought she was a Land Rover.  In time, of course, travelling in my own car in the operational areas became too dangerous on account of land mines and potential ambushes and I became dependent on being flown to the air strips near the protected villages (PVs) and, where there was no airstrip, on the DC providing mine-protected and usually guarded transport.  The role of the PCDOW encompassed ‘Policy’, ‘Liaison/Integration, Training, the Support and Supervision of field workers, report writing and all administrative aspects connected with the line functions, even filing.  For some unknown reasons my files were never integrated into the provincial registry.

Policy:  Obviously I had to implement the broad policy laid down by head office.  However I had considerable freedom in formulating policy for the province, in response to needs women expressed.  


A prime example of this was my institution of civic affairs training noted below.   Integration:  “……working in close cooperation with voluntary organisations, women’s clubs and government specialist departments, integrating work with women’s organisations into the existing policy of community development ….”


The CDSW worked closely with Voluntary Organisations active in the development field and targeting rural African women, to avoid overlaps and gaps, notably we worked with the umbrella organisations to which individual women’s clubs affiliated.  There were the Federation of African Women’s Clubs, (FAWC), the National Federation of Women’s Institutes of Rhodesia (NFWIR), the Catholic Women’s Clubs (CWC) and the Women’s Group Liaison Committee (WGL) - the coordinating body for the various women’s club movements.  We also worked with the Adult Literacy Organisation of Rhodesia (ALOR), the Savings Club Development Movement (SCDM), the Rhodesian Playgroup Association (RPGA) and the Rhodesia Red Cross Society (RRCS).  The cooperation we had developed during peace time bore further fruit as the war progressed. 

I would like to pay tribute here to the countless white women of Rhodesia who rendered voluntary work for years.  Most of the organisations to which the women’s clubs affiliated were guided by middle class white women who gave their services entirely free of charge.  Even the Director of the Rhodesia Red Cross headed the organisation for eighteen years in an honorary capacity.  The book ‘Profiles of Rhodesia’s Women’[vii], though not complete, lauds the women of all races who rendered such unpaid community service.  Many wives of DCs and junior administrative staff assisted women’s clubs in a voluntary capacity, acting as teachers and/or as judges at women’s club shows.

Amongst the specialist government departments I probably worked most closely with DEVAG (Department of Veterinary and Agricultural Services) and the Branch of Community Development Training (BCDT) of the Ministry of Education, but also with the Ministry of Health.


Training:  “undertaking the ……. training of local leaders ….”

My training role soon occupied a great deal of my time and I spent many weeks every year at the Domboshawa Training Centre, training field staff, voluntary workers, wives of chiefs and other rural women and girls. 


Field Staff:  The initial training of our field staff was the responsibility of our Training Officers and conducted at Domboshawa Training Centre near Salisbury or at the Roger Howman Hall in the township of Fort Victoria.  The PCDOsW became responsible for the two-week annual refresher courses for the field workers in their province.  In-between I held seminars for them, often grouping WAs and/or DWs from two or more districts at a district station.  Early on, having discovered that there were no books in the homes of WAs’, I assembled a ‘Women Advisers’ Library’, which I carried permanently in a tin trunk fitted into the boot of my car.  It became very popular.

Home Economics Demonstrators (HEDs):  Voluntary work was fostered and became firmly established amongst rural African women.  As women’s clubs mushroomed throughout the country, the voluntary organisations could no longer keep up with the numerous demands for training.  It was time for local women to take more responsibility.  Thus the CDSW initiated the training of an additional category of voluntary worker, the HED.  Their one-month initial course included home-craft and health subjects as well as teaching and demonstration methods.  Area general meetings of women’s club members made the initial selection of women willing to be trained.  I then interviewed the shortlisted candidates, checking mainly on whether they had the educational background to profit from the training and whether they had indeed been selected by fellow women.  The women’s clubs had to collect the money for the (heavily subsidized) course fee and for the candidate’s bus fare to and from provincial training centres.  In return the women who received the training promised to pass on the knowledge they gained on a voluntary basis to any club or other interest group who invited her.


I coordinated an HED Initial and one or two refresher courses for them every year.  Notably I carried out an intensive follow-up in the field of all women trained as HEDs.  I was astounded to find that with very few exceptions the HEDs faithfully taught women’s clubs and Young Farmers Clubs composed of teenage girls what they had learnt.  The clubs paid for their incidental expenses and for any training material they might need.  Many HEDs also taught lessons such as the need for clean water supplies to mixed audiences of men and women.


Wives of chiefs:  Wives of chiefs, principally the vahosi (the first wife) were still very influential in rural areas, particularly as far as women’s behaviour was concerned.  But, perhaps partly because they saw their traditional role threatened by the young women who received so much training and assumed new leadership roles, some discouraged participation in interest groups and women’s spreading confidence to speak up at public meetings.  Many also discouraged family planning, because they thought – as so many men did – that the use of contraceptives made wives promiscuous.  Thus we conducted courses specifically for them, aimed at changing their attitudes.

For the first such course I conducted, I visited the homes of all 39 chiefs in my work area to elicit from their wives what they would like to learn, and to see what degree of modernity had been adopted in their homes.  To the list thus obtained I added other subjects, for example ‘the role of the chief in councils’.  It appeared that few of their husbands discussed this with them.  Principally for my own interest in research I interviewed all chiefs’ wives individually on their attitude towards polygamy.  Out of 39 only two expressed a positive attitude, regardless of whether they were first or subsequent wives.

Having been to Domboshawa carried enormous prestige.  Most wives of chiefs developed markedly more open attitudes towards their fellow women’s desire for self-development.  Conversely we encouraged women’s clubs to invite the position of ‘president’ – an advisory role in their clubs.

One course with a different slant was the grooming course for wives of Senator Chiefs[viii] and the wives of prominent members of the Council of Chiefs, conducted in 1974 at the request from the highest government quarters.  (There had been others for the wives of members of the council of Chiefs before).  It was held at the Ambassador Hotel, one of the few hotels that did no longer display the ‘Right of Admission Reserved’ sign.  Some of these wives had never stayed at a hotel before, thus needed familiarisation on how to use its services, as well as ‘how to dress for official functions’ and protocol.  We also arranged for a guided tour of Parliament and the Senate Building for them and took them to the public gallery to see their husbands at work. 

Pre-school teachers:  In July 1975 I was invited by Women Adviser Mukombiwa in Chinamora TTL (Goromonzi) to advise existing pre-schools.  14 had already been established – physically attached to the primary schools.  They were run and modestly financed by committees formed by mothers.  Asked why they had formed these pre-schools, I got the same answer from all committees:


1.  Children who attend pre-school do better at school.

2.  We want to provide employment for some of the many girls who have left school after Grade Seven.

3.  If a child attends pre-school, the mother is free to get on with her own work.  (ie to work in their husbands’ market gardens[ix]or selling tomatoes in town ………).


I was most impressed by the dedication of the young girls they had employed in return for a very small allowance, but somewhat mortified at their daily programs.  Neither the ‘pre-school teachers’ nor the mothers had much idea of what pre-school education entailed.  Thus the children were kept safe, occupied with games and with rhymes in Shona and English and taught to write the ABC and numbers up to 10.  They were regimented like little soldiers, probably ‘necessary’ because each pre-school ‘teacher’ had up to 50 children to supervise.

I was personally very interested in pre-school education, thus I mounted a very intensive two-weeks’ course for the ‘teachers’.  It included theoretical lessons on the development of the pre-school child, practical sessions on how to occupy children to stimulate their intellectual, physical and social development – including their curiosity and creativity. Pre-schools were mushrooming forth in many other TTLs.  Joan Mathewman and Edna Crawford of the Council of Social Services and Voy Youngleson of WGL rose to the challenge and conducted numerous one-week courses – mainly for mothers – to which I could send women for training.  This training, rudimentary as it was, met a burgeoning felt need.  Eventually the CDSW worked out minimum standards that should be met in rural pre-schools.   We will meet such groups again in the Protected Villages (PVs).

Local Government Awareness Training: During my early visits to TTLs women often expressed dissatisfaction about their local councils “who were not supporting women’s projects, even neglected the maternity ‘wing’ of local clinics”.  A little probing soon revealed that they had little idea about the structure and functions of councils and thus could not lobby them effectively.  Being disgruntled some wives discouraged their husbands from paying rates, for which they said they themselves were actually raising the money by working hard on their husband’s fields.  I decided to equip them to do the necessary lobbying.


First of all I gave the WAs thorough training at their refresher course.  I gave them lessons on Central Government and how it functioned.  Then they got lessons on the structure, function and mode of operation of councils.  Their learning was measured with a pre- and post-test.  Then I enlisted the help of the Branch of Community Development Training (BCDT).  The Provincial Training Officer (John Brown) was most helpful and we worked out a program. The Branch’s Mobile Training Unit staff (John Chitsenga and .. Mtetwa) provided the teaching; the WAs grouped the women at venues convenient to them for a four-hour training session, usually followed by a film.


We even tried Mudzi, Mtoko and Mrewa for the first round, but, for obvious reasons very few women turned up.  By the end of 1976 attendance in Wedza District was also poor, due to the infiltration of the district.  In all other districts the lessons were very popular.  Schedules of visits were arranged for six months at a time.  Every six months WAs asked for further visits, either for additional groups of women, or for follow-up training.  By 1977 WA Nhavira in ChiotaTTL (Marandellas) arranged for a 4-day advanced course on local government for a group of women.  It was well attended.  Eventually men complained that there was ‘no local government awareness training for men’, so we graciously allowed them to join our sessions.


At every course women asked for a woman to represent their interests on councils and in many places for women to be allowed to vote.  In Chief Neuso’s area (Sanyati TTL, Gatooma) we scored an immediate success in early 1976.  Chief Neuso attended the council awareness training for women in his area.  The participants asked for a woman councillor.  The chief responded by saying:  “My council will be the first in Sanyati to have a woman councillor!”  He asked the women themselves to choose candidates.  They held an area general meeting and elected three.  The chief made the final selection and Mrs B Mbasera was duly appointed. 

  Chief Neuso could do this because the council warrant provided for appointed as well as elected councillors.  Most provided for elected councillors only and enfranchise ‘all rate-payers (who were by definition male) in the area’ or ‘all male residents’. 


2954 women attended council awareness sessions during 1975, during 1976 we counted 2723 women and 877 men.   The lessons proved similarly popular during 1977, although attendance in Wedza District, which was being infiltrated, was now poor.  Women Adviser Nhavira in Chiota arranged an advanced 4-day course on Local Government, which was well attended.

By the end 1977 I was satisfied that a sufficient number of local women had been well prepared to start pressurising chiefs and commissioners  to change the council warrants to enfranchise women.  Early 1978 intended to help WAs to help women to make detailed action plans to work towards their enfranchisement.  Where council warrants stipulated both appointed and elected councillors, they would work towards the appointment of one or more women councillor first, then towards women being granted the right to vote.  I planned for a course for women candidates to groom them, knowing well that they had to perform above average for the idea of women councillors to gain general acceptance.

Alas, I was transferred out of the province and nothing came of my intention.  Furthermore, in many areas councils collapsed as a result of the war. 


Adult Literacy:  Another burning interest of mine was the introduction of adult literacy classes in the districts.  Illiterate women I met often expressed the wish to learn to read and write.  The Adult Literacy Organisation of Rhodesia (ALOR) had introduced well thought out ‘functional literacy programs’ in Wedza and under its own guidance and under the auspices of Dendera Mission in Mudzi district.  ALOR had circularized all councils suggesting that councils pay for the training of literacy teachers for their areas and subsidize their monthly allowance.  Not a single council had responded.


I must admit that I never did initiate a program plan enthusing councils to do so.  I also never managed to establish a community project, a community board composed mainly of women taking over the administration and financing a literacy project, though in Marandellas District, we almost ‘got there’ with the support of DO Debbie Allan.  The pressures on my time and the demands of the operational districts simply became too big.

I did, however, manage to establish literacy classes in Nyakosoro PV (Mrewa) and Nyamande PV (Mudzi) and later in Gozi.  In these villages the CDSW paid the teachers (under the Development Workers scheme), but the students themselves had to pay for their own books, pens and pencils. 

By the end of 1977 the Mashonaland East Provincial Authority was willing to sponsor a few literacy teachers in the sensitive districts and I was to become the ‘responsible authority’ for the ‘schools’ to be established.  But this scheme also petered out as I was transferred out of the province, and not replaced.

Support and Supervision of field staff “undertaking the supervision of field workers”.  I saw the support and supervision of the Section’s field staff – WAs and DWs – as the most important aspect of my role.  Giving them adequate support became more and more difficult as the war progressed and as more and more field staff were stationed in the province.


When I was appointed PCDOW on January 1, 1973, I had 14 Women Advisers to support and supervise.  By 1977 I had 20 WAs, 1 Township Worker[x], 18 Development Workers and 2 Literacy Teachers, a further literacy teacher being added at the end of the year.   I found it increasingly hard to cope, despite countless hours of overtime.  Eventually, at the end of 1976, the chiefs constituting the Provincial Authority Mashonaland East agreed to employ a women Assistant Executive Officer and second her to my office.  Thus Philippa Mundangepfupfu (later Maphosa) came into my life.  She was not only a competent assistant, taking much of the administrative work off my hands, but became a close friend.


Internal Affairs operated a dual line of control:  WAs and DWs were on the staff of the DC  ‘for day-to-day activities’ and to the PCDOW ‘for policy and professional supervision’.  Similarly the provincial officer reported to the PC ‘for day-to-day activities’ and to the Senior CDOW ‘for policy and professional supervision’.  Only in one district of the province did this give rise to serious conflict.  DC Dave Mirams (Mrewa) perceived my support of field staff as ‘interference in his district’.  As a result of our poor relationship field workers in Mrewa got less support from me than they should have.  This was particularly so after I became dependent on mine protected transport, which the DC often simply did not provide.  Only in Nyakosoro could I give adequate support, because I was flown there by ADF pilots, with whom I could make arrangements direct.


From peace to war

By early 1975 my priority of attention had shifted to the ‘sensitive districts’, notably to Mudzi and Mtoko, and to the northern part of Mrewa District.  From now on I had two types of work areas.  In the ‘non-sensitive districts’ I could carry on with my normal work, in the operational areas my work changed completely.  Conditions in these three districts are amply described elsewhere on the IntAf website.  Suffice it to say that important guerrilla infiltration routes from Mozambique towards Salisbury led through them. They were part of ‘operation Hurricane’.  By now people along the Mozambique border in Mudzi District had been resettled inward to create a ‘cordon sanitaire’.  The first Protected Villages (PVs) had been established in Mrewa District by the end of 1974 and keeps to form the nucleus of Consolidated Villages (CVs) were being erected in Mudzi.


In Mashonaland Central, of course, large populations had already been moved during 1974.  Nick Baalbergen has ably described the logistics entailed in the construction of PVs and in moving an entire TTL population into them.[xi]


Obviously these enforced moves caused considerable trauma to the people affected.

Development Workers (DWs)

A new type of worker was clearly needed to meet the immediate needs of women and children in PVs and CVs and to bring back some sense of normality to their lives.   Thus the CDSW, during the last quarter of 1974, recruited and trained Development Workers (DWs).  DWs were young women above the age of 21, without family commitments, with a minimum of grade 7 education and preferably with some relevant experience, ie past participation in interest groups.  It fell to Penny Ross at Head Office to make the initial selection from the hundreds of applicants and to give them their initial training.  (Betty Mtero participated to some extent).  In contrast to WAs, DWs were principally skills trainers and got extensive training in home-craft skills during their initial course.  They would use non-directive community development methods to motivate women and young girls, but they also had training to offer themselves, without having to establish links to voluntary workers.  Such voluntary workers that had been active in the three districts had largely gone underground anyway and representatives of women’s organisations no longer travelled to ‘sensitive areas’.


In contrast to WAs, DWs were liable to transfer.  Their uniforms were similar to that of the WAs, but made of rust and white checked material.  They also sewed these themselves during their initial and refresher courses.  The women of Mudzi and Mtoko Districts and the Pfungwe and Maramba areas of Mrewa had been relatively unsophisticated compared to those of, say, Wedza, Marandellas and Goromonzi Districts.  As I started work in the PVs, I became acutely aware that up to now I had met with the ‘cream’, the women who wanted to progress into a more modern way of life than their mothers had known, and who organised themselves with much vigour to achieve their shared aims.  In these operational areas, ravaged by war, I met a more ‘average’ cross-section of women, including the far less ‘progress minded’.  Understandably, all were focussed on survival.


Life in a PV   

Families still used their old fields, which were now often a considerable distance away from the ‘keep’.  They were allowed out only when keep commanders – advised by the security forces (SF) – permitted it.  Often the PV gates were locked for days.  Inside the village a curfew was imposed during the hours of darkness.  People were forbidden to take food to the fields, in case they passed it to the insurgents.  In some places the cattle were kraaled just outside the perimeter fence.  They were allowed to be herded out for grazing at the SF’s discretion.  Sometimes, however, cattle remained kraaled at the previous locations, but often broke free.  If the school had not been enclosed within the PV, regular attendance by the children was not possible.  Sometimes a school was built inside the PV later, usually from materials salvaged from the old school.  A visit to a clinic in many cases involved a journey through zones declared ‘no-go’ areas and thus had to be postponed for days.  Visitors were allowed, but visits from men working in town, or from other parts of the country, became sparser as road blocks increased and public transport became scarce, due to land mines.

First visits to PVs and ‘resettlement areas’

I am recounting these in detail, because they illustrate our section’s approach to and the lengths I had to go to at the beginning to gain the women’s trust in the war zones.  To gain their trust was essential for our future development work in the PVs.


First visit to Nyakasoro, PfungweTTL:  On January 10, 1975, I made my first visit to an established  Protected Village (PV) in Mashonaland East – to Nyakasoro in Pfungwe TTL, in the northern part of Mrewa District[xii].  I still travelled in my own car, along the narrow, winding dirt road leading there from Mrewa – which was later frequently mined – and was accompanied on this journey by WA Mrs Chirimuuta from Mangwende TTL.

When we arrived we found most of the women inhabitants of the village assembled at the nearby Nyakasoro dam, watching the fishing nets being hauled in.  (Fishing was organised and controlled by Internal Affairs, netted fish sold cheaply to the population).  An ideally relaxed situation thus existed for holding an impromptu meeting.  However, the atmosphere was distinctly different from that at any meeting I had held with women in other districts, or even in Mrewa District before the war.  I sensed a general feeling of mistrust – indeed some hostility – towards me, this white apparition from Salisbury. 

The women referred to themselves as ‘banditi’ throughout the meeting. I cannot remember, but it seems that their translocation had been a disciplinary measure during which their food stores had been destroyed and they had been issued with some ‘bridging rations’. They expressed very negative attitudes towards fertility trenches[xiii].  It was clear that they thought that they were being made to dig these as a punitive measure. They complained that their rations were inadequate and said that they could not be expected to perform agricultural labour while hungry.


I listened for some time to the discontent the women expressed about the ‘agricultural program’ imposed on them.  I listened attentively, asking questions to elicit information, as I wasn’t familiar with it.  Throughout I encouraged the women to raise the aspects they were unhappy about with the Agricultural Officer (AO), Mr Rapson.  After about two hours it transpired that Mr Rapson had actually visited the village the day before and had proposed a new approach.  Now the women themselves volunteered that they would be satisfied if the new approach was implemented.  I realized that they had simply raised the issue with me – at length – to test what kind of a person I was.


I was to be submitted to similar ‘tests’ often from now on in the operational areas, people raising all sorts of red herrings to engage me in discussion to enable them to find out if they could trust me.  Usually they accepted me, in due course, and learnt to trust me, but often their preliminary investigations took hours, sometimes several visits.  I gained the impression that the women looked upon their stay in Nyakasoro PV as temporary and as a totally wasted period of their lives.  I suggested that they imagine themselves at a later time in their lives, looking back at their situation “behind the wire”, as they put it.  Would they then say “We did not want to be there, we never liked it there and we wasted that part of our lives”? – Or would they say “We did not plan to be there, but we used the time to good advantage.  We learnt things and started to do things as a result of which our lives have become richer and we became ‘better’ (more progressive) persons”?  I asked them to think of their children, who were sitting among us.  When grown up and looking back on their childhood, would they say: “We lived for a time in a ‘keep’.  Our mothers did not like it there and so they wasted their lives and ours”?  Or would they say: “Our mothers made the best they could of the situation they found themselves in, they learnt new things, they started things from which we benefited and which gave us a better chance in life than we would otherwise have had”? 


We discussed the possibility of forming a women’s club in the village, Mrs Chirimuuta giving a short talk on the benefits of clubs to mothers and their families.  During the ensuing discussion the atmosphere and leadership of the meeting began to shift and a young woman in particular emerged as the spokeswoman of a more positive approach to their situation.


By this stage I noticed restlessness amongst the women and I suggested that they return home to cook the midday meal.  Mrs Chirimuuta accompanied them, while I joined the administrative and agricultural staff, who had arrived meantime.  The WA met the headman in the village and put the suggestion to form a women’s club to him.  His reaction was positive, but he also expressed complaints about the agricultural program. When I joined the women again, after their meal, they offered to show me the fertility trenches they so resented.  They pointed out the very stony ground in which they were expected to dig.  As we sat around the trenches they raised more problems:  Their houses were infested with bed bugs (tsikidzi) and the roofs leaked.  After listening for a while to their complaints without comment, I asked them how they proposed to solve these problems.  I had spotted the Assistant District Commissioner (ADC) C Nicolle nearby, thus I also asked whether they would like me to bring these problems to his attention while they found some solutions themselves.  They said I should and I did.

As I returned to the group, the emerging new discussion leader pointed out that some families had had ‘tsikidzi’ before they came to Nyakasoro, but now, with families living so close together, all huts had become infested.  It was perhaps not all Government’s fault …….. There were things they could all do themselves to rid themselves of this plague.

The offshoot of my first visit was:  The women would smear their inside of the walls with mud and the floors with cow-dung to minimise breeding places for bugs.  The Administration (the ADC - had assured me of their cooperation) would arrange for fumigation of the houses.  Since the inhabitants of Nyakasoro had not thatched their houses properly when grass was available, they had to bear the consequences and ensure that they thatched them properly in the dry season, when the new crop of grass was ready.  In the meantime the AO would try to arrange for some second hand fertilizer and cement bags to be brought to the village to patch roofs.  Getting rid of the bed-bugs became the women’s first community project.  Some goodwill had been established. 

I concluded that leadership potential for the formation of a women’s club was available, but that at the beginning considerable assistance was needed, particularly to foster motivation and organizing ability.  Skills training was definitely also needed, as there seemed to be no Area Trainer, HED or other voluntary worker.  I did not tell the women, but I decided to make sure that our Section would make a donation of wool and fabric as soon as they had done their part in the bug-eradication project.  This would provide recognition (the first project is always a ‘big’ project for those undertaking it) and would ensure that a club program could get under way.  I kept in mind for future reference that during our discussion some women had pointed out that most of them were illiterate and that they would like to learn to read and write.  By April we were able to station the first two DWs Nyakosoro (Eugenia Machiridza and Grace Nhumba) and eventually even a literacy teacher (Prisca Dumba).  Of that more later.

First visit to ‘sensitive areas’ in Mudzi  -  familiarization

Course bookings at Domboshawa had to be made six months in advance.  For February and March I had booked two courses for women in Chief Mkota’s and Chief Chikwizo’s areas in Mudzi District whose people had been resettled from the border areas as early as July 1974.  

Few of the women of these parts had ever had the chance to attend any course.  There were few women’s clubs and practically no voluntary workers in the area.  Representatives of women’s club umbrella organisations had never reached here and would certainly not travel to ‘war areas’ now. Believing strongly in the value of fertility trenches to boost vegetable production, and thus forestall malnutrition, I wanted women to see these in areas where there was peace, where people had adopted them voluntarily and vegetables were growing successfully on account of the compost which provided nourishment and helped to retain moisture.  Above all I wanted time with them to establish relationships and trust.  The population would soon be moved into the PVs.  There was no time to loose.

Since both WAs (Lydia Psuura and Bertha Chibisa) were new in the field, and since I did not know these remote areas myself, I decided that I must do the recruiting myself.  I discussed my proposal with DC Charles Collet.  He was supportive and suggested that women living in the vicinity of Msau, Kondo and Chikwizo keeps – currently under construction – should attend the courses.  Furthermore he invited me to accompany him on one of his visits to the area to familiarise myself with conditions.  Travelling with him I would be protected.

I drove to Mtoko towards nightfall on January 6, 1975 – after a full day of preparing course material for the forthcoming WAs’ Refresher Course, including a pre/post-test on Local Government – and spent the night at the Mtoko Hotel, where all rooms faced the sea.

On the morrow I accompanied Charles Collet and his staff on their tour of duty in the border area and to sites were keeps were being established.  We travelled in mine-protected vehicles and with armed escorts.  I was glad to have this opportunity for discussion while travelling along, both about the prevailing security situation, the support my field staff needed and what we hoped to achieve when we eventually could place DWs in some CVs and PVs.  Charles Collet had always given my work maximum support.  He was keen to have as many DWs as possible stationed in the District.  He warned, however, that his administrative and semi-military all-male staff were in no position to give them or the WAs the support they would need.


Second visit to ‘sensitive areas’ Mudzi – recruitment for courses      

On January 16 I again drove to Mtoko during the late afternoon.  There was only one other diner at the Hotel.  The owner, Jimmy Christian, was in a foul mood and thus turned off the generator, as he was apt to do without the slightest concern as to what his guests might be doing.  I happened to be in the bath, but had learnt to carry a torch with me.

Mrs Psuura and Mrs Chibisa met me at the District Office at 08.00 the next day.  We travelled in the DC’s convoy.  He had called both meetings.  In a ‘sensitive area’ this practically amounted to an order to attend.  Charles Collett dropped us at Msau, proceeded on other business, later collected us from there, dropped us at Kondo, collected us from there again and brought us back to Mtoko. 

Msau: Approximately 250 women and teenage girls, and about the same number of babies and toddlers, had assembled in the vicinity of the Msau Keep, already under construction.  Armed guards were discretely stationed in the surrounding bush.

The waiting women, as always, were seated on the ground, on their ‘zambias’[xiv], their backs straight and  their legs stretched out at right angles.  While I usually sat among them at meetings, to be seen and heard by so many, I had to stand – and shout!  I introduced myself with details of my role and examples of work I was doing with women elsewhere.  I introduced the WAs, their role, their training, when and for what areas they had been appointed.  I explained what women could expect to learn at the courses I offered and what kind of woman was eligible for attending.  Lastly I described the Domboshawa Training Centre, its raison d’être, what accommodation and what kind of food participants could expect.


At this point I interrupted proceedings for WA Psuura and myself to call upon Chief Mkota, whose kraal was near the keep, in order to notify him of our proposal.  Of course this could not be done in a hurry; some protocol is involved in such a visit.  The chief, in due course, indicated his approval and said he would encourage women to attend the course. “You must not think”, he said “that my people do not want to learn.  We have up to now been neglected.”   Rapport between us, and trust, was facilitated by the fact that the chief remembered me as having spoken at the presentation of certificates to graduating literacy students at Nyamaruka in July 1974.

WA Chibisa remained with the women to elicit what training anyone had previously attended.  She found out that there was one women’s club in the area, 4 women present stated they were members of this club, 3 said that they knew Mrs Chitekwe[xv], and one said she had seen me at the ceremony in Nyamaruka, where the chief had also seen me.  (At times it could be a distinct advantage to be practically the only white fish present amongst a shoal of black fish. It made you very visible.)  Among circa 250 women and teenage girls present she found none who had ever attended a training course.


I re-joined the assembly and informed them about the chief’s approval of the course.  I offered 17 places for the course starting on February 23 and made the following arrangements:  Chief Mkota’s messenger would advise the keep on January 31 of the number of women accepting.   The correct number of travel warrants would be issued to them via the keep[xvi].  Both WAs would meet course participants in Mtoko on February 22 and travel with them to Domboshawa.


Kondo: We now proceeded to Kondo.  We had been scheduled to arrive there at 14.00 hrs, but arrived an hour late.  468 women were present – a count was taken by the guards.  The gathering was in a noticeably unreceptive mood.  Many of the women had arrived in the morning and had come without refreshments.  It was an exceedingly hot day.  They were sitting in a massed circle, surrounded by armed guards.  Regrettably I was not quick enough to ask the DC to withdraw them – he had already left.  We went through the same introductions and explanation we had given at Msau.  Throughout our meeting I felt distinctly that the women felt themselves to be under duress.  Many eyes were glazed over.  On the other hand the women did not have the courage to disperse.  Rapport was almost impossible to establish. No response was forthcoming to my attempt to elicit background information.  Nevertheless I felt that a few women (4 to be precise) would probably like to come to the course.  Eventually one old woman got up and told us and that women in the area were not prepared to come to any course, or to hear about women’s clubs, as long as their children were not attending school.  Since I could not establish from the meeting just why the school had been closed, I left the WAs in charge and went to the keep to get information. 


At the keep I was told that the school had only been opened a year ago with one classroom and one Grade 1 class.  The community had not built a second classroom for the intake of a further Grade 1 by the beginning of the following school year.  When the security situation flared up, many parents had sent their children elsewhere and the teacher left.  As a result the school had not been re-opened at the beginning of the 2nd term.


I returned to advise the women to discuss the problem of their children’s schooling with the tribal leaders who, in turn, should discuss the community’s suggestions with the DC.  I offered 10 places to women of the Kondo area on the course starting on February 23.  Mrs Psuura arranged a follow-up visit to them.  Fortunately the District Security Assistant (DSA) in charge accepted that – as the DC's representative – I had the authority to dissolve the gathering and the women dispersed, leaving the WAs and myself to watch the construction work.


Chikwizo:  Due to a mishap neither of the two WAs could accompany me on my third recruitment visit to ‘resettlement areas’ in Mudzi on January 31 – to Chikwizo, where a PV was under construction.  However, the DC made Senior Community Advisor (SCA) Mr .. Mango available and the latter actually drove me there.  He said he did not need a guard.  It was fine with me.  Being alone, we had very interesting and frank discussions.  He certainly knew his people and told me a lot about what they were thinking and their attitude towards the insurgents, information I would otherwise not easily have come by.  


Of course we also talked about development issues and personal matters.  I gave him the story of my life and he gave me his.  Mr Mango had grown up in this remote area, had initially trained as an Agricultural Demonstrator and had returned to his home area full of missionary zeal.  With the scientific farming methods he had learnt he would make his people prosperous!  However, ‘the prophet was not esteemed in his own country’.  His elders would not listen to this young upstart.  After all, they had done it their way for generations.  And his parents had sent him to school on the proceeds of their farming (although an uncle working in town had helped).  Mr Mango volunteered that as a young man he had sometimes literally cried himself to sleep, feeling utterly rejected and a failure.  

  Then David Ford, nicknamed Jongwe (cockerel) because he got up so early, arrived in the District as Agricultural Officer.  Dave Ford was an unusual man.  He was in no hurry.  A fluent Shona speaker, he took his time getting to know the area and the people and their thinking.   On one of his familiarisation trips he met an old man standing at the edge of a totally degraded former wetland, and asked him to describe what it had been like in his youth.  The old man recounted that there had been a deep natural pond, where adults used to fish and children swam, and plenty of reeds to make sleeping mats from.  Now it was dry, a deep donga marking the former water course.  Dave asked whether he thought that people would be interested in helping him to restore the wetland to the state he described.  The old man enthused the people.  The first community project followed, Dave helping the people to construct a small dam to harness and back up the water.  The restoration was a complete success.   The fish and reeds returned, the children swam.  The local people were impressed and now ready to learn from him also how to increase the yields in their fields.  They began to listen to the Demonstrator too.


We reached the gathering.  Approximately 500 women were present at Chikwizo.  Obviously they had been ordered by the DC to group, the presence of security force personnel in the area being an additional ‘incentive’.  Nevertheless I was received very cordially and greeted in person by the three out of the 500 women I knew, namely:


Mrs T Chikwizo.  Widow of the former chief, who had attended the chief’s wives course in 1974, Mrs M Mbambe, Home Economics Demonstrator, trained in 1974, and Mrs P Kamupita – who had attended an FAWC home-craft course at Domboshawa.  I had renewed my acquaintance with them at the installation of chief Chikwizo in July 74.


I could see that the women were comfortable with the SCA.  His presence also had the advantage that a strong voice could be pitted against the relentless gusts of wind obliterating my voice, ominous of the cloud bursts which were to follow.  However, in view of the brewing storm, the women were understandably restless.  SCA Mango and I found it necessary to stand on top of the mound of the keep in progress to reach the multitudes.  Many of the listeners pressed close and ended up at all levels up the side of the embankment.  This irreverent treatment of a semi-military installation caused much merriment amongst the women, but raised some eyebrows amongst armed personnel and construction management.  I was once again glad I was wearing a maxi-skirt.


After explaining the purpose of my visit in some detail in competition with the elements, which I eventually lost, I proposed that those women who were members of a club come to one side.  I would explain to them further and they could later pass the information to their friends.  This was done.  Sensibly, about 250 women took the opportunity to disperse immediately.   While our sub-meeting of 26 women deliberated, about half of the remaining women also went home.  When the group had no further questions we joined those women who had remained.  I asked Mrs Mbambe to explain what had been discussed.  She did this very ably in the form of what women would term an ‘encouragement speech’, extolling the merits of going on a course at Domboshawa, where you learnt such a lot, met women from many other parts of the country, got more food at every meal than you could eat, and slept in real beds. 


Arrangements were made:  I offered 25 places to women from Chikwizo area on the course starting on March 9.  WA Chibisa would meet with Medames Mbambe, Chikwizo and Kamupito at Chikwizo Mission of February 14 to make final arrangements and distribute travel warrants for 25 course participants.  Both WAs would meet them the day before the start of the course and travel with them to Domboshawa.


Mentally I made the following prediction:  A few women from Msau would attend the course, none from Kondo, but a fair number from Chikwizo. As it turned out, 17 women came from Msau and Kondo (mostly from Msau) and 27 came from Chikwizo.  The Women Advisers handed their own travel warrants to the two ‘extras’.


As we travelled back to the District Station the thunderstorm broke, engulfing our vehicle in a torrent of water.  At times we had to stop as visibility became too poor.  In-between lightening dramatically lit up the landscape.  Thunder and the pelting of the rain made any further conversation impossible.  The vehicle leaked grossly above my seat. 


Kosiwekuonanokudzidza – MuruwarweMudzi

On February 23 I could welcome the women from Msau/Kondo and on March 9 the women from Chikwizo who had come for the 10-day ‘Mudzi Look and Learn Course’ at Domboshawa.

My objectives for the two courses were as follows: To establish contact and trust between women from these areas, myself and the Women Advisers, to discuss problems and advantages of having been resettled and to identify felt needs on which to base possible programs and to provide participants with training useful in their home areas.


The course program included needlework (which I could expect participants to enjoy), nutrition (including the nutritional value of indigenous plants and weeds such as ‘black-jacks’), prevention of diseases (malaria, cholera, typhoid), environmental hygiene, community development, the role of a WA, several problem solving sessions, roles they themselves could take up within the community and in development, and how women’s clubs can benefit women and families.  There were some films in the evening – some entertaining, some showing aspects of development elsewhere. 

The main feature of the course was out ‘Look-and-Learn’ visit to old Umtali Mission in Manicaland.  The Mission had a fine display of all sorts of appropriate technology, all in actual use, most of which was new for the women from Mudzi.  Amongst many other things, a wood-saving stove women could fashion themselves out of clay, simple and effective methods of water harvesting, a ‘butchery-in-the-back yard’ and the benefits of fertility trenches were ably demonstrated to them.  The women were very interested indeed and lively discussions ensued, which were carried on during our bus journey ‘home’ to Domboshawa.


Regrettably the course did not bear visible fruit immediately.  In her annual report for 1975 WA Bertha Chibisa made the following comment:

“It was very difficult in my area since January 1975 to start any project, because of conditions.  But we had the Chikwizo show at Nyamande School.  I never thought that women will come to the show, because many women and men were beaten.  Two boys were shot to death near Nyamande.  The Community Advisor, the Supervisor [of the Agricultural Demonstrators] and myself continued to encourage the people to do their show, so there would be something good.

We had a course at Domboshawa for two groups from Chikwizo and Mkota.  These were organised by Mrs Chenaux-Repond.  While at Domboshawa the women made hats for themselves and cravats for their husbands, which pleased them, and had other lessons.  Then we went to Manicland.  The women learnt a lot about many projects and were so interested.  They saw a butchery-in-the-backyard and were given a kind of muriwo[xvii] which is good for rabbits to take home and try to grow. 

The time we were there they showed so much interest in these projects, but when they came back to their homes at Chikwizo, they found three men had been killed.  Nobody knows who killed them, and they were so much afraid, they dropped everything they learnt.”

I am very glad to add that later, by mid-1976, though ‘conditions’ had since become much worse, women were implementing some of the innovations they been shown at Old Umtali Mission, and put aspects of other things they had learnt, like the prevention of diseases and balanced nutrition into practice.  An unexpected bonus for me was that the course participants so cherished the distinctive hats they had made, that they only wore them for very special occasions and looked after them carefully through many vicissitudes, including the burning of villages.  Whenever I saw a green and white checkered and smocked hat in a gathering, I knew I had a friend.

Development Workers stationed in PVs

Penny Ross had trained DWs since late 1974. The first graduates were stationed in Mashonaland Central.   In Mashonaland East we were able to station the first DWs in April 1975. By mid-77 we had 20 stationed in 10 villages:  in Msau/Kondo, Nyamande, Makaha, Benson Mine and Morosi (Mudzi); in Makosa and Chimoyo (Mtoko); and in Nyakasoro, Mutawatawa and Mashambanaka (Mrewa District).  They were always stationed in pairs to give each other moral support and to complement each other’s work.


DWs were transferrable and were given housing in the PVs.  If I remember correctly, DCs were allocated $100 to provide this.  Their accommodation varied greatly in quality – from a cool 2-roomed brick-built thatched cottage in Nyakasoro (which had been built before the PV was set up) to a small tin hut in the blazing sun in Chingururu.


The DWs’ first task was to get to know their village and to gain acceptance.  Whenever possible, I introduced them to the community soon after their stationing and explained their role.  Sometimes this was not immediately possible, thus a member of the Administration did this.  They had to make home visits to explain their role and listen to women’s problems, if these were forthcoming.  They had to get to know the formal and informal leaders, find out who had been a voluntary worker before, had attended a course or had natural talents they could share with others.  One of their tasks was to discover and foster leadership potential.


In order for them to commence skills training as soon as women or young girls showed interest, the DWs were issued with a ‘village trunk’, containing some fabric, wool, scissors, a tape measure, knitting and sewing needles and patterns.  During their training they had also made samples to show.  Once the women had made their first items with donated fabric, they could sell these to raise funds for further work.  Self-help was encouraged from the start, even in these very poor communities.


Vegetable growing was important for adequate nutrition.  As there were fewer and fewer Agricultural Demonstrators, Dave Ford gave the DWs a very practical course in vegetable growing and the teaching thereof.  Fertility trenches became a matter of agricultural policy in the PVs.  I expected all DWs and WAs to establish them in order to grow their own vegetables and as a demonstration garden.  In villages were DWs had acceptance problems, people could usually not contain their curiosity when they saw them digging these deep trenches and came to watch, then to enquire.  The first informal discussions usually ensued.


My own work program

By 1977 my work program for the first 3 months of the year looked as follows:


January 1977

03.01` office – Induction Assistant Philippa Mundangepfupfu – Regional Authority Officer will visit.

04.01   Charewa          supportive visit Development Workers. (Overnight stay). Winnie Mashonganyika, RennieNjodzi, Queenie Chipunza, Mildred Chidzungu.  Nyamande (all Mudzi DWs instead at Mudzi) + DC et al

7th/10th/11th  office –   Induction Assistant + Provincial Authority staff

12.01   Mubaira.  Extension Methods Course “Role of Women in Extension” support Women Advisers  Nkomo, M’pakaviri.

18.01   DCs Conference  Mash East/Central           

19.01   Wedza.  Women Adviser’s seminar Wedza/Marandellas.  (Overnight stay).

20.01   Wedza.  Women Adviser’s seminar.

21.01   Wedza.  DC + staff meeting.              DC Marandellas

25.01   Mudzi.  Women Adviser’s seminar Mtoko/Mrewa/Mudzi.  (Overnight stay).

26.01   Mudzi.  Women Adviser’s seminar Mtoko/Mrewa/Mudzi.  Note: Mtoko moved into PVs!

28.01   Bumburwi.  Visit to pre-school (support WA Nhavira)

February 1977

02.02.  Mutawatawa.  DWs Joy Muvhiyiwa, Juliet Makoni.  Mrewa (overnight stay).

Mashambanaka.  DWs Lois Ingidza, Monica Munezwa.  Mrewa.

08.02.  Chiunye.  DWs  ElizabethMakuzwa, SinanzeniMudzingwa.  (Overnight stay).

Chingururu.  WA Lydia Psuura.  Mudzi. Chinamora.  Goromonzi.

15.02.  Nyamande.  DWs SynodiaNyamana.  Mudzi.  (Overnight stay). Kondo? DWs   PhilippaMukonyore, MajorieMunuwaMudzi.  (Overnight stay).  WA Chijaka at Marembe (re: reinstatement)

Office.  Clearing backlog with Philippa.  Note action arising out of field visits.  Introducing her to heads of women’s organisations and other voluntary organisations.  Preparing Development Workers’ Seminar.  Preparing Miss Wilson’s tour. 

IntAf Customary Law Examination

March 1977

01.03.  Nyakasoro.  Testing new literates.  (J Gwanzura of ALOR).  Checking equipment – literacy teacher leaving.  (Overnight stay).  Nyakasoro Graduation of New Literates DWs  Prisca Dumba, Eugenia Machiridza.

7 -11.03.  Development Workers Refresher Course/Seminar at Dombo.

15.03.  Dendera/Nyamaruka  Intro Women Adviser?  (Overnight stay).  Makaha.  DWs Annah Mugumisi, Grace Makwembere.

21.03.  Gatooma.  Women Advisers’ Seminar Gatooma/Hartley.

22.03.  Gatooma.

23.03.  Gatooma.

24.03.  Hartley.

25.03.  Mtoko, Musvaira, Katsande (Nyakuchena), Chitekwe.  Miss Wilson’s visit. Idah Gurupira, Bertha Chibisa, Norah Chitekwe to WAs in PVs.


Problems faced by Development Workers                         

In many PVs DWs were not immediately accepted.  They, too, had to win the people’s trust.  Some suspected them to be Government informers, some thought that being unmarried and so independent they might be prostitutes.   A formal introduction to the people by me often helped, but it was mainly their own personalities, dedication and sincerity that won people over.  Nevertheless their job was difficult.  At one of our seminars they listed the problems they had to face as follows:


Inadequate housing (some).

Loneliness – far away from home, little chance of visiting.

Being thrown into a new job, into new surroundings, amongst people we don’t know.

Getting used to so many people living so close together.

Infrequent visits by the PDCOW.

In some villages – total rejection by village women, villagers in general.


In all villages – it takes time to become accepted by the people –

Suspicion that we are ‘CIO’.

Suspicion amongst the wives that we might be ‘loose women’.

Little or no communication with Keep Commander, little or no support from him (they change frequently, they don’t understand our role).

Distance to medical facilities.

Absence of shops (some villages).

Unwelcome attention from male staff – District Assistants, other staff retaliations when advances rejected.

Temptation when you really liked a suitable man (this seldom happened).

Fear of guerrillas.

Fear of security forces.

Fear of mujibas.

Fear of denouncers.

Too few supplies to do skills training – poverty of the village women.

Pain of witnessing the violence of war, the effects of violence.

I often stayed in the keeps overnight.  Until ‘lights out’ (keeps usually had a generator) I could sit with the DWs and listened to the difficulties they faced.  As we sat together under the stars I tried to give as much moral support as I could.  There was no doubt in my mind that these young women had their heart in their jobs, that they wanted to make their contribution to making life in the PVs, in a situation of armed conflict, more bearable for their fellow women and their children.

I don’t intend to go into details here.  But they had reason to fear the guerrillas, the security forces, the mujibas and denouncers and – alas – also some of the DSAs.  Men in position of power often try to extract sexual ‘services’ from women, as we know from refugee camps throughout the world.  In some PVs DSAs did this, even going to the extent (in at least one carefully documented case) of denouncing a young woman who did not comply as ‘having contact with terrorists’.  DCs Mudzi and Mtoko took disciplinary measures against DSAs where we could substantiate our case. 

An additional problem for both my field staff and I was that keep commanders changed all the time.  Initially they were young national service men – some of them whom had never been in a TTL before their first call-up.  Later they were mature men.  But few of them ever were sent to the same PVs for successive periods.  Thus few of them could give consistent support to DWs and WAs, even if they were thus inclined.  I spent many of the evenings I spent in PVs to explain to yet another new keep commander what we were trying to achieve.


Flying into PVs

I can’t remember when I started flying to the PVs.  It became too dangerous to travel there by road in my own car, on account of land mines and potential ambushes.  Internal Affairs had a small Air Wing, part of the African Development Fund (ADF) structure. They flew Cessna aircraft for casevac, reconnaissance, and re-supply purposes.  The parlance in our section was “I am going on the pay-run”.


Ken Brown, the Senior Operations Manager, often flew Dorienne and sometimes Penny Ross into Mashonaland Central and delighted in giving them both flying lessons.  Dee especially was all ‘abuzz’ about this.  Romance entered the airspace and Ken and Dorienne later married.

I was flown mainly by Russell Kilner, a highly capable pilot.  He had the reputation of being somewhat of a ‘cowboy’, as he dared to fly from and particularly to land on soggy runways during inclement weather on which others would not have tried to land.  I experienced such landings.  He had three young daughters and I was told that he made wonderful toys for them, including a dolls’ house with very intricate furnishings. Sometimes I flew with Laurie Graham.  The pilots were usually armed and trained in the handling of weapons.  I remember the pistol on Laurie’s belt.  I always felt safe flying into the PVs – usually being collected from and brought back to the nearby air strip by the armoured vehicle that carried out the ‘mine sweep’–  and I never experienced an incident on these trips.  But Russell was indeed later shot at from the ground while flying over Mrewa District and wounded in the stomach.  He was awarded the MSM.

The Internal Affairs pilots were always outstandingly helpful to us women CD Officers, truly appreciating that we ‘were still going out’, doing what they saw as valuable work.  Sometimes they also thought we were slightly mad.

Problems encountered by Women Advisers in PVs            

As the populations encompassing the kraals in which WAS lived and worked from were moved into PVs and CVs WAs had to move with them.  Dinah Nyakabau (Mrewa) had been the first, resettling in Nyamara PV in Pfungwe TTL in July 1975.   In Mudzi District Bertha Chibisa moved into Nyakuchena PV, Lydia Psuura into Chingururu CV  and Mary Chijaka into Dendera PV in July and August 1976.  In Mtoko District Idah Gurupira relocated into Mutsvaira, Norah Chitekwe into Chitekwe PV in January 1977.  Felicity Moyozvi moved into Katsekunye a few weeks later.

Like their relatives and neighbours they had to leave their homes in the TTL and build a new one the PV.  Since they had never been entitled to government housing, no financial help was given by the Ministry.  They started off with square pole and dagga huts.  photo 10  Within two years, however, Dinah Nyakabau had built a small compound of brick buildings.


When the WAs first moved to PVs they admitted being despondent.  They had witnessed the work they had built up over years destroyed during the months preceding the move.  Women’s clubs and other interest groups disbanded, voluntary workers were no longer active, representatives of women’s club and other voluntary organisations no longer visited.  In many areas local guerrilla leaders actively discouraged women’s clubs and other groupings.  In some they themselves became targets and they had to be weary of denouncers.  They were at a loss as to how to build up their CD work again.  Already before their move I had replaced their official job description with a ‘Two-Tone Plan’.   Later I adapted this to their work in the villages.  They were to concentrate on their own village at first, and if at all possible, encourage people to make it a model village.  Once they had things going there, they spread out to others.  As for skills training, they could call on DWs where possible.


By 1977 I had seven Women Advisers in PVs or CVs.  Although 18 months had passed between the first and the last of them moving, the problems each had to face were the same.  In their own words these were:


The pain of having to abandon one’s home, fields and garden in the TTL,

Household goods and furniture locked up in the old home (will it be burnt down? looted? Destroyed by the SF?).  (Some given to relatives to look after),

Lowering of housing, living standards,

Expense of building a new home in PV/CV,

Difficulties adapting to village life,

Difficulties re transport to other villages in work area, to DC's Office, to Salisbury (to see the PCDOW or to attend courses).

Lack of support – PCDOW so busy, can’t visit often enough, DC's office too busy with the war.

The men don’t really understand,

Work built up over several years destroyed,

Interest groups and women’s club coordination committees defunct,

Network of relationships with women leaders/voluntary workers destroyed,

No other government field staff in village, few left in the work area,

Voluntary workers (skills training) no longer active,

Fear that DWs Workers will be seen as a more useful worker than the WAs,

Domestic pressures – including children caught up in the war situation (fears for their safety, fears that they might become mujibas, chimbwidos, schooling interrupted).

Fear of the guerrillas,

Fear of the security forces,

Fear of mujibas,

Fear of denouncers,

Pain of witnessing violence, the effects of violence,

Difficulties of adapting former role to new circumstances.


We discussed these difficulties at length at a seminar for those in sensitive areas.  When I visited them in their PVs, we discussed more, often one-to-one.  This is when I heard in detail about the pressures, the pain faced by individual workers, the violence they witnessed.  I felt their pain, I felt powerless, I wished I had counselling skills, at least. 


Should Women Advisers wear uniforms?

At a refresher course we discussed whether WAs should still wear uniforms.  Government workers had become targets and many had left the service.  As a section we gave them the choice: uniforms were no longer compulsory.  At the time the WAs’ consensus was as follows:

“I have always worn the WAs’ uniform, have always been proud of it, I have always been proud of my work.  If I now take off my uniform, it is like saying that I am ashamed of the work I did, the work I am still trying to do.  If ‘they’ want to get me, they will find me, whether or not I am wearing the uniform.  I will continue to wear it.”  One was overheard to say:  “Mrs Chenaux-Repond can’t take of hers (indicating my white skin), and she still travels out almost every week.”

Later on most Women Advisers wore their uniforms while in their own PVs, but did not wear them when travelling between them.  DWs did likewise.  In Wedza District, where there were no PVs, WAs stopped wearing them in 1977.

Villages burnt

On Friday May 27, 1977, I got word from Mtoko District Office that Chitekwe PV had been partially burnt down by terrorists on May 20, that WA Chitekwe’s house and outbuildings had been destroyed and that she and her family (she was a widow) had been given temporary accommodation in Mtoko.  Similarly Makosa CV was partially burnt down “under fairly heavy attack” on May 22. We had only just stationed four Development Workers there in April.  Then the SDO Mudzi called to say that the Mudzi DWs needed moral support and advice on how to proceed with work considering the difficult security situation appertaining.  I visited both burnt villages on June 14 to assess the damage and to give moral support to WA Norah Chitekwe and DWs Rennie Njodzi, Winnie Mashonganyika, Queen-Mary Chipaumire and Mildred Chidzungu.

Norah Chitekwe wrote the following report:

The burning of the PV by terrorists – on 20 May 1977                              

Friday the 20th May at about 9.30 pm when I was asleep with my children my daughter woke me up and told me there was noise outside.  I said that perhaps it was people from a beer drink.  Few minutes later there was light over the Eastern side of the PV.  My son was sleeping with two other little boys in our big house and I went to wake him up.  Soon we all went out following the crowds.  I was carrying my old mother-in-law on my back.  On our way we met three armed men.  They ordered us to move downwards the gate way.  We found the gate open.  Being so frightened I couldn’t imagine the whole picture. There was smoke all over.  All were moving from the PV.  We walked to the school.  After an hour I heard some shooting.  Saturday morning we returned to the PV and found the keep commander waiting at the gate with the Army.  We were told to sit down.  People were asked questions and were beaten.  We were locked inside the burnt PV.  It was difficult to cook anything because the flames were still on.  In the evening some people tried to escape over the fence.  Sunday morning we also experienced hardship.   The DAs showed the people some clothes they had found near the fence.  The beating started again.  They at last found the people concerned.  On Monday I went to the DC.  I explained my position and the situation.  My big house and my two huts were burnt.  The Senior DO kindly arranged a temporary accommodation.  I then returned to the PV.  On Tuesday I moved to Mtoko [with my children and my mother-in-law].  Wednesday a tragic thing happened again.  All crops still under harvesting were burnt.   All huts were burnt and the windows & doors broken of the old [brick] homes, by the DAs & Army. My former house is lost. People are now just mixed up and everything is at a standstill. Being a widow I have the burden on my shoulders alone, and I am so worried with my future. Lost items: 2 bags maize,         1 big coat, 1 frying pan, 30 bags munga, 1 jersey, 1 dish, 1 bag layers concentrate, 1 shawl, 4 plates, 1 bag chick mash, 2 trousers, 1 curtain, 6 hens           1 shirt, 2-week old chicks, 4 dresses,             children’s clothing, my mother-in-law’s clothing.  Work items lost:  1 sleeping bag, 1 uniform, all my books for work and pens, all demonstration material.


Mrs Chitekwe worked in Mtoko Township for a while.  Then she returned to her PV and built again.  There was no government assistance for WAs.  Some of them, like Lydia Psuura, had to rebuild several times as Mudzi PVs were attacked and burnt.  Despite of these and the countless other hardships they faced, none of the WAs gave up.  They found the inner strength to cope with their own losses and to encourage their fellow women to start afresh.


Cooperation with women’s club organisations

As the war progressed, Women’s Group Liaison (WGL) offered to run courses in various centres in Harare especially for women in ‘sensitive areas’.  They asked us PCDOsW to do the recruiting for them.  During peace time such a request would not have been made, nor would it have been accepted.  However, during war time this cooperation worked to everyone’s benefit.  The Women’s Club umbrella organisations, whose representatives could no longer travel, did not lose contact with their members entirely and women got training which PCDOsW could not have given them.  The WAs encouraged women to rise above ‘the situation’ and go for training.


A visitor

Early August 1977 I got permission to take a school friend of mine – Dr Lucia Graf – who was visiting from Switzerland on a field visit to several PVs.  I felt very isolated in my own community at the time, as not many of our acquaintances were very interested in my work and certainly no local friend would ever have ventured into the war areas with me.  I longed to share the import of our CD work as part of the ‘peace effort with someone who would appreciate it.  I promised ‘not to take her anywhere dangerous’.  I was quite sincere in this, but my perception of what was a dangerous trip had been somewhat modified over time. 

Lucia herself has the following memories of this trip:

“I arrived Salisbury in the afternoon, by plane, and at supper you announced that we would have to be at a small airport [Mount Hampton] next morning at 6.00 am, for an excursion, so to speak.  Once there, a woman pilot [Laurie Graham], who had a pistol on her belt, took charge of us.  She was flying very low, there were many air pockets, and I got horribly sick.  The pilot apologized, said she had to fly below the enemy radar.  I only gradually realized what she meant by ‘enemy’.  After a while we landed in the middle of nowhere – ‘in the bush’, I learned later, this type of landscape was called.  We had to wait for two women you had to talk to.  In the meantime we were meant to eat the sandwiches you brought.  But not before the lady pilot had said to me that ‘should terrorists unexpectedly arrive, she would first shoot us and then herself’.  I had longed to be on firm ground, now all I wanted was to be in the air again.  I wasn’t hungry either”.


At Nyamande PV we first paid a courtesy call on chief Chikwizo.  The chief was absent, but we had a long talk with his wife.  Her husband had been installed after my 1974 chiefs’ wives course, so she had not had the benefit of that (or, indeed, any other) course.  Mrs Chikwizo was old, fairly frail and shy.  The main problem faced by Nyamande PV, she told us, was the absence of a clinic.  She herself had visibly infected eyes but said that the clinic was “too far away for the chief to take me there”.  Discussing the matter later with the ADC/DC I learnt that a small unoccupied building could be made available by Internal Affairs for a dispensary and I suggested that two women be selected to go for Red Cross Training.

The chief’s homestead – comprising a collection of pole and dagga huts – looked much like that of any other villager’s.  Of special interest to Lucia were the granaries, which – ‘woven’ from long, thin, flexible branches – looked like huge baskets.  Like Mrs Chikwizo Lucia and I sat on the ground, on a cloth spread out for us on the bare, baked earth.  Lucia, dressed in a long skirt like me, fitted herself into the setting perfectly, asking the old lady gentle questions about her life and expressing empathy for her poor health.

Although Chief Chikwizo and his wife have lived at Nyamande since the PV was built (first at the end of the airstrip, now in close proximity of the keep) neither had shown any interest in the Development Workers’ work or the activities of either the women’s or the girls’ group at Nyamande.  I spent considerable time explaining the workers’ actual and potential activities and encouraging her to visit.  “My eyes ….. ”, she said.

We then visited the literacy class taught by DW Synodia Nyamana.  A small classroom had been constructed by the community and the students, which included two teenage boys, were progressing well.  Synodia had also planted a vegetable garden with the class, but the first crop had been reaped by goats. 

A girls’ group had, however, been formed and was busy knitting babies’ garments from wool, donated from my meagre provincial funds and shipped to them by ‘air freight’.  Despite the hot climate they had not wanted shinda (cotton yarn).  “Proper babies’ clothes are made from wool, not cotton”, they said. The girls’ group handed me $5.00 to buy day-old chicks for them so that they could start a chicken project.  I had no doubt that the pilots would oblige flying them in, but the logistics of buying the chicks at the appropriate time, and possibly having to care for them in my office before safe dispatch, caused me some anxiety.  Half a dozen girls far too young to join the group sat at its periphery practicing knitting with scraps of wool, using ‘needles’ fashioned from the hard stalks of thatching grass.

We visited Msau – where our escort dropped us at the air-strip to await the plane, having other business to attend to.  The plane was late.  I enjoyed the rest gazing into the surrounding woodland, but Lucia became distinctly uneasy, though she never complained.  Laurie came, in due course, swept us up and deposited us at Mudzi.

The night we spent at the new training centre, which was still without electricity.  I had brought food with me, which we cooked on the wood stove.  We chatted by candle light (I always had a candle in my basket) lying on our springmaster beds, but soon fell asleep.  I awoke feeling happy that a friend had taken such interest in my work. 

Next morning an escort took us to the airstrip to be picked up by the ADF plane and be dropped off in Nyakosoro PV.  Lucia recounts:

“During our long wait at Mudzi airstrip our military escort carried out a check for landmines which might have been planted over-night.  We had to take a seat in the front cabin – they were jeeps with a short bridge.  The driver was white, the other members of the escort team were black.  They sat at the back.  The driver gave us cotton wool to stuff into our ears so that our eardrums would not burst so easily if we hit a mine.   But really, in the armoured cabin we would be fairly safe.  “What would happen to the men at the back?”, I asked.  “Well, they would not have much of a chance …” Once again I swallowed dry.  Maybe he noticed, because he toned down his remark with: “the vehicle is mine-protected, but they would be flung out.” “Why do we have to come with you, in the vehicle???”  I ventured.  “Because, if you remain standing alone at the edge of the airstrip you’ll be totally unprotected.  In this bush war the enemy is everywhere and invisible.  We just have not got the manpower to protect you, you are safest with us.”  I saw his point. 

Next we landed near a protected village.  We had to pass between two lines of armed men, their machine guns luckily pointing outwards, who escorted us to the village.  There I learnt that the women just had lessons on knitting babies’ woollies.  I thought to myself “They’d better teach them to shoot!”  I had to hang around for some time and wanted to stroll towards the small lake I could see across a fence.  A soldier, white, implored me not to do so as he was responsible for me.  I was awestruck.”

At Nyakasoro PV (Mrewa) we were greeted by DWs Eugenia Machiridza and Grace Nhumba.  The women’s club, flourishing by now, had decided to organize a show.  There being no-one else to do it, I had agreed to judge all articles in all sections – sewing, knitting, crocheting, cooking, baking, peanut butter, earthenware pots – everything except sadza.  I would not have dared to judge the sadza, as I could easily have incurred the wrath of husbands for being unfair, not being knowledgeable enough.  Cold lumps of it, presented on an enamel plate, had to be cut in half and examined for texture and taste.  Alas, sadza always remained sadza to me. 

The articles to be judged were already set out in a big room when we arrived.  I told the women leaders that Mrs Graf had come to help me judge the show articles, and they were much pleased to have a visitor.  Lucia, like me, was a smoker.  I had told her that I never, ever smoked in the presence of villagers, and certainly not in the presence of a chief. 

I had omitted the courtesy call to the chief.  Chief Chitsungo, who resided in the village, had never given me and the Development Workers any particular moral support.  Today he apparently changed his mind.  Lucia and I were busy judging the articles – and smoking – when the door opened and the chief made a grand entrance, dressed in full regalia – in his robe, his brass half-moon, his helmet and his staff.  He was followed by his wife, dressed for an official function, in court shoes, her outfit topped by a shop-bought hat.  Lucia and I discretely let our cigarettes drop out of the window.  I hoped the chief’s sense of smell wasn’t too good.  Formal courtesies completed, the chief and his wife took a great interest in every article on show.  The chief asked our opinion about the standard of ‘his’ women’s work.  I deferred to ‘our experienced visiting judge’, who praised it greatly. 

We had to interrupt our judging work, at the chief’s insistence, and inspect the big vegetable garden for which he had allocated land, and in which each household had been given beds according to the family’s size, women and children tending them.  The vegetable garden was indeed impressive.

At some stage the chief invited us both for lunch and his wife left to oversee the cooking.  We then toured the entire village with the chief.  At one home, by way of making conversation, I admired the clay two pots that were set on three stones on the fire, including a small pot containing only water gently bubbling away.  The chief simply took the pot off the fire, bare handed, poured out the water and held it towards me as a gift.  I was horrified and wanted to refuse it.  “No, no” he assured me, “This mother would love to give it to you!”  What else could the poor woman do but smile and nod?  The chief appropriated two more pots in this manner in two further households, a second one for me and one for ‘our visitor from far away’, all of them well-seasoned and blackened from much use on wood fires.  I could now protest with conviction that more would not be allowed in my luggage by the pilot, that I was assembling too much weight for the plane to stay in the air!  The two pots thus collected still stand on our mantelpiece over the fireplace.  Occasionally I have used them in the oven and then served traditional food in them.  I have a further, much larger one, a hari (water pot), given to me by WA  Nyakabau when she heard the story.  I cherish that finely crafted water pot, not only because of its workmanship, but because it had been much used by her, before that gruelling incident …..

We proceeded to the chief’s home, where – sitting on a reed mat – so much food was pressed on us that both of us nearly burst.  Lucia comported herself perfectly, not indicating that she had some reservations about hygiene and cheerfully eating with her hands, imitating our hosts as to how to roll the sadza.  Luke-warm fizzy cool drinks were duly offered – bright green ‘cream soda’ and bright purple ‘cherry-plum’, both guaranteed to be without any natural ingredients, except plenty of sugar.  I tried to take off their caps in the African fashion, using one cap to lever off the other, but fumbled.  The chief swiftly took the bottles out of my hands and opened them with his yellow, stubby teeth, which, as we had noticed on our tour, were rather smelly.  I silently gave full praise to Lucia, whose horror did not show on her face and who only discreetly wiped the top of her bottle on her skirt.

We returned to the hall to finish our task by writing out ‘tickets’ marked ‘1st’, ‘2nd’ and ‘3rd prize’ and ‘highly commended’.  I had brought a stapler in my office briefcase – a stiff, rectangular ‘pilot’s case’ – and we stapled the tickets to the articles.  We stuck little cleft sticks with the indication of the prize into the appropriate pots of peanut butter.  I asked the chief’s wife to do us the honour to judge the sadza.

In December I wrote to Lucia:

“How did your pot from Nyakosoro survive the journey back to Switzerland?  (Lucia still has hers to this day ….).  I have been back to the PV since our journey there, spending a whole day and the next morning, and staying the night.  I hope to have lain to rest the leadership struggle between the chief’s wife and the Development Worker, which had developed.  I took a Women Adviser with me.  We spent the whole day with the village women, discussing club management, explaining the role of a committee, how it should work, the role of a chairwoman, secretary, treasurer, and how to conduct open elections and ‘secret ballots’.  In view of the chief’s wife’s sensitivity we had also talked about the difference between a chairwoman, subject to election annually, and a president – a post reserved for very important persons, if there were any in the area, to be consulted in respect of very important issues and usually appointed for long periods.  The chief’s wife was made ‘president for life’ by acclaim. 

In the morning we held elections.  They had to be secret to avoid repercussions.  Thus, to elect the chairwoman, for whom we still had two nominations, we put two pots into a hut, guarded by the Women Adviser, each decorated with the duku (headscarf) of the relevant nominee.  I made the women line up and, before they entered the hut one by one, I gave each one small stick to place into the pot of her preferred candidate.  Stick counting was done by the chief’s wife, now ‘president’, in full view of everybody.  It fell to her to announce the woman with the most sticks in her pot duly elected – for one year, she stressed.  The process was repeated for vice-chair, secretary, vice-secretary and treasurer, where there was more than one nominee.  By the time we came to the two ordinary committee members, assembled women suggested that these could now be elected by acclaim.  

The DW, from now on, has to be formally invited by the committee to attend any meeting or to assist with any teaching.  Thus both antagonists are out of the power game. 

The young woman who was elected secretary has only recently graduated from the Nyakosoro literacy class!  (She had been semi-literate before, having had to leave school as a child in Grade 3). The person who was chosen as treasurer is an elderly widow.  I noticed here and elsewhere that widows and divorcees are preferred for this post, because ‘there will be no husband who can tempt her, or force her, to ‘lend’ him club money.…’


The evening of the first day the chief invited me for supper.  I declined – but promised to come for lunch next time – as I wanted to spend time with the keep staff, to enlighten them to what we are doing.  I so often spend evenings in PVs like this, trying to explain that the significance our work goes beyond the learning of domestic skills, that we are trying to bring a semblance of normality into the lives of women and children ‘behind the wires’.  The situation in this keep is actually a bit delicate, as the chief apparently refuses to cooperate in any way with keep staff and with the soldiers who so often pass through, sometimes spending a few nights there, but ‘has apparently adopted me’.   This has raised suspicion not only in the minds of keep staff here, but also in the District Commissioner Mrewa’s office.  Even more so since I refuse to have any Internal Affairs Security Assistants present at our meetings, cramping our style.

Before retiring to meet the keep staff and soldiers I spent an hour with the Literacy Teacher and the Development Worker under the stars.  The night was inspiringly beautiful and seemed so peaceful.  But once a flare rose into the sky at the horizon to the North East, making us fall silent as the keep radio burst into life.  A nearby village thought it was being attacked.  Fortunately no attack took place.”


A few weeks after our joint trip the following notice appeared in The Rhodesia Herald:

Boy Survives Elephant Attack

Elephants have trampled a tribeswoman to death and badly injured a nine-year-old boy in the Makota Tribal Trust Land near the Mozambique border. The boy, Michael, was found at the scene the day after the attack, being comforted by his aged grandfather.  He had been picked up by an elephant and hurled against a tree.  They were discovered by chance by a Police Support Unit patrol.  Michael is now in Mtoko Government Hospital suffering from chest and face injuries.  A police spokesman said the attack occurred near the Msau Keep, north of Mtoko.  The boy and three women disturbed four elephants.  One woman, Rhoda, was trampled to death.  The other two women ran off and notified Michael’s aged grandfather, who found the boy. Michael was taken to a nearby airstrip from where a Police Reserve Air Wing plane took him to Mtoko.  His grandfather, reluctant at first because he had never flown, went with him.  The boy’s condition is satisfactory.”


Perhaps we had been in dangerous territory after all ……

What did we achieve in the PVs???

Obviously, in this article, I can’t recount in detail what we achieved – or where we failed – in each PV.  I have thus concentrated on a few, notably on Nykasoro, into which I always flew direct.  Amongst the ‘material’ successes were improved environmental hygiene and better health, the resurrection of women’s clubs and shows, the formation of girls’ cubs (‘YFC’s) , the establishment of vegetable gardens for better nutrition, the supplementary feeding of under-fives (the distribution of Red Cross milk and the Freedom from Hunger Campaign feeding scheme), and the establishment of Red Cross Posts, literacy classes and pre-schools.


Both WAS and DWs made innumerable home visits to listen to problems and drop ideas for action.  They encouraged the building and maintenance of latrines and rubbish pits (by 1976 these became compulsory and were enforced by keep commanders where they were not voluntarily dug)[xviii] and the erection of pot stands.  They gave lessons and advice on the prevention of diseases and on balanced nutrition to prevent – and cure where it occurred – kwashiorkor and marasmus amongst children[xix].  When the International Red Cross started to supply milk powder for ‘under-fives’ in operational areas, it was distributed by DWs (providing one was stationed in the village).  In others WAs encouraged women to take on this task.  They workers did not distribute the powder, lest it go into the adults’ tea.  The milk was reconstituted with boiled water; the children arrived with their own cups at an appointed time and drank the milk in their presence.


In some PVs WAs and DWs were able to resurrect women’s clubs that had formerly been functioning in the area, or to form new ones.  In others we were not.  In some areas voluntary workers (skills trainers) gradually came ‘out of hiding’.  In some PVs women even rose to organise shows.  In a number of PVs we were able to form Young Farmers’ Clubs (YFC) with teenage girls, savings clubs or at least ‘societies’.  It was not always the skill or dedication of the WA or DW that determined whether or not interest groups would be started and projects engaged in.  Some local guerrilla leaders tolerated no gatherings other than church services on a Sunday – somewhat strange, I thought, for communists.  Church services were well attended in many PVs.


Where women’s and/or girls’ groups got established DWs gave lessons in home-craft skills, nutrition, the prevention of diseases, vegetable growing, chicken rearing and club management.  They also moved to other villages to give such lessons, principally at the requests of WAs.  Both encouraged former voluntary workers to re-engage themselves.  Some of them did.  We managed to hold a few courses for teenage girls at the newly established Mudzi Training Centre.

In Nyakasoro and Nyamande,  and later in Gozi we established adult literacy classes. (Three DWs were trained Literacy Teachers).  When the students were ready, I endeavoured to arrange for an ALOR representative to test them and to present certificates to graduates.  A was able to do this for Nyakasoro PV on March 3/4, 1977. 


My friend Janet Gwanzura – a teacher trainer employed by ALOR – was brave enough to accompany me into a war area and conquered her fear of boarding an aeroplane ‘so small that it cannot possibly stay in the air’.  Today, aged 77, she still tells the story of how Russell Kilner had to fly very low to avoid enemy fire, that the bumpy ride made her sick, how interesting it was, though, to see trees and footpaths so clearly from the air, how the pilot had to circle Nyakasoro several times because one could not see where to land because of the mist, how he suddenly dived down when the clouds parted, how we were brought to the village on the back of an open truck, how the wheels spun on one occasion and we both got covered in mud from head to toes, arriving at the village very dirty.


The next day was sunny.  The students were tested and they all passed.  They then gave a  demonstration to relatives and friends, on the helicopter landing pad, proving to them that they could now truly read and write, and even do sums on the black board.  They all got a certificate, with due ceremony.  The DW had baked a cake for the celebration that followed, and we ate it with lots of sugary, milky tea, together with the biscuits I had brought.  Life had been made a bit better for some women and girls!


In many PVs WAs and DWs established play groups.  As a result of the distance to the fields, and the prohibition against taking food out of the village, many mothers left their small children at home, insufficiently supervised and fed during the day.  Thus we encouraged the establishment of play groups.  In ‘non-sensitive’ districts, where such groups flourished in many areas, the establishment, running and financing of ‘pre-schools’ was strictly the role of parents, ie almost exclusively of the mothers.  They formed appropriate committees, selected the ‘pre-school supervisors’ and sent them for training.  In PVs this was not possible yet.  Thus a number of DWs – and one Women Adviser – not only initiated but actually ran a play-group.  This was definitely not part of their job description.  I condoned it because in some PVs there was simply no one else to take on this responsibility.  WA Nyakabau worked under such difficult circumstances in Nyamara that running a play group and dispensing medicines for simple ailments (I had sent her for Red Cross training) was the most constructive thing she could do for many months.   During home visits to parents she was able, in due course, enthuse two fathers to cut poles, 10 mothers to collect and comb thatching grass and others to build a shelter to protect the children from sun and rain.  


There were, of course, no toys or educational apparatus.  DWs kept the children safe and entertained them with rhymes, songs and games.  To get additional ideas, DWs needed training.  I provided some myself, but WGL started conducting play-group courses for ‘sensitive areas’ and I was able to send both staff and mothers to these. 


Then I had an idea.  Children of the age group of our youngest daughter Yvonne were just the right age to be enthused to make toys for the pre-school groups we were establishing  in ‘the keeps’.  I presented my idea to J Siney, the headmaster of Yvonne’s school (Alfred Beit School in Mabelreign). He gave me his full support and on April 15, 1977, I was allowed to give two talk to two groups assembled in the hall – first all the all the Standard 5s, then all the Standard 4s, Yvonne’s age group.  The assembly hall was packed with inquisitive 11-year old girls and boys.  They all knew that there was a war and harboured their own fears.  Many had fathers, brothers, uncles or cousins on call-up.  I did, of course, not go into the rights and wrongs of the war.  But children understand that wars are not caused by children, and that even the enemy’s children are innocent victims.  The structure of my talk was simple:  “What is a ‘protected village’?”  “What does it look like?”  “A typical day in the life of a small child living there – a good day, a bad day.” “What you could do to make life better, a bit more joyful, for small children in a protected village”.   I told them about the pre-school groups mothers and older girls were forming there, but that these groups had absolutely no toys or equipment – not even paper, colouring pencils or glue.  I showed them samples of toys they could make to equip these ‘pre-schools’. 


Both children and teachers were enthusiastic.  And so a project was born that engaged all Standard 4s of the school for an entire school holiday and term, under the guidance of Mrs Bennet, one of Yvonne’s teachers.  During the holidays the children collected materials, during the arts and craft lessons (and even other periods) of the next school term they all made toys.  They made toys to have fun with, dolls to love, soft toys to cuddle, and they made an astonishing range of educational toys.  There were picture books, there were matching cards, sorting trays, puzzles, memory games, dominos, sewing cards –  even books of cloth with which you could learn to do up buttons, bows, zips and shoe laces. The teachers, of course, knew exactly what was suitable for the age group.  There were nurse sets, complete with ‘uniforms’, (needleless) syringes and stethoscopes and unbreakable medicine bottles.  Sets of toys were packed into donated cardboard suitcases, as teachers well knew that the embryo pre-schools would have no storage facilities.

I brought the first lot of toys to Nyamara  (Mrewa), later lots to Makaha and other PVs.  The joy they brought was boundless.  Later I was invited by leaders of the Girls’ Brigade of the Presbyterian Church to give a similar talk.  They, too, made toys.  I shared my bounty with other officers.


Red Cross posts

Another achievement – to which many others contributed – was the establishment of ‘Red Cross Posts’.  As the former clinics collapsed and many of the qualified nursing staff left the operational areas, and as those still operating were too far from many PVs, there was need to train ‘barefoot doctors’- health staff who could at least treat minor ailments and injuries.  Extensive discussions took place between the CDSW, the Ministry of Health and the Red Cross Society of Rhodesia, who in turn discussed the project with the International Red Cross, which decided to provide much of the funding.


Keep Commander Simon Pitt, in charge of Marembe PV, who had a true concern for the people and was one of the few who returned to the same PV for every call-up, wrote to me early that the village committee was prepared to build a ‘clinic’ and a number of teenagers (boys and girls) were keen to go for suitable training and to ‘man’ it.  Internal Affairs policy was not yet ready, however Mrs Ruth Tucker, Director of the Rhodesia Red Cross, went to investigate.  She remembered in 2011: 

“I was told that a ‘clinic’ (we called them Red Cross Posts) was wanted in Marembe PV, Mudzi, ca 30 km beyond the District Station, on the main road.  That’s where I met [Keep Commander] Simon Pitt.  I thought he was the right sort, development minded. I told him that Internal Affairs, or the people, had to build the Red Cross Post – to my specifications.  If it was not done properly I would refuse to stock it.  (‘I was quite fearsome at the time’, she added with a chuckle).  We had standardised building plans and minimum specifications.  They did and I went to inspect.  It was sort of all right.  Two young women were trained at Westwood-Kambuzuma, at our Training Centre.  I visited Marembe PV quite often to supervise them.  If I thought, on one of my visits to any such post that a trainee was not suitable, she had to be replaced.”

Marembe Dispensary was established on April 16, 1977, before all others in Mashonaland East and became a proto type, though the buildings housing some of the others were more modest.


By July 5, 1977, the Secretary for Internal Affairs issued a circular outlining how the project agreed upon by the three partners was to operate. It fell to PCDOsW to recruit women who were acceptable to the people in the PVs, willing to be trained, and on graduation to ‘man’ the Red Cross Posts every morning, in return for a small allowance.  Mtoko District was not yet ready for the exercise.  DC Mrewa informed the PC in writing that he did not wish to participate in the scheme.  DC Mudzi selected Gozi, Chikwizo and Nyamande PVs for the experiment because either suitable buildings already existed or the villagers were prepared to build them.  I visited these PVs on July 5 and 6, 1977, to interview and select applicants to be trained as ‘Red Cross Nurses’.  Two women per village went for training and the dispensaries were opened in due course.  In Mashonaland Central, where the PVs were established earlier and more settled, many Red Cross Posts were established the same year.



Tragically, some of my WAs and DWs became victims of the war.  WA Colleen Goto in Wedza,  together with her husband, who was a councillor, was brutally beaten for hours by members of the security forces who thought they had information on guerrillas, which they had not.  WA Dinah Nyakabau in Mrewa – together with others who had been denounced as ‘sell-outs’ – was savagely brutalized by terrorists, and for some time lost her mind.  She returned to work on her own accord when she had recovered sufficiently, but was murdered by a different group a year later.  WA Norah Chitekwe in Mtoko was denounced to the terrorists by someone who chose this manner to settle personal scores and killed by mujibas.  DW Mashonganyika in Mudzi lost her life in an ambush after the vehicle she was travelling in with others detonated a landmine.  Women Adviser Chibisa’s daughter was abducted.  My close friend and assistant in the provincial office, Philippa Maphosa, helped me to find school places in town for some of the sons and daughters of WAs to prevent them being ‘recruited’ as mujibas or chimbwidos, being abducted or otherwise harmed. 


My own psyche became affected.  I was never present when atrocities were being committed.  I only witnessed the after-effects of violence, of landmine explosions, of mutilations.  I began to suffer from horrendous nightmares, later from insomnia.  I learnt to repress.  As I sat in the keeps at night, I wondered whether our country would ever come ‘right’ again.  Apart from those killed or maimed there would be countless psychologically damaged men and women – mentally and emotionally maimed from the violence they had endured, witnessed, instigated or perpetrated.   



In December 1977, immediately after the Women Advisers’ refresher course, I was transferred to Mashonaland West, much to my chagrin.  D Graham Jolly withdrew from Urungwe and Lomagundi Districts and from now on worked exclusively in Mashonaland Central.  Mashonaland East remained uncovered, although Philippa Maphosa manned the provincial office for some months longer.  I resigned from the CDSW in October 1978 and from Government Service in December 1989, after having served in the Branch of Community Development Training and in DERUDE, the Department of Rural Development in the Ministry of Lands (later in Local Government), which implemented the first phase of the land redistribution program, the resettlement schemes, which gave land to effectively landless peasant families on former commercial farms, bought by government on a ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ basis.


I obviously experienced the chimurenga differently from the men in the Administration or the paramilitary wings of Internal Affairs.  I experienced it differently from my husband, who served in the Police Field Reserve, guarding convoys, bridges and ranches in the lowveldt and differently from our eldest daughter’s boyfriend, who was on active service as a National Serviceman.  I experienced it as a woman, who was not required by law to fight and abhorred the war.  I experienced it differently again from my women field staff.  They had to live and work in the war areas without respite or escape.  I only spent several days at a time there and could escape to the safety of my home in Salisbury in-between.


We each had our experiences and, as a result, we each harbour our own ‘truth’.  There are many truths. 


Maia Chenaux-Repond                                                                                               Harare, May 1, 2012

[email protected]






[i]   A Decade of Challenge and Achievement – The Story behind the Community Development Section (Women)

   of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Rhodesia (1976), Spectrum (Pvt) Ltd, Salisbury.


[ii]  Statement of Policy and Directive by the Prime Minister, 1965 (amended 1971), Government of Rhodesia,

   Prime Minister’s Office. Government Printers, Salisbury.

[iii]  Their correct title was ‘Women’s Organisation Adviser’, but their full designation was never used.

[iv]  Men mostly provided the leadership, but also provided labour.  Women mostly worked on these projects. 

[v]  In the economic field this means encouraging women to recognize that the adoption of modern farming methods

   as one of the chief means of improving family income.  In the field of health this means encouraging women to

   work towards the provision of health services, to avail themselves of existing ones, including family planning

   services, and to achieve better standards of nutrition, sanitation and hygiene.     

[vi]  Ca 60% of the population was aged below 19 years.  After the age of 20, significant numbers of young men

    left the rural areas to seek wage employment in towns.  Thus two thirds of the remaining adults were women.

[vii]  Profiles of Rhodesia’s Women’ (1976), National Federation of Business and professional Women of Rhodesia,

    Salisbury, ISBN 0 7974 0169 5.

[viii] The 1969 constitution had provided for a Senate of 23 members, ten of whom were chiefs, nominated by the

     Council of Chiefs.

[ix]  Chinamora TTL was famed for its market gardens, notably for growing and marketing tomatoes, even then.

[x]  The burgeoning Seke Township, administered by Internal Affairs, had been added to my work area.

[xi]  Operation Overload’ and ‘Operation Stronghold’.

[xii]  On maps it is shown as belonging to Rushinga District, but it was at that time administered from Mrewa.

[xiii] A ‘fertility trench’ is really an inverted compost heap.  You dig a trench the width of a normal vegetable bed and

    one metre deep.  You then put in vegetable matter (even dry grass if there is not much else), top it with manure, if

    you have it, alternating layers of vegetable matter and manure with layers of soil.  In Zimbabwe its best dug in

    the rainy season, so that the vegetable matter can break down quickly.  The soil is thus enriched, gets a better

    structure and will retain moisture better during the dry season.  Earthworms move in, enriching the soil further.

[xiv] A ‘zambia’ is a piece of colourful cloth wound around one’s dress to protect it from being soiled.  At meetings

     it is spread on the ground to serve as a ‘mat’.

[xv]  Mrs Chitekwe was the first Women Adviser appointed to the vast Mtoko District and had occasionally visited

     the area before the district was divided into Mudzi and Mtoko).

[xvi]  There was always some Internal Affairs semi-military personnel present when a keep was under construction.

[xvii]  Leaf vegetable.

[xviii] Circular X/458 to PCs and DCs ‘General Orders : Protected Villages’.

[xix] Kwashiorkor is caused by insufficient protein in the diet and is particularly prevalent amongst children under

     five years of age.  Marasmus is caused by insufficient food per sea.