Tete: Woman they couldn’t cow
THE death of Cde Sabina Mugabe robbed Zimbabwe of a veteran nationalist and woman activist of excelling abilities. Cde Sabina, sister to His Excellency President Robert Gabriel Mugabe, passed on at the Avenues Clinic in Harare on Thursday, 29 July, 2010, after suffering successive strokes in 1985 and 2005 which damaged her brain, leaving her ailing.
Sadly she would not recover as her condition deteriorated progressively.
She was 80.
The late Sabina, who was widowed in 1980, following the death of her husband, Johannes Zhuwawo, is survived by four children.
Popularly known as “Tete”, Cde Sabina was born on October 14, 1929, at Kutama Village in the Zvimba communal area. She was the eldest daughter and fifth child in a family of six.
With the father’s second marriage, the family grew to nine children: three girls and six boys. Her parents were Bona and Gabriel Mugabe.
Her other siblings include Michael, Raphael, Donato, David, Albert and Bridget, all late, and Robert (the President), and Regina who survive her.
Cde Sabina attended Kutama Mission in Zvimba. She was a day student and completed her primary education in 1946. She trained as a teacher at Empandeni Teachers’ Training College in Bulawayo from 1947.
After her training, she taught at Benhura and Ngezi schools in Mhondoro in the 1950s, before transferring to Mhandu, a school in her home area. In the 1960s, she assisted in the formation of the Highfield Community School, and in the launch of other projects that benefited society.
In 1975, Tete Sabina obtained her Ordinary Level Certificate after which she went abroad to advance her education. She first went to London where she studied Home Economics at Battersea College.
Still in London, she read for another course in Nutrition at Richmond College. By the time she left England, Tete Sabina had obtained a certificate in Policy Formulation and Implementation and another Certificate in Home Economics.
In 1977, she relocated to Canada where she pursued Development Studies at Coardy International Institute in Nova Scotia.
She also obtained a Diploma in Social Development at Saint Francis Xavier College, and later another Diploma in Dressmaking, Fashion and Design at the Paris Academy of Fashion.
On her return from the Diaspora, Cde Sabina taught and lectured at Silveira House, a Roman Catholic centre in Chishawasha which she served for 20 years. For 12 years, she was the Head of Applied Nutrition and Development Department at the centre. She contributed greatly in community development as she trained women in the area in survival skills.
With her father late, her eldest brother either in prison or in exile leading the armed struggle, the burden of raising the enlarged Mugabe family fell on her and the ageing Ambuya Bona.
It is this great challenge which cultivated in her the spirit of self-reliance and strong family values.
She made different wares, all the time moving far and wide in search of markets for them.
That way, the family income was augmented and children were able to go to school. Her close contact with the family ensured all who grew under her were steeped in family values.
It is a lasting legacy in the family.
Cde Sabina was one of the few courageous women who dared join the political fray quite early. Her political foundation was laid far back in 1960 when she joined nationalist politics as a member of the National Democratic Party (NDP). At great personal risk, she mobilised people of her home area, Zvimba, into protesting against the settler colonialists. Indeed Zvimba district became a hot-bed of nationalist activism.
Soon, many nationalists would be arrested en masse following violent protests in various parts of the country.
Tete Sabina assisted detained nationalists and freedom fighters with food and clothing procured from modest proceeds from her informal enterprise.
Together with cadres like Amai Victoria Chitepo and the late Ruth Chinamano, she played communication conduit between incarcerated nationalists in prison and Zanu’s external wing led by the late Chairman Cde Herbert Chitepo, and tasked to prosecute the armed struggle.
It was a very delicate affair full of risks. To avoid detection, Cde Sabina would carry vital letters all the way to the small town of Kadoma for posting.
There, the risk of detection would be minimal. Through that link, co-ordination between the leadership inside Rhodesian jails and those leading the struggle externally, was achieved.
She became the organising secretary of NDP in her home area and was instrumental in mobilising youths who sabotaged economic targets, including agricultural equipment at Darwendale.
NDP was banned in 1961 and many young men and women left the country to train as freedom fighters.
Cde Sabina became a member of the successor Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) which was also later banned. In August 1963, she became instrumental in the formation of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu). She was among the pioneering women in Zanu at its infancy.
The late Cde Sabina faced hard times during the period of nationalist divisions which triggered bloody political skirmishes in townships, including Highfield, where she stayed.
At one time, a group of about 200 youths from Highfield Community School were mobilised to stone her home. As unrest escalated and the risk of arrest grew, she went into hiding at Ranche House College.
Cde Sabina would later study bookkeeping at the college.
When her brother Robert Gabriel Mugabe was arrested for political activism, the Salisbury City Council, acting on instructions from the Smith regime, repossessed their Highfield house.
She fought hard and succeeded in recovering it. She went to the extent of taking her three children to the council offices, threatening to leave them there if she did not get her house back.
That way, she turned tables against racist authorities. The same house later became a safe haven for nationalists who would have been released from detention, such as Cdes Nkala, Malianga, Tekere and Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole who had also lost their houses during the crackdown by the council.
She assisted in the secret recruitment of freedom fighters using Silveira House as both base and cover.
A good number of cadres came from Mabvuku where Cde Joseph Chakaipa led the recruitment drive.
As the political tension was building up in 1975, Cde Sabina left the country for the United Kingdom, using a pseudonym.
After the Lancaster House Agreement in 1979, Cde Sabina was actively involved in campaigning for Zanu-PF and in organising women in her rural province of Mashonaland West. In 1984, she was elected Secretary for Women’s Affairs in her province. When Zanu-PF’s Women’s League was launched, she became Secretary for National Production.
She was the brains behind Matunu Training Centre, a women’s co-operative that trained the management of self-help projects in Manicaland. This urge to work with communities had started way back in 1970s when Tete Sabina launched a dress-making project in Chegutu.
Through it and many such programmes, she was able to dispense vital skills to many women who otherwise faced dim prospects in life. — A Guide to the Heroes Acre.