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Elizabeth Musodzi and the Birth of African Feminism in Early Colonial Zimbabwe by Tsuneo Yoshikuni

‘In July 1949, Musodzi was busy interviewing officials on this matter. As a representative of the women’s club she saw the director of the Native Administration and told him that there was a crying need for a crèche in view of the fact that many women wanted to work.’



Here is a story of a woman who refused to be confined to her home to play out the traditional script of a woman belonging to the kitchen and did the best that she could to empower women and children in her community. A story of a woman who was part of the founders of the Women’s Club and also a dedicated social worker. She was deeply loved and revered by her community and beyond. It is not certain when she was born like most people of that time. Births were marked by outstanding events, and according to her own account of her life she was born in the ‘year of the locusts.’ She was born in Gomba in what has been estimated to be some time around 1885 and was later christened Elizabeth on her baptism. She was married to Frank Ayema and they had five children. Affectionately known as ‘Amai’ in her community at the time, she lived up to the name, being open and welcoming to everyone.

Musodzi’s feminism is about service. A dedication to the progress of women in her community. She did this by advocating for women to have access to knowledge and education. She believed that a woman had to have something for herself and pushed the traditional boundaries of womanhood, as a successful farmer (before moving to the city) she later created projects for women to venture into gardening. Further, she pushed for the education of the girl child in her own home and beyond. Her feminism was rooted in lived experience and the firsthand witnessing of the oppression of the women in her community. Musodzi was a woman who led and served. It is also important to note that she collaborated. Even after it’s been over fifty years since she died, her community (even those born many decades later) has not forgotten her. If there was ever a case of ‘people will remember how you made them feel,’ this has to be one!

Of the stories told in this book there are two stories that stand out for me. One is about how she attended a meeting of Mashonaland chiefs who among many other things discussed how the Native Commissioner should not allow divorces because they were the reason for the high rate of unemployed and unmarried women in town. Mrs Musodzi’s opinion in such matters was of great significance and upon being asked for her opinion she said that it was the men who were causing so many divorces by ill treating their wives and the women only found divorce as their saving grace. They were the problem that needed to be solved! The other one is about the work done by the Women’s club, it was more than a home craft movement. The club gave the women an opportunity for recreation and social events (a world outside of their own home), Red Cross classes (which later broadened in the 1940s by training ‘housewives’ as nurses progressing to the central hospital as training nurses), encouraging registered marriages and securing accommodation for widowed women or women whose husbands found themselves unemployed. The formation of a maternity clinic was partly due to the out cries and recommendations by the Women’s Club (present day Mbare poly clinic). The work of the Women’s club is admirable from charity and community services, to assisting rural women to the formation of a crèche for working women and garden competitions. The importance of the club’s work is evidenced by how it branched out into other towns like Mrewa. If anything this highlights the importance of community and team work.

Here are some important facts from the book:

  1. Around 1940 Musodzi,Sabina Maponga and Bertha Charlie launched a solidarity, Prima Pri Maria, which later became Chita chaMaria Hosi yeDenga (the Union of Mary Queen of Heaven) in the Catholic Church. She was the first chairperson.

  2. Musodzi and other women formed the Salisbury African Women’s Club in 1938. Musodzi was the president of the club until her death in 1952.

  3. There were approximately over 2000 people in attendance at her funeral in 1952.

  4. She was awarded the M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire) in acknowledgement of her work to the Red Cross Society during the war.

  5. Nehanda, Charwe was her aunt (father’s sister).

I found the book to be interesting and quite enlightening. The book is divided into two chapters with a prologue and epilogue. Written by Professor Tsuneo Yoshikuni, this is a short read which left me wanting to know more about Musodzi, the women she worked with and those who benefited from the various projects which she led. This biography lays a solid foundation for further reading. This book is important because women who played significant roles in society are often written out of history.


Book Details

Title: Elizabeth Musodzi and the Birth Of African Feminism in Early Colonial Zimbabwe

Author: Tsuneo Yoshikuni

Genre: Biography

Pages: 32

Publisher: Weaver Press (2008)

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