We fought and won together: Alice Mazorodze’s story

The Herald

Walter Muchinguri

Senior Researcher & Writer, Zimpapers Knowledge Centre

CHE Guevara dropped his medical bag and went to war. Simon Mazorodze grabbed his medical bag and went to war”, Mrs Alice Mazorodze aptly writes in her biography of Dr Simon Mazorodze, titled “Icho Charira! Together We Fought! Together We Won!” published in 2020. 

The book is exceptional, considering that she is probably the only widow of the national heroes interred at the Heroes Acre to write a biography of the couple’s life, trials and tribulations.

In the first chapter, ‘In State’, she graphically describes how her husband and comrade-in-arms suffered a heart attack while having lunch at a local hotel, and later died at the Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals. 

These are some of the takeaways from her book: The country’s eminent nationalists successfully led the struggle partly because they were ably assisted by their wives, some of whom were not even born in Zimbabwe, but eventually became Zimbabweans in the true sense due to their marital status.

Most of the women met their Zimbabwean husbands while they were studying or working in their respective countries and had to migrate to Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia after their husbands decided to return home.

These women despite not having been born in the country chose to adopt their husbands’ struggle as their own and after independence some became politicians in their own right.

Some names that easily come to mind are the late First Lady Sally Francesca Mugabe, who was Ghanaian, and Cdes Ruth Lottie Chinamano, Victoria Chitepo from South Africa and Maria Msika from Botswana.

Such was their contribution to the country during the struggle and after independence that it was seen fit to declare them national heroines and they were interred at the National Heroes Acre together with other eminent sons and daughters of Zimbabwe.

The Herald tracked down Mrs Alice Mazorodze to her Glen Forest farmhouse. The affable and graceful-looking lady was only too happy to tell her story, for the sake of future generations.

Mrs Mazorodze, who turned 80 recently, was born Alice Jean Shumise Madinga in Nthlenzi near Flagstaff in Transkei, South Africa on June 17, 1941 and was the last born in a family of 10.

“My father gave me the name Shumise, which referred to 10 shillings or 10 bob because I was his 10th child,” she said.

She grew up in a typically Xhosa traditional set-up in the Eastern Cape, where they were distant neighbours with Nelson Mandela. In 1960 she got an opportunity to realise her life-long dream of becoming a nurse when she was offered a place to study nursing at the King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban. It was here that she was to meet her future husband Dr Mazorodze, who was at the time a student doctor attached at the same hospital.

“He (Simon) and five of his friends came up to me as I was making coffee for my seniors in the NZ department and they asked me to make them some and from there on, Simon and I started talking and we made future appointments,” she said.

She said the young Simon was so smitten by her charm that he had difficulty in asking her out, only managing to stammer something about lunch and taking her out. They fell in love and were married on July 7, 1962.

“I did not complete my nurse training because soon after our marriage, my husband completed his studies and was eager to return home. 

“We returned to Durban where we had a small ceremony at my sister Gebashe’s home in Lamontville and thereafter, we came to Harare and my husband started his housemanship as one of the first five black doctors at Harare Central Hospital (now Sally Mugabe Central Hospital), while I settled down as a housewife,” she said.

Mrs Mazorodze said that it was here that her husband started helping the people and being politically active clandestinely, because civil servants were not allowed to be involved in politics.

“This earned him the nickname ‘Sekuru’ because he was always willing to listen and to assist people,” she said.

At night she had to be content with her husband being away most nights during which he would visit surrounding townships to meet with colleagues as the political temperature continued heating up.

Inadvertently, Dr Mazorodze was among the founding members of Zanu in 1963. The couple were then blessed with two of their four children Farai born in 1964, followed by Caroline in 1965. The third and last born – Cassandra and Esmond came in 1970 and 1975, respectively. 

In 1966, the couple visited Zambia to get first-hand experience of an independent state after it gained its independence in 1964 and were left convinced that true independence was possible in Zimbabwe.

“We got to Lusaka very late. We were supposed to stay at a friend’s place and we ended driving around looking for a hotel, and we found a room at the Victoria Hotel. I went ahead to the room to ensure that the children are settled while my husband remained behind to take care of our bags,” she said.

“He only came to the room after two hours and I learnt that the hotel was owned by George Nyandoro and James Chikerema with whom he had spent time talking to about events back home and those in Zambia.”

On their way back home, they went via Livingstone and put up at a hotel for civil servants.

In 1966 the couple decided that Mrs Mazorodze should go to the United Kingdom to finish her nursing training at Birmingham University. “At that time, it was difficult for black people to travel overseas and a friend of my husband who was based in Bulawayo just advised us to buy an air ticket and for me to go straight through the airport once I had the ticket, which is what I did,” she said.

“On arrival in the UK, I was declared a prohibited immigrant and a policewoman was assigned to watch over me as we waited for my repatriation on the same aeroplane that I had flown in with that had proceeded to the United States.”

Later the authorities asked her if there was someone who could assist her in that country and she was assisted by Dr South, who had worked with her husband at Harare Central Hospital, who was now based in the UK.

“She secured a place for me at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. They did not mind that I had not completed my training,” she said.

“I travelled there throughout the night and as soon as I arrived, they put me to work. The hospital handled emergency cases and was very busy. Unfortunately for me, I had bought new clothes and shoes since I was travelling to another country, and I had blisters on my feet by the end of the shift.”

After three months, she moved to Hertfordshire Hospital and then Edgeware in Middlesex and finally South London Hospital in Balham. She concentrated on primary health care nursing, ante-natal clinics and immunisations. 

In 1969 Mrs Mazorodze returned home as a state registered nurse and midwife, qualifications she obtained through in-house training in the hospitals she worked. 

She joined her husband who had been transferred to Ndanga District Hospital in Masvingo Province. “The Smith regime decided that African doctors should go and serve their own people in the rural areas, while white doctors would remain in towns and cities. So, my husband was transferred to Zaka in Masvingo where he was in charge of five hospitals: Ndanga, Harava, Siyawareva, Bikita and Chitando,” she said.

Meanwhile, Dr Mazorodze continued to provide medical and material support to the freedom fighters with the support of villagers. Mrs Mazorodze, who had secured a place at Ndanga hospital, adopted her husband’s revolution and became her husband’s closest confidante.

In turn her superiors deflected her from working within the hospital by dispatching her to clinics in surrounding areas that were experiencing high child and maternal morbidity and mortality rates as a way of “fixing” her.

 She took her new role in her stride.

“There was a problem with diarrhoea in the district and the Provincial Medical director assigned me to go around vaccinating and immunising children and when there were outbreaks we would treat everybody including the adults.”

She also concentrated on primary health care nursing and antenatal clinics. “It was a lot of hard work. The roads were bad and the vehicles we were using would break down constantly, but I am happy to say that I managed to increase the centres that I was working at from the five that were under my husband to 15,” she said.

Mrs Mazorodze also facilitated the construction and commissioning of satellite clinics at Mashoko, Jichidza, Nemauku, Silveira, Bvukururu, Zaka, Roy, Harawa and Bikita, which in turn became strategic centres for the Chimurenga after they became the nuclei of information, propaganda and access points for wounded cadres.

This, she said, led to a massive reduction in provincial maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality rates. In addition, she carried out a lot of health education as she inserted political material in the pamphlets that she distributed.

Mrs Mazorodze used the new stations she established as a cover for her to transverse the war ravaged Gaza Province: delivering food, clothes and medicine while also relaying critical information, compiling reports and confirming intelligence reports. In winter, she organised women into clubs where they knitted jerseys, hats and mittens for the cadres.

Mrs Mazorodze, who was one of the first black women in her community to obtain a driver’s licence, leveraged on her good command of English to challenge soldiers and police officers of the regime that were manning various road blocks across the province.

She resorted to using dirty roads to avoid detection and would at times drive at night with the use of flashlights held by her trusted passenger after being pre-warned of areas where there were land mines.

At one point, she and her friend Mrs Majome were assigned by her husband to trail a South African military convoy that travelled through Zaka on its way to Mozambique to bomb ZANLA camps.

The two trailed the convoy for 80 km and relayed vital information that allowed the evacuation of the intended target before the arrival of the convoy. In this regard she learnt how to juggle her roles as a wife, mother, and professional nurse, civilian operative and revolutionary fighter.

While they were helping with logistics and medical care Mrs Mazorodze’s first experience of the war came when they had to travel to Mt Darwin to bury her mother-in-law and brother-in-law 1973 and 1974, respectively.

“When we went to Mt Darwin in 1973, we were told that we had to be in Bindura by 6 am so that we could join the military convoy that had a lead vehicle with a mine detector. When we got to the District Administrator’s offices we saw dead bodies strewn over a ‘dwala’ (‘ruware’/whaleback), a stone’s throw from the office. We could not ask what had happened. We could only watch in silence,” she said.

“Later, when we got to the farm there was no singing or mourning. There was only a red cloth hanging from the tallest tree and the only voice that was being heard was that of the priest, which was in a hushed tone.

“In the second instance, when we went to bury my brother-in-law, there was a big crater at the entrance to the farm and my father-in-law told us that the hole had been made by a bomb. At least this second time around, the situation had eased a bit and people could sing and mourn.

“At the time we thought the war would not come to Masvingo since Mt Darwin was to the north, but we were wrong because two weeks after we got back to Zaka we were told that Cde Tongogara had been seen in the area.

“We were told that ‘hondo yaMbuya Nehanda yatanga’ (Mbuya Nehanda’s war had started), and at that time everyone was supposed to move around with a packet of snuff for ritual purposes.”

As the war intensified Dr Mazorodze decided to leave Government service and to go into private practice. He set up a surgery and a grocery store business in Mucheke suburb in Fort Victoria and moved his family to town.

He also purchased a farm in the Mushagashe area, 20 kilometres north of Masvingo to maintain communication and facilitate easy access to the freedom fighters. The couple worked together in their private practice where they continued to provide logistical and medical support to the cadres.

Mrs Mazorodze later worked as the chairlady of the Zimbabwe Red Cross in Masvingo Province from 1977 to 1980. She said during the war, they kept abreast with events happening elsewhere in the country and in neighbouring countries through listening to the radio and music by the late Dr Oliver Mtukudzi and Thomas Mapfumo.

In 1979, the couple’s support for the war was nearly dealt a heavy blow after Dr Mazorodze was arrested together with his head nurse Mrs Gwindi and her husband, when the couple was found harbouring a freedom fighter who was being treated by Dr Mazorodze. The three were sent to Mutimurefu Prison and were charged with corroborating and failing to report a terrorist, which both carried a death penalty. 

“Fortunately, Justice Wilson Sandura was in town defending another client and he represented them and rescued them until they were summarily discharged after the general amnesty that was announced by Lord Soames prior to the hosting of the Lancaster House talks,” she said.

After her husband’s arrest, Mrs Mazorodze decided to keep their surgery operating and one day after treating a patient she and all the staff at the surgery were arrested by members of the Criminal Investigation Department. She was charged with treating a terrorist and illegally practicing as a medical doctor and the patient was treated as a witness.

All he certificates and travel documents were seized and she was asked to report to CID every Tuesday until her case was brought to court. The CID felt that by closing the surgery they had cut off medical assistance to the freedom fighters.

In 1980 Mrs Mazorodze, her husband and his friend Bishop Nehemiah Mutendi vigorously campaigned for Zanu (PF), resulting in the party winning all the seats in the province and Dr Mazorodze became the Member of Parliament for Zaka despite attempts by his enemies to disrupt his campaign which saw him being arrested several times and sometimes for a whole week without a formal charge, while Mrs Mazorodze became the Women’s League chairlady for Masvingo Province.

After elections, Dr Mazorodze accepted his appointment as deputy Minister of Health, so, Mrs Mazorodze moved to Harare and as the couple, which was now virtually broke after all their businesses were decimated by the Smith regime and other factors, they had to pick up the pieces and rebuild.

She was appointed Senior Community Sister responsible for Mashonaland Central province due to the bureaucracy that was within the Ministry of Health at the time. For Mrs Mazorodze, this was an unfair compromise but none-the-less, the couple hoped that the same spirit of oneness and purpose that made them so effective during the war would take hold of the new black Government to make party aligned appointments that would propel the country to dizzy heights.

After assuming his new post, Dr Mazorodze continued to accommodate and assist people from all walks of life and he was subsequently appointed Minister of Health. On November 5, 1981 tragedy struck when Dr Mazorodze collapsed at Courtney Selous Hotel where he had gone for lunch with his financial executive Mr Newman Mujakachi.

“In the morning, he had indicated that he was going to have a busy morning because he was preparing for a trip to the Seychelles. I had to go to Charles Prince Airport in Mt Hampden to pick up a medical crew that was flying in from Mt Darwin where they were carrying out some vaccinations. The team had to be flown to the area due to the landmine infested roads.

“While I was there, I was asked to hurry back because my husband was not feeling well. I was asked to come to Parirenyatwa (Group of Hospitals) where I was taken to the Sisters Duty Room and across from where I was sitting I could see my husband lying motionless on a stretcher in the emergency room.

“Later on, a lot of people started coming in and out and I was later informed that my husband had died.” Dr Mazorodze was reported to have died from a massive heart attack. 

After the death of her husband, she continued in her role as Senior Community Sister responsible for Mashonaland Central province until 1984 when she was appointed provincial nursing officer for Mashonaland Central and was responsible for monitoring refugees and delivery of primary health care, a post she held until 1989.

In between, she also held several honorary posts. In 1984 she was appointed member of the Chengetanai Society in Harare. In 1986 she was appointed secretary of the Public Service Association in Bindura and from 1987 to 1989, she was a member of the Protec Subscription Association in Bindura.

Mrs Mazorodze became the Assistant Secretary for political, national and women’s affairs responsible for training, projects and co-ordination with all women’s projects in 1990.

In 1992 she was appointed the president of the Public Services Association and a year later, secretary for Administration for the Sally Mugabe Foundation, a post she held until 2003.

Since 2003 she has been the treasurer of the Committee on Dialogue among Religions and Faith Traditions, a committee member of the Provincial Gender Council in Harare and chairperson of the Association of the Widows of Declared Heroes.

She founded the Simon Mazorodze Trust/ Foundation in 2007: “After we formed the trust, we tried to help several institutions including the Copota School for the Blind. We approached National Foods that gave us 1 000 day-old-chicks, 80 tonnes of feed and seconded three staff members to help set up the chicken project.

“We later learnt that it had collapsed after the headmaster that we were working with was dismissed. We also mobilised 3 000 books for the Simon Mazorodze School in Mhondoro, but other than that, we have not done much,” she admitted nonchalantly.

The Herald