HerStory

Stories about IYWD's involvement with young women in the community

Statue of Mbuya Nehanda: Disassembling the Fortifications of Patriarchy through Visual Arts.

 

 

Memorials and monuments are political constructions, recalling and representing histories selectively, drawing popular attention to specific events and people and obliterating or obscuring others”  (Hay, Hughes and Tutton, 2004).

Tinotenda R Chihera

Knowledge Management, Documentation and Advocacy Coordinator

Institute for Young Women Development (IYWD)

Amidst the controversy of the Mbuya Nehanda statue, we have decided to pen down the symbolism of this statue from a young feminist’s perspective. On the 25th of May 2021 the Mbuya Nehanda Statue was officially unveiled by the country’s President Emmerson Munangagwa. This article does not seek to address the galore of controversies around the cost of this statue vis-à-vis other urgent and pressing issues in the mother land. It seeks to bring to the reader’s attention the feminist progressive symbolic value of this ornament, but does not claim to do so exhaustively. We chose to reiterate that at a time when the gender parity agenda has become more urgent today than ever before, the state needs to recognise that beyond the positioning of Mbuya Nehanda’s statue the role and agency of women in political spaces is critical.

A statue is a sculpture representing a person or persons, an animal or an event, normally full length, as opposed to a portrait. It normally costs an arm and a leg as is made of materials like clay, marble, resin, bronze, porcelain, fibre glass etc (Resane, 2018). The Mbuya Nehanda Statue challenges two main apparent notions of controversial public interest:

·       sex and gender

·       race (blackness).

 

Feminine Statues.

As at 2019 the self-proclaimed democratic and progressive countries of the world namely the United States of America and the United Kingdom displayed a dearth of public statues of women. According to research by the New Statesman in the UK and the Washington Post in the U.S show that 13 and 7 percent of statues in these countries depict historical women as opposed to historical men (Buchholz, 2019) .  This is not to say that women did not contribute significantly to the histories of  their countries neither is it a coincidence that we have statues hailing more men than women, patriarchy has had a clear agenda and a bag full of years of financial muscle to support it.

The identity of Mbuya Nehanda represents her significant contribution to the armed struggle as an individual at face value but in the broader context, it surfaces her agency and that of all women who continue to viscously contribute to the national discourse in various capacities and geographical locations. I will state the obvious that women in Zimbabwe organised and contributed to the armed struggle both on the front and end line, regardless of their narratives deliberately being down played in the public eye .

 

The Statue of Mbuya Nehanda along Samora Machel Street in Harare -Photo Credit: Lovejoy Mtongwizo

Placement of the Statue.

General placement of statues raises a question about women’s power compared to that of men. While a statue of America’s former President George Washington is situated straddling his horse on Commonwealth Avenue and Arlington Street in the Boston Common, the Boston Women’s Memorial is situated far from the area’s main attraction (Chin, 2018). However Mbuya Nehanda is standing tall in the capital city, in a street named after a revered black male freedom fighter and Mozambique’s first post-independence President Samora Machel, right in the middle of a road that we find the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, the Superior Courts of the country and close to the Parliament of Zimbabwe. Right in the middle of this power and against all odds you find Mbuya Nehanda standing tall, powerful and beautifully wearing her natural short hair. What the state has done, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is officially and publicly recognise the agency of women in public spaces. The challenge we thus pose to them is to recognise this in the letter and spirit of gender equality as enshrined in our 2013 Constitution. The Mbuya Nehanda statue symbolises how it is about time that women are allowed to take their rightful place in the public and political arena. Mbuya Nehanda’s narrative is about freedom and liberation from colonial and patriarchal oppression. With the colonial struggle having been won, the patriarchal oppression and all the hegemonic masculinities that it comes with in Zimbabwe must not go unchallenged if we are to remain guided by the spirit of Nehanda. The narrative of Mbuya Nehanda challenges the notion that women belong within the four walls of the household and takes women right at the centre of the liberation war struggle and right at the Central Business District of Harare, breaking the barriers of the patriarchal narrative we have been fed with for centuries. May we be bold and courageous enough to fill the shoes that Mbuya Nehanda has challenged us to wear and walk the talk. And may the government of Zimbabwe find it within the depth of their minds what the statue and positioning of Mbuya Nehanda means and allow her spirit to flourish as enshrined in our 2013 constitution.  



 

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