Words living on like actions

Freedom Nyamubaya, 1960-2015

Freedom Nyamubaya, Zimbabwe, poetry

Poet, freedom fighter, activist and farmer Freedom Nyamubaya passed away on Sunday, 5 July, 2015, in Zimbabwe. One of her publishers, Weaver Press, writes in its obituary: ‘Freedom was an inspiration by name and by nature. Wherever she went she brought courage, joy, and laughter. She was a woman who lived by principle – one of those being freedom – and joining the liberation struggle at an early age made made her fearless. Freedom did not compromise, no one could buy or manipulate her, and when she spoke truth to power, she did so tossing the mane of her hair with great spirit and humour. She was a friend whose actions always spoke of warmth, trust and loyalty. We will miss her deeply but we will never forget her, and her words will live on like actions’.

In a 2009 essay on Nyamubaya’s poetics published on Poetry International, Musaemura B. Zimunya describes how Nyamubaya's experiences as a guerrilla fighter inform her writing:

Over the years, these war poets’ ‘authentic’ depiction of the struggle from the ‘front’ has exercised the minds of scholars, critics and fellow writers when set against the imaginative fictions of civilian authors inspired by the very same war experiences. Experiences at the ‘front’ were many: the reasons for fighting the war, the goals of the liberation struggle, the effects of the war on individuals, the training and the adventures, party ideology, the heroism and the anti-heroism, and of course, the tragedy of it all.

Nyamubaya is unique for being perhaps the only living female ex-combatant gifted with the talent and the discipline to reflect on her good, bad and ugly war experiences through the art of poetry. Her poetry is layered with the many voices of the voiceless comrades, fellow sojourners in the cause of freedom, justice and other values of the struggle.

Between 9-14 March, 2004, Nyamubaya kept a Poet’s Diary that also was published on our site. In it, she describes life on her small game farm (such as a lion killing one of her heifers) and how it contrasts with the ‘polluted and traffic-congested’ cityscape of Harare; being a mother and the bittersweet thoughts that arise while sending her son to a faraway school; and a surprising encounter with a two-foot puff-adder in her bathroom. The whole diary has the rich tone and detail of poetry, but it is in this meeting with the snake that Nyamubaya lays out directly her mind’s poetic workings: 

The sun is giving some good evening rays through the bathroom window, so I open it and find a two-foot puff-adder basking in the sun. I continue with my bath since the tub is far away from the snake. I will make sure I don’t splash water that far. I want to write a poem about the way the snake’s eyes are fixed on me. I start to laugh out loud about what I would do if it starts chasing me while I am standing naked. My heart starts to beat fast when I think about what anybody might say if they walked in and found me laughing and talking with a snake. A ‘witch’ straight away.

Or, in other words, a poet and a fighter.

Read Weaver Press’s full obituary for Freedom Nyamubaya on their Facebook page.

And read more about 
Nyamubaya’s life and work in her updated profile on Poetry International, which now includes an audio recording of the poem ‘In the absence of vision’, made with our Zimbabwe editor Irene Staunton just a week before Nyamubaya’s death.

© Mia You  

Subscribe to the newsletter

follow us on facebook follow us on twitter Follow us (international)  

follow us on facebook follow us on twitter Follow us (Dutch)