Tanya Lyons. Guns and Guerilla Girls: Women in the Zimbabwean Liberation Struggle. Trenton: Africa World Press, 2004. xxiii + 338 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-59221-167-8; $99.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-59221-166-1.
Reviewed by Norma Kriger (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-SAfrica (November, 2004)
Guns and Guerilla Girls is a valuable addition to a growing literature on female ex-combatants who participated in Zimbabwe's war of liberation. Tanya Lyons's central thesis is that, contrary to nationalist propaganda and representations during the war, male and female combatants were not treated equally. Post-independence gender inequalities, therefore, should come as no surprise, but ought to be understood as continuous with the past, including the armed struggle and the earlier phases of nationalism. Through eighteen interviews with female ex-combatants, Lyons hopes to foreground a women's history of the struggle, which the glorifications and (mis)representations of nationalist discourse have largely obscured from popular discourse on the war (see pp. xix-xx). To uncover (mis)representations of women as guerrilla fighters in the discourses on the liberation war, Lyons's uses an impressive variety of pre- and post-war sources: newspapers, magazines, novels, films, public monuments, and ZANU archival documents. The book is divided into four parts.
Part 1 locates the work in literature on feminism and nationalism, and includes a discussion of methodology. Part 2 gives prominence to women's contributions and gender conflicts in a revisionist history of nationalism, as others are also doing. Inter alia, she describes how women organized the 1961 protests against the new constitution and played an important role in rejecting the proposed constitution in 1972 (pp. 87-93). As an instance of under-emphasized gender conflict, she describes male nationalist leaders, notably Nathan Shamuyarira and Maurice Nyagumbo, justifying male youths' rapes of single working girls in a Harare township hostel as punishment for the girls having violated the 1956 bus boycott (pp. 84-87). For the armed struggle, Lyons focuses on the varied motives of girls and women for joining ZANLA or ZIPRA, the respective military wings of the nationalist parties, ZANU and ZAPU, and their war experiences. Lyons argues that nationalist claims of gender equality in the military were spurious. Despite training with men, ZIPRA and ZANLA women were seldom sent to fight inside the country. Their fighting experiences occurred primarily when their camps in Zambia and Mozambique came under attack by the Rhodesian defense forces (pp. 117-128). Asserting that ZANU representations of female fighters have dominated discourse, Lyons seeks to differentiate the roles and experiences of female fighters in ZIPRA, ZANLA, and ZIPA, the joint nationalist guerrilla force that functioned in 1975 and 1976 (pp. 175-180).
In part 3, Lyons argues that sex and inequality were problems for women in both ZANLA and ZIPRA guerrilla training camps and that these problems have been obscured in the glorification of women fighters in the war (p. 187). While some female ex-combatants found new equality in dressing like their male counterparts and in training alongside them, others voiced resentments at inequalities, especially in not being able to fight in combat inside the country (p. 191). Lyons argues that ZANU's response to sexual relations among the combatants was to blame women's "prostitution" and to try to control their behavior through party-certified marriages (p. 190). Moreover, she asserts that the party opposed the use of contraceptives among women because it wanted women fighters to produce the next generation of soldiers and it feared fueling "prostitution" (p. 201). Pregnant female fighters and those with small children were confined to separate camps, which they experienced as punishment since they wanted to return to their military duties (pp. 202-207).
Part 4 makes the case that women fighters, and women generally, have been re-inscribed as mothers, wives, and homemakers in many different arenas. These representations resulted in the war contributions of women not receiving recognition, whereas men's military service and political/nationalist roles were recognized, even before the hefty 1998 payments to liberation war veterans (p. 213). A few examples of women's representations must suffice. The Statue of the Unknown Soldier at Heroes' Acre, a national public monument to commemorate those who died fighting for independence, depicts the female fighter in a skirt. Lyons interprets this as an attempt to re-domesticate women fighters, who, during the war, wore pants like their male counterparts (p. 222). Rehabilitation programs for female ex-combatants, she says, also sought to return them to traditional domestic roles, such as crocheting, rather than to build on their military training (p. 229). A full chapter is devoted to the film Flame because it broke the silence about the darker side of women fighters' war experiences. Directed by a white woman, Ingrid Sinclair, and first shown in Zimbabwe in 1996, the film tells the story of two ZANLA female ex-combatants, one of whom ("Flame") is raped by a male commander. The rape scene in the film generated a public controversy over the issue of rape in the camps during the war. Some female and male ex-combatants denied that rape was a common occurrence, and the war veterans' association spokesman said rapists were punished; other female ex-fighters emphasized that rape was an everyday experience, that male fighters threatened to label girls/women who resisted their sexual demands as "sell-outs" for refusing to contribute to the struggle, that it was difficult to refuse a superior, and that there was impunity for the perpetrators of rape (pp. 261-264).
Lyons's main arguments--that women (unlike men) failed to win official recognition between 1980 and 1998, that such gender inequities were continuous with war-time inequities, and that post-war representations obscured women's war services--are unconvincing. First, men and women fighters were recognized after 1980 in often gender-blind policies, even if their outcomes were not equitable. Male and female fighters received the same monthly payments while they were in assembly places awaiting military integration, and later, the same demobilization benefits. Both men and women fighters were given privileged access over civilians to army, police, and civil service posts. The main discriminatory policy was to not allow women to obtain combat positions in the army--an inequity that was continuous with war-time roles. While Lyons mentions some of these policies in passing, she does not discuss them as arenas of official recognition. Indeed, she never tells readers how male fighters were recognized. Second, insofar as post-war policies toward fighters were gender-blind, her case for a continuity between post-war and war-time gender inequities seems inadequate, as does her argument that post-war representations of women's war roles as less than fighters shaped gender-biased public policies toward the former fighters. Finally, given Lyons's argument that the women fighters did not receive any recognition until 1998 and that this had to do with post-war representations of them, she ought to have explained how women could possibly have won equal recognition in 1998 as they did.
Other aspects of Lyons's arguments often lack firm evidence. Her claim about ZIPRA and ZANLA women sharing the problem of sexual relations in the camps is based on the fact that ZIPRA's pregnant women, like ZANLA's, were confined to separate camps. Lyons needs to produce material on ZIPRA's approach to sexual relations in the camps and marriage, and not merely infer comparable problems from the existence of separate camps for pregnant women. Lyons claims that ZANU's department of women's affairs was established so the party did not have to expend energy on resolving gender problems, yet the documents she uses from the chief political commissar and the department of manpower, planning and labor suggest an intense concern by other party departments too (pp. 192-194). Lyons maintains that ZANU encouraged women fighters to be the mothers of the next generation of soldiers, but the comrade she cites to support her claim actually chides women for thinking that producing children is a great contribution to the revolution and refers to "overpopulation" at a camp for pregnant fighters (p. 200).
Unfortunately, the text is strewn with careless errors. The 1998 compensation payments were not paid from the War Victims Compensation Fund but in terms of the War Veterans Act (p. 15). Zimbabwe's first election was held in February rather than in April 1980 (p. 93). During the campaign, the party changed its name to ZANU(PF), so references to ZANU in the independence era are inaccurate (pp. 81, 93). Mothers of the Revolution was not a work of fiction (pp. 142-144, 287). The Marriage Act is not in the constitution (pp. 199; 208, n. 25), and the Legal Age of Majority Act did not give everyone over eighteen years old the right to vote (p. 199). Press reports about alleged "prostitutes" receiving government money referred to assembly point pay for the ex-fighters rather than to demobilization pay (p. 223). Perhaps at the time of fieldwork there were only twenty-fours heroes buried at Heroes' Acre (p. 234), but that number grew significantly over the years. One wishes that Lyons had taken more time to update Guns and Guerilla Girls, which derives from her 1999 doctoral dissertation. She passed up an opportunity to enrich her study by drawing on Josephine Nhongo-Simbanegavi's book on ZANLA women fighters and an edited collection of interviews of ZIPRA and ZANLA women fighters, Women of Resilience, both published in 2000. Given post-2000 events in Zimbabwe, statements such as "there are already signs that a politician's war record is not enough to keep him or her in office. In Zimbabwe today, the younger generation are becoming less impressed by politicians' war experiences, reducing any leverage this might have once held" (p. 270) seem anachronistic.
In conclusion, Lyons's arguments are not always borne-out by evidence. In the case of female fighters' post-war recognition, she finds none because she overlooks policy arenas where the fighters were given privileged access to state resources. For ZIPRA women's war-time problems with sex, marriage, and pregnancy, she merely infers their similarity with those of ZANLA women. Her claim that ZANU encouraged female fighters to produce the next generation of soldiers stems from misinterpreting data. Guns and Guerilla Girls would have benefited from direct engagement with more recent works on female fighters and from more thorough peer review and editing to eliminate the factual errors. None of these shortcomings should detract from the merits of the work: a gender-sensitive analysis of female guerrilla fighters and their post-war experiences and representations that draws on diverse sources. She is right, of course, that women continue to lack equality in post-independence Zimbabwe as they did in the anti-colonial nationalist movements. The book will be useful in courses on feminism, gender and war, and liberation movements.
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Norma Kriger. Review of Lyons, Tanya, Guns and Guerilla Girls: Women in the Zimbabwean Liberation Struggle.
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