Jane “NaBigboy” Lungile Ngwenya was born in Njanja, Buhera in Manicaland, Zimbabwe on June 15, 1935 and died in Bulawayo on August 5, 2021. She dedicated her life to fighting for Zimbabwe’s freedom.
As a little girl, Ngwenya was interested in politics. She was expelled from school in Standard 6 when she asked whether heaven was for blacks only or white people could also enter it. As a young mother and wife, she would strap her baby to her back and attend political meetings. She was involved in the formation of the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress in 1952.
In the early 1950’s, she was imprisoned for three weeks at Grey Street Prison (now Bulawayo Prison) in what she described as appalling living conditions together with her daughter who was barely two-years-old at the time.
“I couldn’t even dip a cloth in a bucket of water so I could clean my breasts in order to breastfeed my baby. The water was so dirty. It was a health hazard. I would just sit with my baby in a corner of the dirty cell. Some white women led by a Mrs Watson, wound up protesting that I be released from prison because it wasn’t healthy for me to be in there with the baby. I got out after three weeks,” said Cde Ngwenya as she meticulously narrated her ordeal.
She was arrested several times in 1963 for her political activism. She spent three months in Gwelo Prison , then stayed in Wha-Wha Prison between 1964 and 1975.
As her political activism increased, her marriage crumbled. She said, “My husband was not happy with my involvement in politics because on several occasions the Rhodesian police came to our home looking for me. He always complained about that saying ngumfazi bani otshona edingwa ngamapholisa? (what kind of wife is always wanted by the police?)” She chose her country and divorced at Bulawayo High Court. At the divorce hearing, Sir Hugh Beadle who was the judge then said to her: “Do you actually think a black person can rule this country? You are a stupid girl, you destroy your marriage because of silly things. You can’t run yourselves (black people), you have to say thank you to the people who brought civilisation to your country.”
She later crossed into Zambia via Botswana to join the liberation struggle. Ms. Ngwenya was one of the founders and leaders of ZAPU. She was the first woman in the ZAPU National Executive in 1961 and also held the post of National Secretary for Women’s Affairs.
In June 1977 , she was injured in a bomb explosion in Zambia that left her with constant back pain. In 1979 , she participated in the negotiations of the Lancaster House conference facing the British government and that of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia which ended in the independence of Zimbabwe in April 1980.
Post democracy, she was elected to the House of Assembly for the constituency of Bulawayo and was Deputy Minister of Labor, Manpower and Social Protection from 1980 to 1985. She was also active in the promotion and support of veterans and inmates.
She was a freedom fighter. She was a founding mother of Zimbabwe.
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