As we end the women’s month, the Socialist Party (SP) celebrates Mama Julia Chikamoneka’s life by recognising her tireless efforts to rally women (at the time of colonisation) to struggle for a common good of our country – to end colonialism. Zambia’s history is incomplete without the inclusion of the relentless and fearless revolutionary efforts displayed by cde Julia in the struggle for our independence.
The SP Women’s League draws inspiration from the revolutionary spirit of this comrade and the values she upheld. She understood clearly the dehumanising conditions under colonialism; how the colonial system marginalised and treated our men and women as second class citizens; and how such a system was not designed for women at all.
Cde Julia embodied ideas and values that were critical to the formation of the United Nations Independence Party (UNIP), and to the ‘freedom’ that we enjoy today. Notable, she spearheaded a Women’s Brigade that formed the first black women-led political party, the African National Independence Party (ANIP), which quickly evolved into the UNIP of Dr. Kenneth Kaunda. Her home is said to have housed a number of our nationalist leaders like Mr. Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula. Cde Julia’s activism included mobilising, organising protests and boycotts across the country, as well as raising funds to support the liberation struggle efforts, and towards the imprisoned comrades. This is a rich political history of our women’s movement that should never be erased, forgotten or swept under our carpets.
Yet, despite the relentless efforts of our now fallen Sheros, the over 55 years of our independence have not reflected a country that is making big strides towards a more just, fair and gender inclusive society. By constitution, our men and women have equal rights to own land. Of the 90 percent of land owned under customary law, ownership is inherited by men, while women can only access it, use it, but not own it. Whilst 78 percent of women are engaged in agriculture, their labour does not necessarily lead to cash income, but to supporting their families.
Today, our country mirrors deep poverty, desperation, inequalities, suffering, and glaring disparities, especially as it relates to women. We truly cannot move forward as a country under these conditions. Advancing women’s liberation and ending their oppression should be a constant struggle for us all that will in the short and long term secure a common good for our country. During hard times like these, it is the revolutionary spirit of comrades like Julia that should inspire us to join the political space and struggle collectively to end the oppression of women, and their marginalisation.
Her life history should inspire us to put service for others above self. Hers was not a life masked by individualism, selfishness or a self-centred ‘me, me, me syndrome’. She was moved by injustice, by pain, by anguish, and the suffering of others. But most of all, she was moved to do something about it. If she and her comrades had exhibited elements of individualism, selfishness, it would be fair to conclude that our liberation story would have taken a different trajectory, but they did not. These comrades understood that they were in a real struggle, they agitated, mobilised, pulled resources together, showed solidarity, putting the country and the broader society first before their lndividual needs. They understood that their very continued existence and freedoms would be determined by how much they struggle for a liberated Zambia.
Indeed, her life history is one that calls for all well-meaning Zambians to take a step back, to reflect and gaze back to history for inspiration, and to draw lessons in order to address our immense challenges, and the dire state of our women.
Today, we are faced with a complex COVID-19 that has now been declared a global pandemic. The uncertainty surrounding this virus is causing a lot of social anxiety and panic among our people. The measures to thoroughly address the pandemic will require a focused leadership that puts the interest of the people first. It calls for bold leadership devoid of corruption, one that is selfless and promotes a unity of purpose among its citizens. Individual women and women groups should mobilise in varying and dynamic ways to support the proposed government measures in their different spaces in order to minimise a further escalation of the pandemic.
As we honour cde Julia, we ask: What would she have done to address Zambia’s current crises, and the patriarchal system in our society that do not work in favour of our women? What is it that we can do as individuals and as a collective to address the challenges that we face politically, socially, economically, culturally, and otherwise?
Cde Julia would not have taken a back seat to watch the country plunge into today’s unprecedented corruption, poor governance, extreme hunger, poverty and a lack of tolerance of divergent views. She knew that mobilising and rallying women and men to struggle for a better Zambia was truly important to end the suffering, anguish, poverty, humiliation and pain that people faced.
Women (working in collectives, as well as with men) should truly come to an understanding that Zambia will only be a country we want, a country we deserve and desire for our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren if we only, and when we collectively and selflessly work together for our common good.
Turning a blind eye on the growing injustice, inequalities and gender-based violence, oppression, class differences, and patriarchy promoted by both men and women only undermines the struggle of our foremothers. It points us to our failure to stand in solidarity with one another, and our women of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Ours is an urgent need to draw inspiration from our Sheros and Heros to build a Zambia that is truly free, one that advances women’s rights not only during the month of March, but always. As the President of the Socialist Party, Dr Fred M’membe has noted: “What we can’t do for ourselves, nobody can do for us”.
Long live the true, indomitable revolutionary spirit of comrade Julia Chikamoneka.
Socialist Party Women’s League Team.