African woman at war, and use of the naked truth as a weapon

By now, we have read or heard about the dramatic, albeit bizarre, story of Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Australia, the worthy Ms Jacquline Zwambila.

Zwambila, a nominee of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, was recalled to Harare after she allegedly threw her clothes off and showed her nakedness to embassy staff in Canberra.

Zimbabwe state media, which support President Robert Mugabe, have made a meal of the story.

Last week, they reported that Zwambila had stripped to her underclothes after accusing three embassy officials of leaking information about her to the press.

Zwambila’s issues, seen as part of the wider power struggle and rift in the Mugabe-Tsvangirai coalition government, started when the state-owned Herald newspaper published a story alleging that she set up a website to campaign for international sanctions against Mugabe and his close allies.

To Zwambila, the Zimbabwe diplomats were Mugabe’s hit-men, so she dealt with them the best way she knew how.

Zwambila was not the first, nor will she be the last, woman to strip in protest. The nakedness of women is a time-honoured and powerful weapon in many cultures.

In Africa, to start with, there are a lot of taboos associated with the nakedness of mature females. In some, it is considered a curse.

If you set your eyes on a naked grandmother, for example, they believe you could go blind or run mad. Also, you might not have more children, and all your cows will die.

Women resort to the naked weapon as a last resort, and because they know that taboos associated with it give them some advantages.

In Kenya, during the “second liberation” struggles against the government of then President Moi, what became known famously as “Freedom Corner Grandmothers” stripped before security forces that had been sent to break up their protest against the grabbing of Uhuru Park.

In Nigeria, a very superstitious land, during the dark days of military dictatorship, there were several occasions when mothers went to police stations to protest at the detention or disappearance of their loved ones and stripped.

Nigerian policemen were known to flee, with their eyes closed, from their posts at the sight of the nude protesters.

However, perhaps the more interesting thing about female nakedness as a weapon is what it tells us about how differently men and women view conflict and combat.

Had Zwambila been a man, she would have had a punch-up with the pro-Mugabe diplomats, or hired gangsters to break their car windshields or slash their tyres, or written an anonymous scandalous blog about them.

Men strike out in war, women contract or become passive. Thus in Latin America and India, female environmentalists go to forests and hug trees to prevent them being cut.

The men will build green armies, and surround the forest with bows and arrows. Women will not share a room or bed with a man in protest. A man who is angry with a woman will go to her house, and beat or rape her.

Then, if there is one thing about which men are totally conflicted, it is women’s nakedness. In Kenya, the men of Nyeri do not take kindly to women who “dress indecently”; that is the ones who wear micro-minis or very high slits.

However, you would think if, as they often do, they attacked the women, they would cover them in Maasai blankets.

Instead, the very men who are outraged by “indecently dressed” women will punish them by undressing them, revealing more than the women themselves had done initially.

Finally, the nakedness of mature women reminds men too much of their mother’s wombs — the one thing that we all blokes hold most sacred. For a policeman, confronting a naked elderly woman is very awkward. Apart from everything else, women weren’t built for malestyle warfare.

Take our policeman; if the naked female mzee resisted arrest, and he wanted to carry and throw her in the back of the pick-up as they do with men, what part of the body would he hold?

It is just too confusing, and very few of them would want to ever have to make that arrest.


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