r_chinamano1975 (27 Sept.) Elected Chairman of Womens Affairs at Special ANC Congress.

Ruth Nyombolo was born in Cape Town on 16 February 1925. She and her twin sister formed part of a family of four girls and a boy. Her father was a leader in a traditional group called the ‘red blanket’1 people. He had fought for the South African Forces in World War I, and returned home to help in the building up of the African National Congress of South Africa. Ruth’s mother was a teacher who had been educated at the Lovedale Institute in the Cape Province. Her grandmother was the daughter of a white settler and a black woman.

As a child Ruth lived in East London with an aunt, Mrs Frances Mcanyangwa.2 She attended the Welsh Primary School where one of her teachers, Miss Minah Soga, impressed her greatly with her stories of Mahatma Gandhi’s self-sacrifice and powers of leadership.

Ruth was fortunate in being given a scholarship to St Matthew’s College, an Anglican mission school in Keiskamahoek, Cape Province, through the kindness of Mrs Margaret Ballinger3 Unfortunately, Ruth did not stay long enough at the school to complete her education. When a group of the girl students protested that the principal was committing misconduct with a young pupil, Ruth, as one of the ‘ringleaders’, was expelled.

For the next nine months Ruth worked as a domestic servant “for £1.15s. per month”. At the end of that period she was admitted to the Maria Zell Teacher Training College in East Griqualand. This was a Catholic School4 and Ruth started there with the intention of becoming a nun. This hankering for the cloistered life did not, however, survive long. Although she greatly admired the principal, Dr Bernard Huss, for his saintliness and learning she was disgusted at the “racial hypocrisy” – particularly at being compelled to carry on her head for a 40-mile (64 km) trek the blankets of a group of white nuns “who prayed their rosaries all the way”.

In 1948, after completing the two-year course, Ruth obtained a teaching post at Lourdes on the Cape-Natal border in Umzinkulu. Once again, the lively and attractive girl found her environment irksome and the insistence that she walk 15 miles (24 km) to church each Sunday caused her to abandon finally the Catholic faith. She met her future husband, Josiah Chinamano, in 1949 while on holiday in Port Elizabeth. They were married in King William’s Town on 30 September 1950. Ruth continued teaching until ]osiah had finished his studies at Fort Hare, after which they returned to Rhodesia (where he took a teaching post at Marshall Hartley School).

Ruth Chinamano’s interest in politics stemmed from her early contact with the redoubtable Mrs Ballinger whom she hoped to emulate as a politician and a public speaker. Both at St Matthew’s College and at the Teacher Training College she gained practice as a debater and by the time she arrived in Rhodesia she was a rare exception among African women, the vast majority of whom were subservient to the point of leaving all matters of public interest to their husbands. This subservience tended to stimulate Ruth’s spirit of independence and she spoke out with great vigour wherever she encountered racial attitudes or paternalism, particularly when her husband was the target.

She accompanied her husband to England in 1955 and greatly enjoyed attending political meetings in Birmingham where he was working. When Josiah returned to Rhodesia the following year she studied and practised community development for six months in Birmingham. She then travelled to London to study social work, but soon found herself distracted by such spectacles as the orators in Hyde Park.

On her return to Rhodesia she quickly resented the difficulties she encountered in finding employment as a social worker.5 Her sense of resentment, however, did not lead her into active politics until one day she heard Joshua Nkomo speak at Waddilove where she and her husband were teaching. The experience was to lead her to a full commitment to political life and to an admiration for Nkomo that has lasted ever since. She joined the NDP in 1960.

While working at Waddilove, she pioneered the first multi-racial YWCA in Rhodesia,6 and also formed a number of women’s clubs in the Chiota TTL. ln 1960 she and her husband returned to Salisbury (Harare) and in the following year bought the house in Highfield where they still live. She was at once caught up in active political work, becoming Secretary of the Salisbury (Harare) District of the Zimbabwe African Women’s Union. In this post (and as Secretary of Highfield Branch, PCC Women’s Wing, from August 1963) her outspokenness resulted in her being marked down as a powerful opponent of the Government. On 16 April 1964 she was arrested (together with her husband and Joshua Nkomo) and sent with them to Gonakudzingwa. During the years in restriction Ruth Chinamano cooked for the men in the camps. She also ran a clinic for the local people in the area, using first-aid materials supplied by Lord Acton. She was intensely interested in education, and (together with two friends, Mrs Margoni and Mrs A. Tamangani) she started a programme which became known as ‘The Forum’. With the help of another restrictee they quickly had a series of lectures in operation but, as Ruth says with her usual candour, “the men soon took it over”. During her time in detention she also passed five ‘O’ level and one ‘A’ level examination for the General Certificate of Education.

In August 1970 she and her husband were released and restricted to a five-mile (8 km) radius from their home. When, in the following year, the discussions leading to the formation of the ANC were in progress, both of them recalled their determination while in detention to avoid the inter-party bitterness of the early 1960s. It was in this spirit that an approach was made to Bishop Muzorewa, an uncommitted man, to lead the new movement.

In 1972, following violent reactions to the Smith/Home constitutional proposals, she and her husband were again arrested, being sent this time to Marandellas (Marondera) Prison. On her release in December 1974 “the ANC could not bear having me not doing anything at home . . . and they elected me Chairwoman for the Mashonaland South Province”.

In August 1975 Ruth travelled to England to visit her children, four of whom were studying there with grants made by the International Defence Aid. She was still overseas when the special congress was held in Salisbury (Harare) on 27/28 September. She was, however, elected Secretary of Women’s Affairs and a member of the Central Executive Committee.

Ruth Chinamano is a women of tempestuous character. She has a passionate aversion to injustice, particularly where this results in indignities towards black people. Her personality contrasts sharply with that of her husband and there is no doubt that the patient dignity with which he has borne insults and humiliations has ‘fired’ her to an even more vigorous reaction than would otherwise have been the case.

1 People of the Transkei who wear blankets smeared with red ochre.
2 Both her parents had died.
3 Mrs. Ballinger, MP, represented Native interests for many years in the South African Parliament.
4 Her attachment to the Anglican Church had disappeared with her expulsion from St Matthew’s College.
5 More particularly as her colleagues at Birmingham who came from 18 different countries, walked straight into jobs on their return home.
6 ln Salisbury (Harare) (with the help of Mrs B. Parirenyatwa).