The Challenge: Primitive tribal women.


Achievement: Educated African women


These are the aims of the African Women Advisers and the Women Community Development Officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs:

To NURTURE latent talent, goodwill and a burning desire to learn.

To FOSTER self-reliance and the confidence to initiate action.

To DEVELOP the ability to define problems and find solutions.

To ENCOURAGE a sense of community service and individual respon­sibility to pass on knowledge.

To REAP a rich harvest-health, progress, a happy family and community life among the rural people of Rhodesia.

In 1964 there were 805 000 African women over the age of 15 years in the Tribal Trust Lands of Rhodesia – a great and powerful potential force waiting to be channelled.


One woman was given this brief:


The woman, Miss Winifred Wilson (above), was appointed Community Development Officer (Women) with the Ministry of Internal Affairs in 1964. She had come from Ireland to Africa in 1950 and her first experience of the problems of this continent. before coming up to Rhodesia, had been in the notorious District Six, Cape Town.

In 1965 she set out from headquarters in Salisbury, travelling alone in her car thousands of miles along bush roads to meet the African women of Rhodesia, working through established organisations and District Commissioners, learning, assessing and slowly making the decision which has so vitally affected tribal women over the past 10 years.

She realised help could not be handed out on a plate, for resources would never be sufficient, nor would it be wise. Help must come from within the women themselves, by the development of their own talents for leadership. Only among the women themselves could the necessary vast resources of human skill, ability and leadership be found.

The great need was to organize training for women and Mrs. Betty Mtero, a teacher and social worker, was appointed training assistant. Together the two women set out to formulate the best way in which to utilize the country’s human resources, seeking a way to motivate and guide women into a new role – the givers rather than the takers, the makers rather than the watchers – African women moving spontaneously to improve their own lives and those of their families.

Win Wilson put forward a plan to form a Community Development section for women which would promote the advancement of women’s work throughout the country, encourage the participation of women in community and civic affairs and advise on local programmes to meet local needs in consultation with District and Provincial Commissioners.

The section would co-ordinate the activity of Government and voluntary community development for rural women, avoiding overlap and giving assistance where possible. The needs and priorities of rural women would be assessed and training courses organized when required.

The plan included a countrywide network of African Women Advisers. It was felt that the most effective worker would be a mature married woman of standing in her community, working from her own home.

Women Advisers would be the catalysts, the activators. They would not teach handicrafts or hand out money – they would help to find the best teachers and advise on ways of raising money. They would not form and run clubs but they would help the women to do this themselves. They would show the way into a new era, work with interest groups, liaise and make introductions between the experts already in the field and the women who needed assistance. The Women Advisers would help the tribal women assess their own needs and find ways to meet them.


In 1967 the first group to be trained as Women Advisers, a group of carefully selected women attended the first training course for Women Advisers. Fifteen African women met at Fort Victoria (below) to study project planning, how to work with people, tribal structure, outline of Government, communication, community development, club management, nutrition, skills and other related subjects.


A distinctive uniform of green and white checked dresses and hats was chosen, a uniform which over the following years  has become a symbol of women’s progress. Where you find the uniform you will find understanding of problems, help, enthusiasm and hope for better things.

Mrs. P. Kanyowa, Woman Adviser, Community Development, Msana TTL, Bindura District
Mrs. P. Kanyowa, Woman Adviser, Community Development, Msana TTL, Bindura District

Mrs Mabel Makwati of Gwanda

Mrs Margret Chitumba of Wedza

So those first women went out into the tribal areas, back to their homes and villages, filled with confidence in their new-found ability, the nucleus of a movement which has grown and divided into provinces, grown and spread through most of the country.

Mrs Emily  Moyo of Essexvale

Mrs Norah Chitekwe of Mtoko

As the work expanded it was realised that additional qualified staff were needed to supervise and support the Women Advisers and to initiate programmes in response to problems which could not be handled locally. They would liaise with Government and other development agencies and undertake specialised training where required.

Mrs Sarah Ncube of Plumtree

Mrs Ivy Ntabeni of Filabusi

Mrs Idah Gurupira of Mtoko


In 1970 the first Provincial Community Development Officers (Women) were appointed. Today there is a Provincial Officer from the section on the staff of each Provincial Commissioner of the Ministry and 148 Women Advisers throughout the country who are members of staff of District Commissioners.

Mrs Penny Ross, Head Office; Mrs Ruth Baker, Matabeleland South and Miss Brigitte de Chalain, Victoria
Mrs Alison Stewart, Manicaland; Mrs Maia ChenauxRepond, Mashonaland East and Mrs Doienne Graham-Jolly, Mashonaland West



The Community Development Section (Women) is headed by the Senior Community Development Officer (Women) who formulates policy. Miss Wilson still holds this position.



In the early days there were no club-houses, no facilities of any kind. Women gathered together in the traditional place – sitting on the ground in the shade of a tree. Here on the soil of Rhodesia the idea of self-help took root among the women.

Mrs Alice Mafkidze, Woman Adviser at Karoi, talks to a group of young women.


The women’s club movement had already been well established by voluntary organizations and was proving a good vehicle for educa­tion, but the Women Advisers did not undertake to organize clubs. They explained the concept of club work, but it was for the tribal women themselves to choose chair­women, secretaries and treasurers, to learn the duties involved and carry them out. Nor were clubhouses to be built for them – the bricks would have to be moulded by their own hands.

Mlava Mholpe Club, Lower Gwelo

Above: The Mlava Mholpe Club with 37 members is in Lower Gwelo, Woman Adviser Mrs. Sarah Mwenje’s region, situated in the area of Chief Sogwala and Headman Nkawana. The women themselves burnt bricks and hired a builder for their clubhouse.  The doors and windows were supplied by the District Commissioner.


Women pile bricks ready to build a club house in the Magombedze area, Gutu.  The Woman Adviser is Mrs. B. Shabie.


Nine kraalheads under Headman Chipfatsura have embarked on a much needed community bridge building project in the Marange tribal trust land, to provide a safe crossing for school children and an access route for buses. The women have been collecting huge piles of stones and working alongside them are Women Advisers Mrs. N. Mbanje and Mrs. A. Shiridzinomwa.



What has the Community Development Section (Women) achieved?

Perhaps the greatest achievement is the acceptance of what it stands for –



At one time it was thought that pre-school groups were something to be organised by that remote body, the Government. Now rural women are learning that mothers can themselves organize the groups as has been done by the women of the Chinamora tribal trust land, Goromonzi.

Woman Adviser Mrs L Mukombiwa drops in to visit a pre-school group and chats with two teachers.


A teacher plays games with pre-school children.

The need to keep school leavers profitably occupied is becoming increasingly recognised by rural communities.

The women of Wedza, worried by the need to find meaningful occupations for their daughter school­leavers, have organised a group of girls to make school uniforms. With help from the local Council, for outlay on material, over $1 000 has been earned so far. 



The part played by the Women Advisers is that of liaison – to help women decide in which direction needs lie, perhaps health or educa­tion, and then to indicate the experts from whom advice may be sought. Thus their strength lies partly in the variety of specialists who are readily to hand.

The Women Advisers work closely with educators and demonstrators in a number of different fields including the many voluntary organizations whose work is much appreciated.

But the one person in an area who has most influence on the rural women is undoubtedly the Chief and his help and co-operation is sought at all times. With the support of an understanding, intelligent and far-seeing Chief the work of the women always prospers.

Chief Charumbira and Miss Brigette de Chalain, Provincial Officer for Victoria discuss progress in the Chief’s area.


A Women’s Group Liaison instructor, Mrs. K. Sithole, gives instructions on sew­ing to members of the Zimunya area womens’ clubs at the Chinyauwhura council hall. The child standing near his mother (area chairwoman Mrs. L. Chitauro) is modelling a waistcoat which the women had been learning to make.


The Lowveld Young Farmers’ Club area committee members from the Muusha and Mutambara tribal trust lands watch loom-work being demonstrated at Nyanyadzi training centre.


Gwese Women’s Club members pictured at a meeting in the Umtali district while in the background are (left to right) three members of the school board, Woman Adviser Mrs. Chitaka and Headmaster Chitenderu.


Woman Adviser Mrs. Lady Dube of Tjolotjo is well supported by Chief Sipiso and his wife. Here she is pictured with (left) the Chief and Mrs. Sipiso.


Seven local women’s clubs will hold area meetings in the new Shamba Clubhouse. All the women had wanted to move their clubhouse to a more central location so the Tribal Land Authority decided to destroy the old clubhouse and transfer the bricks to the new site. The Shamba women moulded more bricks, money was col­lected from 39 kraals and Young Farmers Club boys from eight schools were paid individually to work under builder Wilson Mulhwani – a perfect example of community development. (Selukwe)


And so the work goes on. The network of Women Advisers gradually spreads further, advancing into the most remote areas and into districts where the work takes courage, perseverance and tact.

Mrs. Fideliah Njaya, who married a Batonka man, is the first Woman Adviser among these people. Here she is pictured with Miss Wilson (back right) and Provincial Officer Mrs. A. Watson (back left) after her introduction to the people of Binga in May, 1975.


Women of Binga are also learning the correct way to grow vegetables and putting their knowledge to practical use.


The Batonka women, long on the out­skirts of civilization are now learning such things as child-care and nutrition, and one of the first lessons at Binga was a wet and slippery experience in the bathtub. From then onwards babies were bathed at every opportunity.


“The fuse was lit ten years ago. The mushroom effect is evidence in itself of the hitherto latent aspirations of the African woman, of her desire for progress, both within her family environs and further afield.

The Government’s acceptance that women had an important part to play in development meant funds and staff were made available. Community Development Officers (Women) and Women Advisers have given dedicated service and have played a vital role in this progress.

Progress cannot be measured simply in the tangible existence of clubhouses and the like. It is reflected in the changing attitudes of the people themselves, in the acceptance by the community of the emerging woman, and of the contribution she, as a woman, is able to make to the lives of those around her.

It would be impossible to exaggerate the tremendous kindness and courtesy I have received from the African people, at all levels, throughout these years, or the encouragement and support of tribal leaders as they have watched their women develop to take a more active and meaningful place within the community.

Looking back to ten years ago, and to the years in between-the hurdles, the achievements, the setbacks, the recoveries-it is with confidence that we can join the African woman on the platform she has forged for herself and her community, LOOKING FORWARD.”

                                                                                    Winifred  D  Wilson

                                                                                                                 1st May 1976

Carrying the message of self-help

into the Tribal Trust Lands

of Rhodesia


This document was produced by Internal Affairs in 1976. It is fairly lengthy but has been placed in the public domain as it well illustrates that the modern approach to tackling poverty in Africa – ie by throwing in vast sums of money – is not the real answer.  Here the Rhodesian approach of encouraging and coordinating self-help using relatively few of the scarce resources available was leading to genuine progress and creating pride of achievement in the process. – CW