Although they are set there, Vesta Sithole’s memoirs are unlikely to be covered in an African Studies course.
My Life with an Unsung Hero is the remarkable personal account of a life of one freedom fighter whose legacy remains a hidden gem in humanity’s continued struggle to acquire and preserve liberty. It is also the account of a woman who left her nursing career midway to heal the greater political situation in the liberation struggle of her country— Zimbabwe.
Vesta Sithole shows her readers first hand the reality that Zimbabweans have not acquired the freedom they fought for. “As it is well documented, the struggle for independence started when whites invaded this country in 1890…” she writes early in the book. She takes readers through to a new struggle that persists to the present. Ndabaningi Sithole was not a man who had fallen for communist ideology as many others had. When Vesta Sithole asks the question, “Why are a few people so rich and others living in dire poverty in a country rich in natural resources?” her answer is one that is not economic, but political. Her story is indicative of the strains of a government that has not provided the context within which such a well-endowed country can prosper.
My Life with an Unsung Hero is a marvelous account of the Rev. Sithole, a man who so desperately wanted to put into action valuable ideas in a country he had already sacrificed so much for. It is a personal observation spanning half a lifetime of a leader who coupled his admiration for American success with his zeal for injecting the same foundational principles into a country once known as “the breadbasket of Africa.”
Vesta Sithole begins the book taking us through her life in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia. The account takes us through her first move to a more urban area, where items taken for granted in the West were appreciated, even in the most harrowing conditions. The reader learns of her adult life and the start of a struggle that would eventually lead her to the marriage to one the nation’s greatest intellectuals. The book takes readers through not just the events, but the emotions too; disappointments, fear and even thrills of unexpected excitement.
My Life with an Unsung Hero was no doubt inspired by Vesta Sithole’s love for her husband and her desire for freedom in Zimbabwe. The gems lie in her ordinary experiences—from her account of mingling with different races in Tanganyika in her early life to the more relaxed state of mind she could enjoy when residing in the United States, following threats against her, not only in Zimbabwe, but in Great Britain too.
This is the personal account of the woman closest to a man regarded as one of the world’s prolific authors and thinkers of his time. Vesta Sithole shows readers a man who was more than a writer of intellect. He was a fighter for the truths he held dear to him, chiefly a commitment to freedom that he fought for both before and after Zimbabwean independence. Just when the dawn of liberty seemed most apparent, Mrs. Sithole recounts how hard-won freedom was undermined by leaders once hailed as fighters for it.
Her story is no doubt one that can resonate with anyone who has been in her situation anywhere else in the world where liberty is fragile, or even non-existent. We get her description of the time she was on the streets with nowhere stay after having to leave a house where she looked after the baby owing to her recent illness at the time. On another occasion we share in her recalling of a first encounter with Mugabe, a man she early on describes as “showing no sympathy at all”.
In this at times moving account of her life with the man who had such an impact on her life, Vesta Sithole has woven through her story the reflections of a woman who stood by a man in a marriage that was pressured. Though her focus was to bring to light the reality of African history’s most under-recognized heroes, one cannot but sympathize with the personal recollection of a strong woman, who stood by him through it all.
My Life with an Unsung Hero is a great story, an amazing personal account on life inside an all-too-familiar state of affairs in both Africa and around the world.
Garreth Bloor is an intern at Accuracy in Media.