Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription Access


Zanele Nyamakai, Barbra Chiyedza Manyarara


The female ex-prisoners interviewed in the semi-autobiographical collection A tragedy of lives: Women in prison in Zimbabwe (2003) caused the deaths of their own loved ones, consequently they were unable to mourn or bury them. The processing of the homicides precludes these women going through the appropriate rites and rituals which ordinarily form part of deaths in Zimbabwean cultural traditions. Variously manifesting in the experiences of the different women interviewed, the complex psychiatric and psychological problems observed in these women are attributable to incomplete mourning and unresolved grief which are linked to the social inadequacies of a necessarily truncated expression of that grief. The present textual analysis is dually guided by Africana womanist and psychoanalytic theoretical frameworks. The study establishes a shift by Zimbabwean women writers from merely highlighting issues that affect women, to taking a stance on the effects of imprisonment on female offenders both during and after incarceration. Empathy and optimism are shown towards the interviewees. The semi-autobiography also enables the generality of Zimbabweans to understand the effects of such crimes and the need to rehabilitate offenders. The study encourages harmonious co-existence between males and females in the postcolony.


Causal factors; death and bereavement; homicide; interviewees; mourning rituals; and semi-autobiography;

Full Text:



Abdullah, K.A. 1996. The psychological effects of imprisonment. (accessed March 27, 2015).

Baloyi, L. and M. Makobe-Rabothata. 2014. The African conception of death: A cultural implication. Paper presented at the 30th International Congress for Psychology, 22-27 July 2012, Cape Town.

Barry, Y. 2011. Death and dying: Understanding the sociology of health. 17-Yuill_Barry_3e-4291- Ch-17.indd 305-325 (accessed February 20, 2015).

Bourdillon, M.F.C. 1987. The Shona peoples: An ethnography of the contemporary Shona with special reference to their religion (3rd rev. ed). Gweru: Mambo Press.

Chikwanha, T. 2013. Life in Chikurubi Female Prison. Daily News. articles/2013/02/05/life-in-chikurubi-female-prison... (accessed April 22, 2015).

Corea, G. 1992. The invisible epidemic: The story of women and AIDS. New York: HarperCollins.

Feltoe, G. 2015. Strengthening our law on child sexual abuse: Child-sensitive social policies. Public lecture series, August 26, Women’s University in Africa, Harare.

Fulton, R. and D.J. Gottesman. 1980. Anticipatory grief: A psychological concept reconsidered. British Journal of Psychiatry 137: 45–54.

Gelfand, M. 1973. The genuine Shona: Survival values of an African culture. Gweru: Mambo Press.

Government of Zimbabwe. 1978. The Deceased Persons Family Maintenance Act of Zimbabwe, Chapter 6:03. Harare: Government Printer

Government of Zimbabwe. 1990. Infanticide Act, 27 of 1990, Chapter 9:12. Harare: Government Printer.

Government of Zimbabwe. 2006. Domestic Violence Act, 14 of 2006, Chapter 5:16. Harare: Government Printer.

Government of Zimbabwe. 1996. Mental Health Act, 1 of 1996, Chapter 15:12, modified by S.1. 92/1997, S.I. 430B/1999; Act 6/2000 22/2001. Harare: Government Printer

Government of Zimbabwe. 1977. The Termination of Pregnancy Act, Chapter 15:10. Harare: Government Printer

Harden, J. and M. Hill, eds. 1998. Breaking the rules: Women in prison and feminist therapy. London: Hawthorne Press.

Harold-Barry, D. A Tragedy of Lives (review). 2013. (accessed March 27, 2015)

Hudson-Weems, C. 1993. Africana womanism: Reclaiming ourselves. Troy: Bedford Publishers.

IRIN (UNICEF). 2015, March 30. Abortion figures underscore need for more reproductive health education. (accessed April 15, 2015).

Kilonzo, G.P. and N.M. Hogan. 1999. Traditional African mourning practices are abridged in response to the AIDS epidemic: Implications for mental health. Transcultural Psychiatry 36: 259–283.

Manyarara, B.C. 2010. Helicopter to view. In Hunting in foreign lands and other stories, ed. M.A. Nyota, R. Moyana and B.C. Manyarara, 71–76. Harare: Priority Projects.

Mapfuwa, P. 2007. Review of A tragedy of lives: Women in prison in Zimbabwe, ed. C. Musengezi and I. Staunton. The Jesuit Journal 38. reviews/97-a-tragedy-of-lives/530-a-trage... (accessed March 19, 2015).

Mbanje, P. 2015. Zimbabwe: ‘Legalise abortion to reduce maternal deaths’, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association. (accessed April 27, 2015).

Musengezi, C. and I. Staunton, eds. 2003. A tragedy of lives: Women in prison in Zimbabwe. Harare: Weaver Press.



  • There are currently no refbacks.