Flame the movie is a Zimbabwean film set during the Bush War
A work of fiction, based loosely on the accounts of women who fought in this liberation struggle. The film is included here because it takes place during the Bush War that preceded the transition of Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. It starts in 1975, & ends a year after independence.
The sexual abuse of women during the war years has been largely overlooked. It has been in the news more recently.
Although out of circulation, it can be found on-line for those interested in looking – Flame (1996)
Flame the movie Plot
The plot follows the story of two young Mashonaland girls, Florence & Nyasha. The plot takes them from their simple rural home life, through insurgent training camps in neighbouring Mozambique, & into post liberation Harare. Everything changes during this traumatic journey that takes them childhood to adulthood, including their very names.
Initially, we see life in an outwardly peaceful, idyllic village where although poor, girls laugh, & go about their lives. The violent undercurrent beneath this facade is quickly revealed. The Bush War has split people’s loyalties between the government Security Forces & the Insurgents. Both sides want something from the villagers – The former wants intelligence while the latter wants recruits.
Both factions are shown as violent, but the insurgents have the same ethnicity & speak the same home language as the girls. After initially being forced to take them food the girls are gradually enticed by the insurgents. Florence, by romance & excitement & Nyasha by the promise of a better life. The rhetoric of freedom is hard to resist.
Although best friends, the girls are very different. Florence is pretty & aims to meet a rich man & marry. Nyasha, an orphan, is an academic student who aims to further her life with study.
The turning point comes when Florence’s father is taken away for questioning by the security forces, after being turned in by a man who he owed money to. The indebted father is picked up from the village, leaving the family feeling hurt, angry & vulnerable. This incident, coming on top of Florence’s attraction to & prompting by an insurgent named “Danger” leads to her setting off to join the fight. Nyasha reluctantly accompanies her friend.
The young girls walk for weeks through the bush & finally cross the river to join an insurgent training camp in Mozambique. At first they are greeted with suspicion, but later accepted. Life at the camp is hard, & they are starved, Florence is raped. They are stripped of their names for security reasons, Florence & Nyasha become Flame & Freedom.
Despite of, or maybe because of this, a sense of comradeship develops. The girls are trained to be fighters. They go out on missions & fight in the bush. Florence learns her father has been killed. Later, she makes peace with & then forms a relationship with her rapist after he apologises to her. This liaison results in her giving birth to a son, Hondo.
Florence aka Flame loses her son & his father to an air strike on the camp in Mozambique by Rhodesia’s Air Force. This results in a numbing anger that turns her into a well-respected, fearless insurgent fighter while Nyasha (aka Freedom) studies further & joins the administrative ranks.
The war ends. The insurgents have won. A Rhodesian helicopter & pilot lands & an officer delivers the news while the Ex Rhodesian/Now Zimbabwean Air Force is shown looking uncomfortable but professional. He & his co-pilot are clearly unhappy with the outcome, while the Insurgents/ Freedom Fighters celebrate. Some choose to return to their homes, while others stay to form part of the new post liberation government forces.
Florence goes back home. She marries “Danger” after reuniting with her family in the village. Her life continues as it did before, but her husband starts behaving like her father used to. He loses his job & starts drinking. He strikes her.
Florence, still has some of the spark that she acquired as Flame. She tells her husband that she is going, & sets off to Harare to find her old friend, Nyasha. The girls have not been in contact since the war.
Nyasha works in an office, & discovers that although women were actively encouraged to fight & assume men’s roles during the war, in post-war Zimbabwe they are once again regarded as inferior to men. She has had to find her way in the same patriarchal society that existed before the war. She is well qualified, but has a secretarial role.
Florence locates her friend in an office in Harare. Nyasha is not able to drop everything & follow Florence right away, but offers her address & and some taxi fare. Florence declines the money, but takes the address.
Later, they nearly miss each other. Florence finds the flat, but Nyasha is not home. She pins a photograph from an old newspaper article on the door. Florence reaches home just in time, & the girls reunite. Nyasha offers to help Florence pass a test to secure employment in Harare.
The movie ends with the Heroes Day Parade in Harare. Florence convinces Nyasha to accompany her to the celebrations, & there is a moment as they watch the air force fly over that brings bad memories back to Florence/Flame. It passes quickly, & the group of comrades clap & dance & celebrate.
Near the end of the movie, the girls continue to greet using the term “A luta continua”, (the struggle continues.) It is unclear whether this is due to nostalgia, or whether it references the current regime. It would seem likely to be the former, but if so, it’s ironic nonetheless.
Flame the Movie – Controversy
The movie was confiscated by police who deemed it “subversive & pornographic” – The Veterans Association of Zimbabwe were unhappy about the rape scene & although the film clearly states it is fiction, they said that was “full of lies”.
Thoughts about Flame – The film
I was surprised to see Oxfam listed under the sponsors for this film. Unsure why, I guess I assumed money donated to Oxfam went to feeding people & supported water projects. That said, they might have been attracted by the slant the movie took on celebrating the role of women in the struggle for independence. I can only guess as Oxfam doesn’t mention supporting the arts on its site.
The role of African women has always been tough. Things are changing, albeit slowly.
It is sad that in many aspects, the struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe continues. The current regime seems to be, for poorer African women especially, just as authoritarian as the regime it replaced.
Florence/Flame, like many, find it hard to adjust to post war peace. Like many who suffer from PTSD due to the Liberation/Bush war, she finds some short-lived comfort in the company of her fellow ex soldiers. The battle for her character is, in many ways, still being fought
Shot in Zimbabwe with a Zimbabwean cast. No Americans with weird accents – Whoop!
A film by a woman, about women
After confiscation, the film was released following international protest & shown at the cinemas.
Women’s roles in anything important need highlighting, & ZANLA guerrillas played a big role in the war.
Movies on Africa remain scarce, so I like that this was made
War is always tragic. Right & wrong all go into the melting pot when it comes to the inevitable human suffering
The movie was not made by an African. Like most African stories, it was made by a foreign person. This will continue until Africans take back real control & tell their own stories.
There are so many in Flame, the movie, that it’s hard to choose. One moment I remember is where Che, rapist tells Flame that he is has a wife & children & after he apologises for the rape, he tells her that war turns men into animals.
By Ingrid Sinclair : Producers Joel Phiri & Simon Bright : Stars Marian Kunonga as Florence/Flame : Ulla Mahaka as Nyasha/Liberty : Moise Matura as Che : Norman Madawo as Danger: