The Zittos’ naming fascination

Sunday January 19 2020

The Zittos’ naming fascination- 40th day ceremony of their second-born-Life&Style spoke to Zitto-leader Zitto Kabwe-


By Tasneem Hassanali

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

So wrote Shakespeare in his book Romeo and Juliet. It is obvious he was never in Tanzania, for here, there is a whole lot hidden in just a name.

Aptly called, this is the first thing we think of when a child is born. In fact, most parents even decide the name before the child is born. As with everything in Tanzania, there are many traditional ways of choosing the name of a child. The most common one is that of using family names.

But for opposition leader Zitto Kabwe and his wife Anna Bwana, it was different. Zitto and Anna have two daughters named after significant African revolutionary figures and heroines of struggles in their own respective countries. They recently welcomed their second-born. Just a day before the 40th day ceremony of their second-born, Life&Style spoke to Zitto and Anna regarding their unconventional decision in naming both their daughters.

J is for Josina

For Anna, names were very important to her family. The first names were always chosen from her mother’s side and the second names were from her father’s side. “And they thought very carefully, who from their families they want to hand the names down to their children,” Anna says.


Zitto and Anna’s first daughter is named after Josina Machel, a forgotten African heroine who fought for Mozambique’s freedom struggle and women’s right, and encouraged other women to join the war. She died at 25 without seeing her dream of an independent Mozambique become a reality.

One thing that incentivized Zitto and Anna to name their first-born after her is the fact that she has been forgotten. “Josina Machel has been a remarkable liberation heroine who fought for the freedom of Mozambique amongst the very people who gave up their lives to free Mozambique. And she died young – so people have forgotten her. And we want our daughter to be one of the efforts so that these women aren’t forgotten,” Zitto says.

Both Anna and Zitto were inspired by Josina Machel even before they got married. “We got attracted to Josina Machel’s personality and story after reading the book ‘S is for Samora: A Lexical Biography of Samora Machel and the Mozambican Dream’ by Sarah LeFanu. And at that time, it was in 2012, we said to ourselves that if we ever had a daughter, we would name her after Josina Machel,” reveals Zitto.

Josina Kabwe was born in 2016, and exactly a year after, on her first birthday, her parents Zitto and Anna took her to Maputo-Mozambique, at the place where Josina Machel is buried as a way to pay tribute, understand the history and significance about her. “Yes, we took it a little too seriously,” Anna laughs, “But it was important for us to do so,” she adds.

3-year-old Josina comes running into the living room, intrigued as to whom her parents were talking to. Anna recalls looking at her, “We bought her a bag from Maputo that has the face of the original Josina Machel – so she knows that it’s her. I think it’s the simple ways we try to build a story for her as to who Josina Machel was.”

This also includes an affirmation Zitto and her daughter Josina share every day. Which is, ‘Josina Machel never cried, doesn’t cry.’

The modern ‘Rosie the Riveter’

There she was during World War II, Rosie, flexing her arm muscle, wearing a red bandana, accompanied by the words “We Can Do It!”. She was a cultural icon of World War II symbolizing women empowerment. A poster that we all have come across.

If we fast forward to today and think of an icon that helped fuel one of the greatest revolutions the world ever saw – one of the powerful images would be of a young girl standing atop of a car in a white toub with her hand in the air leading a crowd of protesters. That’s Alaa Salah – the 22-year-old who helped fuel the revolution that ousted President Omar al-Bashir from 30 years of authoritarian rule in her native Sudan. The modern version of Rosie we can all relate to in this time. Her iconic photo that went viral symbolized the role women played in the pro-democracy struggle in the country.

Here she was holding her namesake. Zitto and Anna’s second-born is named after her. When Anna conceived the second time, interestingly the revolution in Sudan happened at around that time. “There was an article in The Guardian UK about Alaa Salah that we read and my wife Anna told me, if we get another girl – we will name her after Alaa,” Zitto tells.

Besides the story of Alaa Salah, Zitto and Anna were worried that she will also be forgotten in the pages of history book because she is young. This time, they might not have to travel across borders. “We are lucky that Alaa is alive and she’s here with us today. At least for baby Alaa, her namesake is able to hold her,” Zitto tells Life&Style.

The second name

“A one, a two, a three,” Zitto and her daughter Josina share hand gestures, the fingers doing the talking. “It’s our thing that we do for her to be able to acquaint with both her names,” Zitto explains.

While their first names are inspired from liberation heroines, Josina and Alaa’s second names are from the family. Zitto explains, “Alaa’s second name is Angelika, named after Anna’s mother and Josina’s second name is Ummkulthum, named after my aunt.”

Both their daughters use two names, officially and at home too.

Name is a reflection of their relationship

Interestingly, Anna and Zitto have never disagreed about names of both their daughters and it comes from the fact of how their relationship first bloomed. “Naming our children is also a reflection of a relationship we bonded over. We got to know each other because of similar interests around activism, history, liberation and nation-building. And we also read similar books and therefore it was easy for us to have a similar thought process in naming our daughters,” Anna narrates.

When Anna first met Zitto, she was working in the development sector around mining and land right issues in Lake Zone, Shinyanga, Geita and Ngorongoro areas. Over the years, her work focused on human rights issues, governance and accountability. “A lot of what we share and do is similar, even though he looks at it from a political perspective and I look at it from a development perspective,” Anna tells.

Why freedom fighters?

Zitto and Anna are obsessed with stories about freedom fighters, in fact, they even had names of liberation heroes thought of, in case it was a son. Unfortunately, Legesse Zenawi and Thembisile didn’t make it to Zitto’s list of heirs.

The simple idea behind naming their daughters was that they didn’t want these women to be forgotten. “When you read the history of nations, all over the world, especially so in Africa, you don’t read about women who participated in the struggle. It doesn’t mean there were no women – there were women but because of the patriarchal system – it’s only men who are seen as fighters. For us, it is part of a small contribution in recognising that women have participated in the liberation,” Zitto tells. Anna believes that we are in this period of life where being able to break stereotypes is important and both Josina Machel and Alaa Salah have been able to do so by being young women involved in movements. “And what I’ve learnt today, here sitting with Alaa, is that we tend to forget that there is a human and simple side to them. She helped me realise that it’s not that she is any different from us, she is a normal girl doing amazing things and it helps to build an act of courage in people like myself.”

Zitto and Anna believe that their daughters need to choose their paths and these names shouldn’t be pressure or influence in any way or sort.

“I don’t need them to be activists or freedom fighters but our thinking behind the names was fighting for issues of justice, breaking taboos, being able to stand up for what you believe in and being remembered by history and by the community. So, I hope the children will continue with that, whether they become doctors, teachers or journalists, those principles should live on in them. Because that’s also part of how they are raised and that’s why those names were chosen for them,” Anna explains.

The two girls that Zitto and Anna have had together are a reflection of principles that they both believe in and their namesakes embody some of those principles or passion or interests that matter to them. In the near future, when their daughters, Josina and Alaa will be asked what their names mean, they will have a bigger story to tell.