The Zimbabwean way.

*Trigger Warning: This article contains information about rape and sexual assault, and may be triggering for some readers.*

“The response so far is just a foretaste of things to come.”  – George Charamba, spokesman for President Emmerson Mnangagwa (referring to the initial armed forces’ violent crackdown on protesters in Zimbabwe)

January has been a particularly painful month for Zimbabweans. Protests broke out during the #ZimbabweShutdown on the 14th, after a hike in fuel and food prices, chronic cash shortages and a doctor’s strike. Police officers and army soldiers were sent to ‘restore calm’. As usual, they did so with a disproportionate use of force. This resulted in over 600 arrests, 12 deaths, over 70 cases of gunshot wounds, mass beatings, and cases of rape.

While this was happening, President Emmerson Mnangagwa (nicknamed ED) was cozying up to government officials in Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. The President’s trip was cut short before he went to Davos, after Zimbabweans demanded he return to fix the mess he’d made. (Although one could argue that he would have wanted to avoid being grilled on his poor economic policies and his government’s rampant corruption and incompetence.) ED’s response to state sanctioned violence has been less than satisfactory, with no real effort made to stop the army and police’s actions. Other state officials aren’t helping either. Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba shocked no one when she said that “rogue elements” in the police force had stolen official uniforms, guns and cars and were responsible for the violence, not real officers and soldiers of course. The irony here is, if we assume she’s telling the truth (which I obviously do not), that we’re expected to trust a police and army force that can’t even prevent the theft of official uniforms, equipment and vehicles from being stolen. (A uniform? Maybe. An army truck? Come on, now.)

“The Zimbabwean Way”

ED had chosen to feign ignorance about police and military brutality, until SkyNews reported on the extent of police and army brutality. It’s important to note that even though Zimbabweans at home and abroad have been protesting, writing petitions, conducting campaigns on social media and mobilising donations for support for victims of violence, it was a foreign media channel that triggered ED’s empathy:

But what is the “Zimbabwean Way”?

What I think ED is alluding to is that in Zimbabwe, armed forces and police do not use disproportionate force against civilians; that any member of the army or police that abuses their power will be prosecuted; that the rule of law prevails and that Zimbabweans are always treated with dignity and respect throughout the legal process. None of this is true, and the president knows this. George Charamba’s comments on the military intervention before ED’s tweet were a glimpse into the President’s true feelings. The army’s brutal reaction was but a “foretaste of things to come” for our people. Now that, unfortunately, is the ‘Zimbabwean way’ that I’m familiar with.

For decades, the Zanu-PF led government has openly approved of using state police and army officials to enact violence against civilians. The most shocking and shameful example is Gukurahundi, where soldiers, under the 5th Brigade, attacked, killed, raped and destroyed property of Ndebele civilians. We have seen state sanctioned violence over and over again during election season, to rid urban areas of street vendors, to ‘teach’ peaceful protesters a ‘lesson’, and to prevent the opposition from gaining support. The ruling party has been unable to separate itself from the state, using state apparatus to maintain Zanu dominance. Zanu-PF is truly the thing that goes ‘bump’ in (both) the night (and day). You’re either with them or against them, and the latter could get you killed, jailed, maimed and even raped. The real ‘Zimbabwean way’ is therefore the Zanu way, and the Zanu way is littered with a trail of dead and violated bodies.

Women’s bodies: a battlefield for political violence

Rape crimes in Zimbabwe often go unreported, particularly when they’re committed by soldiers and police. The ones that are reported are often the last to come to light, mostly because victims are afraid of being targeted after they make a report. National statistics in the first quarter of 2018 showed that over 7000 women and girls were raped in 2017 and less than 50% of those cases were satisfactorily dealt with through the courts. More than 60% of rape cases involve minors, an important statistic when considering how many minors have been arrested and assaulted in the past two weeks. Worryingly, cases of rape in Zimbabwe increased by 81% between 2010 and 2016.

Politically motivated rape in particular has been a part of the fabric of the ruling party’s violent ways for years. Women’s rights activists and feminist groups have been conducting research and speaking out on it for decades now. The highest number of rape cases linked to political violence occur during elections and periods of public protest/unrest, where women and girls are often raped and sexually assaulted as a ‘punishment’ for their (or their spouse’s/family’s) support for the opposition. It is designed to destroy women’s dignity and harm them into silence and obedience.

ITV did a report on 11 women that said they were raped by soldiers during door to door raids after the protests. One soldier allegedly admitted to the crime, with no remorse. He was just following orders. His statement suggests that if those giving the order to ‘punish’ civilians for their dissidence are not directly telling their subordinates to rape women, they’re definitely not actively warning them not to either. This kind of punishment leaves lifelong scars and trauma, cultivates a culture of impunity for rapists, and entrenches the power of a ruling party that will do anything, including using brutal force against its own people, to stay in control.

As long as the “Zimbabwean way” is the “Zanu way”, Zimbabwean citizens will continue to be victims of state sanctioned violence, and we will have to continue fighting a system that exists to exploit and harm us.

(PS: Zanu Haichinji.)

Bye, Robert: The complexities of chipping away our oppression

Friday 24th November is the day Zimbabwe saw the swearing in of a new president, after what has been called a ‘bloodless coup’. It also marks the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the ruling party – one without Robert Mugabe. While the mood in Zimbabwe and amongst Zimbabwean communities the world over has been jubilant, what I have felt this week is a mixture of euphoria and anxiety, as I think deeply about the future of a people that have lost so much. This is my personal reflection on a system we desperately need to do away with to truly free ourselves of different forms of oppression.

Bye, Robert

My father had the kind of singing voice that could only be classified as atrocious. It was deep and lacked any sort of real tone or direction, and the only song I ever remember him sing from beginning to end, in three different languages, was our national anthem – a memory that still makes me cry with laughter whenever it crosses my mind. “Tone deaf and proud,” I would often call him.

In many ways, his tone deafness and pride in mediocrity extended beyond his attempts at singing, into his political life. He was a Zanu official for as long as I knew him, in different capacities. And it was his tone deafness – a characteristic shared by his former colleagues and our former president (that feels really good to say) that inevitably resulted in decades of state and police brutality, plundering of government resources, corruption, negligence and mismanagement at eye-watering levels. And so in essence, the same guttural voice that made me cry with laughter, made me seethe with anger at the horrid sate of affairs Zimbabweans were subjected to. Herein lies the complexity of where we find ourselves.

Robert Mugabe, the former President of Zimbabwe, will not be missed. Photo cred:

For years, Zimbabweans have been speaking and writing about the shocking state of the country’s decline. We were ruled by a government that had no interest in listening to anything other than the voices that were powerful enough to silence others. Mugabe was an awful leader. So when he was forced to resign (please stop saying it was by choice; it wasn’t), I danced and cried for the end of his political power that had been used to bully, oppress and marginalise his own people. For many, his demise symbolised the beginnings of a long road to recovery. Zimbabweans, I believe, should celebrate each victory we win as deeply as we have mourned our losses over the years.

Hello, Emmerson – we need to talk

But as I write this today, Emmerson Mnangagwa has taken over as the head of state. He was a close ally of the president who was part of government throughout some of its most violent periods and actions: Gukurahundi, Operation Murambatsvina, the political violence in various election years and so on. He was and is part of a system that none of us can say has ever truly served all Zimbabweans. Our country is in a mess, and it will take more than just a change in leadership to fix it, which most people are very aware of.

Now, this is the situation we find ourselves in. But this is not the situation we have to stay in forever. As a young Zimbabwean, I was swimming in apathy and despair for longer than I’d like to admit, and that is a sentiment that is shared across socio-economic statuses and geographical locations. The removal of Robert was one small step in a series of many large steps that need to be taken for us to truly be free. And it seems naïve to celebrate his removal, considering who has replaced him. But it is possible to be anti-Mugabe without being pro-Mnangagwa. It is possible, that after years of oppression, silencing and being mocked by Robert’s leadership, his removal is the push that some young people need to start thinking about how to build our country. Anything that chips away at the feelings of apathy about my country, I welcome with open arms.

It may be too early to tell where everything is going, but what is clear is that the entrenched system of violence and intolerance for opposing poitical views needs to be dismantled. We as citizens need to think and act in ways that emphasise our desire for a country where everyone is afforded the same opportunities. We need to keep fighting for a country that we can be proud of, and where political leaders are not deified, but recognise that they are to serve our interests alone.

My father lost his life because of the very system and people whose power he helped to consolidate, and so violence begets violence. The system and the people in it are not going to willingly change for us. I think we need to keep speaking and collectively cure the ‘tone deafness’ of our political leadership as we move forward. And I think we need to give each other the space to celebrate small victories, while we work out how to achieve bigger ones.


The darkest shade – black travel & rides through the desert


I think it was the staring that bothered me first. It was hard to ignore, but it was harder to convince myself that it surely couldn’t have been that many people staring.

It was.

Driving into the city from the airport the night before, I fell in love with Amman. It was a Friday and unusually quiet, but the little traffic we did run into gave me minor heart attacks. The driving here is of a standard I’ve never seen; frightful. Lanes seem to exist for no reason, as cars straddle the faint lines, speeding and slowing down at a whim. Amman is full of mini hills and valleys, and the summer sun beams down on the low buildings and the relatively sparse vegetation. Summer is drawing to an end rapidly – the evening air is crisp and I’ve been avoiding rooftop events, despite my love for sipping G&T at outdoor bars.

Having moved from Dubai I had grown accustomed to the adhan (the call to prayer), but I hear it much louder now. It’s soothing. That day, it reminded me of the Dubai creek; the original centre of the city’s commerce and an older part of the Emirate, unburdened by glistening towers, and overpriced cars, replaced by abras on a creek that charged a mere 1Dirham to cross over to the souq. As I walked down the street, a middle-aged man stopped me.

‘Excuse me! Hello! Where in Africa are you from?’ I must have stared at him for 10 seconds, puzzled. I looked back to see if anyone else passing by thought this odd. ‘Um, Zimbabwe. Why?’ I replied. ‘Well, you see I’d like to go to Swaziland…I have a travel agency, maybe we could help each other? Let me take you for coffee.’ I politely declined, half out of fear of what his reaction to a harsh rejection might be, half because perhaps I had expected something like this to happen. What followed in the weeks to come, were strange encounters with people I hope to never come across again. Sometimes I’d walk into the local supermarket and have children stare and point at me, both confused and amused. Their parents, to my disappointment, did nothing. At the Amman citadel, on the highest hill in the city, and where the Roman Temple of Hercules (yes, that Hercules) once stood – a group of young men shouted “Sudan?” or “Burkina Faso?” at me, hoping I’d confirm, so they could repeat the one phrase their domestic worker had taught them once. Just the other day, a woman in a shop came up to me and asked me if I was “Rosie”, another black woman who worked as a cleaner in her apartment building. She then proceeded to ask me to help her find the things on her list, ignoring the people who actually worked in the shop. “Tibvirei ambhuya,” I said eventually, smiling and walking away.

She smiled back.

The Temple of Hercules – Amman Citadel

Wadi Rum, Aqaba & Petra

My weekend away in Wadi Rum and Aqaba was a dream. I was surrounded by expats – mostly European and American – who didn’t ask me uncomfortable questions, thankfully. Wadi Rum, the ‘Valley of the Moon’ is a protected desert in Jordan, with breathtaking sandstone mountains and ancient rock inscriptions and paintings.  As we climbed mountains and sand dunes, all that lay before me were miles and miles of desert. The emptiness, the silence, broken by the occasional sound of an old truck in the distance – it all made me feel very small. That night we basked in the light of a full moon, pointing out the few stars we could see. The cool breeze and the silence felt like a prayer – soft, soothing and bare.

Aqaba is the only coastal city in Jordan and lies on the shores of the Red Sea. A fierce blue colour and perfect temperature for a place that averages 33 degrees in the summer, the sea has been my favourite destination in Jordan so far. Our boat tour took us to the reefs, where we snorkelled in between diving off the boat and taking naps. You can see the Palestinian (they’ll tell you it’s Israel but we know better) and Egyptian side from the shores, miles and miles of sandy land and luxury hotels on the shore. Glorious.

The Jordan side of the Red Sea – Aqaba

Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the splendour of Petra, the ancient ‘Rose city’, best known for its rock-cut architecture and advanced water conduit system. The city’s carved out temples and buildings tower over you, offering much-needed shade from an often scorching sun. My friend Tessy and I made our way up the mountains and across the valleys, walking for hours on what felt like a trail that would never end. As painful as the walking was, the joy of sightseeing with my black African friend in a predominantly Arab and white group of tourists, felt somewhat rebellious – grabbing our ‘otherness’ by the horns I guess. But also, at least I didn’t stick out alone.

Traveling while black in this region has definitely tainted my otherwise exciting experience. It means being both invisible and hyper-visible, stared at both in awe and in disgust, and both praised for your ‘perfect English’ and despised for not speaking Arabic well enough. My advice is to take a friend if you decide to visit this beautiful country. A black friend. A friend who gets it and who will calm you down when someone asks you if you speak ‘African’. Be prepared for the discomfort, but keep your head up.

You’re black, after all. Which means you’re magic, and not everyone responds in awe to things that outshine them. The world is vast and full of assholes, but there’s beauty too. It’s that beauty that makes the discomfort worth it at times.

‘We had no other choice’ – Of rape culture & the sexual exploitation of girls.

On 6th September, StarFM’s show Pane Nyaya hosted two children who spoke about being forced into prostitution in Harare. One was 9, the other 13. The interview, painful to listen to, sat with me for hours on end. The 9 year old girl explained how she would sell her body to survive – sometimes for as little as 25cents – to old men in bars in her area, often drinking and taking drugs herself so she could numb the pain. She even had permanent ‘boyfriends’ who may or may not pay her for sex, but who ‘protect’ her from other ‘clients’ if they were rough with her. The irony. Some of the men would even take whatever she earned and give her an ‘allowance’ from it – something that shocked me to my core. Not only was she being sexually exploited at 9 years old, whatever money she did make was slipped back into the pockets of the men that exploited her. On top of that, one of the girls explained how she had a child to look after as well – an extra mouth to feed on an already meagre income. In essence, these girls had no bodily autonomy, no other source of income, no chance at going to school or living normal childhoods, free from the violence they had to relive daily, just to get by.

The story was shared on social media and got people talking. Most of the comments related to the account expressed anger and shock at the cruelty of these men (and women who enabled these practices to continue). And then there was this:

blog larry tweet

There are multiple things wrong with this tweet as a point of departure and general attitude. The first is there is a strange correlation between contemporary hip hop music and the rape of young girls in extremely poor areas in Harare. Confused yet? Same. He effectively blames sexually explicit lyrics for the rape of a child, and does not address the fact that an adult male (‘brother’) has deliberately enacted sexual violence on a young girl. And there, ladies and gentlemen, is one example of the rape culture that continuously blames girls and women and ANYTHING ELSE EXCEPT THE MEN THAT RAPE – music, the erosion of so-called cultural values, women’s fashion, a rise in ‘immorality’, pop culture and so on. There is a deliberate refusal to simply say: Rapists cause high levels of rape and sexual assault. Girls and women are not responsible. Music is not responsible. New ‘cultural norms’ whatever the fuck that means, are not responsible. Rapists are responsible for rape. That’s it.

According to Zimstat, there was a 42% increase in rape cases in Zimbabwe between 2010 and 2016. Over 60% of those raped were below the age of 16. How did we get here? Well, a toxic combination of rape culture, an inaccessible legal system for many, an ill-equipped police force and a culture of silence around sexual abuse.

Rape Culture: A society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.

The constant dehumanisation and loss of power, dignity and innocence of these girls is rooted in rape culture. Rape culture manifests in various ways, often in comments people make in passing when a woman has been sexually assaulted/raped/molested. Questions about what she was wearing, why she was walking alone, whether she ‘provoked’ her attacker, why she didn’t report the assault immediately after and so on, shifts the blame for the violence on the victim. Rape culture also denies the very real widespread nature of rape and sexual assault in women and girls’ lives across the country (and the world, really). There is a strange denialism about whether sexual violence is happening at the alarming rate it currently is, despite overwhelming evidence that is presented by women time and time again. The effect of this is that women are seen as being ‘overly sensitive’ or overreacting when we speak about sexual violence and its effects on us and the way we view the world. For every account made about sexual violence, there’s a counter narrative claiming that women are exaggerating and – if you’re openly a feminist like me – that we simply hate men and have no logical base for doing so.

Rape culture strips girls of bodily autonomy from a very young age by sexualising children while simultaneously telling them that ‘losing’ their virginity before marriage lowers their worth. Couple that with a culture of silence around rape and sexual abuse in families, churches, work places and schools, and you have yourself an epidemic of men who won’t take responsibility, men and women that won’t force them to take responsibility, and girls who have been scarred for life but cannot speak about it for fear of facing even more violence.

Our generation has borne the brunt of a failed state – high unemployment, acute poverty, political violence, a broken economy and a society whose ability to fight back is hampered by police brutality. In the midst of all this, those who suffer the most are often women and children who have the lowest ability to access resources and opportunities to give themselves a decent life. Our leaders have stopped caring for the most vulnerable in our society, and have allowed a culture of impunity to thrive, alongside misogyny and patriarchal policies and perspectives.

Going forward, if we’re going to give our girls a fighting chance at life, we need to stop perpetuating the narratives that see them as even slightly responsible for the violence enacted against them. We need to take a hard look at the society we live in and fight every instance of rape culture immediately. We need to care.

*Organisations like Katswe Sistahood have been at the front-lines of the war on girls’ and women’s bodies, and they continue to denounce the rape culture that we’ve all become accustomed to. They offer practical assistance to girls like the ones in the interview, roping in government officials and partners.*


‘Voting against my father’ – Tearing the fabric of violence.

Two days ago, the MDC-T youth held a demonstration in Harare to demand that ZEC put in place electoral reforms ahead of next year’s elections. The demonstration, as I read, began peacefully, but as usual the police violently cracked down on protesters. Those unfortunate enough to be in bank queues nearby were hit by the canon spray as well, while they experienced another violence of not being able to access the very money they have earned.

I remember thinking of how common this all is – police brutality in the face of a fight for basic rights and freedoms and answers that citizens deserve. Our country has been smothered by a fabric of violence that permeates every aspect of our lives, and it is in our best interests to tear that fabric and start building the country we all really want. This piece is deeply personal, and speaks to my encounters with this state violence and how it’s shaped my view of politics. It’s been particularly difficult to write because of my proximity to perpetrators of this violence. I want nothing more than a fresh start for this country and for our people, and I believe it’s possible. But we have to take a hard look at the ways this fabric of violence was woven and how we’re continuing that violence, if we’re ever going to tear it.


2005 was the last time I listened intently and uncritically to my father’s take on politics. I  had just begun the teenage phase where I was perpetually annoyed with my parents. But what I felt that day was deeper than mild annoyance, and I knew that. His convictions had stopped moving me; if anything, they began to cause confusion and discomfort, which eventually, years later, turned to something close to disappointment. He’s dead now, and I’m older; and thankfully I ask more questions than I did back then.

2005 was the year of Murambatsvina, the government’s operation to demolish informal housing and business structures in urban areas across the country. It had a profound impact on my relationship with politics and my understanding of state violence, even at that age. Zimbabwe was going through a painful economic slump which was only to worsen over the years, reaching the tipping point in 2008. The currency was weak and jobs were scarce. The informal economy served as a source of much-needed income for urban residents who couldn’t access the formal sector or who simply couldn’t survive on salaries paid in a currency that was worth less and less every day. It was also the first time I had ever even considered my father to be a perpetrator of violence.

That’s important. A perpetrator of violence.

It wouldn’t be the last time, and it began a complex period of both loving him dearly and making wonderful memories, but gradually despising what he represented politically.

Murambatsvina’s destructive effects that plague our country to this day. Source:

Operation Murambatsvina was swift and brutal; carried out in the height of the winter cold, rendering hundreds of thousands homeless and desperate. You see, my father was pictured in one of our newspapers in a white dust-coat, holding a broom and sweeping away the remains of people’s make-shift structures. “We’re cleaning up the city,” he said, after I asked if this didn’t seem harsh to him. “I mean, we’ve issued warning after warning…we’ve been clear about this from the start.” He tried to make some comparison with an example I might understand, but by now I had stopped hearing him. I remember staring at the picture of him sweeping away the livelihoods of the people him and his colleagues implied were “filth”.

I try not to think of my father very often anymore. But when I do, it’s with a feeling of both deep fondness and deep disappointment. Some days the latter outweighs the former. To me, he symbolised a party that rose on the backs of passionate black people’s painful sacrifices, steadfast resolve and a leadership that could see the Zimbabwe that many couldn’t even dream of. But there was an underlying violence in their actions that I saw and understood to an extent, but couldn’t fully articulate, and that I desperately want us to rid ourselves of now.

Tearing the fabric

I grew up thinking the state had everyone’s best interests at heart. More often than not I’d hear the words “sovereignty”, “freedom”, and “independence”, as did everyone else really. Except I listened to them twice – both from the mouthpieces of the party and one specific mouthpiece, my dad. I was taught to associate Zanu-PF with freedom and black empowerment, but more importantly as the only source of political and economic freedom and empowerment. It was this portrayal of a single ‘saviour’ – the ‘pasi nemhandu-ness’ that labelled anything outside of the ruling party as enemy and ‘other’ – that threaded together the fabric of violence we’ve wrapped ourselves in.

For years we’ve been taught to see difference in political opinion as being an inherent threat or something to be shunned and destroyed immediately and without question. It’s infused in the slogans we chant at rallies, the Facebook comments on political party pages, the high school history books, the newspapers and news sites, the arguments during dinner and the WhatsApp groups we rant to. The violence is everywhere. It’s in the way MDC supporters feel entitled to our votes, and the way Zanu supporters are willing to do anything to win. It’s the reason why, when independent candidates or new parties come about, we’re quick to tear them down. We’ve done things the same way, over and over. We’ve covered ourselves completely with the fabric, tearing it occasionally, but never enough.

This is where we are. But it doesn’t have to be where we stay.

2016 was the first time I felt my heart awaken with the possibility of taking back what our leaders had stripped from us. It was a long, hard stare at the fabric and how long and thick it had become. It was an attempt to tear the fabric of violence and sew a different kind of fabric – one woven together with democracy and tolerance and the ability to oppose one another without feeling threatened and insecure. We’ve already started weaving a new fabric. We may have to undo a few knots or close a few gaps, but we should never stop trying. Our efforts are in every refusal to accept poor governance, every protest, every counter argument on vote-splitting, and every demand to have our dignity recognised by our leaders. It’s in every bit of encouragement we give to those who speak truth to power and fight for our rights, that the fabric starts to tear.

2017 was the first time my grief didn’t fully consume me. And it was the first time I felt a deep sense of longing for a better country, and that I actually thought a better country was within our reach. And I realised that even more than I loved my father, I love myself. I love myself and my country enough to help work towards a future I can be proud of, and enough to be part of tearing the fabric of violence alongside everyone who’s fighting for a new country too.

2017 – The year my heart started beating again.

“Grieve. So you can be free to feel something else.” – Nayyirah Waheed

About a year and a half ago, my heart stopped beating and I couldn’t breathe. Death. Death to the life of a young black woman whose heart had packed up and sunk deep into the grave where he lay. Beneath the dirt, covered with cement, and topped off with flowers from his enemies. Gone. I remember the cry I let out when people started to walk away and go home. I remember struggling to breathe because in that moment, I died with him.

This was 2015. When the gamatoxes ran wild and the G40s had yet to really get going, and the bond notes were yet to be set free. When the vendors were told to leave again and the President was going to rule from the grave and the drought had started to claim lives of the ‘resilient’ people ruled by painful mediocrity. My heart lay still, buried under 6 feet of red earth, waiting. Occasionally it would stir up, but only to feel pain. It’s 2017. Last year, the-year-that-we-will-never-speak-of, is gone with what we thought may be winds of change. And this year is the year I took my heart back from the grave where he lies, and the year it starts to beat again.

Grief is that horrible feeling that never really goes away. It consumes you and dictates how you think about yourself, the deceased, the people you love and the world you want to change for the better. Grief strips away the pretences you held up for so long, the inhibitions you should have never had, and it jolted me out of my slumber and comfort of a good, stable life. Grief takes away, but it strange ways, it also gives. This piece is for myself, but it’s also for anyone who has lost a loved one and doesn’t know what it means to love/live without them. The beauty of new years is they give the impression of a new start. They give the kind of hope that is fleeting, but hopefully makes an impression long enough to last you half the year before you need another pep talk.

There’s so much grief has taught me, but I’ll share the 5 most lessons I’ve learned that I want to (need to) take with me into 2017.

  1. You’re stronger than you know – There will be days you can barely get your eyes to open fully and start your day. I know these days well. You will think ‘I can’t do this anymore’, and shut the world out and feel annoyed at every text of encouragement, because don’t they know you can’t do it? Cry, kick, scream, stay silent, pray, run – do whatever you need to do to make sure you wake your heart up again. If the most that you can do is take a shower and go back to bed, it’s alright. Give yourself days when you don’t have to be the you that everyone relies on, needs and turns to. You will surprise yourself when you wake up the next morning, and you’re breathing again. Give yourself time, you’re stronger than you know.
  2. You can’t ‘do life’ alone – To this day, all I want most of the time is to be alone. People can be irritating as fuck when all you want to do is wallow in your misery and loss. But people can also be kind and loving. Allow people to love you and to want to be there for you. Tell them when you need some alone time, but don’t hide from them forever. They mean well, I promise. No one is an island, and no one is expecting you to suddenly ‘be okay’. You know who your people are so keep them as close as you can.
  3. Value your peace – For months I felt like all I was doing was calming the storm inside of me. It was loud and angry and violent. I had no peace, and the storm was destroying me. When you find a slither of peace, be it in a novel, with a friend, on a morning walk, while you pray in your garden – GUARD IT. Guard that slither of peace with your life because you and I know how seldom it comes around. Guard it and never let anyone take it away from you, no matter how important they are in your life. Be kind to yourself and value the peace that keeps you sane.
  4. Everything you need is within you – This is a great time to introspect and understand yourself better. It’s a time I realised who I really was, what I really thought, and what I really wanted and didn’t want. Everything you need to heal and succeed at life after this pseudo death is in you. It’s in your passions, your frustrations, your dreams, your actions, thoughts and gifts. Don’t doubt yourself.
  5. Don’t give up on yourself – This is something I still need to work on. Trust that you have what it takes to make it through this year. You’re all you have, and at this point you need to take a step outside the grief circle and believe in yourself. And if you can’t muster up all that faith, call a friend who affirms, loves and is always there for you. Don’t give up – we’ll make it through.

My heart is beating again this year, and I’d like to keep it that way. I’m hopeful and excited about the year because I know what it’s like to lose hope completely, and I never want to go back there again. I hope that in whatever way, this piece brings you peace and you can take away a few things that will help you calm your storm.

“Grieve, so you can be free to feel something else.”

Christmas Day, 2016. The day I decided to get my heart beating again. Also the day I danced heartily for the first time in months.

For African women whose silence hasn’t protected them.

Before the weight of adulthood came crushing down on me, I was one of the best 9 year-olds at maflau (dodge ball) in my cousin’s street. (This isn’t up for discussion. It’s a fact.) I was fast and I could catch well, much to the delight of my teammates. I took our games very seriously – we would play for hours on end, only breaking if we heard our names being called from inside the gate. The December holiday sun wouldn’t bother us; we’d tease each other, scrape our knees, form alliances and make bets, then scurry into our gates after being threatened with a beating if we didn’t get bathed before dinner time.

There was one particular day I channeled the confidence of a mediocre white man and strutted into the street. I knew I was ready to win that day. We played a long, hard game of maflau and as usual, I was the last one standing. I dodged the last few throws and caught the ball made of plastic bags and old rags, meaning all my teammates who had been knocked out, got to come back in. This upset one of the little boys for some reason, who suddenly said he wanted to go home. I immediately called him a sore loser and we got into a verbal altercation. “Alright fine! Let’s see how you’ll play then.” He said as he grabbed his ball (he made it, so it was his) from my hands and walked home. “Ona zvawaita Vimbai!” [You see what you’ve done now?] was the response I got from my teammates, most of them male. I couldn’t believe it. In my attempt to stand up for myself and them, I had alienated myself, and I should have simply kept quiet so we could at least have kept the games going. So we could ‘keep the peace’. Everyone walked away mumbling and throwing their hands, and my heart sank.


“Your silence will not save you.” – Audre Lorde

The first time I heard that quote, I squinted a little in the way you squint at a lecturer so they assume you’re thinking very deeply about what they said. In reality, it went in one ear and slipped out the other. I must have nodded as well, this being before I learned how to question my questions and wake up my ‘woke’. Once I got to thinking though, I remembered that hot day in December when my speaking ruined the day for all my friends. Silence is golden, my lily white primary school teacher would say when the black girls got too rowdy. Back then, I truly believed her. Back then, I chose silence because society had chosen it for me first, and I had lost a few friends temporarily because I had spoken up.

Silencing on social media

My Twitter Timeline is an interesting place to be. I learn and unlearn on it, and I encounter both wonderful, critical thinkers and horrid individuals, stuck in their horrid ways. Being feminist on Twitter often feels like you have a bull’s-eye pinned on your back, dodging misogynist bullets everywhere. Misogyny isn’t the same as sexism – inside of the soul of a misogynist is a cesspool of murky water bubbling over with a real hatred for women. Misogynists delight in the power of patriarchy in its ability to crush women’s self-esteem, dreams, opportunities and voices. They revel in discrediting any kind of attempt women make at empowering themselves, and then it manifests largely through seemingly harmless sexist tweets. The patriarchy tower stands tall on social media, and the misogynists renovate and repaint it daily a bright red, drawing even more attention to themselves. Misogynoir however, combines the misogynist’s hatred for women and black people, to make black women the target – bearers of the burden of race and gender discrimination.

Silencing is a common tactic – it’s been around for centuries, plaguing various vulnerable groups of people in the world, amplifying the voices of oppressors everywhere. I speak about social media because as a young adult, it is the one space that offers a multitude of opportunities to network, learn and be entertained, but also serves as a space of violence. As a young black African feminist, living in my feminist truth offline can be just as taxing as it is online. There are two things I have struggled and sometimes continue to struggle with online, that have resulted in my choosing silence from time to time: ‘Likeability’, and the violence of ‘teaching’ feminism online.

A big part of patriarchy is its ability to ascribe particular gender identities and traits to women and men. Black women in particular are often portrayed as unnecessarily angry, bitter, and in need of a man to ‘tame’ them or domesticate them. Black women feminists are seen as troublemakers that hate men, seek to divide men and women in the fight against racism/oppression, and are therefore undesirable as romantic partners for men. (Note how all of this is steeped in heterosexual language as well). I and many women I know, were raised to be ‘likeable’. We were expected to be friendly always, even in situations where we were subject to violence. That time your creepy uncle demanded a hug and kiss and you were expected to oblige them and smile, cringing inwardly at the feel of their hand a little too close to your bum? Yeah. This spilled over into my teens and young adult years, until I realised that being ‘likeable’ often means being silent in the face of my own erasure. It meant fiercely denying that you were angry, bitter or headstrong in any way, lest you be undesirable to men. It meant shrinking myself to a size palatable for male tastes. It meant dying a little on the inside.

The second issue is something I still struggle with. From time to time another egg-avi individual will tweet “What is Feminism anyway? Is it not meant to oppress men?” or something equally as nauseating. And then the debate begins, the misogynists stretch their fingers and fire away, chipping away at some of the work black feminists have done to teach feminism online for years now. They are rarely ever robust, nuanced discussions – they are a chance for those who refuse to unlearn patriarchal ways of thinking to crawl out of their holes and gain a few retweets. I love speaking about what feminism can do, what it stands for and how it’s helped me. What I hate doing is having never-ending ‘debates’ about my humanity and inherent equality as a woman. It is violent to expect women to constantly ‘teach’ feminism to people who refuse to see beyond the myths created around it, and it sometimes pushes me into silence. But my silence hasn’t saved me.

The beauty of the feminist cohort that forms your posse on Twitter is unmatched. It’s a group of women who are tired of the oppression from white supremacy, black male misogyny and societies drenched in patriarchal norms. Speaking/tweeting about black African feminisms and their meaning for my life is what’s saved me. Speaking out against the daily exclusions and the erasure that black women face both off and online has made me more aware of the things in this world that need to change. I worry less about my likeability because that likeability has never guaranteed my safety, and I’m not interested in promoting things that endanger me and other black women. Silence is golden, they’ve told me. Well, me speaking is damn near priceless in my life.