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.)

Of presidential birthdays & praise and worship teams.

 

“The 21st February Movement was established in 1986 to encourage Zimbabweans, the youths in particular, to emulate Robert Mugabe’s revolutionary ideas, charismatic leadership and selfless policies.” – Pindula

Believe it or not, I was once part of a church praise and worship team (*cues snarky comments*). I used to be able to sing and play the guitar boldly and with fervor and holy (sort of) precision. The thing about praise and worship teams is that they’re often filled with young, vibrant, talented and passionate people. Young people who are willing to give all they have to a church that they believe is integral to their growth as Christians, and a god who is all-knowing and loves them despite their faults. One of the things I often heard in church rhetoric was that praising and worshipping was a “lifestyle” and that it didn’t start or end with singing on a stage/pulpit. The idea was that you would “praise Him” no matter how you feel, what you were going through, how broken or in despair or angry you were, or how much you felt your life wasn’t going according to plan.

Your praise wasn’t determined by your circumstances, basically. You were to be in continuous praise and awe of this deity that obviously only wanted the best for you.

Now fast-forward to the first time I asked my dad why the President held such a lavish birthday party in the midst of so many structural problems that needed attention. He said, “So should we not celebrate our leaders’ lives simply because we have a few problems?” I thought that was a cop out of a response, but I didn’t argue immediately. This year, Gushungo turned 92. Last year, my post was on the logistics of the party and what that amount of money could do for the youth, but today I’ll focus on the spirit in which the party is held, and its effect on how I view politics in Zimbabwe. Now firstly I don’t actually know anyone close to me who has reached 92, so kudos to him. The celebrations are being held in Masvingo, the home of Great Zimbabwe. (I sincerely hope the 50 cows that were slaughtered were bought from Masvingo farmers whose cattle have been dying at alarming rates due to drought).  I think it’s remarkable that the man can even walk straight, let alone sit/partially sleep through government events, chair the African Union and mediate between petty factional wars. I am not of the persuasion that he hasn’t done anything good for my country – that would simply be untrue. I am also aware and grateful for his stance against the marginalisation and belittling of African narratives and agendas in a Eurocentric world more broadly. His story isn’t one-dimensional, and that’s important for me to acknowledge and emphasise.

But while I am no longer a member of a praise and worship church team, somehow I reluctantly found myself and other youths as members of a national praise and worship team that serves the political kingdom of Zanu. It’s headed by a man who is, according to his wife and many of his supporters, ordained by God to lead the country. By extension, his leadership has become sacred, divine and therefore criticising it becomes borderline taboo. It’s a hard kingdom to praise, especially when you’re the child of one of its officials.

Perpetual praise

Your praise isn’t determined by your circumstances, basically. You are to be in continuous praise and awe of this deity that obviously only wants the best for you.

I’m always fascinated by the idea of memory-making, remembering and history. Part of the reason the 21st movement is such a big deal is that it is continuously reproducing the image of a resilient, passionate and selfless leader who cares for nothing more than the well-being of every Zimbabwean. It creates an image of a near perfect African leader who has championed human rights and has been a stellar example of how political work should be done. And this is where, as a young indoctrinated praise and worshipper, I struggled. The Zimbabwe that I remember is not the Zimbabwe my parents remembered. By extension, the leadership I have experienced is not necessarily the leadership my parents experienced. How we remember things is determined by what we recall and what has been represented to us as truths. My earliest contact with critiques of political work was in 2005 during Murambatsvina. It was one of the first moments I stopped singing in the choir, looked around and problematised the kingdom I was a part of. I stopped strumming the chords, I opened my eyes, and I listened to the alternative voices outside of the ‘church’.

Perpetual praise had blinded me from political violence, exclusionary tactics, politicised food aid, corruption, blatant disregard for human rights, and a waning emancipatory politics mantra that used to form the basis of every politician’s vision. Perpetual praise meant that the majority of any problems we were facing as a nation had to do with outside (satanic) influences; that the only way to defeat the devil (read West) and his minions was to praise and worship in the political kingdom that saved you from yourselves. Perpetual praise meant trusting that your tithe (taxes) were being used for the furthering of the kingdom, and that you would be rewarded 100 fold for your ‘seed’. Perpetual praise meant being in the world but not ‘of’ the rest of the critical world that picked apart the kingdom’s value systems and foundations. Perpetual  praise meant even if you didn’t know all the words, you would hum and close your eyes passionately, going with the flow and allowing the spirit (propaganda machine) to guide you. It meant being forever grateful for your country even when it was becoming increasingly difficult to live in. Above all it meant trusting that the “Man of God” was in constant conversation with God and would lead the flock in the right direction.

Gushungo’s celebrations aren’t confined to the 21st February movement and the actual day of  merry-making, long speeches, police bands and so on. The day is one of the many moments we are called to praise and worship to perform all the songs we’ve been practicing over the years. The party is a reminder of the history that has been constructed to place Gushungo in the perpetual, divine light, never tainted by the dark, alternative stories of violence and ‘madness’ that have been a part of his legacy too. It is a time when we’re called once again, despite our circumstances, to sing repetitive choruses at the top of our voices.

I am no longer a member of the praise and worship team so I’ll save myself from all the pomp and passionate singing this year. Happy birthday, RGM.

Yours,

An ever critical daughter of a deceased ordinary card-carrying member.

gushungo

Keeping it together outside my comfort zone.

“Keep it together.”

 

It’s 4.21am and I’m knee deep in development studies reading, Bryson Tiller in the background, the sound of the occasional truck passing in the main road, a few birds chirpin’ the shit out of their morning songs. I tend to work in the early morning, because my mind is less cluttered. During the day I have classes and seminars, books to read, ideas to critique, conversations to have. I like the quiet, calm ambience at this time of the day. I feel somewhat ‘put together’.

As a person living in the diaspora, I am constantly battling with my desire to be home with my grieving mother and being here – seemingly doing something constructive with my life and following my passions. Everyday I think of my country. I think of all of the wonderful, idealistic things I would love to do there. I think of my father’s death and the sluggish (or non-existent?) investigations around it. I think of how much I love the vibe, the people and the potential in Harare. I think of home A LOT. I have no idea where my life will take me after this degree. Most of my days are honestly spent updating my CV and website, applying for jobs, sending countless emails, thinking of where I would like to work versus where I can find work, whether I have what it takes to start a business of my own and so on.

It’s a strange feeling, being here. In some ways I’m seen as privileged (and I really am, don’t get me wrong) for being in the diaspora surrounded by so much promise and opportunity and stability (to an extent of course). In other ways I look around and see a space that has everything it needs to succeed so my contributions here would inconsequential. I feel so very ‘UN-put-together’ in a space that is so very orderly and efficient and where everything seemingly ‘works’. I feel scattered – neither here nor there, and neither succeeding nor completely failing.

There are things I find particularly difficult about having different “locals” as a young(ish) person in the globalised “shrinking” world we live in today:

  1. The pressure to succeed- This is obviously something most people feel, no matter where they’re from or where they are. But there’s a lingering voice in the back of my head that says “You’ve crossed oceans and seas to get to another continent. There’s no room for mediocrity here. Especially here.” My life is different now. I have pending financial obligations I don’t know how to meet, a family to think of, a career I want to build, and many structural problems I have to face to get where I want to. Because I am where I am, I feel the pressure even more. I have to fight the feeling that I constantly need to prove myself and never ever drop the ball(s). Because the ball(s) will drop. Eventually.
  2. L.O.V.E – I haven’t been in a relationship for a few months now, and being single has been both painful in the beginning, but liberating for the most part. I’m not actively looking for love, but if it comes my way, then I have a score of questions I need to ask. Where is he based? (*insert my mother’s tone*) If he’s here, do I stay? (Highly unlikely) If he’s home, do I go home? With what job? If I stay, does he do long distance? If not, is it even worth exploring options? Do I want to be married one day? Would he move for me? Am I asking for too much for someone to love me in my absence? I can barely figure out where I’m going to be in the next few months, let alone figure out who my life partner should be. There’s a constant tension between wanting to be home, building a life with someone, and wanting a salary that can give me the life I want and the capacity to build something at home.
  3. Making a difference – I’m an ‘over-thinker’. Anyone who knows me well knows that I tend to pick apart and analyse almost everything. I’m intentional. If I care, I’ll show you. If I don’t, I’ll also show you. I don’t take things for granted and I don’t like the idea of half-baked initiatives that don’t address real, deeply rooted problems. This has been my downfall, I suppose. When I think of making a difference in my country I think of a few questions: who do I want to help and why? Am I helping out of the guilt of my privilege? Am I concerned more with results than the people I want to help? Did they ask for help? Who am I to think I can help? Can they help themselves? Is this patronising? Are they really benefiting? Do I think I’m better than them because I’ve been abroad? How do I ‘make a difference’ as humbly as possible, cognisant of my privilege, aware of the pain the very mention of my surname may cause in some spaces, and a difference that addresses the heart of the issues that are faced by those I want to help?

 

Adulting without one of the main adults in my life to guide me has been an absolute roller coaster, but it’s the very questions I’ve outlined above that are shaping me into who I am. Being away from home sometimes can be just as difficult (albeit in different ways) as being home with all of the daily stresses one faces in Zimbabwe. In some ways I feel as though my life is a microcosm of my country – still a real state but just surviving day to day, juggling opposing forces internally and externally, semi-efficient and semi-focused. I still feel very ‘scattered’ and very ‘un-put-together’, but I’m hopeful that my constant mental battle will lead me somewhere meaningful.

 

 

Gathering the pieces of my heart

Today holds a special space in the hearts of many a Zimbabwean. Many of us spend hours slaving over lunch dishes, opening presents, laughing with siblings, rolling our eyes at drunk uncles and throwing shade at the one relative who thinks they’re better than everyone because of their stint in the US. I wish you all the best Christmas you can have in an economy like ours, and the kind of peace that calms your storms. May whichever deity you pray to or large white-bearded man you believe in, grant you your most precious Christmas wishes.

This Christmas, my mother is away. Her fierce smile and love for life fills most of my heart, and so her absence is felt. My dad is also away, but his is a more permanent absence. It’s one that has left a void in my soul, and has granted me countless sleepless nights and lost me a few pounds. The stress of dealing with his estate has taken a toll on all of us. Grief isn’t something I have experienced to this extent, and I have tried dealing with it as best I can, but I’m mostly floundering. I’ve received some flack for writing about Amos the politician and his former party. So I’ll change course, and write about Amos the father – the guardian of the biggest piece of my heart.

There’s a Christmas I’ll never forget. It was 2008. I hated dad for his involvement in politics . This was the year of waves of political violence from both Zanu and MDC, but mostly Zanu. It disgusted me, and I couldn’t understand why he was part of a party that condoned this kind of behaviour. But it was Christmas now, and by now I had mastered the art of ignoring him when he talked about the party and politics. As usual, we were at the farm, and I had spent the past two days writing and reading. After a big lunch and presents, my dad and I took a walk. He took long strides in those obscenely big farm/miners shoes that come with every commercial farmer starter pack. His Zanu hat was far too big for his head, as ill-fitting as his involvement in the party, I thought. He had got a hair cut a few days before, so his ears stuck out, pointing up to Palestinian Jesus. At some point he stopped in front of the cattle pen.

“I am sorry,” he said. “For what?” I asked. “For being part of things you don’t understand. I know you’re angry with me, and I know why. But this is who I am, Vimbai. But you are always first. Mese ana Tinashe, naMama. You are always first.”

He kept walking, and we didn’t speak for the rest of the walk. My dad never told me he loved me. At least not directly. It’s just not a thing in my house. But god, did he show it! There was never a Christmas he didn’t remind me that I was his priority. There was never a day he didn’t look genuinely happy to see me. There wasn’t a day he wasn’t willing to take my criticisms of his profession. There wasn’t a day I questioned his love for me. He holds the biggest piece of my heart, and so my writing is a way for me to frantically get it back, so I can live in peace again.

I’m going to his grave today. I haven’t been able to go since I cam home. I tried the other day, but I broke down in tears before I got there. So I’ll try again today. The biggest piece of my heart is there with him, and I’d like it back. I’d like to feel real peace again. I’d like to think and write about him without shedding a tear. I’d like to stop feeling the pain I feel when people mention his name. I’d like the biggest piece of my heart back. This is my Christmas wish.

Happy holidays readers 🙂

Pasi neMhandu.

 

A tribute to my grieving, powerful mother

Zvinorwadza vasara.” (“It hurts those left behind.”) – Gogo Kamba

The car my father’s body was found in sits in our driveway right now. Mukoma has been washing it once a week or so. I haven’t asked why, I just assume it makes him feel better, like he’s preserving dad’s memory or something.

I remember too much from the five-day long funeral. There was so much noise all the time. Varoora gossiping about people’s husbands at the fire, vakuwasha pitching tents and drinking beer in the garden, cars driving in and out, trucks dropping off food and firewood, phones ringing constantly, people wailing as they walked into the house…It was overwhelming for the most part.

But Amos Midzi has had enough airplay to last a lifetime. On to the black woman that speaks to my soul.

My mother sat in a corner in the lounge, next to her mother and sister and cousins. Occasionally I went to sit with her, squeezing myself past the Zanu people who thought they had a right to sit close to her. I watched her everyday. I made sure she ate, made sure she was surrounded by the right people, made sure I was in every side-meeting she was called to, checked on her when she was sleeping, and tried desperately not to cry in front of her. She never cracked. I lost it a few times and shouted at a few zanu people and reporters, but she stayed calm. Her character was consistent. There was a sadness in her eyes that resurfaces some days, but not once has she crumbled into the mess I find myself in at least once a week.

My mother is a black, Zimbabwean woman with a smile that blinds the wicked and a heart the size of Kanye West’s ego. Her love is fierce, her anger damning, and her strength humbling. We’ve never been close, mama and I. She’s always been a little less affectionate than me, and I’ve always been a little more reserved than her. Nonetheless we’ve always looked out for each other. She grew up in a rural area with a strict, religious mother and an equally strict, patriarchal father. She met my father in a Zanu office, where she used to work just before and after 1980. In 1982, she married him, and in eight years, had three children. She followed my father to both his diplomatic postings as an Ambassador – Cuba and the US. She was the perfect diplomat’s wife. She cooked a mean lunch and has the most amazing sets of china and silverware. Her decor, hostess skills and style meant she made my dad look good at the numerous events they hosted and were invited to. At least that’s how the world saw her. But I know her better.

Being a politician’s wife can’t be easy. She sacrificed so much for him to pursue his dreams. She supported him, even when he wasn’t always around for her. She raised us all with the fear of black mothers, and the love of a thousand gods. She dealt with our mood swings and her having to be the ‘bad cop’ while my dad was the angel who swooped in with presents from far away lands. She built a career in a country that, for decades, saw women as nothing more but mothers and wives. She pursued her passions and followed her dreams. She defied the odds against her.

My mother has lived through different phases in the world, and she’s conquered them all. She’s conquered racism in colonial Rhodesia, she’s conquered patriarchy both abroad and at home, she’s conquered the voices in her head that told her she couldn’t make it, she’s conquered motherhood, she’s conquered hatred and she will conquer grief. She is my inspiration, my muse. She marches past the haters and takes on the world, strapping womanism around her waist, holding on to black Jesus’ hand,  and laughing in the face of those who have hurt her.

There’s something to be said about black mother’s grief. It’s lined with a hardness that only a lifetime of oppression and misogyny can give you. It’s cradled in a love for her children that brings us all to our knees. It’s a grief that tears through her soul but never resurfaces for too long – lest she be taken advantage of. My mother’s grief is steeped in anger, but also in clarity. The womanist that she is, she can’t help pushing me hard and making sure I reach my full potential, never letting the “man’s world” get the best of me. Her grief is my grief, her sadness my sadness, her joy my joy. Her grief shows her humanity, but it also reveals the god in her.

She’s sitting in the lounge now, headscarf on, blanket over her knees, falling asleep. God, she’s everything.

Finding my sunshine: A Tribute to Amos

“Pain demands to be felt.”

– John Green (from the passage written for the movie “The Fault in our Stars”)

Perhaps the most common thing people have said to me since my dad’s passing has been, “Be strong.” It’s a strange thing to say, I think. I know they mean well, and they mostly want to prevent me from going down a path of self destruction, but it doesn’t help. I’m already strong.

I was raised by an independent, thoughtful and kind father who wanted nothing but the best for his family. He raised me to never give up and to keep swinging, even if I was lying on my back, my opponent standing over me. He taught me to hold my head high and never take no for an answer. He taught me to fight for what I believed in, even if no one else was on my side. My whole life I’ve been strong. Vulnerability has never appealed to me, and showing my full emotions to people is still something I struggle with. But these days I find myself weak and lost – using only my father’s words to find my strength.

When I was a little girl, my father would come to my room every morning and scream “Goood morning Nestle Cerevitaaaaa!” (I was obsessed with that advert, and I loved cerevita more than VP Mnangagwa loves saying “Pasi nemhandu!”) It was the first thing I heard every morning and he was the first person to make me smile. On the way to school he would tell me jokes, explain things I didn’t understand in the paper, and would smile at me periodically through the rear-view mirror. His voice was always so soothing. Unfortunately, he did the Cerevita thing until I was in Form one. It annoyed the crap out of me and I told him to stop doing that. He did, for about a day, and then he went back to doing it for at least another year. Ha! He was my sunshine.

Around the time of my first period pains, love interests and obsession with basketball, our relationship grew even stronger. We had heated debates about ZANU and its corruption, its disregard for human suffering, and mostly its culture of violence. He knew and loved a ZANU that had fought for the equality of all and the liberation from whiteness as the normative standard of what is good, correct and desirable. He understood ZANU as a party that cared deeply for the welfare of all people, and whose members were ready to die, that Zimbabwe might live. Unfortunately, greed and excessive privilege tainted many of his colleagues, and the party wasn’t what he had known it to be. Alas, he loved his job, he loved people, and he loved what the core values of the party were. So I supported him. I would go to rallies once in a while and marvel at the amount of people who were there just to hear him speak. For a few hours I forgot my skepticism and I went along with the slogans. His words inspired people, and that made me happy. He was their sunshine too.

One day when we were arguing (again), I asked him why he continued to pursue such a precarious career path in politics. He said, “Vimbai mwanangu, we must try. We must try and fix the things that have gone wrong in this country. Even if we fail here and there, we must keep trying. Our existence depends on it.” That just about sums him up. He was a man that kept going, until the very end. He was determined to see Zimbabwe be better, do better for its people.

Pain demands to be felt.

During his funeral, I told the members of ZANU that they should be ashamed of what they did to him. That their words, like his, carried power and weight. Their words hurt him deeply, and for that I will never forgive them. I am certain that my anger will not subside any time soon, and that Karma will come knocking on their doors one day. I am also certain that there are people who are hurting with my family. People who miss him and who remembered his amazing personality. To those people – hugs all around.

My father was a man who cared deeply about those around him, and whose legacy can never be erased. He lives in me and through me. I am weak now, but I know that one day I’ll find my strentgh. I’ll find my laughter again, and I’ll find the courage to finish the work he started. I’ll never stop loving him.While this pain demands to be felt, I demand to feel love and happiness again as well. i will find my sunshine again, and I’ll rest in the strength of my father’s memory. RIP Comrade. Save me a seat next to Palestinian Jesus.

Women: The ultimate scapegoats.

(n.) A scapegoat is an event person or object that is used to lay the blame on for all that goes wrong, regardless of the contributions of others. This will usually carry on until the scapegoat has gone, or has managed to successfully defend itself against the arguments presented to it.

 

When I was younger I was a pro at scaring the shit out of people. I’d hide behind corners and jump out at you while you walk past, much to the dismay of my parents and anyone else who fell into my hands. There was even a time I hid in a box for a good 30 minutes (you can’t rush these things), and asked our helper to tell my cousin there was something in the box for him. I popped up like a Jack-in-the-box and he (all 2metres and 90kg of a man) let out a small scream that I still laugh about by myself sometimes. My parents both worked, and my brothers were at that stage where they’d stay late at school for sports and activities and go out on the weekends with their friends, so none of them were home much. As a result, I’d end up scaring either our domestic helper or our gardener. The latter was a little more forgiving, while the former often shouted out half her totem narrative and mentioned something about Jesus needing to save her, so I mostly went with our gardener.

One day, in my usual fashion, I hid behind a large wooden plank in the backyard, close to our dog kennel. I waited for our gardener to get close enough before I jumped out from behind it. His eyes widened, he laughed uncomfortably, and then he did the strangest thing. He told me not to scare him again, or he would lock me in his room and “we would see who would be the scared one”. There was something about the look in his eyes that made me uneasy, and so I ran back to the house. My mother had told me not to scare the help, not to play with this young man where she couldn’t see me, and so I didn’t mention it. I still feel uneasy when I bump into him in town once in a while.

Now, you may say that I was a naughty child – this is true. You may say that someone should have been watching me – perhaps this is also true. You may also say that I was lucky that young man didn’t do what he said he would, and worse – this is very true. But some people may say that because I had a working mother (and father as well, but the emphasis would be on my mother) I was subject to the dangers of potential abuse by our helpers at home. This was the argument made by one Superintendent Ethiua (I dare you to pronounce that out loud) Muzvidziwa, head of the Gweru Urban Women’s network, according to an article in The Chronicle. She said that “all mothers (not fathers) must bear in mind that their primary responsibility is to offer parental guidance to their children”. She went on to say that because of the economic slump we find ourselves in, women are having to work longer hours at the expense of their family life and safety of their children. I have a few problems with this article and with Superintendent Muzvidziwa regarding her remarks.

Firstly, the headline reads “Career mums ‘fuel child rape'”. Firstly, what the fuck. That women who are pursuing their God given and constitutionally given right to have a job and earn an income, as well as pursue their passions are the ones fuelling child rape is ridiculous. The same way our society blames women for being raped, is how we blame mothers for ‘allowing’ their children to be raped, with no mention of the real problem, which is the rapist. Are women not supposed to aspire to more than marriage and children? Is having children a sign that I should drop everything I have dreamed of before this child, and cater only to it’s needs? It is my experience that my mother was a better mother because she worked. She gave me the inspiration I needed to not sit around and expect things to be handed to me in life. She taught me how to fight for what I want, to strive for excellence, and to be all I can be, even in a society that sees me as a second-class citizen.

In the entire article, Sup Muzvidziwa makes no mention of the partners of these women. Are fathers also not tasked with the protection of their children? Are they, more often than not, not away from the house for the bulk of the day and sometimes even the night, only returning to have a meal, take a shower and climb into bed? We need to stop framing mothers as primary care givers and fathers as primary bread-winners, as if the two cannot step outside these boxes. Fathers must actively be a part of their children’s lives, and I refuse to let patriarchy tell me otherwise. Sup. Muzvidziwa also encourages women to play more of a part in the curbing of rape and sexual violence. Excuse me? Are we not the ones standing and shouting at the top of our lungs, demanding the end to this violence? Where are the men? Surely most fathers would not want their child to be subject to sexual abuse? Why are they silent about their fellow man’s abuses? And where is her criticism of these rapists?

In 2014, Zimbabwe National Statistics (ZimStat) said that 15 women are raped everyday in Zimbabwe. Lawyer and Harare West MP Jesse Majome said that the majority of rape cases last year were thrown out often because victims were too afraid to testify due to pressures from family and society. Our society needs to change. But women don’t need to stop working. Yes, we must ensure that the people we leave our children with are trustworthy, and that we take care to speak to our children and create an environment that makes it easy for them to open up to us if abuse happens. Notice I said ‘we’, meaning all of us. Mothers, fathers, politicians, police officers, health workers, NGOs, the media – all of us. We need to start framing the discussion on rape and sexual violence in a way that criminalises and chastises the rapist, not the victim of rape and not the mothers of the victims. That we live in a society where women are working longer hours is not an inherently bad thing. We should be overjoyed that women are entering spaces they were shut out of a decade ago; this is progress and I applaud these women. So stop blaming women for violence that is not perpetrated by them. Stop making this discussion about anything other than our need to condemn and eradicate every form of sexual violence and those who carry out this violence. Let us achieve our goals, raise children and thrive in a society that looks to empower us and not tear us down.

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Source: http://www.zimbabweelection.com