Spare a thought for the youth,Gushungo.

I met a young man the other day in town. I parked in front of Karigamombe centre and he waved frantically at me from across the road and jogged towards me. “Ndakatarisa mota sister, musatye,” he said. I forced a smile, making awkward noises and glancing at the Easipark attendant a few metres away. For fear of paying the clamping fee, I ended up handing my dirty, crumpled up dollar to the Easipark dude. When I came out, the young man was still there, and he explained, quite painfully, how he would take any job I could give him. He offered to braid my hair, mow our lawn or wash the car  – all in about 20seconds as I backed out of the tight parking space. He came right to the window and said he couldn’t find a job and didn’t have the money for university. He was hoping to earn some money so he could start a small business. I handed him another crumpled dollar, drove off, and glanced back at him through my rear view mirror. He jogged over to his next customer.

This incident happened just before I clawed my way through First Street, almost missing vendors’ cardboard tables and zambias filled with vegetables, phones, books, airtime, accessories and much more. I watched as people my age and younger called out to passers-by, advertising whatever they could so they could make a couple dollars. As I left, I thought about the millions of youth that are in their same positions – hustling on street corners, pulling together what strength they have to make it through the shambles of an economy that has done nothing but lowered their expectations for the future. Again, as I backed out, I glanced back at them, guiltily, acutely aware of my privilege. The people forever in my rear view mirror, almost out of sight, reduced to a loud mass shouting marketing gimmicks at and pleading to be noticed.

Tomorrow marks President Mugabe’s 91st birthday. This year’s 21st movement celebrations are set to be held in Victoria Falls and, as usual, the Youth League is pulling all the stops. The movement was established in 1986 “to encourage Zimbabweans, ‘the youths in particular, to emulate Mugabe’s revolutionary ideas, charismatic leadership and selfless policies”. The Youth League is aiming to raise $1million for the event, and many a well-wisher and private company are dishing out buckets of money that’ll most likely be declared ‘missing’ in next year’s audit. So what’s in it for the youth, you may ask? Well, 100 children who were born on the same day as Mugabe will be attending the event, free of charge. They’ll most likely have their share of the elephant, buffalo, lion, impala and sable meat that’s being served there (*Cue cringe from animal conservationists*). Oh, and we’ll all undoubtedly be inspired by the ‘supreme leader’s’ revolutionary ideas and ‘selfless policies’. So what actually is in it for the youth, you ask again? Nothing, really.

For perspective, here are a few fun facts about where we are financially as a people from the 2014 Finscope Consumer survey:

  • 26% of the population is made up of youth between the ages of 21 and 30.
  • 36% of the population has primary education, 51% high school education, and only 6% a degree/diploma (So no, not everyone has a degree, let alone a grade 7 certificate)
  • 65% of adults in Zimbabwe earn $100 or less a month, and by the looks of things, the bulk of that number comes from the youth.
  • 74% of adults have said they do not have bank accounts because they can’t afford the charges. This may have a great deal to do with the $100 that 65% of us are earning a month.

These stats are pretty sobering. This does push me to side with the MDC (not sure which one out of the million of them) in saying the birthday bash is slightly ‘obscene’. But I’ve also thought of a few ways we could use the party as a platform to empower the very youth the event is meant to inspire:

1. Don’t have it. No money spent, no elephant-killing, no strain on hotels that probably won’t get the money they were promised, no endless articles in the press about how terrible Zanu is.

2. Since number 1 won’t go down so well with the die-hard Gushungo-ists and may rob us of the potential the event has for transformation, perhaps the money raised for the party could be used to start a youth fund. A real youth fund that isn’t premised on party connections and boot-licking, but on the bright business ideas and hardworking youth that churn them out daily.

3. Share the money with companies that will develop their apprenticeships and internships for young people who need industry experience and who are forced to defer their degrees because companies won’t take them on.

4. Have ‘pitch events’ for young entrepreneurs from different sectors of the economy who have ideas for businesses that need funding. Hold these events in each of the ten provinces, throughout the month of February. Get the private sector involved and make your Minister of Youth take this on and ensure its success.

5. Make education a priority. There is a significant gap between primary school goers and high school goers, and between the latter and university students. Invest in schools and restore the pride and joy we had in our educational institutions. Give kids a fair chance to be great.

These are a few suggestions I thought of today. No longer should we be in the rear view of the government, almost out of sight, trotting after mediocre, low paying jobs. From what I’ve been seeing, we’re trying. But we need you to try too, Gushungo.

Kind regards,

Your ever obedient daughter of an ordinary card-carrying member.

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Of wars and women’s bodies.

“…and to make matters worse – some of us, and some of the other women – when there is a rape, there was no mother to tell that somebody abused you. There was no law, there was no justice where you could report to, there was no court of law…You are hurt, that’s it. You just had to keep quiet.”

Margaret Dongo, co-founder of the National Liberation War Veterans Association

 

Narratives of liberation struggles are what this country has been built on. The glory of beating the white man, taking back our humanity, sticking a middle finger to colonialism and mapping out our own destinies is what this country was built on. The euphoria of newly found freedom from oppressive laws, exclusion, daily violence, racism, segregation and murder was enough to mould a narrative of liberation that spoke only of courage in the face of danger, fierce and unwavering patriotism, and powerful feelings of ubuntu. If anything, those that spoke against this narrative were traitors – ungrateful souls that didn’t understand the sacrifice that went into waging this war and that should be silenced immediately, lest we offend our comrades. And so only certain truths were accepted, and only one narrative was adopted. The rest were thrown into the ocean on the banks of Mozambique.

This morning I read an article in The Sunday Mail about female ex-combatants demanding compensation for their suffering during the liberation struggle. Women who sacrificed their dreams, risked their lives and fought for what they hoped would be a better Zimbabwe. A more equal, a more inclusive, a freer Zimbabwe. In the book Women of resilience, nine ex-combatants speak about their lived experiences of the war, and the toll it took on their lives and their ability to exercise the freedom they fought for. The book documents the conversations these women have about female soldiers being raped, harassed and marginalised. Some of the women were impregnated, shipped off to secluded camps, and expected to fend for themselves and their children, with little more than a gun and their training skills.

Today, almost 35 years into independence, the women who survived the ordeal of being ‘othered’, abused and sidelined after independence, have come out to have their say and to demand the slither of compensation that they deserve after such an ordeal. In comes patriarchy on the back of patriotism and nation-building with its single story, selective memory, all wrapped up and packed tightly in a Zanu-branded car. I’ll give you two major reasons why these stories of rape and sexual harassment won’t make even the tiniest ripple in the public sphere (unless we make them visible of course, and actually speak openly about them and about ways of resolving them).

1. Women either aren’t heard, purposefully ignored, misunderstood, or simply not given the space to speak.

Last year, Twitter was ablaze with conversations around the young woman who was stripped at a kombi rank in Harare’s CBD. A number of men and women blamed the assault on her ‘indecent’ dressing, basically saying that she asked for it because of how short her skirt was. This is a point columnist Sisonke Msimang speaks about, saying that the stripping of women in public spaces has very little to do with their clothing, but everything to do with where they are going. Increasingly, women have occupied spaces that have been reserved for men in the past. Their presence goes against every damned little stereotype patriarchy has created about women and their inability to lead and excel in professional environments. Is it therefore a surprise when women ex-combatants are sidelined, silenced and forgotten with regards to their abuse in the war? Of course not. If anything, the silencing of the ex-combatants is chillingly similar to the silencing of women today, young and old, whose bodies are constantly under attack.

2. Women in positions of power have added to the silencing.

Like I said, it’s been 35 years. The recent political upheaval aside, women that have sat in government have sat with this information of abuse and rape of their fellow comrades for 35 years. The lone voices here and there such as Margaret Dongo’s have been a breath of fresh air, but have unfortunately not been taken on, even by other women in government. Power is a tricky, consuming thing. To be part of a patriarchal system, and to thrive in it, often means to take on its characteristics. Some of those include not speaking about the rapists in your midst, who fought tirelessly and fearlessly for the freedom of Zimbabweans, but clearly didn’t give a rat’s ass about the very women that fought alongside them, cooked their meals, hid them, lied for them, died for them, and bore their children. Again – the single story of liberation and the silencing of other narratives.

And so the war on women’s bodies rages on. My hope is that we take these stories seriously, that we understand the pain we cause by silencing those that have given up so much and have been denied their dignity and humanity, and that we continue to speak up and out about abuse; even as we’re overshadowed by crafted collective memories of glory and liberation.

 

The roar of women’s silence.

Back when our African leaders and freedom fighters were fighting for a universal humanism and basic rights, Thomas Sankara was also fighting for the equality of women. The Burkinabé revolutionary was everything I would imagine a freedom fighter should be – forward thinking, passionate and a believer in the intrinsic equality of all human beings. His quote, “I can hear the roar of women’s silence”, was enough to push me to start this blog. Interesting quote, isn’t it? I’m not entirely sure of what his own explanation of this quote was, but for me, it speaks to the silencing of women in my society. Particularly women of colour. Where the world of patriarchy and male supremacy hears silence, I hear roars. Big, scary, echoing, jarring, wholesome, inspiring lioness roars that shake me to my core.

As a young Zimbabwean woman, I often feel silenced. I also often feel as though I’m at war with the world. Every broken street light that lines my road, ruining thoughts of night strolls; every kombi driver that sexualizes me as I take a jog in the morning, every relative that thinks my lack of children and/or a husband means I must be damaged in some way; every political rally that portrays women as mothers and support structures but not as leaders in their own right; every snide comment made by the woman at the musika who thinks my jeans are too tight; every magazine that screams the normative standards of beauty – and leaves me out; every man that says no man is faithful and so I should forget about trusting mine; every international headline about my country that relegates me to the group of the helpless, victimized women. It’s exhausting really.

But through all this, I have heard the roar of women’s silence. I have seen women come together and march for the right to dignity and against the war on women’s bodies. I have seen them lead families with nothing but an informal trader’s sporadic income and a little faith in their hearts. I have seen them strut confidently to receive their degrees at graduation ceremonies. I have seen them embrace change, and adapt to technological advances and use them to their advantage. I have seen the kick patriarchy square in the balls, re-adjust their pencil skirts, and skip into the sunset.

In many ways, the roars are what I want to write about. I want to stick a megaphone in front of all the silenced women’s corners in society and let them speak for themselves. I want them to tell the story according to them, and through their lens. I want the Zimbabwean ear to be trained to hear what we say, and to engage with it. And lastly, I want my own voice to be heard, to be relevant and to make some sort of impact for the good.

*roars loudly, shakes mane*

Merci mille fois, Monsieur Sankara.

 

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