To My Mother, Rozaria
I woke up today, surrounded by love and friendship. I am still bubbling from the special luncheon in the garden hosted by the World YWCA team yesterday. A year after you joined the ancestors, I came to live in this country, where I continue with my life-long struggle for dignity and justice, as I serve humanity.
Last evening I had a quiet and special dinner with one of the three special men in my life, your grandson Munashe. I woke up to a call from your son-in law Charles, who continues building the nest for the family. Your granddaughter, Farirai is one person in the family who always remembers such occasions. She called and sent me a “virtual hug” so early this morning, before I had even washed my face. I miss your own husband, my father. He will possibly have called if he had not left us those many decades ago. Though you both could not be with me in person today or for years to come, I know that you are very present with me today and always..
Amai, when you left us in 2006 we had the mobile phones, yes, but what is called social media had not blossomed then to what it is today. I will tell you all about it another day, for now just know that there is this technology that enables real-time connections of billions of people. It is not really free mother, nor is it available to all. In this country I live in, technology is now such an essential commodity and common good central to daily life, just as water is essential to feeding family. As I said, that is as story for another day.
Today, my social media space is streaming with messages from family and friends, far and near. I really want to answer and thank each person individually, but this is almost impossible, though I will try. I want every one of my friends to know how grateful I am for their presence in my life. The messages, amai, are so touching; they are reflective, encouraging, affirming, futuristic, spiritual, connecting, reminding me of what I care for. They are all showing a deep connection of relating and relationship. I am counting my blessings, and thanking the Creator, just as you always reminded us during those evening prayers.
Mother, I have started to write about my life. I have decided to share small Snippets of My Life and the journey travelled so far. It is a profound experience because as I write my story, I am also writing YOUR story, strangely but true. I remember when you used to go to the adult literacy classes, and how you wanted to read the bible, which you finally did (shona version); and how you wanted to write. At least, before you died you could write your name and you placed your signature on that one and only banking account you opened with POSB. You could then vote properly, placing an X on your candidate of choice. You did not have to be assisted nor did you have to vote with a thumbprint, an experience which always bruises the inner dignity of the illiterate. It robs them of their basic right to privacy and often takes away the true possibility of making a personal choice. Many women in the world, amai, still cannot read and write and this pains me a lot.
Whether today is the actual day I was born, we will never know as a matter of fact. It is my birthday, according to the birth registration papers. You never really came to the conclusion whether this was the day I was born. It’s a date that proximates the events surrounding my birth, and therefore the date the registrar’s office wrote on my birth certificate. I am happy its today, though, because it’s a special Women’s Day in South Africa, and it’s the day that reminds us of the Nagasaki atomic bombing, and I share the birth month with many wonderful people. At least I have a birthday, for many in the world have no birth registration and are denied the joys of birthday celebrations..
So, today as I turn forty-something, I am feeling good that I have summoned the courage to write. I wish you were here to read for yourself, our intimate life in Magaya village. I have written some snippets: “Where Does the Bus Come From”; “My Yellow Dress with Big Back Buttons”; “I almost Died of Snake Bite”; “Kabedrom Burnt to Death, Yet Her Spirit Lives On”. Recently I wrote about that evening when the family made a decision for me to go and live with brother Alphonse and his beautiful wife Jenifer in Zvishavane. I always seek to express the joys of life in the village, respect the wisdom, values and knowledge you and other community members imparted on us, without hiding the pain and struggle of rural life. I know it’s not just my experience but that of millions of others out there.
You were strict, amai, insisting that we work hard for our upkeep; that we dream about the future and that we continue to live prayerfully and respectfully. I am still working hard, amai, because I truly believe in reclaiming dignity for our people and demanding justice in this world. It consumes my soul, my life and my being. I have discovered that I do not do the work because I need to put food on the table, I do this, mother, because its life. Hold my hand always as I reach out to you, when it gets tough. Your spirit keeps me going!
Well, amai, I hold my country high with hope though I worry. I have been lifted by my Zimbabwean sisters and brothers for all these years in my life journey, and I am grateful. My country has been there for me, whenever I reached out for support. While I have lived away from home for years, I have remained in the struggles for dignity and empowerment of women and girls. I had extraordinary support during my bid for the UN Women position, I received two awards of achievement from fellow Zimbabweans in the year. I do thank my own people for this recognition. You remember when I left law school, I, together with others formed the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association. It’s now celebrating its 20th anniversary and I am so proud.
That day you left us, I told you that you are gone but your spirit lives on. The Trust we started in your name has helped thousands of people since you left. With the experience of HIV, poverty, health and entrepreneurship in the family, we are drawing on your own strength to work with our people in Murewa to address these issues. We have a thriving Rozaria Memorial Trust, whose offices are near Post Offices at Murewa Centre. That open space, amai, is now Chigumadzi Office Complex. You will be happy to know that we launched Rozari Girls Club, just to give opportunities to young girls so that they will not go through the tough experiences that you and me went through. Even if its one girl who breaks out of that circle of poverty, we will celebrate. We have not closed your round and grass-thatched kitchen. We use it for meetings and gatherings, still, though we may have to fix the roof again.
But, amai, I worry for my country. I do. I worry because in 2008, just 2 years after your death we had violent elections. Last year, I played my role and was an observer in the elections. Amai, people just want the economy to improve so that they can have a dignified life. Tomorrow we celebrate zuva remagamba (Heroes Day), you know you are my unsung heroine though you are buried in the family shrine. Many rural mothers like you gave all they had for freedom of our country. I remember you each and every year, and give my own private salute to the unsung heroes and heroines in our communities. You always encouraged us to be part of the struggle for independence and freedom. You always encouraged us to play our part and be part of the solution and not just cry and complain. I will continue to play my part, for the future should be peaceful and prosperous.
It all boils down to bold, transformative and visionary leadership, amai. Leaders willing to take bold actions, turn around the fortunes of the nation, stamp down corruption, build culture of tolerance, harness the human and natural resources of the nation and embrace technology and local innovation. The future is young and the future is female, which is what the evidence is telling us. I am pray that your grandchildren and their own grandchildren will live a different reality and will build and enjoy a Zimbabwe full of opportunities and choices for its people.
This has been a long letter, and am sure you understand. Turning forty-something is something. I am no longer that young nor am I that old! I have just but acquired another year of experience, and hopefully have a little bit of more wisdom. I however, continue to pray for discernment, as I remain steeped in the struggle for dignity and justice.
So amai, I have been trusted by Africa with its daughters, as African Union Goodwill Ambassador for Campaign to End Child Marriage. I know child marriage is not just an issue about the individual girls, it is an issue of development, it’s about household poverty; it’s about status of women and girls in society, it’s about patriarchy and its abuse of culture, traditions and religions. It’s a political issue and a security issue. Your own story and life experience continue to inspire my actions. I ask you amai, to whisper to me, the right words, for this tasks demands courage to speak truth to power. It demands an understanding of the pain the girls and their families go through, just what you experienced and courageously shared with us. I know that you will journey with me in this effort.
I will write you again, mother, maybe on my next birthday. I want to tell you about the world we live in today. This global village which is full of opportunities and contradictions. Its world, amai, that some members of the village have less status than others. It’s a world with high-sounding good words, yet the devil is comfortably ensconced in the details. It’s a world where people are dying due to war and preventable diseases, things which human being are directly responsible through acts of commission or omission. It’s that world where the leaders without hesitation approve huge expenditures for military weapons, when schools have no books and women are licking the spoon, a spoon they do not even own. It’s a world where your people are put into bondage, with all kind of modern forms of slavery. But let me write you about this later, when I think I will be a little bit older and wiser.
By the way, I wrote the other day about mutukutu buns. I wish YOU were still with us and I will come home for the holidays, and you would spoil us with home-grown bananas, nzimbe, maheu and indeed mafetekuku.
Missing you, amai vangu
Ndini gotwe renyu;
(c) Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, 2014