24 Aug

We May Save Lives: ‎In Memory Of Panashe Paradza

By  Mai PanVen

LeavesWe read about signs suicidal behaviour and have depressed behavioural indicators. There are even self-tests for suicide and depression. These are tools checklists tuckboxes Society has put out there aimed at enlightening and equipping people to identify and address mental health challenges.

Panashe took his life. He lived under the same roof with the family. I spend a lot of time with him. He was my personal chauffer. He was my research assistant and my French translator. Panashe told a friend that I was a good listener and patient. I was the last family member he spoke to on that fateful 7 December. I did not see the so called warning signs. In hindsight:

  1. Panashe’s school performance deteriorated drastically at University of Cape Town (UCT). We assumed that he was playing too much. We supported him when he moved to WITS. He moved back home and .. his grades improved.. we were relieved RIGHT…….WRONG.
  2. Panashe isolated himself. We could not see this when he was at UCT. I remember questioning him about this when he told me he knew no one who he could ask to check his grades. At WITs I often quizzed him about his lack of friends. He hung out with me. He did not go out or receive phone calls. I found it very bizarre. His grades were fine so there was no need to worry right…..WRONG.
  3. Panashe spent less time on his Facebook. I spent more time there checking up on him. Numerous inquiries to him from his friends were ignored. In November he told me he was quitting fb. I laughed at him. A friend later told me it was because they had quizzed him why I posted a good luck with exams message when he was not attending classes.
  4. Panashe stopped answering his phone, he said something about the battery. His message box was always full. He instructed the maid that he was not available to take any call. I also shared a list of callers I would not entertain. I assumed he was avoiding some chick. We laughed and teased each other about this. it was funny.. was it??
  5. Panashe had problems sleeping. Twice he went to see a Doctor. He was an adult. He assured me he was alright. I remember as I worked to meet my deadlines he would be up at 0400am watching movies online laughing his head off. He must be happy I assumed I chided him about the noise. He apologised.
  6. I did not witness any mood swings. We did notice that he increasingly spent a lot of time in his room. We discussed this. I assumed it was a life phase. As long as there were no drugs or alcohol right? WRONG
  7. Panashe eating pattern changed. From a health conscious individual obsessed with his skin and six-pack, Panashe stopped taking a lunch box to school. I assumed he was eating at the canteen
  8. Panashe ticked OUR boxes. Left home as expected and returned at the end of day. He drove his sister to and from school ran the various errands for my friends and I. He never complained or protested. We assumed everything was RIGHT. .WRONG..
  9. Panashe had stopped attending school for six months before that fateful day. He was not sleeping. He was troubled. He was going through the motions of life. He still joked and laughed…He could not articulate his pain. I could not see through the veil. The so called indicators make a picture after a suicide. Were all these indicators of depression? Suicide? I would not say so. Before that seriously why would I question behaviour of a twenty year old “responsible” young man who broke no rules committed no crime and was always home before sunset? Especially as he continued to laugh and joke through it all.

I have since learnt that even a simple act like goggling the key words can help families towards identifying mental illness and avert a potential tragedy. I don’t have all the dots but I hope the little I shared here helps others.

Share with anyone with children!  We may save lives.

* Mai PanVen is a Guest Blogger, who is passionate about mental health among young people. She draws from her own experience of losing her son, Panashe.

09 Aug

Letter to My Mother, Rozaria: I am a forty-something today, still searching for dignity and justice

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

07 Aug

#Lead4Girls Panel’s Real Solutions to End Child Marriage

Written By: Suzanne Ito
August 6, 2014

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

As African leaders gathered this week in Washington, D.C., for the White House’s first-ever  U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, IWHC and the Girls Not Brides USA coalition held a panel discussion on the widespread problem of child marriage and called on governments to work together to end the practice.

Shannon Kowalski, IWHC Director of Advocacy and Policy, opened the discussion by highlighting why ending child marriage should be a priority for the United States and African countries.  Kowalski noted that one girl is married every three seconds; this violates her fundamental right to choose if, when, and whom she marries,  often curtails her access to education and vital health services, and perpetuates a cycle of poverty. Kowalski drove home that international leaders do not have a moment to lose.

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, Goodwill Ambassador for the African Union’s Campaign to End Child Marriage and General Secretary of the World YWCA, addressed the event with video remarks, calling on the African leaders gathered for the White House summit to invest in girls’ health, education, and empowerment to end child marriage.

Dorothy Aken’Ova, executive director of the International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights (INCRESE), an IWHC partner in northern Nigeria, talked about the realities of life for girls at risk of child marriage and the work INCRESE is doing to support them and avoid the practice. Her organization’s one-year program looks at the issue holistically by educating them about women’s rights under international agreements and local laws, sexuality issues, gender equality, and leadership training so they have the power to use their voices to avoid child marriage as well as advocate on their own behalf and for all their rights.

Oyindamola Oluwaseun Fagbenle, a lawyer and women’s rights advocate from Nigeria, noted that many Nigerians don’t even know child marriage is a crime under local and international laws, and that greater investment in education is critical to keeping girls in school and out of marriages. She also highlighted that families often marry off their daughters because they can’t afford the books and other costs required for them to attend school. “We can never overemphasize the investment in education. It can never be too much,” Fagbenle said.

During a question-and-answer session, one audience member asked what the panelists would say to their respective heads of state who are attending the summit. Aken’Ova expressed frustration that President Goodluck Jonathan hasn’t done enough to rescue the 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. She later noted that Nigeria’s recently passed anti-LGBTI law, is, like child marriage, a fundamental violation of human rights. She passionately argued that by violating the human rights of LGBTI people and condoning acts of violence, the government is “equally guilty just like Boko Haram. […] We must have zero tolerance to violence.”

Yesterday’s event was part of Girls Not Brides USA’s #Lead4Girls campaign, an effort to press the U.S. government to create a strategy to end child marriage worldwide. Mandated by the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, this strategy should direct foreign assistance to programs in countries where child marriage is prevalent; the top 20 countries with the highest prevalence include 15 African countries.

The theme of this week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is “Investing in the Next Generation.” It’s time for the U.S. and African leaders to acknowledge that real economic, political, and social progress cannot be made without the participation of half the population and without concerted investment in adolescent girls. As Ambassador Gumbonzvanda said in her remarks, “Put girls at the center. It is an investment of a lifetime for us to be able to end child marriage.”

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda’s Video Message to the USA-Africa Leaders Summit on Child Marriage.

Article Source: International Women’s Health Coalition.


06 Aug

Bruised Young Zimbabwean Beauty Pageants – Facing the Issues

In the last few days I have read a number of cases of young Zimbabwean women who have been emotionally bruised, psychologically abused and who continue to be revictimised in the wave of commentaries in the media and social spheres. I shared the trauma, as their bodies, their thinking, their being and their privacy is shredded into pieces and people simply feast in the gory details. I also felt triumphant at the human spirit always rising up to defend and to protect dignity, to seek justice, to wrong; seeking the moral compass and define social norms. Many have been standing up to reclaim and defend dignity and integrity as core shared values in our society.

All this is taking place in a context of social media technology with its joys and pitfalls of  “no-censorship-self censorship” environment. Its happening in this modern and increasing context of commodification and sexualisation of women’s bodies. Yes, Zimbabwe is still steeped in these harsh patriarchal social norms which continue to define what is acceptable behaviours for the men and women, and anybody is seen to cross the line is crucified. I sift through the emotions, the pain, the trivia, the tabloid and I can almost touch the young women’s human spirit shivering in a corner, cowering from the blows and yet fighting for survival of the soul. I breathe and naturally decide to stand on the side of justice and not blame. This is an issue of dignity and I can not be silent.

In this maze and all the puzzle, I share some few thoughts to contribute to the fundamental debate at the core of the experiences of these young women:

  • Lack of Economic Opportunities & Employment: Young women and girls are subject of all forms of exploitation because of desperate search of  decent livelihood. I can but assume that very few African girls and young women dream of being a beauty pageant as a career choice. For many, they are lured into the industry by the prospects of instantaneous fame, glory and cash ~ thereby feeding the myth that “if one makes it, you can as well kiss goodbye to poverty”. These young women and girls are often materially and/or sexually exploited in the process and then are left bruised, ashamed and lonely. Its really urgent for Zimbabwe to rebuild its economic and social fabric that can offer real opportunities and alternatives for jobs, livelihood and entrepreneurship to these young people. Going into this industry and offering one’s self to be a beauty pageant should be a real and informed choice, supported by ethical and enforced code of conduct in the sector.
  • Victim Blaming:  When young women are sexually abused verbally or physically exploited, all kind of social defences and victim blaming tactics are employed: “she consented, she can not be trusted, she brought it upon herself, why was she doing that””.  There should be NO excuse for any violation of another person’s body or integrity. Victim blaming shift the attention away from the perpetrator. Often a crime is committed, privacy is invaded, integrity of personhood is harmed and one is psychologically traumatized, and yet society continues to blame the victim as the perpetrator walks free!
  • Impunity: Sexual and psychological violence against women is so pervasive and there is an unacceptable level of impunity. Many cases have gone uninvestigated or prosecuted. Who amputated the long arm of the law?  I often wonder, where is the law? Where is the justice system? Why do we have all these laws on Statute Books, we have all these action plans to end violence, we have Victim Friendly Units at the police and courts, we have the Domestic Violence Councils, and yet.  It remains a moot point whether the law needs review especially in the area related to protection of the right to privacy and social media, .  Ultimately its about all citizens, all of us individually acting responsibly, respecting the rights of women and girls and ensuring  availability of legal recourse for redress.
  • Social and Life Skills: Young women and girls need really to have the life skills to negotiate their way in life. Many of our young women are really not exposed, not equipped with age appropriate and comprehensive sexuality education and therefore end making such uninformed decisions that places them at risk, often with the loss of integrity, the stigma and the social pressure that comes with it all. Either their private sexual life is exposed, they have unintended pregnancy or enter into child marriage.

Just some thoughts knowing that as the debate continues, we should do no harm and always strive to protect the rights and dignity of all.

(c) Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, 2014

05 Aug

Yet to Celebrate the US$7 Billion Pledge to Africa

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

Many of us have been conditioned to the traditional  “ending poverty in Africa”  narrative, such that every pledged loan is received as simple act of generosity or charity. I gasped a bit today, and could not find myself smiling immediately on receiving this news about the US pledge to Power Africa. I felt that this seems a good business deal. Will it be a win-win situation for the US and for Africa?

I scouted the various news items, and I ca  not find the details I am looking for, so that I can join in the celebrations ~ since more than half of my continent’s leadership had to appear in person for this occasion, i.e the USA-Africa Summit. I am seeking some answers to a few questions before I can raise my glass and toast with you my friends.

(I am trying to move away from being a perpetually grateful African who for centuries has been exploited in the name of benevolence ~ all accepting and not questioning, even when one’s chest is heavy with the unspoken word).

Can someone please clarify for me the terms of this pledged  loan:

1. Will the money to go to African companies as lead business partners and contractors or the often asymmetrical business partnerships is embedded in the terms where African entrepreneurs are sub-contractors?

2. Will the US review its procurement rules, so that some stuff can be bought on the African continent if quality, quantify and consistency of supply is assured? What is the rule and the exception?

3. Will African technical experts, engineers, actuarial, lawyers, bankers etc. be at the fore-front of delivering this project. What is the % of US technical assistance in-built into this 7 billion?

4. Will the funds be managed by African majority shareholding banks, and what is the role of the African Development Bank in this deal?

5. Will women and young people be prioritized for employment, as technical experts and as entrepreneurs?

6. What is the interest rate on this loan, and what is the repayment period? In other words how much do I have to pay as well as my son and daughter and their own kids as debt repayment?

Can someone give me the answers to that I can properly toast to the success of the USA-Africa Summit 2014?

The Africa I want is an Africa of transparent and honest business deals at home and abroad, in which rights and opportunities of its citizens are at the centre.



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