Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda *
This morning, in response to a brother on twitter, I said, “people have a choice to dress appropriately for an occasion if they can afford it”. In my deep sub conscience, was this running narrative about reality of living midst of extreme poverty. The reality that some people do not have real options that many of people do take for granted, ie dressing for an occasion when you have a single dress option!
My mind had drifted back to that life in the village, a moment in life when I literally had one decent dress, as the total possession. We called it “Chioma Ndikupfeke”, because we would go to the river with my sisters or friends, and we would wash the dress and hang it on the nearest tree. We would then take a hearty, healthy swim or bath in Nyadire river while waiting for our dresses to dry! The same with that very decent underwear, called parachute (bought at EnBee), it was also chiooma ndikupfeke for school. I would wash and hang it in evening to dry in order to be decent for school the following day. The school uniform became the second dress to use for special occasions, holidays and weekends, like going to the stores for soap, a trip the grounding mill, or visiting ambuya in the Chitate village.
There are many who have a single piece of garment they call a dress or a skirt fit for public occasions, for church, visiting relatives or going to town or city. Much more so, some people do not have even this decent dress we are talking about. They have to literally borrow from a neighbour for something decent if they have to go to a local health centre. It’s a treat if one has a wrapper, (commonly known as zambia) for covering the rags underneath or the nakedness. In these situations, a pant or bra is a sweet luxury.
My memory goes back to my Yellow Dress with Big Black Buttons! My dress was made of the crimplen cloth and it never lost colour nor did it easily wear out. I grew in it, and I outgrew my dress. We had to adjust the button holes and move the buttons to create room for my growing body and seedling breasts. A seemingly yellow cloth was nicely fitted on the side seams on this precious garmet, and and I nicely fitted in. Not only was I growing rounder as an adolescent girl; I was also growing taller. My yellow dress was getting shorter. It reached that stage when it was so short and it was converted to a long blouse, before it found its way into the pillow, as a treasured rag. Yes, later cleaning the dirty pillow, I was happy to have a reunion with my old yellow dress. Amidst the poverty; the single garment, getting shorter and transformed as I became rounder and taller; I was treated with dignity and respect by boys and men in Magaya village. I was advised about “dressing for occasions”, without being stoned, ridiculed or abused.
Same with the boys, they wore these little shorts with all their behinds out; greeting the dust first every-time they took as sit. The families would ask the young boy to sit well. They were reassured that either at New Year or with the sale of mother’s groundnuts, they would get a new pair of new clothes. Of course some such promises case through. In many instances, people simply managed with hand-me downs. Of course, Christmas was special when an older sister, aunt or uncle generously thought about you, and hand you their used and almost tired piece of garment. For the one receiving it was always bliss ~ an addition to a wardrobe, if there is any. Often the “new” garment would acquire its own decent place on that wire/string hanging behind the door, which served as the wardrobe!
The question of dress, decency, society’s sensibilities, mob justice and crime is a very topical debate in Africa at this moment. Only today, the Zimbabwe Magistrate’s Court remanded Marvelous Kandemiri pending investigation in a case involving stripping a girl at a public bus terminus in Harare. A young man, Tindo is roundly applauded by the nation for his act of courage in protecting victim of “dress code violent crime”.
As we struggle for justice, for choice, quality and dignified customer service in the transport sector, we should understand the reality and inter-connected of issues at hand with feminisation of poverty. The government must double up its effort to address the dehumanising nature of poverty. This is a time-bomb for the nation. The boys and girls who grew up with patched backside, who scrounged for basic education and migrated to the cities are in dire need of decent jobs and livelihoods. Recognition of the inter-sectionality of class, age and gender is critical to fighting crime and tackling poverty.
My three bond cents thoughts, on a Monday.
* Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda is a human rights lawyer and founder of Rozaria Memorial Trust. She is the African Union Goodwill Ambassador for the Campaign to End Child Marriage, and is current General Secretary of the World YWCA. She writes in her personal capacity. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org