04 May

#Chihuta Phenomena Reveals Creativity and Collectivity of our Nation

By Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

I have been swept off my feet with amusement, mirth and surprise by the chihuta phenomena.  Zimbabweans embraced Chihuta in its total being and Chihuta2it has acquired all the symbolism and even a deeper life of its own. If zvihuta chaizvo izvo knew what is being said and done in their name some would roll down laughing, others will skip a meal and others will huddle to a corner to analyse, reflect and define a course of action. Zvihuta have just brought us together as a people, as a collective  rolling with laughter, still struggling to survive and huddled in corners to find solutions.

With the economic meltdown, Chihuta opened other doors to continue the conversation. The floodgates opened with the banning and unbanning of any domestication of zvihuta and their production for commercial purposes. This published decision naturally created an opportunity to discuss about the macro economic situation of the country, lack of business opportunities, jobs, stifling of small-scale business and innovations. Chihuta phenomenon gave the platform for discussing corruption and the ever elusive call out on the diamond money and employment creation. Chihuta therefore offered a platform for discourse on the same issue beyond the traditional political and partisan posturing and civil society language. It created new language.

Well, following the meme and images created overnight as it were, Chihuta became a brand synonymous with local products and innovation, competing with external big business. You could find the chihuta brand competing with twitter, “chihutter”, naturally a tasty ‘chihuta slice”, a clear message to those selling chickens, KFCs etc. A Chihuta burger poster, really saying we can be creative with how to package business rezvihuta. I was fascinated by the multiple ways in which each part of the bird is said to have a commercial value from dzondora, feathers and musoro wezvihuta and how its drum-steak is said to be tastier than other birds with sadza or rice. A clear sales and marketing pitch and angle embedded in the sublimal messages. Who knows, one can build on some of these creative ideas born out of the collective brainstorm of a nation.

Fascinating equally and challenging is how the Chihuta phenomena has given some convergence on various forms of communications and media, to pass some core messages. Creative arts and citizens journalism emerged to challenge and drown the usual dry personality centred power politics on the Zimbabwe social media on national issues. In-fact I followed more the Zvihuta commentary than workers’s day message, as these were also workers with key messages. I could relate with fellow Zimbabweans of all class and character through their own way of expression, a single word, a joke, a twisted version of existing tsumo and madimikira, a song, a picture and a cartoon. I loved most is the constructive positive warmth of chihuta phenomena. I love the Chihuta t-shirts I saw. I can do with a designer chihuta handbag!

Lastly, I just enjoyed the positive energy around zvihuta. A joyfulness, love and all. Anyone and everyone can relate with them. It is either because in real life it is that little bird that people used to see and chase,  it’s the bird now they are keeping muchirugu chavo, or it is because Chihuta is just so much associated with other birds like huku, njiva, chikwari, or horwe. It is a living creature which is part of our natural identity as people are part of nature. Chihuta is not owned and controlled by one person, and so the same with this chihuta phenomena.

Those who feel fatigue of this Chihuta phenomena will have to be patient and possibly be converted. This chihuta phenomena has now rapidly moved from social media to our daily spaces of social engagement, at the kombi rank, kumisika, at the workplace, signatures in love tweets, or simple tokens of appreciation and gifts between families. Check people’s phone books, and you will see Chihuta-wangu and a chihuta profile picture. Chihuta is here to stay. I love my country, Zimbabwe Chihuta changu!

24 Dec

They Stole My Year and for What?

I feel numb. I feel short changed. Kind of cheated. where did my year go? Three hunded (300) and some days gone by and am sitting here scratching my head. emptiness. I listen carefully, and I hear so many words, too many words everywhere. I try to understand and all I hear are the same words repeated over and over, in various languages, with varied sophistication.

I try to understand what it all means, and they say its awareness-raising, its advocacy, we are engaging in policy dialogue. Too many words, I feel and I hear my voice and my own words. I then realise how my year has vanished, and yes I have memories and fond ones too, of those “sacred spaces”.

For sure I will ask myself, when I arrive in my village, how many of my people have stepped out of the gutters of poverty because of those many words? My school classrooms at Magaya are yet to be finished, the local road has even more portholes, the local shopkeeper Gabhu, closed his little grocery shop for lack of business.

I will simply sit, with sekuru Fabian under that special mango tree by my kitchen, and he will narrate how life has become much tougher in the year. At least its raining, and there is little pasture for your goats and cows, he will sigh. What will I tell him as a rejoinder, that I was so busy sekuru and I brought you the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? He will laugh me out as a joke. I will swallow hard and still try to find meaning to my year gone by!

11 Jan

Evicting with impunity and without a conscience

Mazowe evictions  (c) ZLHR

Mazowe evictions
(c) ZLHR

The unfolding eviction stories of the Manzou Estate villagers, in Mazowe again reveals the underbelly of our own institutions and the quality of governance underpinning the decision.  As the story unfolded in the full gaze of the public, it’s clear that this is a case of evicting with impunity and without a conscience.

This is a case of evicting with impunity, as it shows a clear lack of respect of the existing laws of Zimbabwe in dealing with such cases; the basic tenets of protection of human rights and respect for due process of the law. With an existing court order against evictions, without provision of alternative land; the evictions of January 7th, 2015 amount to a clear contempt of court. It alternative land for resettling these people was availed, why were they not transported to this new place together with their belongings and before the start of the rainy season?

The quality of governance is measured by the respect with which is arm of government gives to the decision of the other. In this instance, it’s clear that the order to evict, to burn and push people to live in the open without alternatives smirks a clear disrespect of the due process of the law.

Actually, I wonder whether all the relevant ministries affected by this decision gave their contributions and all agreed that this was the most appropriate course of action and within this timing…i.e. ministries of education; health; social services; agriculture, justice; lands and home-affairs. In public institutions such as a government, one would not necessarily take an action that adversely impacts on the mandate of the other without consultation and agreeing on remedies or mitigating factors. When people talk of government action, it’s not a reference to a single ministry but the collective responsibility of all. If there is no mutual accountability and mutual responsibility; internal discordance is discernible.

It’s clear that the timing and manner of these evictions, shows a lack of conscience.

  • Schools Opening this Week. This is that week of the month and the year which is so defining of our children of school going age. Its starting school, going into a new class or a new school. These children cannot go to school like others, not because of their own government, opting to evict just before the school opened. For many of the people making such decisions, their own children will be chauffeur driven to school, they are well fed, warm and in clean uniforms.  Their future is secured. And yet, with the tax payer’s money, these leaders are destroying the future of other people’s children. The future of Zimbabwe lies in the hands of every child, whose education is vital today and not tomorrow.
  • Health and Well being. Again, it is a fact these evicted people are living in the open. They are at risk of disease or death, since they have no decent shelter, food, clean water and access to serves. I wonder if the health and well being of people was taken into account when the decision to evict without protection and alternatives was taken. This is how the country creates poverty and stretches the already meager resources. The nation is already struggling to have decent wages for the health workforce and doctors and nurses have been or threatened to strike. Why strain an already strained public health sector?
  • Farming Season. This is the height of rain fed crop farming season in Zimbabwe. Any person who derives their livelihoods from the soil will plant a little patch of maize or groundnuts. The planting season is over. Therefore by evicting people at this time of the year, the villagers are deprived of the basic livelihoods. Even if they are resettled elsewhere, they will not be able to plant and harvest anything at this time of the year. Zimbabwe does not have a social security or welfare system that can provide the evicted people with alternatives until they are on their own

Yes, it is the prerogative of government to resettle people. This however must be done in a way that respects the law, fosters dignity for people and protects their basic welfare and well being of citizens. Building a prosperous Zimbabwe is dependent on the way that we invest in the present, education for the children and protect human rights for all.


29 Dec

Chioma Ndikupfeke: My Single Dress – No Choice for Special Occasions  (Snippet of My Life 15)

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda *

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

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: vanyaradzayi@gmail.com

07 Jul

Of Women’s Clubs and Smocked Dresses – Snippets of My Life (7)

Every Saturday I would tag along, carrying the plastic bag with sewing thread of many colors and the check-check (checkered) unfinished dress inside. My mother wassmoked dress knitting while we walked to Mutamba for the weekly women’s club. She was using wool from old jersies, hats etc. Her knits were just one big multi-coloured quilt which ended up as blanket or shawl depended on the amount of wool she was able to gather.  Today the women’s club was VaManyiyo’s house, another widow. A good 30-45 minutes walk from our house.

We left the house well after mid-morning. The rule of the women’s club was that the meeting should start at 10 o’clock. However, no one really had a watch and the family radio was often without batteries. The length of the shade of our muzhanje tree always gave us a good estimate of time. In reality always left the house around 12pm or after. Of-course, amai had to make sure that the house was clean, breakfast-cum-lunch was served, water was fetched, and all was ready for te evening meal when we came back. I loved those Saturday escapades.

The moment we arrived at club, my mother would put down her knitting, and request me to hand her plastic with the unfinished smocked dress. It was my dress. The club was for self help and income generating for women in this war torn and poor community. They were being taught how to make smocked baby/girls dresses. The lead trainer had beautiful books that they would look at, and see beautiful white babies wearing these garments. The team leader would describe the patterns, assist the women in choosing the appropriate threads and assist with threading the needle. Many women complained that due to smoke and cooking, their eye sight was not that good.

I used to wonder where these patterns came from, and whether the people in the book were real people. The only white people I had spotted in the village were the soldiers who had their faces painted black! We would steal a glance hidden behind the kitchen door. When I asked amai whether one day I will meet the girls in the book, she gave me a long confused look. She did not know and was not sure. Maybe issues related to varungu (white people) were not to be discussed openly. In a firm whisper she asked me not to disturb her sewing. She urged me to continue playing nhodo with my friend Veronika Basvi. Vero had come with her grandmother, Mbuya Ndudzo, popularly known as VaChishava or vaChihera.

After a while, the women put down their sewing and start to have their heart to heart sharing. The women opened up to each other on the deep personal and private issues. They confided to each other about their children who had gone to wenera (South African mines) and never came back; or those whose boys and girls were rumoured to have crossed over (vakacrosser), ie who had joined the liberation movement. They would talk about their husbands or brothers who were political prisoners or how they had to work in forced labour projects. I could feel the pain and the agony in each voice. Others will share about the struggles at home on poverty and alcohol dependancies. There was a lot of kachasu, some home brewed whisky of sorts. There was no self pity in their voices, but more the confidence of courage in the face of adversity. They would give short prayers or sing in between the narratives.

My mother and her friends then switch to positive stories and chat about the visit they need to have to assist other families like VaGupira who was an old woman and all her mangoes were being stolen. They would plan for going together to the nearest farm kwaGiridhi the following day to sell vegetables,  Murewa centre was too far and the market was flooded. They invite each other for a visit and come fetch pumpkins, sweet potatoes or groundnuts. They would borrow each other ma-tommy (tennis shoes), especially if one of them was going to Murewa centre the following day and had not shoes.

In this circle I saw my mother, holding her smocked dress, happy although she had not really made a single stitch. She was happy to be with her friends. Mbuya Therezia Marumisa; Mbuya Dhora Mandevhanhi; Mai Kadovi; Mbuya Kawishi and Maiguru VaChibvembe (Mai Dzotso), vaChishava (Mbuya Ndudzo) and Vamanyiyo among others.

The single Shiriyekutanga bus would be heard from afar, and the women would gather their sewing. It was time to rush home and prepare the evening meal for the family. It was back to routine of the gruelling rural life. They agreed to meet again the next Saturday, same time and this time at someone else’s house.

I picked the pace walking back home, singing a hymn and still strolling behind my mother. She was happier, focused and encouraged. It was as if a load had gotten off her shoulders . The mere time spent with other women in this support group was magic. My smocked dress never got finished, and yet the club continued  for years and years and years.

It is now with age and exposure that I do fully understand.  Every women’s club for economic empowerment is NOT JUST about material productivity. It is about nurturing the soul, peer support and psycho social counselling. It is about giving each other the energy, strength and inspiration to face each day, with hope and courage.

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