As a Zimbabwean I do not need to look very far to identify our very own Oprah Winfrey. Rebecca Chisamba hosts her own talk show known as the Mai Chisamba show and from that she is also popularly known as Mai Chisamba. She addresses a wide range of topical issues affecting Zimbabweans in their daily lives. Her topics range from abortion, witchcraft, lobola, homosexuality, early marriage, small houses, to child abuse. She tackles difficult issues that society is afraid to discuss and drags issues that society usually sweeps under the carpet into the limelight and forces society to confront these issues and device solutions to the many challenges and problems arising.
Mai Chisamba raises questions that make people challenge their notions of morality in relation to gender equality. For instance she hosted shows discussing the important question of infidelity amongst men and women. Her bone of contention with the men was in understanding why men cheat so much, why it is common cause that they cheat, why they expect women to stay put and stick it out after they find out their infidelity yet on the other hand when a man catches a woman cheating 99% of the time he does not want anything to do with her after that.
Mai Chisamba is a strong advocate against the spread of HIV and Aids, child abuse and domestic violence. In 2007 she was arrested together with the founder of the Girl Child Network Betty Makoni for allegedly contravening the Child Protection and Adoption Act. Betty Makoni t had brought women and girls survivors of sexual abuse to the Amai Chisamba show as part of her campaign to end sexual abuse as a prerequisite to ensure national development. The police argued that in broadcasting the show where these girls confessed to have been raped, Mai Chisamba and Betty Makoni circumvented the law and wrongfully paraded suspected rape victims whose cases were still pending in the courts. It is quite surprising to hear that the same police in 2011 were parading ‘suspected’ female rapists when their case had not even been lodged before a court of law.
Although the faces of the minors were obscured on the show the state insisted that bringing them on the show was a violation of the Child Protection Act, a hypocritical statement from the state which had failed to protect these children from abuse in the first place. The campaign by Girl Child Network came in the face of increased reportage of the abuse of young girls by men infected with HIV/AIDS driven by the myth that raping a virgin (the younger the better), would cure AIDS.
Girl Child Network had previously exposed Madzibaba Nzira a ZANU-PF affiliated false prophet who raped women as part of his ‘prayers; to ensure they got what they were ‘praying for.’ It had also exposed Pastor Obadiah Musindo another ZANU-PF affiliated pastor who raped his housekeeper. Girl Child Network had also exposed Chris Mushowe a ZANU PF member of parliament who fondled, sexually harassed, and forced girls to masturbate in front of him. These girls were supposed to be beneficiaries of the Presidential Fort Hare Scholarship. Hence when Mai Chisamba associated herself with Girl Child Network she faced the consequences.
In 2009 she was part of a campaign led by Practical Action Southern Africa, entitled Energising the Millennium Development Goals – Setting an Enabling Environment for Southern Africa (E-MINDSET), in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. The objectives of the campaign were to demonstrate the importance of mainstreaming energy needs in development plans so as to facilitate smooth achievement of Millennium Development Goals. The programme sought to empower communities by giving them the necessary skills to develop their own development plans at ward level, recognising their energy needs and priorities. Episodes of the Mai Chisamba show were recorded with communities to collect the views of these communities.
Mai Chisamba also tackled the very important question of beauty and how it has disempowered women in Zimbabwe. Some women believe being light-skinned is synonymous with being beautiful (as most men are attracted to light skinned women). In the end these women use skin lightening creams to bleach their dark skins, placing themselves at risk of developing skin cancers. Others take vagina tightening creams and hip, bum and breast enhancement pills to become voluptuous and hence “attractive” to men. This degrading behaviour which makes women prisoners in their own bodies is still problematic, with women disfiguring themselves just to ensure that they have a man in their lives. It speaks to the deeply entrenched societal perception and patriarchal notion that a woman is not complete without a man and hence she should do everything in her power to get one, even through destructive behaviour to her own well being. In addressing such issues publicly, Mai Chisamba gave women a chance to analyse their behaviour, question the effects of this behaviour and make informed decisions about whether they want to continue doing these destructive acts that demean their persona.
In 2009 she was also involved with Musasa Project, an organisation fighting to end and address the consequences of domestic violence and Padare/ Enkundleni a men’s gender forum in leading discussions on the practice of lobola. Lobola/Roora/Bride Price remains one of the most contentious cultural practices that has largely compromised the dialogue on gender equality in Zimbabwe. In the olden days lobola was paid by the groom to the bride’s family as a means of setting ties between the groom’s and the bride’s families. Nowadays it has been turned into a moneymaking venture which gives men an excuse for battering their wives, making unreasonable demands including sexual demands from their wives, arguing that they PAID for the services they demand.
Although the Mai Chisamba show has not resolved the question or resulted in a decision whether to continue or discontinue the practice, it has facilitated dialogue which has raised awareness on the dangers of overcharging on the part of the fathers and has also cautioned some men to respect the essence of the practice and not to abuse it for their own selfish ends.
Mai Chisamba is one of the women who have advocated the beauty and brains element of beauty pageants, arguing that without the brains the pageants are demeaning as they only an exhibition of the women’s bodies and could encourage young girls not to pursue a proper education but take the shortcut to riches and fame using their bodies. She was also one of the first people to profile the issue of male prostitution, drawing the population into discussions of why men prostitute themselves and the consequences thereof.
In 2010 she was instrumental in highlighting the importance of women’s participation in the ongoing constitution making process in Zimbabwe. The campaign entitled “Stand up and Draft your Constitution” raised much awareness on women and the constitution. It improved the visibility of the women’s movement and hence increased women’s informed participation in the processes.
Although some critics have dismissed the show as lacking in structure, sustainability and philosophical base, it remains one of the most popular educating programmes on local television. In 2009, when it was suspended unceremoniously from broadcasting, a huge outcry against this suspension led to the show being reinstated.
Mai Chisamba is a role model of how sheer determination can lead to much success. Although she started off her career as a teacher, she found her passion and moved to being a talk show host later on. Despite her numerous roles as wife, mother of five and pursuing her career goals, she also managed to complete her Master of Arts Degree from the Women’s University in 2010.
She was voted the Communicator of the Year in 2003, Best Television Woman Presenter in 2007 and Best Television Presenter in the 2008 Njama Awards. She also won the award for the ‘Long standing talk show’ in the Victory Awards in 2011.