Category Archives: Feminist Chronicles

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 17: Emilia Njovana


When most men, at least in my country, hear the phrase gender equality, they think you are talking about women and how women want men to cook for them, change diapers, clean the house and basically dance to women’s tune. You know why, because the men in Zimbabwe assume what women are doing today , that is cooking, changing babies’ diapers, cleaning the house and looking after the family is what we want them to do, and that it is what we mean when we talk of equality. But let me be clear and let all those who are this misguided know that gender equality is about recognising that we are all human beings and should be treated equally with dignity and respect regardless of our sex.

Gender equality is about men and women having the right to education; with equal opportunities to pursue the furthest studies available as long as the individual, be they male or female is yielding the relevant results to proceed to the next level. The inequality comes when societies assume that educating a girl child is a waste of money or when preference is given to boys in pursuing certain subjects, with the sciences such as medicine, engineering, and veterinary science being the most commonly stereotyped fields where it is believed women will not cope.

Gender equality is about recognising and valuing the work that both men and women do equally, hence within a marriage a working husband and a housewife both contribute in their own unique ways to the running of the house. The man is usually boss of the finances while the woman is usually boss of the welfare of her family. The inequality comes when the man and society in general thinks that the woman’s job as a housewife is of no value and hence upon separation or divorce she should be chased away with nothing.

Gender equality is about giving equal pay for equal work and awarding promotions to both men and women for equal performance. The inequality comes when men ask for sexual favors to promote women who deserve to be promoted anyway.

I can go on and on giving examples of when inequality is gendered. The examples are too many especially in patriarchal societies, as Zimbabwe is. But there is a woman, a Zimbabwean woman who defied the odds and shattered these stereotypes. She proved that women are capable of doing what they are deemed incapable of doing. She is a trendsetter, the most notable woman in Zimbabwe’s aviation history.

I am positive that when most Zimbabweans saw today’s feature, the first question they asked was “who the hell is she?” Indeed despite her groundbreaking achievement, very few people know about her.

Her name is Captain Emilia Njovana and she was the first female and black commercial pilot in Zimbabwe. Educated at Monte Cassino Girls High, a Catholic Mission school in Macheke, in the Manicaland Province of Zimbabwe she is living proof that when individuals and institutions invest their confidence in women, women can make it to the top.

Today she trains other women AND MEN how to fly aeroplanes, AND jets AND helicopters.  And oh what a wonderful job she does. I mean yes, Air Zimbabwe has a reputation of being unreliable in terms of being on time but NEVER before have we heard of inefficiency among the staff in that little closed cabin. The only accident recorded occurred in July 1984 when a Vickers 756D Viscount, registration Z-YNI, was damaged beyond repair in an incident on the grounds of Harare International Airport. No one was hurt and the plane was immediately withdrawn from service and transferred to the airport fire department for use as a training aid. Zimbabwean pilots are sharp and extremely good at what they do and guess what, some of them were trained by this woman, the same woman whom society PROBABLY thought would not be worthy of an education, or would not be capable of achieving anything and would not turn out to be as good as a man.

And now there are more Zimbabwean female pilots

She believed she could do it, she worked hard at it and indeed she did it. She set the first foot forward in making strides into previously male-dominated spheres and has done exceptionally well, maybe even better than the men she found there. So yes a vision coupled with determination are the two ingredients to success and Emily Njovana is living proof of that. Indeed Emilia is one of the women who have made it possible for women to be seen in their own eyes and in men’s eyes as individuals capable of achieving a lot.

Gender stereotypes that placed men in a superior position to women designated the role of pilot to the men while women could only be aboard planes either as passengers or airhostesses. Today women like Emilia have turned the tables and sit in the cockpits of huge airplanes, while men attend to passengers. The term airhostess has been removed and we have flight attendants.

And she flies the planes and flies them well

Growing up, I wanted to be a pilot but I could not. I am too short, my eye sight is not good enough and I found a new passion as I grew older. Today I am lawyer and I suppose I did not turn out too bad. But, for the little girls that are out there and want to be pilots and think it is unattainable, here is an example that it can be done. And the rest of society should learn that our society can only improve if we inculcate in our children positive mindsets rather than hammering negative stereotypes into their little brains.


Feminist Chronicles: Diary 16: Sally Mugabe


Forgive me if my story is a bit tardy today but as I was writing, lions-real lionsthe kind born in the bush and lives in the bush, were roaring a few hundred yards from my bedroom. Of course that made me very excitable and a tard bit distracted. I could not help appreciating the beauty of my country that I and all Zimbabweans are so privileged to have right in our midst, the beauty of the natural, and the splendour of living in untamed Africa.

 But to get to the business of the day, in Zimbabwe my generation, born in the 1980s and all other generations that follow are called maborn free, a term that is often backed by the assumption that since we were not born during the liberation struggle we were born free and therefore we do not understand what the struggle meant and do not value what it achieved.

 But what we really are is a generation born after a liberation struggle from colonialism but born into a struggle for democracy. So we were not born free. However, I feel particularly empathic towards the generations born after 1990s. These generations were born into an era of lies and distorted accounts of where our country came from and where it is going. Most of them are unable to critically analyse the socio-cultural, economic and political landscape to move towards progressive development for our country. But most of all they were unfortunate not to grow up nurtured by a caring mother of the nation.

 Born Sarah Francesca Heyfron in Sekondi, Ghana to Ghanaian parents, but fondly known as Amai (Mother) Sally by Zimbabweans, she was Zimbabwean having married the current president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe.

Amai Sally Mugabe

 In my entire life, only the deaths of two celebrities have moved me to tears. One was Diana, the Princess of Wales and the other was of my first lady, Amai Sally Mugabe. These two women, one white and the other black were married to royalty, for Diana a royalty born out of long standing tradition and for Amai Sally a royalty born out of the casting of ballot papers. Amai Sally was the wife of the then legitimate leader chosen by the people of Zimbabwe. Although her royalty was not meant to last forever the way Diana’s was, Amai Sally held her own in perfecting etiquette and executing her duties with dignity and the calm composure that was befitting of her grand role.

 Amai Sally was the embodiment of true motherhood as the mother of the nation – one who carried herself with dignity and decorum and related with the nation with humility and compassion. If ever there was a harsh word that proceeded from her mouth towards another Zimbabwean, then that person has not come forward to say so, even 20 years after she passed on.

 Her most inspiring quality was how she cultivated her own identity, not just as the wife of the President but her own persona, mobilising communities to stand against discriminatory practices on the lines of race, sex, gender, disability, and age among other statuses.

 During the liberation struggle, while her husband was enclosed in prison for his activities, she was arrested many times by colonial police for campaigning against white rule. In 1961 she spent six weeks in prison. She was charged with sedition and sentenced to five years imprisonment after she had led a group of women to the Prime Minster’s office protesting against the 1961 constitution which still perpetuated racial discrimination. She appealed this decision and after being subjected to house arrest pending appeal, she escaped to Tanzania then to London. Between 1967 and 1974, when she studied and worked in London, she constantly campaigned and lobbied the British government for the release of political detainees and prisoners of conscience in Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia.

 She also organised and urged other women to join the struggle. Her immense sacrifice in taking upon the liberation struggle of a country she married into makes her one of the most selfless people I have ever known. As she lies today at the Zimbabwe National Heroes Acre, where individuals who contributed towards the liberation of our country are buried, I can say with confidence that she is one of the few most deserving individuals lying in that shrine and indeed she was the first heroine to be laid to rest there.

Amai Sally with women in the grassroots. Picture credit L. Schoonmaker Keeler

 Amai Sally advocated the dignity of women and inspired many women to be like her; strong and capable. She founded the Zimbabwe Women’s Cooperative in the UK in 1986 and supported Akina Mama wa Africa, a London-based African women’s organisation that focused on women’s rights and development issues. She was also moved by the plight of the underprivileged and started or supported many initiatives that lifted the burden from the suffering’s shoulders. In 1981, she became the patron of Mutemwa Leprosy Centre in Mutoko, in Mashonaland East Province of Zimbabwe, where she worked tirelessly to remove the social stigma attached to leprosy.

 Her empathy towards children, when she had none herself, just exhibited her for the true gem that she was. Her only child, a boy named Nhamodzenyika, (meaning: the troubles of this world) had died of cerebral malaria aged 3.

 Amai Sally established the Child Survival and Development Foundation, an initiative that was greatly supported by the UN Children’s rights body- UNICEF. She also set up an orphanage in the Goromonzi district of Zimbabwe to give shelter and a home to many children who would otherwise have been destitute. Sadly this orphanage has become rundown in her absence.  The infrastructure is dilapidated because of looting and vandalism by so called ‘war veterans’ some of whom claim to have fought the liberation struggle but have never seen the barrel of a gun in their whole entire life.

 One thing she taught me is that even though the whole 7.5 million Zimbabwean women can not all be the first lady of Zimbabwe at a time, 192 of us could be first ladies. You know why, because being Ghanaian by descent, she married a Zimbabwean and became a better first lady than some Zimbabwean woman ever will. Maybe 192 of us could be the first ladies in the 192 nations of the world, and trust me if we become first ladies of a calibre as she was then the world will always remember us with respect.

 But the greatest legacy I got from her is to realise that we do not have to be the first ladies, we can be the Presidents and Prime Ministers ourselves as women.

 She was 60 years old when she died from a kidney disease and what a sad day it was, the 27th day of January 1992 when the whole nation lost the mother of the nation.

 I also thank her for cementing the relations between Ghana and Zimbabwe because it is one of the few African countries I have visited where I did not need a visa upon entry and can you believe they gave me a 60 day visa on my first entry when I only needed to stay for 8 days.

 What lovely people this phenomenal woman came from.


Feminist Chronicles: Diary 15: Netsai Mushonga


Here we are. halfway through the Feminist Chronicles and I could not have chosen a more opportune moment to talk about one of the most revered, respected and influential women fighting the cause of women in Zimbabwe.

 Even amongst the grassroots Netsai Mushonga is well known.  I can understand why. Zimbabwe is a very patriarchal society where a woman’s place in her home and in the general public sphere is carved by societal norms and expectations. The expectation is that every woman should marry, should have children and then only after that does she become recognisable as a full human being.

Netsai Mushonga

Women’s rights are perceived to be totally discordant with traditional cultural values and any woman who fights for the rights of women is presumed to be either single and bitter or divorced and bitter-BITTER being the leading assumption.

 It is hence quite perplexing for men and exhilarating for women when a woman who has done the expected and lives the perceived ‘normal’ version of a life stands boldly and preaches gender equality, women’s emancipation and women’s equal rights. That is why many people LISTEN to Netsai Mushonga when she fights for the rights of women.

Whereas if I were to go and advise abused women to report their husbands, they would likely ask if I am married and the moment I, (the old doddering spinster that I am) said No, then they would ask, so what right have you got to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do in my marriage when you have never been in one.

 There are some of course who will accuse Netsai of double standards, saying that she is misleading women to take a path that she has not taken, for instance telling abused women to walk away if they so wish, a misunderstanding of course that comes from people’s ignorance about the concept of gender equality. Most Zimbabwean men, and some women are of the misguided notion that gender equality embraces values that are anti-family, anti-marriage and anti-men.

 Despite these mindsets, Netsai’s strategic placement has seen her emerging as a role model for rural women. She has taught women to fearlessly stand up for themselves and to challenge abusive cultural practices and traditions.

 In 1996, Netsai joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Zimbabwe, and later served as the Chairperson of the International Committee of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR). In 1997 she started the women peacemakers program. Currently she is the National Coordinator for the Women’s Coalition, an umbrella organisation of more than 60 women’s rights organisations in Zimbabwe.

 Netsai has published an advisory booklet for the church community on violence against women on how to rehabilitate survivors to continue with their lives. In another one of her articles ” Democracy in the eyes of women in Zimbabwe,’ Netsai emphasises that women can not fully participate in a democratisation process when they do not have access to resources, when the decision-making sphere is marred by violence, and when restrictive laws and regulations prevailing over the exercise of their fundamental freedoms are in place. One striking point that Netsai makes is that there can not be democracy in the public sphere when its not there in the private sphere. She aptly argues that if decisions at the family level are made for a woman about whether she gets employed, where she is employed, where she travels, whether she will undertake further studies, as well as the kind of car she can drive then this is tantamount to a dictatorship. That woman will not find it any easier to challenge dictatorship at the level of the state.

 Under Netsai’s tutelage, the Women’s Coalition is currently working with government officials in drafting a new Constitution for the country. Lobbying for policy change is her passion and she was one of the leading figures who were instrumental in pushing for the enactment of the Domestic Violence Bill in 2006.

 Netsai has also been very vocal in pushing the Inclusive government to redress gender imbalances in the management of the Parliamentary led constitution making process. She has demanded that every decision that the government takes should adhere to the commitment in the Global Political Agreement to ensure gender parity.

 She is constantly challenging the lack of political will by politicians to achieve real gender equality as the state abdicates its targets set by the Millennium Development Goals.

 Netsai, over the years has faced resistance from the state for the work she does. On 8 November 2005, she got arrested for convening a meeting at a local hotel where she trained women in using non-violent means as a tool for dispute resolution under the banner of Women Peacemakers International. She was charged with contravening section 24 (6) of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) a piece of legislation that civil society organisations have been fighting to get rid of. Although she was later released, this arrest was a negative development given that the discussion was a crucial one in light of the elections that had just passed and were characterised by violence against women.

In November 2011 she, together with a group of women marching for gender parity in the constitution making process were barred by the police. The march was meant to be peaceful but obviously the police does not care about that, all they do not want is the free expression of people’s will.

 Netsai sits on the Spiritual Alliance to stop Intimate Violence (SAIV) Council together with the likes of Emilia Muchawa and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She is also a Nobel Peace Prize nominee.


Feminist Chronicles: Diary 14: NoViolet Bulawayo


To use the language of the wrestling world, or at least what I hear them saying when introducing a wrestler on television when I watch WWE Raw, this woman ‘hails’ from the second largest city in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo. In Ndebele, one of Zimbabwe’s local languages we would say ‘Uvela koBulawayo, konthuthu ziyathunqa’ “She comes from Bulawayo-where everything happens.”

 She wrestles with societal prejudices that limit the potential of women and with boundaries that restrict the horizons women can reach. Her weapons – words; leave inerasable imprints on the self esteem of women, uplifting them in their spirit and giving them a new hope. She creates new dictionaries full of ‘I can’ words, she paints new pictures reflecting hope and she draws new borders with her magic pen and paper, borders that call out and say any woman can reach me.

A violet is believed to be the flower that symbolises modesty, virtue, affection, watchfulness, faithfulness and love. I have always wondered why she calls herself the opposite of a violet, or maybe given my limited understanding of the arts, she means something different from what I understand her to be saying . Her name is Elizabeth Tshele but her pen name; NoViolet is what many people know her by. Although she claims English is not her first language I am confident in her mastery of the language that I would bet my (to be acquired in the future) million bucks that she knows it better than the current British Prime Minister.

NoViolet-A true African woman who does not wither despite the hardships surrounding her

The recipient of the 2011 Caines Award, considered to be Africa’s highest literary award, she makes me proud to be a Zimbabwean woman. Her award winning story Hitting Budapest  is a moving tale of the journey of six starving and poor children who decide to steal guavas in a residential area for the affluent. The story is a clear illustration of social classes and how they shape the givens and granted of one class differently from the other class. Food is a given for the rich and guavas can rot in trees, but guavas are more than a delicacy for the poor-they are survival itself and the poor will go to great lengths to get them, even stealing as the characters in Hitting Budapest do.

NoViolet has also been recognised as a finalist in the 2009 SA PEN/Studzinski Literary Award for her story Snapshots.

Yes, we all write with our own pens but the quality of NoViolet’s pen just seems that much better than most because the marks it leaves behind, in her words, are indelible. A read of just one or two of her stories will tell you that she is at a level of her own.

Her stories have been published in collections of short stories. The story  “Snapshots” appeared in Where to Now?, “Shamisos” appeared in Writing Free, “Hitting Budapest”  appeared in To See The Mountain an Oxford Publication, “Main Street”  appeared in African Roar while the story ‘ Flag’ appeared in the Warwick Review.

Last night, I read her story Red and I could not help shedding a tear or two afterwards. This story of a Zimbabwean man who walks barefoot, hungry and destitute in the streets of Johannesburg in South Africa where he meets a street child left a hollow feeling in my stomach. The vivid images that NoViolet’s words evoke of the man as he holds the little girl, sings and imagines he is holding his son whom he head to leave behind in search of greener pastures stirred deep emotions of sadness and yes anger in me. Many Zimbabweans are in Shepherd, the character in Red’s shoes. They have been forced to leave their homes by poverty, difficult economic circumstances and hopelessness. They hope for better lives but across the border all they face is rejection, segregation, a worse kind of poverty than the one they left home, bereft of human warmth and understanding of their circumstances. As NoViolet says in the story all they know is “hard laughter, sarcastic laughter, angry laughter, hollow laughter, fleeting laughter, dry laughter.”

On her blog she discusses real life issues and how they affect real people. The topics discussed on her blog range from HIV/Aids where she laments the loss of her brother to the disease, to the challenges of life as a migrant in which she expresses her surprise and discoveries living abroad in a foreign land.

I know people say that art is a talent that one is born with, and writing being one form of art is a natural talent, but I will never give up hope that someday I will be able to put words together in the indelible manner that NoViolet does. Since she holds a Masters Degree in Fine Arts from Cornell University in America specialising in creative writing, I would like to think these studies honed her unique voice. Maybe if I become one of her students at Cornell where she now lectures, I may learn to write as well as she does.


Feminist Chronicles: Diary 13: Betty Makoni


Anyone  who has ever been manhandled or sexually harassed, the way I have will agree with me that it is one of the most enraging and disturbing experiences that any woman has to ever go through. That feeling of powerlessness when someone, without your consent, touches you or whispers something in your ears and you cannot do anything about it is one of the most frustrating moments in life. Worse still the knowledge that the person who just did this to you will walk away and nothing will happen to them drives you mad and you feel like lashing out at everything within a metre’s radius. The frequency with which ‘things’ which like to call themselves ‘human beings’ deliberately encroach into women’s personal space and their non-remorseful nature for their lurid behaviour remain two vivid memories I carry of my experiences with sexual harassment in Egypt. But while I look back with anger and angst at what these people did, I realise I have abrasions but not scars. I have flesh wounds but there are people with deep embedded wounds, both physical and emotional. These people are victims of rape.

In Zimbabwe, being raped is a nightmare for a number of reasons. First, in most cases victims cannot report their case. They cannot report because if it is a politically motivated rape the police do not want to receive the report. If it is domestic violence and they are subjects of marital rape the police urge them to go back home and resolve the issue amicably. If the perpetrator is a close relative in some cases again the police send them back home to ‘talk it out’. Some do not report because they are too scared of the stigma attached to being raped. I cannot understand why, when the woman is the victim of the rape people blame her for the rape, while the man responsible for that terrible act walks away shameless and blameless. Fundamentally, the victim has to live with the trauma and pain of having been violated in the worst way possible.

Victims who are brave enough to report are sometimes re-victimised either by the police with taunts that they brought it upon themselves or by the justice system which forces them to relive every single moment of the rape in proving that they were raped. It is short of unbelievable that in every criminal case, the burden of proof lies with the state prosecution to prove that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, and the police will carry out every possible investigation to prove an armed hijacking, a murder, a theft without much help from the victim of the crime but with rape they just shift the burden onto the victim. Yes, rape is unique in that it usually occurs in the presence of two people, the perpetrator and the victim alone hence the cooperation of the victim is needed but then if the reliance of the police on the victim were so heavy in all cases, murder cases would never be resolved since the victim would be dead and gone. It is merely the attitude of the police and the prosecution towards the crime of rape that makes them feel it is not their place to prove that a woman has been raped. She must prove it herself!!! And so the cycle of violence never ends as would-be rapists realise that they stand a good chance of getting away with their crime.

However today, I salute one brave woman who has made it her life commitment to create an environment that makes it possible for every rape to be reported and for every report to be received by sensitive, well trained officials. She helps to track cases of abuse and bring them to the eyes of the police. She conducts training with police officials to sensitise them to respond appropriately to the plea of a victim. She haunted the Victim Friendly Unit of the police department to keep track of incidences of insensitivity to victims of rape. She fought and continues to fight to ensure that victims of rape find healing and learn to outlive their traumatic experiences. What impresses me most about her is how, as a victim of rape and abuse herself from the time she was 6 years old, she has managed to emerge a survivor and resolved to create a network of support for women going through the same experiences.

Popularly known as Muzvare Betty, Betty Makoni is a wife, the mother of three and the Director of Girl Child Network International. Girl Child Network International supports and promotes the rights of girls, advocates their empowerment and education. It aims at advancing the circumstances of girls especially those that are economically deprived, at risk of abuse, subject to harmful cultural practices, or living in areas of instability. This organisation has its roots in Zimbabwe where Betty founded the Girl Child Network Zimbabwe in 1998 aiming to defend the rights of the girl child. The methodology that Girl Child Network uses in executing its functions has been replicated in Swaziland, Malawi and South Africa. Through Girl Child Network, Betty has created a network of safe houses where girls can get healing, find a safe haven and can rebuild their lives in the aftermath of sexual abuse.

Betty Makoni receiving the CNN Heroes award

Her outcry against rape, whether committed in random acts of violence on the streets, in the homes or as organised political violence has been loud and consistent. As she declares herself she is driven to “remind policy makers and leaders to change policies, attitudes and laws that are detrimental to the growth and development of the girl child.”

In the run up to the 2008 elections, Betty was threatened, arrested and interrogated for her work for five days. Betty also recorded an unprecedented number of cases of politically motivated rape (amongst both women and children) during the Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order) that government carried out in 2006. The findings of her research were disputed by many, including other civil society actors (without providing alternative and credible proof that the rapes were fewer than what Betty had reported). She made many politicians upset with her findings and she was forced to leave the country for her own safety and security. She challenged the abuse perpetrated by and successfully secured the conviction of a church sect leader, Madzibaba Nzira who was raping women in the name of religion. Her organisation has also challenged big people in power such as the advisor of the reserve bank governor for abusing young girls. On her personal blog, Betty continues to place in the spotlight incidences of abuse, and discrimination of women. She was one of the individuals that picked up and widely shared my article in which I cried foul against the treatment of the suspected female rapists that were being persecuted and subjected to media trials in Zimbabwe in October 2011.

Betty has won awards for her outstanding work defending victims of rape. In 2007 Betty was honoured with the Global Friend’s Award recognising her efforts in assisting Zimbabwean girls to escape trafficking, sexual abuse, child labor and other assault. She also received the World Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child’s in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2009 she won the CNN Hero award for protection of the powerless. She was also the recipient of the United Nations Red Ribbon award, Zimbabwe National contribution award, and in 2011 she was nominated amongst the top ten Goddesses of Africa, an effort that recognises influential African women fostering development and emancipation of African women and girsl.

She now lives in England where she continues to fight against the degradation of women and girls through heinous acts such as rape and other forms of sexual violence. As a Trustee for the Global Network of Christians which is based in the United Kingdom, Betty continues to fight against domestic violence. She has been featured in the first chapter of the bestselling book, Women Who Light the Dark by Paola Gianturco which was launched in New York in September 2007.

I do not wish that I or another woman today, tomorrow or the day after be subjected to rape. However I find comfort in knowing that should we fall victims to this terrible crime, we have doors to knock on which will be opened for us to get help at that difficult time. All thanks to Muzvare Betty.


Feminist Chronicles: Diary 12: Chiwoniso Maraire


Many young people live with the misguided notion that success in life is synonymous with a fat bank account. Oh yes I will not dispute that having a fat bank account will give you all the luxuries that make life a whole lot more comfortable and easy to go through, but, money is not synonymous with success especially if the money is coming through your hard labour, yet you hate what you do. Happiness on the other hand is synonymous with success. Will Smith may have given us the idea that we are always in pursuit of happiness, which is partly true, but it is the things we pursue in life that determine whether that pursuit is endless or at a time what we pursue is actually realised. I am one of those people who believe in pursuing a career of my choice, a career that I love, that I have a passion for, that I feel I am good at, one that gives me satisfaction, one that gives me happiness and consequently success. Unlike our neighbours, the South Africans, most Zimbabweans do not value art and do not think there is a future in art be it music, dance, poetry or theatre. If a child declares that they want to study art, the parents become distraught. ‘Why won’t you study ‘normal’ subjects just like any other child in this country?’ they will ask, normal being law, medicine, engineering, accounting and all those other subjects that are perceived to be the means to a bigger and better life. Don’t get me wrong- I studied law, and I loved it, and it helped shape the perspectives I hold of life in general and other subjects I talk about, but if I had not made the personal choice to study arts in high school, and if my father had not supported that decision I would be a bored, depressed accountant with a fat bank account today. I was good at it but I hated it. Many other people out there are in this situation because they do not understand that life is more than having a well paying job and success is more than a fat bank account.

Today’s feature is living proof of that old-old and overused adage “Where there is a will, there is a way.” To put it simply this woman made her career choice because she loved it, she worked at it and she made it! I suppose she was fortunate to have a father who taught her what she chose to pursue in her life, a career in music. Her father was an ethnomusicologist, a big word for the study of music of different cultures,  and he taught mbira and marimba in the United States where she was born.

 I adore her music, her style, her voice, her lyrics, her look. My Ethiopian friend Zemdena Abebe in Addis Ababa and my American friend Max Zalewski in Cairo know this too well. If these two had not loved her music too, they would have endured in sufferance my constant chatter about her. Probably what I think is the coolest music any Zimbabwean artist has ever produced would have been just ‘loud-pounding African drums’ to them, but good for me-I introduced her to them and they both loved her.

Chiwoniso Maraire, beauty, brains anda magical voice

Chiwoniso Maraire is a Zimbabwean musical icon. Her stage performance always ignites cosmic energy. Her true fans (and I admit I am one of them) know her as Chi or feisty Chi. Indeed she is feisty but feisty for a good cause. As she says ““Music…It’s an expression of God. All pain, joy, rage, love..wisdom, can be found in music. I am in awe when in the presence of its power. There’s a place from where the music comes. The life essence…”

Chi’s first professional musical performance was with her family when she performed alongside her mother, Linda Nemarundwe Maraire and recorded the song Tichazomuona ‘We will see you again’ when she was only 11 years old. Their whole family also recorded an album entitled Imwi Baba ‘You, Father’ and called themselves Mhuri yaMaraire ‘Maraire’s family.’

Later on Chi joined became a member of the group, A Peace of Ebony comprising American, German, Malawian, Russian and Zimbabwean artists. The group recorded revolutionary rap music in English, Shona and French and won the Radio France International ‘Best New Group out of Southern Africa’ Award in 1994. Between 1994 and 1998, Chi worked with Andy Brown, another Zimbabwean artist in his group ‘The Storm.’

Chi produced her first album “Ancient Voices” in 1996. The album is a unique fusion of  jazz, rap, reggae and other genres I cannot identify, since I have no musical expertise  but all put together they make Chi’s mbira sounds. Through this album she pasted mbira music on the international charts.

In 2011 Chi launched the musical concept Hokoyo naChi  ‘Lookout for Chi’ in which she collaborated with many other Zimbabwean artists and showcased her own extraordinary talent and versatility.

She is not just any musician, but a conscious musician.

She has performed songs on unrequited love, a theme which many of us can identify with. Her song Wandirasa ‘You’ve deserted me’, is a plea by a woman to her lover who treats her like she is the world to him when they are alone but treats her badly in other peoples’ company. She questions why he has thrown her away.

The song Ndipe rudo “Give me love” directly addresses domestic violence as the woman asks her husband who is supposed to be her friend why he does not give her love and why he does not listen to advise from his family. The woman in the song resolves that since she is still young, she would rather leave him than wait for him to kill her at her tender age. Clearly that song speaks to all the women who stay in abusive relationships hoping that someday things may change. Chi urges them to consider leaving and rebuild their lives.

In her song “Madam Twenty Cents” she explores the theme of poverty because the young boy asks for ‘just’ twenty cents, says his mother is sick and disabled and his father left and never returned. This song speaks to the many street children’s ill fate. Chi’s empathic voice is meant to move us and the world to take action in alleviating the suffering of those less fortunate than we are.

Her song ‘Iwai Nesu’- ‘Be with us’ appears to me to have been a prophetic depiction of the effects of climate change that the world has begun to see in earnest with floods in Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines and raging droughts in Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti, shorter rainy seasons in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique and harsh winters in Europe and North America. That song also speaks to the injustices of the world, the social disparities where those who have, have too much while those who do not have, have nothing at all. She begs God to be with us, His children.

Iwai Nesu
Vamwe vaparara nenzara (As some are dying of hunger)
Vamwe vachifa nekuguta (Others are overfilled)
Kumwe vaparara nemvura (In some places they have been destroyed by water/floods)
Kumwe vachipera nezuva (While in others, they are wiped out by the sun/drought)
Kutungamira nekutungamirwa (In leading and being led)
Tiri vana venyu (We are your children)

Ivai nesu Mwari Baba (Be with us God our Father)

Chi has always been one to give straight talk against government repression, women abuse and other human rights violations. Her 4thalbum” Rebel Woman” predominantly confronts the issues of freedom, equality and justice.

The Cover for theAlbum-Rebel Woman

The lilting lyrics in the title track reflect her empathic nature when she says of the woman fighter,

There will be no compensation

It was of your free will

Oh, that you stood on the frontlines

Rebel woman, these are the rules of war

Remember that you fought for your people

I know the freedom has been hard won

It’s been so hard won

But as you weep Rebel Woman

Remember you are strong

Her song ‘One world’ on this same album is one of the most moving songs I have listened to, depicting the role that we, as adults and parents have and should prioritise – to shape the kind of future we want our children to inherit.

Ngatibvisei zvibingaidzo izvo (Let us remove these barriers)

Rusarura neruvengo, zvinoparadza (Discrimination and hatred can only destroy)

Vana vanotarisira rudo kwatiri (Our children expect love from us)

We have only one world, to give to the children

She also sang and performed with the multi-national all-women’s band Women’s Voice consisting of American, Algerian, Norwegian, Tanzanian and Zimbabwean artists between 2001 and 2004. In 2007 Chi became a jury member of the Creole Worldmusic  Competition. She has performed in Europe at musical festivals Europe such as the Africa Festival Wuerzburg in Berlin,Germany and the Afro Pfingsten (festival) in Switzerland.  She has performed alongside African musical giants such as our very own Oliver Mutukudzi, as well as Salif Keita and Habib Koite of Mali, Ishmael Lo, Youssou Ndour, Manu Dibango, Baaba Maal of Senegal, Achieng Abura of Kenya,  and Koffi Olomide of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Chi in a live performance

Chiwo has won quite a number of accolades for her music. Ancient Voices won her the Radio France International (RFI) Decouverte Afrique 98 award. In 1999, she won the UNESCO Price for Arts at the MASA festival in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. She was also nominated for the KORA Best Female Vocals of Africa Awards in the same year.

I am pained to see thatdespite her outstanding talent and splendid perfomances, Chi has never won an award at home. It is only befitting that  I recognise her  as one of the women in my country  to whom youths can look  for guidance in their chosen career paths and wish to emulate. If I could sing she would be my mentor.


Feminist Chronicles: Diary 11: Dr Fay Chung


Those of you who may have read the profile of Beatrice Mtetwa may recall that she is Swazi by birth but Zimbabwean by marriage. Apparently, there is something about Zimbabwe that breeds women of courage and integrity as integral members of our society. Dr Fay Chung is another one of these women. In her case, the circumstances are a bit different because not only is she Zimbabwean by birth but also a veteran of the fight for Zimbabwe’s freedom from colonial repression. When you take a look at her picture do not be perplexed, obviously, she is Chinese by descent, her grandfather having been a peasant farmer in Nanpan Village near Guangzhou in China but she is very much Zimbabwean in her heart and soul.

Dr Fay Chung

Her forte is education, the education of women and children being the hot embers that burn in her heart. Being an educated woman herself holding a first degree and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Zimbabwe
an M.Phil in English literature from the University of Leeds as well as BA in Economics from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, it is not surprising that Fay Chung wants the same for her fellow Zimbabwean woman.

Fay Chung joined Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle in the 1970’s and was instrumental in developing a Research and Teacher Education programme for Zimbabwean (then Rhodesian) refugee schools and guerrilla camps in Mozambique and Zambia.

After Zimbabwe’s independence was declared in 1980, she was instrumental in the setting up of the Zimbabwe Foundation for Education with Production, an organisation that provided education for war veterans and returning refugee children from Mozambique and Zambia. She served in various capacities in the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education including as Deputy Secretary for Administration in the Ministry of Education. The highest post she ever held was that of Minister of Education, Sport and Culture between 1988 and 1993. She resigned from this post following ideological disagreements with the government. During her tenure as Minister of Education Zimbabwe reached an unprecedented 95 % primary education rate, vastly improved secondary education and developed a progressive curriculum for teacher training institutions.

She has worked with the UNICEF as Chief of the Education Cluster in New York from 1993 to 1998.  She was also the first Director of the UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA) based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a position she retired from in 2003. She served as an honorary special advisor to the Organisation of African Unity now the African Union.

In 2006, Fay Chung’s book “Reliving the Second Chimurenga: Memories from Zimbabwe’s Liberation Struggle,” was published. It was the first initiative of its kind by a Zimbabwean woman, chronicling her experiences and perspectives on the liberation struggle as well as the power struggles within the political parties of the day. Although this book has been discredited by some reviewers as being at odds with historical facts it still remains a necessary tool facilitating dialogues and reflections on the struggle for independence. Coming from a woman, she paints a vivid picture of the harsh living conditions in the refugee camps of Mozambique from a gendered perspective, and giving specific details on the challenges that children faced, something rarely reflected in post conflict literature.

Having noted the underrepresentation of women in tertiary institutions and recognising the need to cultivate progressive female leadership, Fay Chung cofounded, together with other Zimbabwean women, the Women’s University in Africa in 2002. She serves as the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees for that university. She is also a founder of the Forum for African Women Educationalists and the Association for Strengthening Higher Education for Women in Africa.

Her current preoccupation is the renewal and restoration of Zimbabwean institutions in her capacity as the Director of ‘Envision Zimbabwe.’ Envision makes use of research, discussion, policy and strategy development to address Zimbabwe’s multi-sectoral social, economic and political challenges. It also promotes good leadership and accountability at all levels.

Dynamite indeed comes in small packages!


Feminist Chronicles: Diary 10: Fungai Machirori


To keep a perfectly balanced society there is need for creative and progressive coexistence between the old and the new. That relationship may not necessarily be harmonious but it sure must not be discordant. Zimbabwean women of valour have successfully created that synergy between the old and the new. In my previous diary I talked of Auxilia Chimusoro and today I will talk of a young woman whom I am 100% confident will keep the spirit of Auxilia Chimusoro alive. A young woman who has already done so much in her pretty short life to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and whom I am confident a few years from now will be the deserving recipient of the Auxilia Chimusoro Award.

Never mind she is my friend, but when my friend is also an inspirational person and no one seems to acknowledge that, if I then go ahead and acknowledge her work, no one should accuse me of bias.

Fungai Rufaro Machirori is a joyful person as her middle name Rufaro-Joy says.

A joyful Fungai with one of the participants at the Info Activism Camp in India 2009-Photo Credit Tactical Technology Collective

When I first met her in India, 3 years ago it was quite interesting because we lived in the same country and the same city but we had actually never met. Or maybe I should say I had met her but she had not met me. I had seen her for the first time on television when she was one of the participants in Imagine Afrika, a reality TV show that brought youths on the African continent to engage in dialogue about, and raise awareness on HIV/AIDS and youths’ reproductive health. The idea of the show is to empower youths to envisage an African continent without new HIV/AIDS infections especially among youths. It is to imagine an HIV/AIDS free generation where youths were empowered, educated and responsible.

So the competition ran at the national level, one contestant was then chosen to go represent the nation at a continental level. Although, Fungai did not win the competition I felt she was a victor. She was not shy to push her viewpoint that abstinence amongst youths is the best way of creating an HIV fee generation. Never mind that people think it is old-fashioned and archaic but it is the best way of avoiding infection. Yes practising safe sex and sticking to one partner reduces the chances of infection but abstinence guarantees non-infection and Fungai was not shy to state this boldly throughout the competition.

Since then she has worked with SAFAIDS,  a regional non-profit organisation that promotes effective and ethical development responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, measuring its impact through knowledge management, capacity development, advocacy, policy analysis and documentation. Fungai worked in both the Zimbabwe and South Africa offices. She has also done consultancy work with Consultancy Africa Intelligence, exploring the relationship between homosexuality and HIV/AIDS among other issues.

Apart from her work as an activist fighting HIV/AIDS Fungai is a writer, an influential writer. On her blog Fungai Neni she explores a variety of issues that are generally perceived as taboo, but which I personally find dynamic and innovative, including sex, virginity testing, abortion and sex work.

Fungai also blogs on Kubatana and Zimbojam. She has written many articles for Genderlinks and the Mail and Guardian. In 2010 she was chosen as a correspondent for the Voices of Our Future Programme on Worldpulse.

She has also written several short stories. In the story  If Walls could talk in which my namesake Rumbi is the main character, she dissects the challenges of teenage pregnancy. In A Story for Nandi she portrays a young mother, ensnared in a web of agony from the rejection she faces from her family for having given birth to a ‘fatherless’, HIV negative child whom everybody assumes is positive because the mother tested positive when she was pregnant with him, an agony she expresses when she says,“I haven’t yearned for much else but acceptance since Trevor was born. But all I have received instead is the scorn and spite that forces me to retreat into the reveries of my mind.” However the beauty of this story lies in the mother’s unconditional love for her son and the clarity in her mind that she made the right choice when she brought her son into the world.

The artistry of this gentle creature called Fungai manifests itself much more vividly through her poetry. Fungai is an amazing poet. She featured in the collection Sunflowers in Your Eyes – Four Zimbabwean Poets. One of my favourite poems from Fungai is If you truly love me in which she challenges the notion of blind love, where lovers will have unprotected sex even at great personal risk to themselves, all in the name of love. I can hear her recite this poem in her calm sweet voice saying;

If you truly love me,
You will respect me enough
to protect me from harm’s paths;

For the road to lasting love is not an easy one
As the thorns of deceit and pain twist and mangle themselves upon the way,
Threatening to cause injury and misery…

Fungai was also one of the participants in the British Council Crossing Borders Project in which she was identified as one of Zimbabwe’s most creative writers. A number of her poems have since been published by the British Council. She is a Chevening Scholar who holds a Masters Degree in Applied Development Studies from the University of Reading in the UK.

To show that age is nothing but a number, Fungai has already received global recognition for her work. She was the recipient of the Africa-wide Award in the category of Best HIV/AIDS related articles for the African Network for Strategic Communication in Health and Development in recognition of the work she did to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. In 2011 she won the runner up Award in the World Summit Youth Awards (WYSA), in the category Power 2 Women for her role as content developer and administrator of her blog. This was a great achievement for Fungai and I (as a proud Zimbabwean who loves bragging about other Zimbabweans’ achievements). To be chosen among 700 submissions from 99 countries means she was just excellent. In the same year Fungai also won the International Activist BlogHer Scholarship, which brings together bloggers to share their experiences and ideas recognising the impact that international bloggers have on social transformation.

Just 2 days ago, she asked me why I was acting so strangely. Little did she know that right at the moment when she wrote on my facebook wall, I was busy writing about her.


Feminist Chronicles: Diary 9: Auxilia Chimusoro


‘Homosexuals are worse than pigs and dogs.’ I am sure you all know this famous quote and the owner of it, none other than the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, the Commander in chief of the Defence Forces, the Chief of Police, the Chancellor of all universities, he who appoints [with ceremonial consultation] all judges of the High Court and Supreme Court, and also appoints the Attorney General, the Registrar General, the Ombudsperson, the Reserve Bank Governor and anyone else whose position influences the fate of our country.

And from the day that he made this speech, all and sundry in Zimbabwe were given a free pass to hate gays and lesbians and to express their hatred freely and openly without censure. After all Zimbabweans and their political leaders are such morally upright people that they have a right to hate gays, right?

Given this background, you can imagine how much valour it would take for any gay person to stand up today and publicly announce that they are in fact gay. If lawyers representing gay people can be assaulted how much more so will the gay person? I am not here to start an argument about the moral implications of homosexuality, a debate I have had with many Zimbabweans before but I raised this issue to make a point.

The extent of the hostility of the society towards gays and the stigma attached to being gay in Zimbabwe today is no different from the way anyone with HIV/AIDS was viewed 20 years ago in Zimbabwe, and in some circles even up to date. Some of you may disagree but I am sure that is just because of short memory. I remember that the moment someone was known to be HIV positive they were shunned. It was assumed that they were promiscuous and that is how they got it and preachers would find a reason to talk about sex and morality. Many people would stay away from the HIV infected person, not share a room or a bed (without having sex of course), not share a cup or plate with them because it was believed they would pass on the[ir] virus. Most people assumed the HIV positive person was going to die a painful death and quickly too. Some people believed the disease was linked to witchcraft and associating with HIV people would bring bad luck. What hogwash it all was!!!

Due to the closed nature of society, many people living with HIV were afraid to live openly. Families with loved ones who got sick claimed it was witchcraft. Many AIDS patients in the urban areas were shipped to the rural areas once their health deteriorated, not because they would have better medical care in the rural home but to take them away from public scrutiny and the ensuing million questions, stares and whispers instigated by their deteriorating health. People would not dare publicise their HIV status because it would mean losing friends, jobs and even church membership.

So it was an amazing moment when a woman, [note: a woman] named Auxilia Chimusoro stood up and told the whole nation that she had HIV. This was in 1989 and of course she was shunned, segregated, stigmatised, and alienated. Not just her, but her family too. (Un)naturally, she lost friends, associates and even some of her relatives did not want to be associated with her.

A happy Auxilia Chimusoro

But Auxilia was a woman with a vision. In fact, she was one of the most intelligent people in the country who realised early on that HIV is not synonymous with death.

In the Rujeko Township suburb of Masvingo, where she came from, she initiated the first HIV&AIDS support group in Zimbabwe and called it Batanai (unite).

Her support group later joined hands with others to form the biggest provincial support group in Zimbabwe today, the Zimbabwe National Network of People living with HIV & AIDS (ZNNP+). Today, Auxilia’s support group now revamped into Batanai HIV & AIDS Service Organisation (BHASO) operates in Gutu, Chivi, Bikita, Zaka, Mwenezi, Chiredzi, Masvingo Rural and Masvingo Urban Districts, thus covering the whole of Masvingo Province

The Support organisation runs education, empowerment and support programmes focusing on post test support,  gender dynamics, orphans and vulnerable children, youth empowerment, behavioural change, community home based care, anti-retroviral treatment literacy, food security, water, hygiene and sanitation. It is because of Auxilia’s work that home based care for AIDS patients has become one of the country’s best strategies to deal with the scourge of AIDS at a time when hospitals and other public health institutions are overburdened and failing to cope with influxes of HIV/AIDS patients.

HIV has been demystified so much so that pregnant women are expected to get tested to prevent the Mother to Child Transmission. Persons living with HIV are largely viewed in the same way as cancer or diabetes patients; just another incurable condition that can be managed. A few close minded individuals of course still choose to say HIV/AIDS is unique but that just shows their unique myopic worldview. Thanks to Auxilia and the work she pioneered to raise awareness on the nature of HIV, many people are not afraid to publicise their status.

In today’s Zimbabwe every year an award is given to individuals fighting to stop the spread of HIV/ AIDS. This award is called the Auxilia Chimusoro award. She may have died in 1998 but her legacy lives on.

Debra Messing at the 2009 Auxilia Chimusoro Awards talking to some star struck youngsters

The amazing work of Zimbabwean women!


Feminist Chronicles: Diary 8: Tsitsi Dangarembga


One of the very first African Novels I enjoyed reading and actually took the time to walk into a bookshop and purchase was Nervous Conditions. Considering it was the first novel published in English by a black Zimbabwean woman, it was a special treat and a treasure indeed. I was 13 years old when I first read it. My appreciation of literature was quite limited then but then I re-read the novel at 18 and I have read it two more times and each time I am amazed at the beautiful style in which this novel was written. I am not surprised it won the African section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989 because the way in which it depicts the dynamics of education, poverty, race, class, gender, and identity crisis is nothing short of intriguing. The author is none other than novelist, playwright, filmmaker and activist Tsitsi Dangaremba (pronounced da-nga-re-mbwa).

The Book Nervous Conditions

This woman who partially studied Medicine at Cambridge University, got a degree in Psychology from the University of Zimbabwe, studied Film direction from the University of Berlin and holds a PHD in African Film from the Department of African Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin is a woman of many talents and vast experience.Tsitsi’s uniqueness as an artist lies in how she uses art and culture, not just for entertainment but as a tool for progress and development.

One of the things for which I owe her great respect is the film Neria. She wrote the script. That film was and continues to be one of the strongest instruments for effective community education on the importance of writing a will. It is also pivotal in campaigning for the respect of laws governing succession and deceased estates to protect women and children. Neria is a story of a widowed woman who loses her material possessions and her child to her brother in law in a typical traditional fashion. The brother in law, Phineas, confiscates all of Neria’s wealth and abducts her daughter claiming that as ‘Sarapavana’ a Shona word referring to a guardian, he has the obligation to take care of her. All that Phineas wants is the property; he does not care about the child. Only through her friend does Neria regain all these things. I remember reading reports that the man who played Phineas, the evil brother in law, in the film was assaulted in real life in Harare by incensed citizens who had been moved by the widow’s suffering and angered by his ruthless greed and malevolence.

Neria, the protagonist in the film Neria

Another one of Tsitsi’s unforgettable works is the film Everyone’s Child which she directed. The film portrays the struggles of HIV orphans, illustrating the trials and tribulations that the poor children had to undergo without their parents to support them.

Tsitsi’s work has won her numerous awards. In 2006 she was the recipient of the Arts Personality of the Year Award and in 2007 the Arts Service Award, both from the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe.Her films have also received awards. Kare Kare Zvako (2005) won the Golden Dhow in Zanzibar, the Short Film Award Cinemaafricano in Milano, and Short Film Award at the Zimbabwe International Film Festival. Peretera Maneta (2006) received the UNESCO Children’s and Human Rights Award. She also won the Gender, Equality and Media Award for her film Growing Stronger in South Africa in 2006.

Tsitsi Dangarembga

Her short story The Letter is rich in its illustration of the hardships that an African woman, entangled in the web of a patriarchal society with no voice, limited choices and an almost bleak future has to contend with.

In particular I love this extract from The Letter in which Tsitsi portrays the gentle, quiet strength and deep character of this (abandoned) married woman;

“This morning I received a letter from my husband, the first in twelve years. Can you imagine such a thing? As has been my custom during all this time that I have been waiting, I opened my eyes at four o’clock when the first cock crowed, and lay remembering the day that he left, without bitterness and without anger or sorrow, simply remembering what it was like to be with him one day and without him the next.”

Tsitsi has also delivered a lecture published as part of the Dakar, CODESRIA, Lectures Series entitled, ‘The Popular Arts and Culture in the Texture of the Public Sphere in Africa’ in which she explores the African culture and suggests how culture may be used to cultivate subjective consciousness.

As a founding member of many initiatives, Tsitsi promotes Zimbabwean arts and women’s rights. Her involvement with the Zimbabwe Association of Community Theatre, the Women’s Action Group and Zimbabwe Women Writers has promoted women in art as well as the use of art to advocate gender equality. She is currently the Director of the International Images Film Festival for Women, another one of her brilliant initiatives. She is also a trustee within the Envision Zimbabwe Trust, an organisation that explores developmental challenges and issues affecting Zimbabwean women and youth and devising solutions to these problems.

Tsitsi speaks out against women abuse, against domestic violence and more recently against political violence against women.

Not only England is blessed with talented writers such as William Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Right here in Zimbabwe we have them too and I hope you agree with me that Tsitsi is definitely in their caliber. If you don’t I can understand why, it’s probably a generational thing, just like Jane Austen was misunderstood in her time, future generations will get what Tsitsi is all about too.


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