An open letter to history

Dear History,

To say you and I have a complicated relationship is an understatement.  I’ve known you all my life: from my first day of formal education we were already well acquainted.  And I fell in love with you.   Continue reading →

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So far so good? Young Zimbabwean identity in 2016

36 years ago, Southern Rhodesia was wiped from existence and Zimbabwe was born. Great pomp and ceremony ensued as the populace celebrated the end of a long guerrilla and the establishment of majority rule. Bob Marley even wrote a song for us, and he came down and performed, free of charge, at the official Independence Day celebrations:

In 2016, things are different.  Zimbabweans are scattered across the globe. Many people have left for their studies or employment. There is a generation of people with Zimbabwean heritage who have not set foot in the country.  And for a born-free generation, navigating their Zimbabwean identity is a chore in itself. Four such Zimbabweans, all studying at Rhodes University in South Africa, speak of what it means to be Zimbabwean, 36 years after Independence.

Marshall, 23

“Being Zimbabwean in 2016 comes with many arduous challenges and a lot of hard work in the quest to get opportunity and recognition necessary for the meaningful success in the global village we live in today.

As a young Zimbabwean, I find it hard to break barriers no matter how good I am – barriers that, if broken, will propel my career to dizzy heights. This is largely due to negative political connotations that come with being from Zimbabwe.”

Perpetual, 23

“Being a Zimbabwean youth is tough. Particularly a patriotic youth. You yourself fail to explain where you draw your strong allegiance to the country from.

It’s quite an amazing phenomenon really. I can rave and curse about the situation in Zimbabwe but dare someone else do it. So what does it mean to be a Zimbabwean in 2016, 36 years after independence? It’s a myriad of emotions. Love. Hate. Love. Hate even more.”

Mholiwethu, 21

“My Zimbabwean identity means being resilient in the face of all adversities and having faith and hope as strong a mustard seed.”

Varaidzo, 18

“I like that Zimbabweans, we’re peaceful people. Yeah our country’s messed up, but we’re survivors. It hasn’t broken us.  If you’re outside of the country, you know you’re not alone. You’ve got a community of Zimbabweans there with you.”

Zimbabwean Identity, 36 years on

So what does it mean to be a young Zimbabwean in 2016? There isn’t a straightforward answer to that. There’s a constant tug of war in establishing your identity.  Inheriting the past, surviving the present, building for the future – often times, it can be suffocating to live such an existence. Nevertheless, for many of the young Zimbabweans out there, their national heritage and identity is a badge they wear with pride.

Simudzai mureza wedu weZimbabwe
Yakazvarwa nomoto wechimurenga;
Neropa zhinji ramagamba
Tiidzivirire kumhandu dzose;
Ngaikomborerwe nyika yeZimbabwe.

Phakamisan iflegi yethu yeZimbabwe
Eyazalwa yimpi yenkululeko;
Legaz’ elinengi lamaqhawe ethu
Silivikele ezithan izonke;
Kalibusisiwe ilizwe leZimbabwe.

Sex Ed in Zimbabwe: does it do the job?

The recent Court ruling that banned child marriages and raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 years has been applauded and welcomed by Zimbabweans in the country and abroad.   For years many women  and men have fought tirelessly to protect children (specifically girls) from child marriages, and the ruling was a breath of fresh air in the long struggle.  The ruling coincides with increased discussion and talk on  introducing contraceptives into high schools.  This debate, unlike the court’s decision, has not gone as smoothly nor has it been well received by many.   Nevertheless, it’s important to look at the state of gender and sex education in  Zimbabwe, and  whether it is doing any  good.

Reviewing the Current System

There have been several papers written on gender and sex education.  They all reach the same conclusion: Zimbabwe’s education system doesn’t do enough to cover this important conversation.  In her 2012 dissertation, Miriam Banda examined the educational materials used in high schools, as well as the structure of gender and sex education curriculum.  Her findings highlight the problem areas.   Guidance and Counselling (G & C) lessons, or Life Orientation, or Life Skills, is where teachers are supposed to cover topics such as sexual health, contraception, and gendered roles.  However, the reality is different.  The content covered in these classes isn’t examinable, so it’s not given as much attention as other ‘more important’ subjects.  Furthermore, according to Banda’s research, if teachers feel uncomfortable with the subject matter, they can simply skip a topic or cancel the lesson.  The same mentality for History or Geography is unthinkable, so why is it so easy for them to opt out of G & C?

The inadequacies don’t stop there.  When teachers do engage with students, the main message they preach is abstinence.  Whilst teaching abstinence is not bad, it is bad when it’s the only message they convey to teenagers at the expense of other information.  It’s impractical to believe that teenagers will abstain from sex just because they are told to – they are teenagers after all.  The logic behind abstinence-only education is a fear that talking about sex will lead to teenagers wanting to have sex.  There is a major flaw in this reasoning: teenagers are already having sex.  Furthermore, as Crispen Bhukuvhani notes in his 2012 paper, the abstinence that teachers and parents advocate contradicts HIV/AIDS literature, which preaches safe sex.  Getting conflicting messages about sexual health leads to even more confusion.

It’s not just about sex

There is another fundamental flaw in the argument against comprehensive sex and gender education is that it will only be about sex itself, which is incorrect.  Sex and gender education is about teaching teenagers about contraceptives and reproductive health, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s  teaching them about consent.  It’s teaching them their legal and reproductive rights. It’s teaching them about rape and sexual assault.  It’s informing them about the avenues and options available to them if or when they are raped.  It’s teaching victims not to blame themselves and teaching perpetrators not to rape.  Ultimately it’s teaching teenagers that sex is not just a physical act: there are psychological, legal and societal aspects to it that are swept under the rug simply because people don’t want to compromise their comfort.

Insider Opinions

Former Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture David Coltart agrees that Zimbabwe’s education system can do better.  Although he is unsure what the current curriculum covers, he believes it’s time for a review:

 “The current curriculum needs a drastic overhaul generally.”  Zimbabwe’s curriculum hasn’t transformed alongside the socio-cultural changes in the country.  “Many children get involved in sexual relations because they have no hope that they can go on to get a qualification and a decent job. We have to give children more and better education on these issues, but we need to give children hope”, emphasizes Coltart.

Sian Maseko, a feminist and women’s rights activist, agrees that more needs to be done:

“The truth is  young people will get the information somewhere and somehow. So we need to ask ourselves the question – isn’t it better that they get comprehensive sexuality education that deals with sex, sexuality, identities, intimate relationships, violence, sexual health, consent, coercion, peer pressure etc. in a way that is mature, correct and creates a space for discussion and questions than for them to learn it from peers or magazines? The most important aspect of issues to do with sex and gender are how society and social spaces construct our understanding of them – so what does society say about women and sexuality? What does society think about married people using condoms? What does society say about sex work? We need to start addressing some of these harmful norms that prevent individuals from enjoying their sexuality and exploring in a safe, knowledgeable and consensual way.
In all societies in the world there are harmful norms about women and their sexuality. What do you call a man who has sex with a lot of women? What do you call a woman who has sex with lots of men? The answer is definitely not the same because we judge women and women’s sexuality more harshly than men.
 This is why it has to start at school. Young people need to explore these issues together in a way that says, ‘questions are good’, ‘violence is wrong’, ‘you can say ‘no’ whether you are a boy or a girl’, ‘you have the right to protect yourself so you can carry condoms whether you are a boy or a girl’. For as long as society believes that sex is for men then we will never shift our understanding of sex and sexuality”.

Conclusion

It takes teachers, parents and guardians, and religious leaders to give Zimbabwean teenagers a comprehensive sex and gender education.  Of course it can be argued that our country has bigger things to worry about at this point, but it’s easy to forget that teenagers won’t stay teenagers forever.  The older they get, the harder it is to correct the harmful thinking and mentalities that they could one day pass on to their children.   We’ve shown that our country is capable of The question now is, are Zimbabweans ready to bite the bullet and have an honest talk about sex?

Photo sourced from http://quib.ly/

Is there Unity in our languages?

Dating back from 1987, Zimbabwe’s Unity Day celebrates the coming together of the country’s two political parties (Zanu PF and PF Zapu) into a mega political force. Almost 30 years on and 22 December is now a public holiday with all the rituals and fanfare synonymous with Zimbabwean national events -cue obligatory national holiday theme song:

Unity Day is a political occasion.  However, this is not a political post.  Rather, it’s about another aspect that’s not often publicised but is nevertheless crucial to discourse on Zimbabwean current affairs. The Shona/Ndebele language struggle is one that many Zimbabweans face and have to deal with.  Shona is the language of power in the country’s landscape.  It’s possible to go your whole life without learning Ndebele – to be honest, there isn’t a drive or push that encourages people to learn the language.  However, the reality for those not born into the Shona language group is different.  Two young Zimbabwean adults share their personal experiences of negotiating their language identity in a country where one language is treated as superior to others.

What are they saying?

By Makabongwe Ngulube.

“I laugh so hard when I remember the first day of preschool. My parents, in all their goodness, forgot to mention that I did not speak Shona. I went to Ascot Garden nursery school in Harare at the age of 4. I remember during our first playtime one of the kids shouting ‘Iwe huya, huya kuno!’ (Hey you come here!) I just stared blankly. If it were not for how pushy kids get I would have just stood there. One of them ran to me and just dragged me to the sand pit. I was still wondering what they were saying as we threw around sand making castles. I soon learnt that ‘huya’ meant ‘come’ and thus began my journey to learning Shona in addition to the English and Ndebele I knew.

I must say, though I was confused back then, I am very grateful that I am multi-lingual. Throughout primary school I had very helpful next door neighbors who helped me with my homework. In grade seven I had a Zezuru Shona teacher who made sure I passed that ZIMSEC grade 7 final. I wanted to drop Shona for high school and my mom told me, ‘it is part of your heritage and since you are not in Bulawayo to write Ndebele, you need something that shows your heritage and language is one of those things.’

It is a great feeling to have a piece of paper that says I wrote Shona at O Level and I got a C – way better than some of my Shona friends. I have a point of reference. My experience growing up Ndebele and learning Shona has allowed me to transcend between both cultures. Staying in Harare may have estranged me a little from my extended family but I am very well able to hold a good Ndebele conversation. I value my knowledge of the two and more than anything, I understood that learning both was to my advantage especially in a country where being Ndebele could be a curse. I think learning the different languages is the first step in eliminating the discrimination that minority tribes face in Zimbabwe.”

The power struggle between Zimbabwe’s two main languages is just a chapter in the story of language dynamics in our country.  The addition of minority groups to our list of official languages (jumping from four to 16 official languages) was mocked and ridiculed by many. “We are not South Africa,” most people argued. However, ignoring smaller less powerful languages doesn’t mean that they will simply disappear. In fact, it could breed resentment.

The Shona/Ndebele Dichotomy

By Mholiwethu Nyathi

“Just like most African countries, Zimbabwe has multiple languages: Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, Sign Language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa. The most widely used are English ,Shona and Ndebele. The interactions between the two main languages, Ndebele and Shona, is quite complicated and this is mostly because of the rocky relations between the two ethnic groups. The majority speaks the Shona language while a minority speaks Ndebele.

Though the constitution recognizes other languages as official languages the  governmental policies and the Zimbabwean attitude towards other languages other than Shona portrays a different attitude towards the minority languages. I am Ndebele by birth and was born in Bulawayo. I have spent all my life living in Bulawayo and as a result was brought up in a Ndebele setting. However I still have the ability to hear and understand the Shona language fully and I can have a decent conversation in Shona. This is typical of most Zimbabwean citizens who are not Shona by birth but can converse in Shona.

In my own experience I have noted that most  Shona people learn other minority languages cause they want to while most people learn Shona out of necessity. The correct attitude of the government towards minority languages is firstly found in House Parliament itself. While one would expect the government to have a translator to help facilitate proper communication between members of parliament this is not case. In the parliament the languages spoken are mostly Shona and English. Some members don’t take into account that some members of the parliament can’t understand Shona, and when they address the parliament with their own language they are shot down. This clearly goes to show the real attitude they have towards other languages: while they expect every parliament member to learn  Shona they themselves are not wiling to take time and learn minority languages. Furthermore, in most governmental offices citizens are expected to converse or address their problems in Shona. These expectations are found even in Matebeleland which is a predominately Ndebele area. This goes to shows a lack of respect towards the Ndebele and other minority languages in Zimbabwe.

The problem is also in the schooling system. In the years before former Minister David Coltart started a  program which  involved the printing of textbooks in the Tonga language, most pupils in the Binga region were either taught in Ndebele or Shona at a lower grade. This was problematic as it promotes the death of the Tonga language at a primary level. Though the state recognizes the presence of other languages Shona remains the dominant language. In my opinion this attitude towards other languages stems from the sense of entitlement which most Shona people have of Zimbabwe. According to them Zimbabwe belongs to Shona people only and thus they have no obligation to learn other minority languages but the minority groups have an obligation to learn Shona.

It has really become a case of adapt to survive for most people because if you can’t converse in Shona you won’t be able to enjoy full governmental services. This kind of attitude has a negative impact on Ndebele and Shona relations because as soon as the Ndebele feel as though their language is not respected, they take it as disrespect to the whole tribe and that could fuel hatred. After so many years of independence one would expect these language problems to have been solved so as to further facilitate national unity but that’s not the case. We still have incidents where minority languages are not being respected and recognized .Firstly we still have a national passport which spells basic ndebele words like  ‘akuvunyelwa’ as  ‘akuvhunyelwa’ and ‘epejini’ instead of  ‘ephjini’. One would expect such mistakes to have been sorted out on the new passports but the government still hasn’t done much about it. We also still have companies like Chicken Slice and Econet using the wrong Ndebele grammar in their advertisements.”

Not everyone will share these opinions and sentiments. Some people don’t see language as an issue. Others might feel that such conversations do more harm than good. However it can’t be denied that the scales in Zimbabwe’s language system aren’t equally balanced.  So as 22 December 2015 marks the 28th anniversary of the Unity Accords, it’s time to question whether this unity has extended to the many language groups that colour our country’s landscape.

About Africa Day…

The 25th of May is here again, and for these precious 24 hours, Africans across the globe come together to celebrate what really makes this continent great.  Some countries – like Zimbabwe and Ghana – are lucky enough to have the 25th as a public holiday.  Most of Africa does not.

Whilst it’s important to have the usual festivities, whipping out the traditional clothes and revelling in some African culture, it’s all too easy to lose sight of what this day is really about.  25 May is essentially the anniversary of the ratification of the OAU charter, which was passed all the way back in 1963.  It was an exciting time for Africa.  The Winds of Change were blowing, and the tide of liberation was coming in.  It was in this atmosphere of positivity that the Organisation of African Unity was formed, it’s main purpose being:

To promote the unity and solidarity of African States; to coordinate and intensify their cooperation and efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa.”

Lofty goals, and sadly, more than 50 years on, have not been achieved.  In the years since the OAU’s inception, there have been at least 35 officially recorded wars in Africa, and this figure only takes into consideration official wars with militias and armies.  Xenophobia, genocide, juntas, tribalism, corruption, extremism: the list of Africa’s ailments is as long as it is depressing.  What is evident is that, in 2015, the feel-good attitude that led to the creation of an organisation for African Unity, has largely failed to unite a fractured continent plagued with problems.

 

Celebrating the diverse and vibrant cultures that make up Africa is important in asserting and owning our identity as Africans, but once a year, when 25 May comes rolling again, it’s even more important to remember the goals that the original OAU wanted to achieve: African unity and cooperation.  As citizens of a continent that is growing in size and potential, keeping that goal in mind wherever we are in the world is vital to Africa’s survival.  Relying on bureaucracy to instill a sense of unity and pride in the 21st century simply isn’t going to cut it anymore.  African Unity starts with each individual African making a conscious to make the dream of African unity and cooperation a reality.

 

 

At the end of the day, after all the celebration and reflection, we should collectively, as Africans, always remember where we’ve come from, the progress we’ve made, and the road ahead.  Our continent has not had the smoothest journey post-Independence, but the bad days we’ve had must not overpower a bright future.  Because no matter what comes our way, our hearts will always beat for Africa.

 

1980 to 2015: Independence for young Zimbabweans

35 years ago, we collectively said goodbye to Rhodesia and introduced a new, independent country into the world – Zimbabwe.  The joy, hope and positivity of a peoples who finally had achieved majority rule was palpable.  From the stories I’ve heard from my parents and older relatives, it was the zenith of their national pride and patriotism.  For them, 1980 will forever remain a beautiful memory, that moment when we hoisted the Zimbabwe flag for the first time.  Bob Marley even celebrated with us – how many countries can say that the great reggae legend wrote a song for them?

 

More than three decades later, and that  flag is still up high.  However, with a large percentage of Zimbabweans under the age of 30, does Independence resonate with them?  Not having gone through the experience of the liberation wars, not witnessing the country transform into a republic, could colour their perceptions of Independence Day, and whether it’s really anything to celebrate.   For a young Zimbabwean living outside the country, what does Independence mean?

Tatenda

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As a Law student at Rhodes University, Tatenda feels now more than ever, Zimbabwe is a presence in Africa and the world.  “We’re everywhere”, she says, as Zimbabweans have spread all over the world, leaving their mark.  And it’s thanks to Independence that many people like her have the chance to pursue their dreams, get an education, and be proud of Zimbabwe’s history, resilience, and determination.

 

Sarah

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Half Ndebele and half Shona, Sarah has a deep connection to her country and its culture.  She is proud that 35 years on Zimbabwe is still independent, but that there hasn’t been much progress.  “I don’t know if we’re moving forward or backward.”  Sarah is fiercely patriotic, with a large Zimbabwe flag hanging over her bed, but is unsure as to what exactly victories gained in 1980 have improved life in 2015.

 

Richard

 

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Richard is currently studying for his third degree, a Masters degree in Business.  For him, he couldn’t be where he is now were it not for the sacrifices that people before him made.  He’s grateful for the men and women that decided to change an unjust system to provide equal opportunities for all, without discrimination.  “The life that I have now, the opportunities that I have now, have been secured for.”

 

Rangarirai

 

ranga

 

As a young Zimbabwean studying outside of the country, Rangarirai is well aware that were it not for Independence, he wouldn’t be where he is now.  He has nothing but absolute respect for the people that fought for liberation, and hopes that Independence Day is never devalued or unappreciated.  “We have been uplifted by our forefathers, and we’re really grateful for that.”

 

There are many other young Zimbabweans out there, with views, opinions and criticism of Independence.  Nonetheless, they are proud of their country, and proud to be called Zimbabwean.  So as we celebrate 35 years of Independence, let us recall what it took for us to get here, and what we can learn from Independence to shape our future.