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Author Archive

For Shingie

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Thursday, March 17th, 2011 by Fungai Machirori

It’s that husky voice that I will always remember first.

That and the love story that I saw playing out between Shingie Chimuriwo and Fungai Tichawangana over the years.

The last time I saw Shingie and Fungai was late last year before I left Zimbabwe for the UK where I am currently studying. Shingie and I hadn’t seen in each other in a long time and we chirped on and on for a while about life and some of the controversial articles I had been writing (and there are always many!). She was, as always, amazingly forthright and self-assured; never one to back down from a hard argument and so fully supportive of free expression.

Fungai, my namesake or ‘sazita’ as we call each other, kept hovering about her asking her if she needed something – more food, a jacket, a seat – anything to make her more comfortable. Their love was like watching the characters of an epic romance movie peeling off the silver screen and taking human form. They loved so easily and naturally; so beautifully that you could see the vivid shades of their emotions light up when they were together. They were and still are soulmates.

Ever since I have known Fungai, there has always been Shingie.  I remember how she would come to many of our poetry workshop sessions held on cold and unfriendly winter evenings back in 2005. I remember how in 2009, Fungai went on a hunger strike after the Norwegian embassy denied him a visa to go and visit Shingie as she studied in the European country. His brave and unshakeable love for his woman saw ordinary citizens as far afield as the Americas taking the time to lobby their own Norwegian embassies to take action. It was awe-filling to see a man so committed to the cause of love.  It was even more special to see the happy pictures of the two in Norway when he eventually got his visa.

Something urged me to add Shingie as a Facebook friend last month. And on February 25, we became FB chums. Somehow, we’d managed to keep fairly up to date without relying on status updates and pokes and other things, but I was compelled to add her onto my list of FB Friends. We never did have a conversation in the 19 days that we were ‘Friends’, but on 16 March at 7:57 pm, I saw an FB notice flicker at the bottom left of my page. I had written a status update congratulating a mutual friend for winning a South African journalistic award. The status update I had written read, “I’ve just got to show off that I have got cool trail blazing friends! I am surrounded by GREATNESS!”

At 7:57 pm, Shingie’s finger hit the ‘Like’ tab and a message flickered at the bottom left of my Facebook page conveying her action to me. I am told that she had her car accident at 10pm; the fatal accident that killed a beautiful woman in her prime.

When I learnt of Shingie’s death, I kept looking at that status update wondering how someone who’d liked something could then be involved in a horrible crash just two hours later and be dead within a few more. I wanted to rewind time to the moment that she’d liked the update, wished I could have found her on chat and said, “Ndeipi.” Maybe if I had, we would have had a short conversation and she might have been running five minutes later and perhaps things might have turned out differently.

But who are we to know what life holds?

I will not question or challenge God’s will. He knows His own ways. But I thank Him that I have the honour of a thought, however ephemeral, from Shingie in her last few hours on earth. I am thankful for this potent message, painful as it is for I was having a horrible week of self-doubt and pain. Shingie has reminded me, through that flicker of her fingers that life is still with me, that my lungs drink in air and that I am still here to make a difference to this doubtful and painful world, that I am surrounded by GREATNESS, as I myself observed in writing that status update.

I am thankful for Shingie and for that lesson that she has left with me.

We will cry in the days to come. But we will celebrate too for Shingie is a woman who leaves behind a rich legacy of selfless deeds.

Thank you Shingie. And thank you Shingie and Fungai for the amazing story that your lives together tell.

I hold you in my heart filled with love and respect for both of you.

Pies in the sky feed no one

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Tuesday, December 7th, 2010 by Fungai Machirori

When I first saw the theme announcement for this year’s commemorations of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, I had to re-read the statement a few times until my disbelief finally subsided.

In case you have not come across it, the 2010 theme reads Structures of Violence: Defining the Intersections of Militarism and Violence Against Women.

I immediately had problems with this theme for a variety of reasons, some of which include that it is too verbose, too complicated and far too philosophical. My concerns were exacerbated when I had a look through the campaign’s official website for elaboration on the theme.

The following is what it states:

“… our working definition outlines militarism as an ideology that creates a culture of fear and supports the use of violence, aggression, or military interventions for settling disputes and enforcing economic and political interests. It is a psychology that often has grave consequences for the true safety and security of women and of society as a whole. Militarism is a distinctive way of looking at the world; it influences how we see our neighbours [sic], our families, our public life, and other people in the world.”

In academic jargon terms, I have absolutely no issue with this statement. In fact, I find it a very eloquent and mentally stimulating way of theorising a concept that could be defined far more succinctly and clearly.

But sadly, and more importantly, for many women; women for whom domestic violence is not just an academic or intellectual concept; such ‘superior’ eloquence will surely fail to meet them at their point of need.

How do such complex concepts translate into local parlance and meaning? Would it be so ineffective if we stated the simple and obvious, that domestic violence is bad and that it needs to be stopped?

You might argue that the semantics don’t really matter. After all, at country level, these international themes are often adapted to suit the environment and therefore merely serve as a guide.

But I disagree.

Be rest assured that worldwide, organisations have set aside budgets to produce banners, T-shirts, posters, stickers, caps and other memorabilia featuring this theme – all of which illiterate and semi-literate women are going to be photographed in, smiling and parading proudly to show that indeed, they were actively involved in the implementation of this year’s theme and campaign.

And I find that somewhat demeaning, condescending even.

Recently, academics and advocates in the field of gender and development have argued against the prevailing global discourse which reduces gender issues to events-driven, hollow battle cries based on generalisations and stereotypes. While such reductionism has served a purpose, bringing gender issues to the fore in a world still predominantly patriarchal and disinterested, it has also been influential in fragmenting the women’s movement and widening the rifts among women across social, cultural, political and economic divides.

And in so doing, the movement has created hierarchies of influence, whereby those with the resources to set agendas dictate the issues, and their importance, to the rest.  Ironically, the big bad wolf that the women’s movement is collectively trying to overpower is a hierarchy (patriarchy) that it too is perpetuating.

My argument is not against globalisation and regionalisation of gender policy, per se.
Our world is a global community. Every day we communicate, trade and advocate across time zones and continents. In short, we lead globalised lives in which our first thought of our neighbour is not necessarily of the person who lives across the fence or road.

Globalising issues has helped to amplify them, thereby highlighting the direst situations and seeking out social justice for those who suffer most because of them. A critical global mass led to the wave of national and international commitment to address poverty, power, health and wealth – through a gendered lens – as per the specific actions articulated in the 1995 Beijing Conference Declaration and Platform for Action.

More recently, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) have spelt out specific targets in the areas of improving maternal health, achieving gender parity as well as reversing the rampancy of HIV infection globally. And in line with trying to achieve these ambitious targets by 2015, developing nations have been capacitated to improve monitoring, evaluation, reporting and resource tracking on the MDG indicators – something that also assists national actors in contextualising their problems.

Global goals can be good. And in the donor-dependent southern hemisphere of the world, progress towards achieving these plays a significant role in ensuring extended official development assistance (ODA).  As William Easterly, author of The White Man’s Burden succinctly states,” In any human endeavor [sic], the people paying the bills are the ones to keep happy.”

But there are demerits to such approaches, many of which relate to the first scenario that I began this analysis with. Globalising, and even regionalising, issues presupposes uniformity of agency and conditions across regions of the world. For instance, the MDG goal of halving 1990 levels of poverty by 2025 does not take into consideration that in some developing nations (for example the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe), levels of measurable poverty are actually continuing to rise such that channelling efforts towards reaching 50% of 1990 poverty levels might miss the point of stabilising overall poverty levels first.

Also, quantitative measures – like guaranteeing equal proportions of girls and boys in school– still do not address the core issues of qualitative experience of education. A girl who daily arrives to class hours late or falls asleep throughout lessons because she has been up all night completing household chores can still very reasonably be justified as attending school. But her benefits from this experience would certainly be debatable.

Globalised actions forget that cultural, social, economic and geopolitical factors are key to defining and addressing development issues. They disregard the fact that ‘third world’ people do not speak the same language, live in the same environment or appreciate development in the same ways. They forget the faces behind the figures, the underlying issues that impede progress.

Furthermore, national political commitment to these goals varies vastly. Putting ink to paper means nothing when not accompanied by real efforts towards implementation.  Should we, for instance take Zimbabwe’s ratification of the SADC Gender and Development Protocol quite so seriously when the nation has recorded some of the worst human rights violations in the recent past? Should we really believe that by 2015, Zimbabwe’s government shall have provided universal access to post exposure prophylaxis and other rape-related services when there is only one resource-limited adult rape clinic serving the whole of the capital city, Harare, and its neighbouring areas? Where are the plans that spell out how this rhetoric will be converted into reality?

There are many things that we could be doing better. For one, we could stop trying to superimpose ideals onto the world as if it were an undifferentiated mass of human beings.

In-country, multi-sectoral, representative and accountable umbrella bodies or coalitions are always better placed to identify areas for advocacy, funding and resource allocation than external agents. Working with a harmonised national framework, monitoring and evaluation of progress becomes more coordinated, robust and sustainable. The UNAIDS ‘Three Ones’ principle for an effective national response to HIV and AIDS – one national coordinating body working to implement one national action framework to be reviewed through one agreed monitoring and evaluation system – is one that I believe works efficiently when planned and implemented well as it encourages cost-sharing and greater reach and representativeness of local knowledge.

Dependency of the periphery (the developed world) on the core (the developed world) to provide policy guidance does not encourage sustainability. Programmes end and unfulfilled objectives are put aside as new ‘sexier’ interventions are introduced as the best way to do things.

Sustainability can only be guaranteed if the people identify their own needs, understand what needs to be done and work towards achieving it.

But most importantly, we have to realise that when talk gender and development, we are talking about human beings. Not theoretical or hypothetical beings, but real women and men for whom our efforts are often the difference between life and death. Let’s talk to each other, not at one another and bring the discourse out of the clouds and back down to the ground.

The Uncertainty of Hope: A book that reminds us who women are in Zimbabwe

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Monday, September 13th, 2010 by Fungai Machirori

I don’t usually read a book and feel compelled to write about it.

But in the case of Valerie Tagwira’s splendid novel, ‘The Uncertainty of Hope’, I simply must.

The first time I heard about this novel was in 2006 when a visiting Danish friend doing her PhD research around Zimbabwean gendered discourse presented it to me during one of our lively discussions. This friend also had Tsitsi Dangarembga’s much-anticipated second book, ‘The Book of Not’ and in my excitement to lay hands on it, I chose the latter as my reading fodder instead.

And because I’d never really heard much about ‘The Uncertainty of Hope’ – or its author – I somehow never got round to reading it.

Over the last year however, I have managed to forge a good cyber friendship with Tagwira who always encourages me on to get my first novel completed – I’ve found her to be very gentle yet incisive in everything she says.

And it somehow gnawed away at me that I had never ventured into her own literary mind by reading her book. What, I wondered, did a practising medical doctor’s prose talk about?

And so last week I bought my copy of ‘The Uncertainty of Hope’ to find out.

What an amazing piece of literature!

If ‘Nervous Conditions’ was the narrative of womanhood and its myriad challenges for our newly independent Zimbabwe, then Tagiwra’s novel is the dominant gendered text for our nation’s 2000s – a time of social, political and economic crisis.

The novel’s protagonist, Onai, is a woman who suffers many dilemmas in her roles as wife, mother, breadwinner and ordinary Zimbabwean living through the harsh times of 2005 – where hyperinflation, queues for scarce commodities and the deathly effects of the misguided Murambatsvina operations colour the hopelessness of a once prosperous nation.

Onai, is also a victim of gross domestic violence and lives out an existence that is almost admirable in its absorption of so much pain and disappointment.

And what Tagwira does so well is to mirror her main character’s life against other women whose struggles are excruciating to various extents – Melody, the third year university student who is sleeping with a married man to raise her fees as well as get a taste of the life her family can’t afford; Emily, the compassionate doctor who’s torn, like many potential Diasporans, between obeying her conscience and staying home, and departing overseas to receive second-class treatment while earning enough to live comfortably; and Sheila, the sex worker who’s contracted HIV and worries about her young child’s future without a mother because long waiting lists bar her from getting access to life-prolonging ARVs.

This novel may be set during a particular era in our history – a time when we were all once meaningless millionaires – but it still speaks to the issues that affect Zimbabwe’s women five years later.

And Tagwira definitely understands the subject matter well. Many passages in this 363-page journey had my skin swelling up in goose bumps because yes, here is a woman who speaks about the things we are not often too ready to acknowledge, and therefore address.

Here is one such passage which takes place early in the novel as Onai encounters a wave of depression due to the fact that no one understands why she cannot leave her abusive husband:

She would not be able to bear the shame of being a divorced woman. How could she possibly face a world that despised divorcees; looked down on single mothers? Marital status was everything. It did not really matter how educated or otherwise skilled a woman was. A woman’s worth was relative to one man, her husband: westernised values about women surviving outside marriage held no authenticity mumusha (in the home). In her whole extended family, nobody had ever had a divorce. She would not let herself be the first.

This book is not a patchwork of fanciful writing. It is gritty, heart-wrenching, enlightening, warming – and all carefully controlled by a credible and clever storyline that allows for the forces of life to bring together, as well as separate, its various characters.

I wonder, sadly, why Tagwira has not received the same acclaim for this breathtaking tale as have the Dangarembgas,  Gappahs and Veras of our women’s writing world.

What a massive pity.

I only hope though that by your reading this short account of my experience, which I sadly can’t provide all the finer details of (lest I begin to ramble!), you too will pick up if this amazing novel if you have not already.

So many discussion points, innumerable advocacy issues, a whiff of the pungency of a decadent and decaying Zimbabwe – and all in well-written and engaging prose.

You simply must read this book and crown a true Zimbabwean heroine.

Disco lights belong in the disco!

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Friday, September 3rd, 2010 by Fungai Machirori

Has anyone else noticed the cars on our Zimbabwean roads that are serving as mobile discos?

If you travel at all at night, I am sure you know what I mean.

You too have probably seen those SUVs and Mercedes Benz with those loud and garish neon lights that their drivers justify as headlights.

I prefer to call them disco lights because they are bright, busy and blinding!

If you are a night driver and have to deal with the blue and green flashing lights of an oncoming vehicle, I believe you too will understand the health hazard that this senseless showmanship poses.

It’s bad enough that some drivers are too selfish to dip their lights for oncoming traffic – but having to dry to demarcate your side of the lane with Circus Nightclub parading ahead of you makes things even worse.

I have been blinded enough times to know. And it is always so scary to be in a position where you can’t really get your bearings right and have to trust that you aren’t veering off the road, or worse still, veering into something.

And so, I need to ask these question: Are there traffic regulations on the levels of brightness that a car’s headlights can reach? Are there also regulations on the number of different colours that these lights can come in – one on vehicle?!

Driving at night has enough hazards without people having to navigate the party lights on showy cars.

Let’s give this due thought before someone has to die to prove the point.

Whose heroes?!

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Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by Fungai Machirori

On Zimbabwe’s Heroes’ Day two weeks ago, I had the great embarrassment to be among some South African friends. As the news on SABC – South Africa’s national broadcaster – came on with a report on the event, everyone in the TV room hushed down and turned up the volume. Anyone who was still talking was given a glowering eye which meant, “Shut up!”

And so the report came on. And there he was – our 86-year-old president – telling everyone in the west to go to hell in a speech delivered at the hallowed Heroes’ Acre where all the ‘patriotic’ sons and daughters of the soil are laid to rest. There was even a shot of a few ardent supporters holding up a banner that read, “To hell, hell, hell, hell!”

I cringed.

My South African friends laughed.

And then the sadness came over me.

Zimbabwe is the joke of southern Africa – if not even the world! People everywhere tune up the volume on their televisions and radios to listen to the rantings of a man so uniquely obsessed with Britain and the US that it makes for what I can only describe as verbal masturbation. After all, he did once tell Tony Blair to keep his England while he kept his Zimbabwe!

Now, the reason I am writing about this all is because a good friend of mine, Delta Milayo Ndou, recently posted a quite fascinating commentary on her blog about the role that Zimbabwe’s youth has to play in rebuilding our woeful democracy.

Because, so often, Zimbabwe’s young people are excluded from discourse around reform, we remain clueless and disinterested. We flock to other nations with better infrastructure and opportunities for self-actualisation, thereby leaving our own nation barren and desolate. I remember quite vividly a television jingle – shot around 2003 when the land reform was still in its strength – that showed a group of young people in a twin cab  dancing and singing about their future being “this land of ours, our Zimbabwe”. I was 19 years old then and believe me, no amount of propaganda could have ever made me interested in picking up a hoe and planting anything!

So as Delta questions, how can we ensure that Zimbabwe’s youth indentify with this nation’s future?

Well, since I began with the example of Heroes’ Day, let me continue with it. For as long as I can remember, Heroes’ Day has always been an event about honouring people who died in the liberation struggle; about guts and gore and guns and corpses.

Heroes Day has never been about ordinary people. Instead, it’s almost always been a guilt trip with people being made to feel like they should be eternally grateful because the ‘freedom’ that they now enjoy is founded upon the death of someone who heeded the liberation maxim that stated Tora pfuti uzvitonge (Take a gun and rule yourself).

Now, that was more than 30 years ago. And appreciative we are. But progressive we also are. When a hazy picture of some liberation hero competes with the hazy idea of success for a young person, trust me that the latter will win out.

You can’t keep Zimbabwe’s youth interested through guilt and propaganda that doesn’t speak to any of their aspirations! It will not work.

Why, I ask, is the definition of a hero so narrowly defined anyway? Should one have died for their nation to be defined as such? Should one get the 21 gun salute to simply qualify?

Heroes abound among us – living and dead. My heroes include people like Oliver Mutukudzi who have put Zimbabwe’s music on the global map; Haru Mutasa who has shown other young black female Zimbabwean journalists that they can make it onto the international media platform; sporting legends like Kirsty Coventry, Peter Ndlovu and Benjani Mwaruwaru who have dazzled the world – all the while making us proud to say “Vana vedu ivavo!” (Those are our children!)

Other heroes are entrepreneurs like Strive Masiyiwa, Nigel Chinakire and the late Peter Pamire who have all shown that age should never be a deterrent to being financially successful and prosperous.

But Heroes’ Day doesn’t appreciate that. Its symbolism is too deeply entrenched in war and victory and what ZANU PF has done for Zimbabwe.

It is too much engrossed in the past to resonate with our youth who are flooding out of Zimbabwe’s border posts because of their disenchantment and disillusionment with the way this amazing nation called Zimbabwe is treating them, as well as everyone else.

Thirty years is a very long time to continue to laud past efforts.

And don’t get me wrong – the British and Americans still remember their war heroes too. But they also provide space for emerging leaders in different fields – look at the way living legends get knighted by the Queen of England or how getting a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame is such a prestigious thing for Americans.

Do we have anything similar? Do we have well-recognised national accolades or awards that are instantly recognisable?

Of course not. If your remains aren’t interred into the Heroes’ Acre, you just aren’t really a hero of any kind.

New heroes have been born since 1980. And while we remember the old, let’s also celebrate the current ones.

If we don’t get Zimbabwe’s young people excited about Zimbabwe, then who will rebuild our stumbling nation?

The solution I offer is to do as a popular South African song instructs – make the circle bigger. Only by applauding the good works of heroes that our young people can actually identify with can we ever hope to get them interested in building on the legacies of so many great Zimbabweans.

I am not saying do away completely with the old. Absolutely not! I am just saying we need to increase the options – across all sectors and within all fields.

Zimbabwe urgently needs a redefinition of what a hero is. And for me – and many others – the real heroes of my time aren’t the people who lived and died before I was born. They are the people I see myself in; the people I stencil my future against because of their singular focus on an unsubstantiated dream that could only become real through self-belief and faith in the elements.

I therefore call loudly – and without inhibition – on the establishment to take the time to seriously ponder celebrating Zimbabwe’s new heroes.

I See the Sunflowers In Your Eyes

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Monday, August 2nd, 2010 by Fungai Machirori

If you would have told me that I could co-author a book in my mid-twenties a decade ago, I would have laughed you off and told you you were mad!

Ask anyone who knew me as a teenager what I was like and they’ll probably tell you they are a bit surprised I have made something half-decent of myself since.

I was always the moody reclusive one who simply hated everything about me – from my height to my weight to my teeth to my feet to my soul. Nothing looked or felt good. Nothing about me seemed loveable – at least to me.

And I didn’t believe I had a vagueness of brightness in my future. Just take this entry into one of my old diaries that I earthed up recently:

Sunday August 20 2000

Time goes by. Hours turn to days which turn into weeks, months, years. Then eventually, you realise how everything is one day going to be a speck of nothing in history. What’s the whole point of this melodrama?

I continued the next day to say,

I can’t just base my life on delayed gratification and wait my turn in the Good Fortune’s Queue. There’s no future for a person who sees no future in their future.

It’s funny how I proved myself wrong because though I didn’t believe in a future for me, I did wait in that Good Fortune’s Queue and have made it to today to some place where I can say with affirmation that I AM going somewhere – and that that somewhere is to the top!

So what changed within me, you ask. At which point did I draw the line and decide that I would be someone and do something?

I can’t answer that question with any certainty because there was no line drawn, no unequivocal decision made.

A series of events – which at first seemed tragic – somehow led me to today where I can look back and say, “Ah, yes, that had to happen to get me to today!”

What are those events?

The most important has to be the collision between the spectacular fall from grace of the Zimbabwean economy and my ending high school. While everyone else’s folks were able to send them to South Africa, Australia, the UK and the US for a sound university education, I had to stay behind and wade through a new culture of learning and living that was far removed from my pristine private school education.

I had to learn to queue for money, bread, milk and text books; to save up my devaluing spending money to check information on the Internet; to catch the slow-chugging uncomfortable train between Bulawayo and Harare on semester breaks and lastly (and most unpleasantly) to share communal bathrooms in a dingy YWCA hostel where the scampering rats in the roof kept me company on the late nights I stayed up to read.

I often felt like giving up and saying it was too hard for me, that I was too fragile, too broken to keep fighting. And there were tears and thoughts of giving up for I didn’t see the future in my future.

But somehow I didn’t give up, hardly knowing where the fight back could possibly take me, hardly believing that I could ever catch up with all my former schoolmates whose lives in the photos I saw of them seemed so much more of a joy to live than my much tougher version.

And slowly, things began to open up. Slowly, I began to surprise even myself – the hardened sceptic who had preached doom over my own life. Slowly, the words that I wrote and shared began to resonate with life and recognition among people I could never have believed read them.

Perhaps my most startling revelation was one fine Wednesday morning in May 2007, when as an intern on university attachment, I received an email from an organisation based far off in Uganda telling me that I had won an Africa-wide award for HIV and AIDS communication for the articles I had been writing about the epidemic in my part of the world. Just remembering the moment, I can feel the same knot of incomprehensible excitement tighten within my belly.

My prize was to finally leave Zimbabwe, after 23 years of never having seen anything but this one nation, to get on an aeroplane for the first time in my life and fly off to Sandton in South Africa to stay in the Hilton Hotel and attend fancy does and tour some of the must-see places in Gauteng.

Call that a quadruple shock and delight to my system!

And now, I cannot even condense what has happened in my life in just three short years since that adventure.

A lot of it is unbelievable, indescribable, magical.

There’s no future for a person who sees no future in their future.

I wrote that once with my own hands. I spoke negativity into my own situation yet in many ways I said something so very true.

There is no future for a person who sees no future in their future.

When I couldn’t see the future myself, God saw it for me instead. I have no doubt that it is He who has picked me up on the many occasions that I have fallen and broken. And He hasn’t done this for only my benefit.

He has done this so that I may be an example of what can come from the humblest and most improbable of beginnings, of what can flower from an unyielding bud.

Today, I hold a book in my hand – a book of some of the poems that I wrote in my deepest despair and fears about the world, a book of many poems that define me today as a woman who knows what I want and where I am going.

There is a future for me.

And that’s because finally, I see a future in my future.

See a future in your future too, and flower wild and uncontainable.

And yes, enjoy the sunflowers in your eyes.