The Embarrasment

They were coming from the church, they were preparing for a Sunday outing, they were clad in their Sunday best. I was desperately late for our first official introductions. “Where are you dear”? My Nokia C3 was flashing an incoming new message. Fiona my fiancée was texting. She was feeling unease and was afraid too, that the whole episode will flop especially with the character of his dad. Although time is not so important in many African gatherings, Fiona’s mother was that type of a mother who was so particular   and conscious when it comes to time management.

As I dashed out of the room, I grabbed my car keys. I was somehow feeling nervous and unease. I could hear some butterflies in my stomach. The fear was if whether her family would accept me as their future son in law. If not why and what next? All these questions flooded my mind. To make matters worse I was clad in my fading denim jeans, a green T- shirt with the inscription Polo emblazoned in front and around the collar. In case the weather was going to change, I also grabbed my corduroy jacket. Who knows? With the first formal meet up with your fiancée’s parents maybe you will be forced to stay longer, I just imagined. More so with the changing weather patterns, it was always wiser to walk around with a jacket. To make matters worse I had not checked the day’s weather temperature. Upon asking Fiona about the dressing she had just said, “Gift honey don’t dress to kill, just dress smartly as usuall, take it lightly handsome” she giggled.

It was 2 hour drive from my place to the Eastville were Fiona’s parents stayed. A nicely built state of the art mansion, built with the idea of withstanding the test of time. It could be easily mistaken for a presidential mansion. From the exterior they had a well decorated Dura wall which matched well with the various pieces of art that were neatly placed in the gardens. I just said to myself “this must have costed them a fortune”. As I pulled to halt my Nissan 323 I discovered that Fiona’s parents had all sorts of cars which I will not care to mention. Lunch was served in the gardens. From the corner of my eye, I could afford to steal some glances to Fiona. During our meal I also discovered that her parents were so particular about table manners. We finished our meal all in silence. They say silence is golden, but there are times when silence cease to be golden. Frankly speaking I never felt at ease despite the fact that I tried as much as possible to feel at home. With the expensive lifestyle, taste and insatiable appetite for nice things Fiona’s place was never homely for me.Fiona’s dad finally broke the silence. “SON I thank you for coming, we were really expecting and looking ahead to your visit”. “It’s also a pleasure for me to be here dad, it’s an important part of the journey of cementing a lifelong relationship with you as my new family”, I said politely. After having said this I saw Fiona smiling shyly. After giving me a 45 minute interrogation on my career, family status, education, status, ambition etc. Fiona’s dad finally said to me…

             “Young man, you don’t meet our class and standards, so forget about marrying our daughter”.

As she walked me through to my old Nissan 323,the mother who had been silent all along loudly retorted

       “Fiona that should be your last time of seeing that guy!!”

A bitter pill to swallow, it was, after having been together for quite some time I could not hold back tears. Tears of love that were streaming down the contours of my cheeks. What an Embarrassment!

Stop AIDS!

To put it in Charles Dickens’s words, it was the best of times; it was the worst of times.Uncle Fanuel lived a fast but reckless life to say the least. Little did he knew that the fun and joy that was brought by the city lights was only short-lived like the lick of an ice-cream. He had a good job. But ironically he lived a hand to mouth life style. Partying hard, night clubbing and of course women of all shapes and sizes voluntarily availed themselves to him. What else could uncle Fanuel need? Some succumb to identity crisis and some live to their principals. But, not many will live to their principals. Such is life. Such is the corrosive effect of social pressure.

In an era were advertisements were being flighted in the buses, trains, beerhalls,bill boards and on radio and on television, even a 10yr old child should have been aware that HIV/AIDS was here to stay. Whether one like it or not. The sad reality of our time is that the pandemic is ravaging our families leaving a trail of child headed families and many orphans scattered all over our societies. Musicians have also played their part in sensitizing the community about abstinence, protection and how to combat and fight stigma and discrimination. All the same such efforts seem to be hitting a brick wall as long as people like uncle Fanuel still exist in our society. NGOs have also mushroomed in the last two decades, with efforts targeted at eradicating the HIV/AIDS scourge. Policy makers day in day out are deeply engaged in trying to find a way out. So are scientists. Many laboratory tests are being carried out so as to find a cure. Preachers and pastors are also praying the world over seeking for divine solutions to deal with the issue of HIV/AIDS. There is general consensus from many sections of the social strata that the disease is here to stay. Such that much emphasis seems to be directed towards mitigation rather than finding a sustainable curative solution.

However, there are people like my own uncle Fanuel who sternly believed that HIV/AIDS is like lotion. Such misconceptions therefore stall back the achievement and efforts of eradicating and fighting the disease. Many people have often turned a deaf ear to issues of HIV/AIDS. This is so since individually we don’t want to believe that it may affect and infect us. More often, we live in self-denial and we perceive the disease as affecting those of loose moral and not us. As I grew up with uncle Fanuel, I never imagined that one day, he would fall victim. For he was that type of a character who also viewed the disease as something alien, that we only read from the books or see some other people suffering from and not us. Every day of his life he would bring ladies of the night, of all shapes and sizes in our crammed one roomed house in Majubheki Lines in Mbare.For some who don’t know much about Harare, Majubheki lines is in Mbare high density suburb one of the oldest black township. The township was established in such a way that it could cater for bachelors only whilst their wives and families resided in the rural areas. That was during the colonial period, during the era of black labor in various industries in the so called ‘Sunshine City’ now known as Harare.

Back to uncle Fanuel! Uncle Fanuel would always come home dead drunk. He was an ardent believer of the traditional African misconceptions and adage that says, “A fighting bull is witnessed by scars”. Little, did he knew that there isn’t anything macho and masculine about the HIV/AIDS pandermic.He also lived in a society were men discussed with great haste and boasted about their ‘small houses’ (extra-marital households) in the verandahs of beerhalls. Some term such as beer hall talk. That was the mark of being a man.Being a man amongst other men in a society. What a miserable society we live in!!

Every night when I was deep in my sleep uncle Fanuel would awaken me with the sounds of the squeaky bed. Having no options I would just pretend to fall asleep. I would wrap myself in the one and only blanket and cover my head. I had to learn to cope with the daily reality. In most cases I would suffer from insomnia and wake up the next morning feeling tired and sleepy. Eventually, one Sunday morning when people were clutching their bibles going to worship, we were ferrying uncle Fanuel to the Mother of Peace Private Clinic. As I waited sitting on the bench in the clinic, I saw ambulances coming in and out of the clinic. Sirens ringing, I knew they heralded the birth of a new born baby or the death of someone. For a ringing siren at the hospital two imaginations come to mind, either the arrival of a woman about to deliver or an innocent soul being taken away from this earth. But, in an era were births are fewer than deaths, I saw many relatives coming out of the clinic shedding tears. Weeks passed into months whilst uncle Fanuel lay in bed, he was terribly ill frankly speaking. The doctor had said that he had failed to diagnose the actual disease.

So we just kept praying for uncle Fanuel to recover. But, by each passing day his situation proved to be worse and worst. His condition deteriorated by the rise of sunshine as each new day came. Whenever I brought him bananas he would complain that the bananas were cold, I should have warmed them. I never saw any single face of the night ladies who were habitual visitors in our one roomed house visiting uncle Fanuel. They never visited him whilst he was on his deathbed. After eight months of serious suffering uncle Fanuel left us in the eerie morning of 16 November 2007. He was gone and gone for good.I felt a bit at ease. For his soul had been rested. After, having seen him suffering on the deathbed I wished he was made to rest. Uncle Fanuel’s determination and personal struggle to survive was immense but inside I could see that he was waging a losing battle. The virus was slowly but gradually eating him in the core and marrow of his bones. For everyone who visited him could feel pity for him. He had become pale and very pale. At last he was laid to rest. With all the emotions and pain, I weeped.For I knew I would never meet again with my uncle.

Two days later after the burial, I am sited in the one room. But, this time I am alone. There is no more uncle Fanuel.There are no more frequent visits of the ladies of the night (commercial sex workers). I am playing songs from various musicians. The playlist is as follows ‘Mukondombera Imhandu yedu’ (literally meaning that HIV/AIDS is our enemy) by – Charles Charamba. ‘Todii/senzenjani’– (What can we do in the light of HIV/AIDS & how painful is it to keep HIV/AIDS amongst ourselves) by the superstar Oliver Mtukudzi.The most touching of all the songs is one belted by Steve Makoni entitled Vakasasana Zvikapera (The song is a lamentation that you enjoyed your life but now it’s the end because the virus has taken its toll).Whether we will find solution or not to this pandermic, time shall tell. But with behavior change we can!

The disease is alive and it starts with you to make a difference. Let’s all join the United Nations ‘IT BEGINS WITH YOU CAMPAIGN’ and make a difference in our localities.

True story based on true happenings. Let us be the change we want to see.

Greatest Loss

The epitaphs on the graves even propelled the tears to cascade down the contours of my face. A time when tears become a release not a sorrow. To lose one you love, one so close to you, one you hold dearly in your heart. What a painful and sorrowful loss! Every minute I pray to be released from my private agony, from the nights that haunt my sleep and the days that tortures my conscience. Recreating the image of the house and family were laughter and love was an everyday reality is unbearable. I doubt if I will ever forget such a loss. Every day in my sleep their memories visit me.Every night they whisper to me deep in my slumber, that I should not be vengeful, for I should not judge. Biblically, it is also written that we should not judge for the almighty is the one who has the final say to judge on the Day of Judgment when all men and women will bow down before the almighty and answer for their deeds.

They say forgiveness is a journey, but indeed after this traumatizing experience forgiveness proved to remain impossible. When one curse the ancestors and the powers that be in a society. It was the Lord’s decision which no human being can appeal to neither reject. Indeed it is a process in which all we shall bow down to, one day. When fate summons men shall obey. However, what is more painful is the fact that men have assumed the role of the almighty in taking lives, in the society we live in today. I vividly remember the days when I left for University. The greatest woman in my life Mother Maria used to pack the little foodstuffs in my old black suitcase emblazoned with the trade mark. MILANO TRAVELLER.Made in Italy. ‘This packet of biltong and dried vegetables will take you through the whole semester’. I still recall even up to now these words. Having grown up in a small village in Musana communal lands, were we eked a subsistence living, life was a struggle. I knew somewhere in my country some children grew up in the leafy low density suburbs in a big mansion with sliding glass doors. Such is life. Back to my University life, life itself was tough given the calibre of students that I met. Issue of social class really affected me psychologically and socially. But, this didn’t distract me from my educational dreams.

It was in Musana Village, a village I had grown to love. A village which was a haven of humanity, that I was robbed of my only pillar of strength .I recall the days of my youth hood, when we were sternly cautioned not to cut down trees.Repatriatiation of my mind to such days is only refreshing but also painful especially after the fateful episode that took away the ones I loved dearly, with whom I loved with the every bit of my heart and soul. Days flied past as weeks rushed with great haste, the semester was nearing to an end. I opened the envelope which had been addressed in red by the Pastor,

Dear Togarasei

My adrenalin signaled that something was amiss somewhere, somehow. I felt weak in my bones and my stomach was irresistibly rumbling. The whole word had collapsed, for I had been robed. The centre could no longer hold, things had fallen apart to quote the great Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. The work of the enemy had triumphed. My family members including my mom, brother and sister were all burnt to death. The enemy set ablaze our hut, torching my family to death, all done under the name of political differences. This happened during the so called moment of political madness. An era when politics seemed to have triumphed over humanity and common sense. A period were neighbours turned against each other. It was the work of the devil. The funeral procession is so sweeping. Amidst  the mourners is my church pastor making the incarnations ‘Dust to Dust’ ‘Ashes to Ashes’…”You are the Alpha and the Omega”. The mourners are singing the usual song which was my mom’s favorite ‘Hatina Musha Panyika’ loosely translated meaning we don’t have a permanent house or place here on earth, we are just living temporarily. As I cry uncontrollably I watch the grave diggers filling up the graves with red soils and relatives placing flowers on top of the graves. I am still battling with the sad reality that I will never see or meet again with my family. Upon this realisation ‘the Human Being in me dies’ on this fateful day.

After the loss, I tried in vain to forget. But the harder I try, the difficult it becomes. Many at times I try to put the Bible in my mouth clenching it between my teeth .In a bid to swallow the word of God and gulp it in my soul. I have since made peace with myself, I also wish to make peace with my enermies, although they haven’t come up front and take responsibility for their evil deeds. I know it is for the Lord to judge, so I leave it to my Lord to judge. Certainly, I know that my family is resting in eternal peace, but that does not ease the profound heartfelt pain of missing them. I can only seek solace in the fact that one day even if justice evades us on earth, those who took my family will be judged by the creator.

When Politics Tear Us Apart…

A closely knit society, where we all shared the little we had:

Some say it will never rain but pour. It hurts much when we see our society being torn apart due to artificial differences. In a small community in Zimbabwe villagers lived cheek-to-jowl with each other, that is before the external forces ‘invented’ some differences and imaginations for political expediency. It was a society that lived in harmony. It was indeed a closely knit community; a community where everyone could borrow salt from the neighbour. This then means that, the social relations were quite sound. However, with the passage of the sands of time, events turned topsy- turvey. Events followed one another with great speed, especially after the consciousness and preaching of the gospel of nationalism, patriotism, ZANUism and all other isms.

For it is these ‘isms’ that have brought suffering to this small community. It is June 2008 and Zimbabwe is poised for another major nationwide election. Fear has gripped this small village. The villagers now hate all politicians. Politicians came and started preaching the gospel of diversity amongst a closely knit community.  Some even promised delivering the suffering villagers to the biblical Promised Land. However to my utter surprise the community still wakes up to this day to realise that the proverbial Promised Land is indeed an illusory nightmare not even a dream.

They came with posh cars, promised us heaven on Earth and the next day we woke up to see our village still in ‘hell’. They drank Mineral (bottled water) and Orange juice, we staged a high table for them, and women spread some cloths for the politicians to step on. This was indeed a red-carpet given to people who later divided us, pitying brother against brother. Shame on Us. Nyanga district has always been a harmonious place to live. Villagers were socialized to live up to the standards of brotherhood and unity, through the cordial community cohesion. One cannot imagine that, this was a society were villagers could share oxen (cattle) to plough the fields of one’s neighbour.

I also grew up in this society, and I also grew accustomed to the love, care, unity, togetherness that was pervasive in our society. I am also reminded of the sayings that goes, “An Injury to ONE is an injury to all”. This is perhaps the vocabulary that inspired us and even several other villagers to live in peace and harmony with each other. It was a small community, were one was taught that, No man is an Island. This by no means meant that, ‘every child was everyone’s child’. The biblical teachings and the Christian principles taught the society to love one another. I was really touched by this sense of ‘oneness’ that is despite the high levels of poverty in our community. The community members still loved one another.

One old woman used to tell me that you cannot be poor to reach an extent that you will not have anything to give at all. These words kept on ringing at the back of my mind. Each and every day, I witnessed the poor villagers giving each other seedlings in the gardens, match sticks to light fire in their huts, small parcels of sugar in khaki cover packets. Men also drank the home-made beer from the same gourd without any slightest fear of being poisoned. They all contributed in various ways in preparing the home-brewed beer popularly known as ‘7 Days’, meaning to say the beer fermented and was ready for drinking within a seven day period. Each time one of the community member fell ill, the whole community would collectively assist in various ways. Some could bring firewood or a bucket of water. This was all done in all earnest, out of true love, kindness and compassion. Every time I saw these poor villagers giving the little love they had, I said to myself what was a closely knit society we live in.

A society where we were taught that what belongs to one belongs to all. This was in clear contrast to individualism as espoused by some so called developed communities. In our community ‘collectivism’ was the buzzword in every sphere of our lives. This was an essential value of ‘humanism’ a concept that has been explained by many as “Ubuntu” meaning oneness and people’s loveliness. Collectively people would till their land and harvest their crops collectively, they would go hunting and fishing together. They even farmed in the same garden that was established by NGOs like the German Agro Action. This garden was a form of collectivization programme, were people shared and exchanged ideas, not only socially but also economically and religiously. It is a society in which I grew up loving everyone, and I guess everyone did the same. We knew the names of our friends, peers, colleagues and relatives. Every day we met either at school, dip tank, shops, bore hole, well and in our gardens. Like in most societies as reflected in the Former Yugoslavia, politicians started preaching hate language and they also embarked on mindless political propaganda on concepts such as state, nationalism, patriotism etc. The same also happened in Rwanda, the community became torn apart with some naming fellow community members ‘cockroaches’.

Our community was also not immune to such fictionalized and imaginary differences. As I write I still passionately feel grieved and touched over the sad erosion of cordial community relations, peace and tranquility that characterized our community. The encroachment of hate language and speech and the triumphant of evil have since become our daily realities. As politicians went ahead preaching the discourse of political diversity, brother turned against brother as can be reflected back in the biblical case of Cain and Abel. The elders were also not left out, fellow youth slaughtered animals belonging to their neighbours, stole, beat and harassed innocent civilians due to the mere politics of belonging. It was an era of bases which were popularly known as ‘pungwes or Command Centres’. At such gatherings the poor, frail and elderly women were made to spent the whole night awake singing and ululating whilst the war veterans and green bombers (youth brigades) were busy beating the so-called ‘sell-outs’  loosely named as ‘vatengesi’ in Shona. Literally meaning people who had abandoned the liberation war values, doctrines and ideologies as espoused by the so called revolutionary ZANU PF party. As if not enough the comrades at the bases forced the villagers to sing ‘Gandanga Haridye Derere Mukoma’. This meant that the war veterans could not eat vegetables as relish as they preferred meat. Such discourse through the song narrative re-kindled the profound and sad memories of the liberation struggle. By so doing the helpless villagers contributed the chicken and goats they had in fear of a replay or rendition of violence that had visited them during the dark days during the war of liberation.

Houses were torched to ashes. Community relations became sour, scientific political labels seemed to have been triumphant in our lives. We all forgot that political parties are only but mere scientific labels. We also forgot that belonging to a political party is just equal to an act of belonging to a different soccer club. Violence was meted on innocent civilians, and the very same violence visited our communities in savage proportions, leaving a trail of despair, fear, solitude, disillusionment, hatred and anger. It was a society torn apart indeed.

Politicians went on fermenting these conflicts whilst hiding under the veil of ‘political madness’. All these justifications made peace a treasure hunt in our community. Peace became illusory to many innocent vulnerable civilians. Everyone became a victim of this moment of madness, we all lost our nobility of character .Virtue was traded by vice. As of now I still look back to that closely knit community. I even spent sleepless nights thinking about the future of my community. More painfully I fail to have the courage to greet all our neighbours who have wronged us. In the same vein, I still pray to God to give me the courage to one day stand in front of my neighbours and look each other straight in the eye. My mother used to buy clothes, shoes, kitchen utensils from town and give the underprivileged but she has since stopped.

Relations in our communities are now at the lowest ebb, and they are also now very cold and frozen. We all wish to turn back the clock of time. All the same nobody has emerged a winner in all this madness. But we have all become losers, we are unable to circle and freely associate as fellow community members. We can’t release our attachments; these are the emotional attachments that are drowning our inner self. The writing is on the walls for everyone to see, it will take many years to wipe out the imprinted etches of violence and hatred that is deeply embedded in our community as I speak. To make matters worse the community also lost an 86 year old peace loving grandfather Mr Rwisai Nyakauru due to political violence that was unleashed on him subsequently leading to his sorrowful untimely death.

 As of now all the accustomed night dances, the cordial sharing and giving its now only but a thing of the past. It will certainly take time to see smoke rising again in the chimneys of our neighbours, for we no longer come close to each other. Deep wounds continue to fester our hearts, the poison of past hatred continue to haunt the present and the future. As I write my tears ooze uncontrollably, for forgiving and forgetting seems a distant pipe dream. But I seek solace in the fact that GOD teaches us to forgive, turning the other cheek. We all know that an eye for eye will make this world blind and an ear for an ear will make this world deaf. The character of innocent civilians was soiled; pride of women has been trampled upon. It is doubtful whether these women will move from being victims into being survivors of rape. It is also very difficult to regain their pride and it is even more painful to reflect daily on the agony and violence they have gone through. All these psychological wounds have left scars in us. The wounds have never healed. It will be difficult to pretend as if nothing has ever happened. Are we able to preach and live to the ‘politics of never again’.

However as of now I still value the courage and humility of Evelyn who happens to be my mother. She has since stretched her reconciliation hand, she has always said, “The door is always open, let’s forgive and forget”. However, without first of all healing the victims and the families of the victims I tend to prove my mother wrong. Reconciliation without transitional justice will never see the light of the day in our community. For our case is a case of a community torn apart. In a community were remorse is still a distant pipe dream, healing will always remain illusory and far-fetched.

We still carry that pain, it is part and parcel of our everyday lives. All the same our worlds are not that very much apart, that we cannot bridge them. If we all read from John Locke’s postulation that, “Law of reason  teaches us that no one ought to harm another in his/her life ,in health ,liberty, life or in possessions”. If we all learn this, we will build confidence and drink from the same well using the same gourd without any suspicion of being poisoned. I can hardly find the right words, but mere words alone without deeds will not be enough. I end this episode with some drops of tears flooding my eyes, I should end now, I am unable to go ahead. But I wonder if we are going to reach out to our neighbours, drink tea together under the tree, visit each other and still preach the gospel of ‘collectivism’, love and compassion. Are we able to stretch our hands again to give not a lifeless but a lively handshake? ARE we able to afford to smile to them not a plastic smile but a genuine warm smile and are they able to return back our smiles????? Are we able to live in peace without fearing the knock on our doors after dusk. Do we have the extra-ordinary will power to forgive and live with those who wronged us all under the banner of politics. How many will come out openly like how Eugene De Kock did in a must read book by Pumla Gobodo Madikizela entitled ‘A Human Being Died That Night’. De Kock referring to the victims’ survivors he said, ‘I wish I could do much more than say I am sorry, I wish there was a way of bringing their bodies back alive. I wish I could say, ‘here are your husbands…., but unfortunately I have to live with it’.

It is my deepest wish that many will also come forward and account for their evil deeds and ask for forgiveness. One day amongst the days in our lives can we cross the ‘RIVER BETWEEN’…? Can we IMAGINE A WORLD …….where there is no country to kill or die for, were all people live for today and the world will be one. These are none other than John Lennon’s lyrics. Can we live in a society where there is no ZANU PF or MDC? Will our people fight each other? Are we able to confront and overcome the ‘politics of silence and fear’? But it’s never too late to apologise. The award winning Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us that there is NO FUTURE WITHOUT FORGIVENESS.

Gift Mwonzora is a human rights researcher and peace activist. He is a holder of an M.A in Development studies majoring in Human Rights & Social Justice. He writes in his own capacity. He writes passionately about human rights, conflict, social justice, gender and international law contemporary issues.