Death of a Peasant

They toiled in the fields day in and day out. The rains came, so was the scorching sun. But they all remained determined to yield a bumper harvest. They believed the field was their only source of income. Mr Rwizi and family had managed to send their kids to school. They managed to get some proceeds from their agricultural activities mainly cotton. They were deeply engaged in cash crop production so as to earn a livelihood. But, it was the abusive husband who controlled the cash, just like in most patriarchal societies. Like in most African countries women’s access to and control of economic resources and opportunities, including land remains limited and schewed in favour of men. These structural inequalities and exclusion further necessitated a gendered difference in access to and control over income and resources not only to the Rwizi family but to many other households in Musana Communal lands.

To this end, the Rwizi family had family conflicts now and again, just like in any other normal family set up. They had numerous quarrels, but their quarrels had started long back, dating back to the days of the Beijing Platform. Most men in the village spoke strongly against the so called empowerment and ‘domination’ of women over men. The male folk believed that women had assumed the power to and power over them. Regrettably, the feminists and the women movement seem to have failed to explicitly articulate the concept and practice of women’s empowerment in the post Beijing platform. Consequently, the society seemed to be at war. Thus, many gendered conflicts emerged in the post Beijing platform. Such conflicts were the order of the day in the Musana communal lands.

Generally, men viewed the Beijing Platform as a forum that advocated for the transfer/shift of the levers of power from men to women. Thus, many men were strongly against the praxis of women’s empowerment. In the rural areas the narrative about men saying ‘we cannot be ruled by petticoat government’ was so common in many rural villages in Africa. This saying reinforces the redundant and patriarchal thinking in most African communities which puts men at the centre of decision making processes. Largely, there is a Cultural belief in Africa based on the concept of male supremacy which advocates that men should be in charge of decision making in many key processes stemming from the household to the entire outside community.

It was after selling the cotton that Mr Rwizi went with the whole money to the City. Her wife had no say over the use and allocation of the money. ‘I cannot be controlled by a woman, I paid bride price to her family, I bought her…’ that was Mr Rwizi’s famous saying. Some said lady luck could not smile on Mr Rwizi as he went to seek the services of a prostitute who swindled the whole money accrued from the sale of cotton. He stayed in the in the once famous Mushandirapamwe Hotel. Upon hearing that her husband had swindled all the money they had struggled to earn, Mrs Rwizi took pesticides and took her life.

A life of an innocent woman was lost! Why, why, but why couldn’t she wait to enjoy the fruits all of her sacrifices. Her wishes of seeing her children growing and graduating followed her into a crudely dug grave. The news of Mrs Rwizi’s death spread like a veld fire in the entire Musana village. The village was gripped with a somber mood. Everyone was grieving. People were just whispering in low tones saying ‘How can Men act like that…’ some were saying ‘she should have not taken her life, instead she should have sought counseling and advice from village elders’. Some were already gossiping and chuckling in giggles saying ‘this can’t be done to me, Never my dead BODY’. The last born to the deceased woman wept uncontrollably as she kept on shouting ‘I want to go too! I want to go Too!’, tears were all over as she cried, and ‘I want to go with mom’….

They say if you are not touched, you will never be touched….

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High Table Syndrome

Many will remember the famous quote by Bismarck which reads ‘the great question of the day cannot be determined by speeches but by blood and iron’. By then, the Bismarckian thinking placed much emphasis on hard power. Bismarck believed that might was always right when it comes to solving global conflicts. However, the Bismarckian time is now behind us. The world has witnessed many geo-political changes. The world has drifted from being a bi-polar to a uni-polar world. With the demise of the former USSR and the end of the Cold war the world gravitated into being a unipolar world that witnessed the hegemonic dominance of the US as the major global ‘big brother’. With the treaty of Westphalia the traditional statist approach to international relations and unquestioned power of states disintegrated. The Westphalia treaty heralded a new era in the global system, for the first time in history states became subjects of international law.

 Meaning to say states could no longer willy-nilly do what they please without international scrutiny under international law. This era marked a new era of global governance. Some may refer to it as a new era of global order. However, I beg to differ, I view this era as a new era of global ‘disorder’. However, it should be noted that this global ‘disorder’ was somehow more organized than in the previous years. This era marked the era of multi-lateralism. An era of multi-lateral institutions became the order of the day. On a global level the United Nations, International Court of Justice, International Criminal Tribunal and other special tribunals were established. On a regional and continental level many institutions also saw the light of day. Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), European Union (E.U) ECOWAS, MAGREB UNION and the African Union also came into existence. The discourse about resolving conflicts through peaceful means became so popular. The era of High Table Syndrome became a reality of the day.

 UN special envoys and peace keeping missions were deployed in various hot spots be it in Africa, Latin America and Middle East. It was the era of Boutros Boutros Ghali and Koffi Annan being the big men responsible for bringing world peace. As the UN officials set on the High table they ordered the UN forces to intervene in Kosovo, Eritrea, Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and East Timor amongst a host of other troubled areas. This era saw non-state actors actively involved in issues that were dominantly perceived to be in the arena of states. Surprisingly, as the 1994 genocide was raging on in Rwanda statesman were sitted at the High table drinking orange juice and bottled water at the UN level. As women were being raped, abused and murdered in cold blood in Serbia-Herzegovina and Srebrenica the world stood aloof. Men clad in expensive Giorgio Armani suits, wearing expensive …perfumes and deodorants were silent about issues that matter. Women wearing expensive make ups were also quite when the whole world was being torn apart. The same happened in Mozambique during the Mozambican civil war, so was the situation in Angola. As Zimbabwe was ‘burning and crushing’ the political elites were locked in endless debates at various SADC summits. As the political elites were drinking bottled water and orange juice, ordinary Zimbabweans were wallowing in poverty. Our hearts were shattered hearing that Zimbabwe had fallen victim to cholera. We could not believe ourselves as a nation that in this 21st Century Zimbabwe could be plagued with a cholera epidermic. As we drank unsafe water from unprotected wells in the city of Harare, politicians were drinking Mineral water in 5 star Rainbow Hotel. One may ask are our politicians sincere and sensitive to our problems. As many political opponents were at each other’s throat in Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe politicians in the Inclusive Government (IG) were shaking hands at a colourful launch of a Peace Indaba at the once famous Sheraton Hotel. Indeed they were bluffing! They sat on the High table and promised us ‘false peace’!

As the Syrian crisis rages on statesman and diplomats are constantly locked at the UN level and in hotels in Syria. Whilst they debate the Syrian crisis they drink bottled water whilst blood is being spilled outside the verandah of their hotels. Why has the world suddenly become addicted to the high table syndrome instead of really addressing issues from a localized standpoint. As long as we roll red carpets for our politicians to step on, as long as we stage a high table for them, the more we will justify their domination and oppression over us. The quicker we say enough is enough the better. The sooner we take the leaders to the grassroots to experience  our  daily struggles the gunshots, violence, cholera, burst sewer  pipes and our poverty, the sooner they will change for the better. In the words of one writer ‘Put the politicians on a minimum wage and watch how things will change’. In my words I also argue that take away the privilege of a high table, with bottled water and Orange juice and watch how responsive politicians will be to our problems.

Struggle for Territory: Graves, Symbols, Memory and the Politics of Forgetting

 

I vividly remember how caterpillars came and razed our homesteads. In the stillness of night, we were awakened by the noise of the Caterpillar and Bulldozers. By then I was still young. But the memories are still fresh and alive in my mind as I write. Barely has our struggle been acknowledged in history. The forgotten struggle of the Tangwena people in Eastern Nyanga. It is a tale of people suffering for territory to put it in Donald Moore’s words. Maybe we are a forgotten people. Imagine working up one morning to find the whole village in rubbles. How could you react suddenly waking up to hear that your land has been parceled to a company known as Cold Comfort? We were told the Company had a Court Order and had (title deeds)/ rights to the land we believed rightfully belonged to us. We lost the rights to our land. Indeed the law failed to act as a ‘shield’ to protect us as villagers instead it was used as a ‘spear’ and offensive tool to further dispossess and impoverish the Tangwena people.

Having said the above it should be noted that, in history there is always a striking similarity in how governments treat the ruled in a similar way in different historical epochs. During the era of colonialism the Tangwena people in Eastern Zimbabwe were forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands by the colonial white settler regime. Firstly, they were made to believe that they had settled into a National Park, hence the colonial administrators justified their evictions. The Tangwena people in defiance of the colonial evictions fled to Mozambique before finally relocating back as noted by Moore (1999). Years later in an independent Zimbabwe, the Tangwena people still experienced the same fate under black majoritarian rule. Akin to previous pre and colonial evictions brute force was used to dispossess the Tangwena people of their ancestral land in post-colonial Zimbabwe. After having witnessed the legacy of evictions, many elderly people by then, started  asking  in hushed tones  ‘is this what we fought for’?

Even as of today I can still recreate the images of women holding their small babies crying as they watched their huts  and granaries being razed down by the caterpillars. They could not hold back their tears as they were being dispossessed of their source of livelihood (land). Although the peasants had been blessed by the Gods with the Trout Fish in the surrounding rivers and dams, many could not imagine engaging in de-peasantisation by shifting from an agrarian livelihood to non-agrarian livelihoods like fishing. At the epicenter of the peasant’s struggle was the thorny issue of competing cultural constructions of the landscape itself – a rainmaking territory and a chieftainship (Tangwena people) as noted by (Moore 1999). All the above cultural contestations were tied to the cultural politics of identity, tribe and belonging.

This story is indeed a tale of two communities resisting the concept of development through dispossession. Many years later, I am now doing my Masters study, and I come face to face with the sad irony of history. They say history will never repeat itself but I saw history repeating itself. As I interviewed them, they gave shocking narratives of how they internalized their graves as symbols of recreating and reconnecting with their loved ones. They are a small community, which used to be a laid back community-that is before the so called ‘diamond rush’ began in 2006. The discovery and the subsequent mining of the Chiadzwa diamonds witnessed forcible displacement of many villagers out of their ancestral land to a disused farm along the Harare–Mutare highway (Odzi area) at a specific locality known as Arda Transau. This was done under the government’s development induced displacement programme. As I am doing my data collection I come to realize that the community is emotionally attached to its ancestral lands. Indeed there is cultural politics of identity, territory and community that is strongly alive in their hearts and minds.

 ‘The only thing I am praying to God right now is for them to spare the graves of my children’, she was wearing a sorrowful face. I looked at her and she shifted her eyes avoiding mine. I was battling with tears. I wanted to empathize and sympathize with her. She plucked a leaf from the nearby shrub and started chewing. Before she could swallow I saw her spitting to the ground. A tear was sliding down from the corner of her eye lid; I saw mucus running down her nostrils. I offered her a piece of softex tissue. ‘Thank you my son’. That’s all she could say. Instead she used the back of her hand to wipe the mucus! I sighed to myself. God help the troubled poor soul. It was so touching witnessing a 92 year old granny shedding tears. I ended the interview.

 I felt bad; with my pen and voice recorder and writing pad I had aroused deeper emotional feelings in her. She was now trying to reconnect with her deceased children. As I sat on the reed mat I equated myself to a messenger who brings bad news to the village.  This old woman, like many other villagers they had sacrificed their land, history, heritage, rights and entitlements for the ‘diamond ring’ they will never dream of wearing nor appreciate its beauty. Neither do they know about Antwerp (world diamond processing city) in Belgium.

As I interacted with them, the Chiadzwa people lamented passionately about the loss of identity given their emotional, spiritual and physical ties to the land in Chiadzwa. It is the issue of exhumation and destruction of the graves of their relatives that made them to resist the relocations. In an African setting grave enables one to connect with the dead. Graves play a very symbolic role in an African society. Most Africans, including the Chiadzwa people believes that the dead are part of the living. But with the commercialization of the diamond mining in Zimbabwe, memories proved to have no place in the hearts of government officials. As they struggle for territory, they struggle for memory, they struggle for re-memorialisation, and they struggle against the memory of forgetting about their ancestral lands, norms, practices and values. They viewed relocation to an alien land in itself as a psychological alienation from one’s roots. They viewed relocation as a form of ethnocide-a process in which their culture would become distinct.

Who are these people? These are the people of Chiadzwa in Eastern Zimbabwe. The same happened to the Tangwena people. As for the Tangwena people many years have passed by, but their memories are still fresh. This is a tale of two communities suffering for territory, graves, memory and the politics of forgetting.

 

 

 

 

We “[h]ear the voices; the cries of the affected beings. We choose to Ignore. People have to be awakened! Truths have to be told! And I am writing to bear witness!”* This is a tale of two communities found at the crossroads. History may not repeat itself but it may rhyme.