So, my journey to Rwanda in December last year turned out to be a spiritual one. Of course, I didn’t realise it at the time.
When I left Harare, I was just going to see Kigali and experience life in a different part of Africa.
As it turned out, life had other ideas. Doesn’t it always?
Everyday I was in Kigali, I watched the sun rise. Without fail.
As long as the sun rises, there is hope yet. Maybe today will be better than yesterday. Maybe it will be worse. Who knows?
Rwanda was just what I needed. I got plenty of time for deep reflection on my life: what I want, what I need and more importantly, to find myself again. I realised that for a long time I was like a Zombie; just going through the motions, just going through life. For a long time, I was not putting myself first.
Rwanda changed that. All of a sudden, I could hear that little voice speak to me over and over again, saying “It is ok to be selfish sometimes.”
Rwanda somehow made me realise that it is never too late for a new beginning, despite the mistakes I have made along the way. I need not punish myself forever.
When I came back to Harare, I knew in my heart that it was not too late for a new beginning, even if I do not know the ending. I do not have to know for sure what will happen tomorrow. Sometimes, I just have to take a leap of faith and hope for the best.
Some days it will rain and my hair gets messed up. The rain will cloud my glasses and I cannot see clearly. Or my suede shoes get all muddy.
But I still appreciate the smell of the rain and the hope of plenty of maize, ulude and amakhomane at harvest time.
So, here is to a NEW BEGINNING.
To not knowing the ending but having the courage to start anyway; and having faith that things will somehow work out (God, the Tshabangu and Hadebe ancestors must be working behind the scenes).
To riding the boda boda despite my fear of falling off.
Murakoze Rwanda. Murakoze.
Hope. Faith. Courage.
This post has taken too long to put together.
Oh, I took a picture with Rwandan President, H.E. Paul Kagame soon after the press conference that concluded the 2016 Umushyikirano, Rwanda’s National Annual Dialogue. I am not one to shy away from a Kodak moment. I do not have any picture where I am smiling (or grinning?) that much. That just tells you how excited I was.
Anyway, back to the press conference. I asked President Kagame if he could relate hope, faith and courage to Rwanda and his reply was “absolutely.” That response and the Kodak moment were undoubtedly the highlights of my visit.
You see, for many years, the only thing I knew about Rwanda was the genocide. To me, the genocide defined Rwanda. I had no idea that there was much more to Rwanda than its painful past. I remember watching Hotel Rwanda and crying. I could not finish watching it. I did not try again.
So, when I started reading about Rwanda (minus the genocide), I was surprised. And somewhat confused. Could this be the same country? What had happened? Were people exaggerating? Was this the work of some high-profile PR company? I had to see the country for myself.
In October 2016 I finally decided I had to go to Rwanda, one way or the other. I had no idea at that time that the journey would materialise. Or that if it did, it would be a turning point for me; a spiritual journey I never knew I needed. A big thank you to the friends who made it happen.
I went to Rwanda in December to attend the Umushyikirano. I saw citizens holding Government officials to account; questioning them on development. I also witnessed Government officials reporting back to citizens on progress made on resolutions made at the 2015 Umushyikirano. I was shocked to hear President Kagame encouraging citizens to demand good service: “Service delivery is very important. If you are not satisfied with the service but you pay and just leave; you’re part of the problem. If you don’t demand quality service, you’re also to blame.”
I had to remind myself more than once that I was in Rwanda. The Rwanda I once associated only with genocide. More importantly, the Rwanda which is an African country.
I suspect I developed some form of cognitive dissonance in relation to Rwanda. How could a country in Africa do what Rwanda is doing, despite its history?
I found myself saying that the story of Rwanda should be the story of Africa, that it should be the norm; not the exception.
But what is the story of Rwanda, I asked? What is it about this story that needs to be told? I was well aware that there is no single narrative on Rwanda. There can never be, just like with any country I can think of; or anything for that matter.
But I was pretty sure that whoever told this story, no matter how they frame it, they would somehow talk about the genocide.
But my story of Rwanda goes beyond the genocide. It is about HOPE. FAITH. COURAGE.
Hope that, in the end, they will succeed.
Faith that they are doing the right thing, they are on the right path.
Courage to acknowledge their pain and somehow try to deal with it. The courage to continue living despite their pain.
I know a thing or two about pain. Wishing it could go away. Then I realise (not for the first time) that it simply won’t. It stays with me and insists that I acknowledge its existence at the most awkward of times. Sometimes it numbs me. At times, it seems to consume me and take over my whole being. So, I think it is a big deal to move forward, at whatever pace, despite one’s pain.
Rwanda gave me perspective about my own life in a very strange sort of way. That one decision that I had been dreading; that I did not want to make. But Rwanda gave me the courage to take a leap of faith and hope for the best. It was a spiritual journey I was not even aware I needed. So, Murakoze Rwanda. Murakoze.
Let me leave it here for today. This is just the first in a series of posts on Rwanda. Like I said, there is a lot to talk about: the clean streets, the tall buildings I saw going up in Kigali, the sunrise and sunset (which somehow looked and felt very different from any I have experienced) and the friendly people. Not forgetting the boda boda ride.
If there is one thing you take away from this post, let it be this: Many will write about Rwanda. There will be countless stories on Rwanda. No doubt, some will view it as a case study. But my story is one of HOPE. FAITH. COURAGE.
Yiyo Indaba Yam’ le. I-straight. Ayifun’ i-ruler.
Over the past week, I followed the #AIDS2016 Conference very closely. Thanks to Twitter, I felt as if I was one of the delegates in Durban. I was intrigued by the variety of issues under discussion, especially #SRHR for young women, AIDS and the gender dynamics and Key Populations (KPs).
I am particularly interested in KPs because they present a very interesting dimension to HIV/AIDS discussions. Countries pledge their commitment to reducing the prevalence rates yet they do not have specific programs targeting KPs. At least not at Government level. There is no official acknowledgement of the existence of KPs, hence we cannot openly discuss their vulnerability.
In Zimbabwe, for example, Sex Workers (SWs) are vulnerable to abuse from clients. If a client refuses to pay or assaults a sex worker, she is unlikely to report this to the police. In other words, the SWs do not have the protection of the law. I remember a few years back talking to sex workers who told me that approaching the police even if they have been violated is never an option for them because it opens them up to even more abuse. They also said they cannot report rape because “would the police, or anyone for that matter, believe that a sex worker had been raped?” This is in contrast to New Zealand where sex work was decriminalised in 2003 and sex workers report any violence to the police.
In Zimbabwe sex work is criminalised. Section 81(2) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act states: “Any person who publicly solicits another person for the purposes of prostitution shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level five or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both. “There was a time when police arbitrarily arrested women wearing mini-skirts for allegedly “loitering for the purposes of prostitution”, a crime that does not exist under Zimbabwe’s criminal laws. So the police were policing women’s clothing.
Overreaching is the only word that comes to my mind.
Fortunately, in 2015 the Constitutional Court outlawed the arrest of women on charges of solicitation in the absence any evidence. In other words, as long as there are no men to confirm that they had been approached, the arrest of the women is unconstitutional. This was a welcome ruling but the law remains; it criminalises sex work.
This criminalisation of sex work presents a predicament for the country. How do we reconcile the law with regards to sex work and the fight against AIDS? How can we win the fight against AIDS if a section of the population is left behind? How can we reduce new infections if sex workers are treated like criminals?
Mossman (2007) argues that criminalisation of sex work “seeks to reduce or eliminate the sex industry and is supported by those who are opposed to sex work on moral, religious…grounds.”
The dilemma is how to reconcile morality and/or religion with the reality of HIV/AIDS in our midst. Where do we start? How do we do it? We have a section of our society that is left out in the fight against HIV/AIDS. How do we address this? If we are to win the war against HIV/AIDS, we have to deliberately target KPs, including SWs. These interventions should ensure that SWs have access to justice (and hopefully reduce their abuse) and comprehensive healthcare services, including prevention and treatment of HIV.
According to the UNAIDS 2014 GAP Report, despite “enormous achievements in the last decade in the provision of treatment and the reduction of AIDS-related deaths, which fell by 39% between 2005 and 2015 in Sub-Saharan Africa, new infections among key populations are on the rise, specifically among…sex workers…” In sharp contrast, the infection rates among SWs is lower than in the general population in New South Wales, Australia, where sex work was decriminalised.
Decriminalisation has also been shown to avert new HIV infections among SWs. In its 2012 report “Prevention and Treatment of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections for sex workers in low and middle income countries”, UNAIDS says evidence indicates that where sex workers are able to negotiate for safer sex, HIV “risk and vulnerability can be greatly reduced.”
The ability to negotiate is greatly undermined in an environment where sex work is criminalised, as is the case in Zimbabwe. As long as sex workers are operating in an environment which criminalises their work, they will be at the mercy of their clients, the police or other people.
Decriminalising sex work is an important step to providing the protection that sex workers need. It will also ensure that we do not leave anyone behind in our battle against HIV/AIDS.
I am fully aware of our society’s negative views when it comes to sex workers. I can already see my fellow Christians coming at me with all manner of venom. But at the end of the day, sex workers are humans too. And that, to me, is the bottom line.
So yesterday we woke up to the news that Wicknell Chivayo had come to the rescue of about 200 Zimbabwean women trapped in Kuwait. These women had gone to Kuwait to seek greener pastures, as it were. Unfortunately, they were victims of human trafficking and were turned into sex slaves.
It is an open secret that our economy has taken a knock in the past few years. The extent of that knock depends on who you ask.
Of course the Government hardly acknowledges its part in this mess that we find ourselves in. As far as the officials are concerned, we should blame the sanctions, or the West, the Bretton Woods institutions, or whoever else is an enemy.
But what is indisputable is the fact that Zimbabweans have left the country in numbers in search of a better life. So the story of the Zimbabwean women in Kuwait is not surprising. They were lured by the promise of employment. Because above all, the idea was that once they started earning an income they could send money back home to support relatives who are struggling to make ends meet.
According to The Herald “The Minister of Foreign Affairs…told Advocate Mudenda (the Speaker of Parliament) through his deputy…that his ministry had no budget to bring the girls home”
Of course, the ministry would have no budget. Who expects the ministry to have a specific budget line for rescuing victims of human trafficking? But human trafficking is happening. I would imagine that with Zimbabwe’s location in the SADC region, we are a hub of this trafficking.
But the ministry is responsible for protecting Zimbabweans abroad. Or not? Even if they did not have money, what else could they do to help? Do they not have any contacts who could assist these women? If the ministry has no budget, did it offer any other form of assistance?
Minister Mumbengegwi did not think there was something his ministry could do?
I can think of two things the minister could have done, if these women mattered to the Government. How difficult would it have been for him to secure an interview on ZBC-TV or Radio to appeal for assistance? Or to issue an SOS to companies and individuals?
I raised this issue on Twitter and someone said Government could have diverted an Air Zimbabwe plane to assist these women. I am sure there are other suggestions.
Which I why I feel saying that the ministry has no budget is simply not good enough. It just won’t do. As we were taught in primary school Maths, IT CAN’T.
This is an example of the crisis of leadership. A minister says the ministry has no budget to rescue Zimbabwean citizens and it is the end of the story? Kanjalo nje? Just like that? Really?
Because this is just not the type of thing Government budgets for?
In the Twitter discussion yesterday Ranga Mberi said Zimbabweans should just make sure they are never kidnapped by Somali pirates, because Government would just not budge. Why would they? Hanti there is no budget to pay pirates?
Just in case you thought we matter to Government. You can be trapped in a country far away and you will be told there is no budget to bring you back home.
But do the women matter to the Government? Do any of us “unknown” citizens matter to them? Of course, I can argue that Mumbengegwi’s response is what we have come to expect from the Government. But I think it is much more than that. It is proof of how unresponsive the governance structures are. They are rigid and cannot respond to matters that affect women. In other words, they are not gender responsive. They do not and cannot budget for human trafficking victims.
Let’s face it, how many men will be trapped into sex slavery? So it is about women being women. It is also about the double burden we carry. Whatever crisis you may think of, women probably get affected more, because we have to feed the family, pay school fees, clothe family. The list goes on.
Someone needs to remind Mumbengegwi about Section 35(3)(a) of the Constitution “All Zimbabwean citizens are entitled to the following rights and benefits…to the protection of the State wherever they may be.”[emphasis added].
I was happy to read that Ambassador Mark Grey Marongwe assisted to locate the women. I just wish he had support from his parent ministry.
As for the fact that the women have Wicknell to thank for their rescue, well…
So, just in case you thought we matter to Government- we don’t. Unless of course you are one of the “known” Zimbabweans: mwana, muzukuru, or mukoma wanhingi.
Tomorrow Zimbabwe celebrates 36 years of Independence. I am sure that various activities are lined up across the country to mark this day. ZTV will most certainly do a roundup of the President’s speech being read on his behalf by governors across the country.
I will be at home the whole day though because I always feel the activities are not national, but they are political party occasions. I would prefer national occasions, where all citizens feel welcome. But that is a story for another day.
Every year at this time I reflect on what exactly Independence means to me. What is the significance of this day? Why should I celebrate when there are people who have no access to water? Or children who cannot go to school because their parents cannot afford school fees?
You see, our country has experienced ups and downs. I suspect more downs than ups in the recent past.
The hyper-inflationary period was a torrid time for us as we had to travel to neighbouring countries to buy salt, sugar, and milk. 22 hours spent at the Beitbridge border post forced me to be patient. I did not have a choice. The South African immigration officials made me feel really small and in some cases ridiculed me with rhetorical questions like “Why are you coming to our country? Why don’t you go back and remove your Mugabe?” Yeah right. As if I could actually do that. But I did not dare respond. I think I always smiled sheepishly, being careful not to offend those immigration officials.
That was my reality for the better part of 2008. I was reduced to a nobody because I wanted to buy basic commodities. My frustration grew as I wondered when all the problems would end. I wished they could just go away, but they did not. I was at the mercy of the immigration officials. Giving up was not a choice because I had to buy food for my offspring. The things we have to go through because we are parents…
I always had to grovel at the bus conductors not to charge me too much for excess luggage. Obviously, I always had excess luggage, like other Zimbabweans. This was inevitable because I always had 10 kg of mealie meal, sugar and flour.
Despite all these difficulties Independence Day is still a special day for me. It reminds me of the fact that women and men sacrificed their lives to free us from a repressive regime; a regime that created laws to make sure that blacks remained on the periphery of the economy. Some never came back from the war; and their bodies have never been found. This is worth acknowledging all the time, as far as I am concerned.
For me, celebrating Independence does not mean that all is well. Or that I am ignoring our problems. Far from it. I lived through Entumbane period. I am still traumatised by helicopters. I associate them with people being beaten up for being outdoors after the curfew.
I celebrate Independence despite the challenges. More like I celebrate my birthday every year although not all is well in my life. My birthday forces me to reflect on how far I have come and how far I still have to go. Sometimes it feels like I have not moved at all. But I still celebrate it. I think this is the same with Independence.
I have been asked before why I celebrate this day. Some people have asked “Why are you celebrating independence? What is there to celebrate when a lot of our relatives have been forced to be economic refugees all over the world?” These are fair questions. People are frustrated, as am I, and rightly so.We have an idea of where we want to be as a country, and we are all aware how far away we are from that place. However, my attitude is that I should not let current events obliterate history. No matter how angry and frustrated I am, I feel I owe it to those women and men of courage who took a stand against oppression. Sometimes I ask myself if I could ever have taken up arms the way they did. I doubt very much.
I owe it to those gallant daughters and sons of the soil to remember and celebrate them. It is not their fault that the black Government that took over after 1980 has not taken us to our Canaan. They played their part and left it to the rest of us to continue the struggle. What form or shape that struggle will take is subject to debate.
For me, ignoring this day would be tantamount to forgetting that my mother’s cousin never came back from the war. He was rumoured to be in Zambia. My mother and others waited for him after 1980 but he just never came back. His body was never found. I am sure there are many other similar cases.
The way I see it, Independence has been a victim of politics. It has been politicised so much that even contemplating celebrating it makes one feel as if they are endorsing ZANU PF. April 18 is continuously used to berate real and perceived opponents of the ruling party. “Pasi nanhingi” is a common slogan. Hardly the stuff leaders say when they intend to unite citizens.
Sadly, this has affected citizens’ discussions over time: if you say one thing you are pro-ZANU PF and anti-MDC or vice versa. We are operating on absolutes, “black or white” There are no grey areas.
Over the years I have observed that as a Zimbabwean I have been caught between two opposing sides of what became known as the ‘Zimbabwean crisis.’ I got the feeling that certain people and organisations stood to gain as long as we were in perpetual crisis mode. This inevitably led to exaggeration of some matters to suit certain agendas. The Western media had a field day covering the crisis. After all, this is what makes Africa, Africa. It supported their anti-Mugabe agenda.
So, we ended up having those who fought very hard to paint a bleak picture of the country while others fought hard to pretend all was well. There was no middle ground. An example of this is the cholera epidemic of 2008. Government officials initially denied that there was an outbreak, saying there were a few isolated cases. By December 2008 UNICEF reported that there had been 16, 000 cases and almost 800 deaths between August and December.
Recently Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of South Africa said “I love South Africa more than I love the EFF.” That was very profound. It says his allegiance is to the country before the party. If that is not patriotic, I don’t know what is. How I wish there were more people who feel that way. How I wish as Zimbabweans we would love our country before our political parties.
So, why do I celebrate Independence?
Because there are people who lived and died to free us from minority rule. I owe it to the gallant daughters and sons of the soil. It is the least I can do.
I have decided that I will not let ZANU PF, or any other party for that matter, diminish the significance of the day for me. Ngiyala. They can be partisan all they want. I will celebrate at home by drinking my Amarula. The country’s problems will still be there on the 19th of April and other days after that.
Call me an eternal optimist. Or naive. Or stupid. But I call me hopeful. Because without hope, I may as well die.
This is my own truth. Indaba yam’ istraight. Ayifun’ iruler.