We are in danger of forgetting

There is a period between the worst of times and the best of times in which there is a lull…. The relief of having escaped a horrible circumstance tempts us to ease back for a while and eventually the memory of how bad things used to be fades.

We start to convince ourselves that things are fine now because we use the worst circumstance as a reference point instead of using the best of circumstances as an aspirational goal to work towards.

We comfort ourselves that things are better than they used to be and teach ourselves to be content rather than focus ahead on the best we can aspire for.

Between the worst of times and the best of times we fall into the trap of forgetting. We forget what used to matter because our discomfort has been eased a bit and we feel we can afford to take a breather.


We forget the tears we shed to get this far, we forget the voices that spoke up and grew hoarse and we forget the sacrifices made by others on our behalf because things are not so bad anymore …because we have known worse we are more prepared to settle.

Over the last two months I have tried to understand why all the things that have mattered to me since teenage-hood matter and why I should bother following the course that I chose.

The older I become the more accommodative I am… of the world and its injustices, of people and their weaknesses, and of circumstances and their imperfections.

I am more ready to concede that my point of view is not the only version of reality and with each concession; I grow less certain of the battles that I choose to wage.

What guarantee is there that my most deeply held convictions are more valid than those of others if my own truth is not essentially the truth of others?

If I believe that the opinions of others are as valid as my own, then what right do I have to wish that my opinions be given primacy over those of others?

If I am right and know myself to be right at what point is it okay to point out the error of another?

I have always worked on the premise that things in life are black or white but now that I am older, I find there are varying shades of grey… and grey is as legitimate a color as any.

In some things it just can’t be black or white, sometimes you have to settle for the middle ground – for the grey.

I have discovered that my desire to stick with black or white…with the extremes was derived from a fear that compromise would mean defeat or that compromise would mean that I had become some kind of turncoat.

I have learned that sometimes you can stand for something without needing to stand against another.

I used to define the things that mattered to me by identifying the things that didn’t matter consequently making the things that matter to me dependent upon those that don’t matter. I have learned that the things that matter to me can and should be able to stand up to scrutiny without being juxtaposed to anything else.

One thing that has always mattered to me is the pursuit of justice – especially social justice. I say pursuit because I recognize it as an aspirational endeavor, as a goal that may not be realized in my lifetime but I work towards it hoping that in pursuing it I may become a better person for having bothered.

Sometimes I am scared that I will become complacent and forget why it mattered. Forget that the rights I enjoy and take for granted today were hard-won by women who came before me. Forget that the privileges I take as my God-given due were once denied to those born with female genitalia. And when we start to forget, we start to think that the battle is won, we start to think that victory is certain and that the status of women within their societies is assured.

But if nothing else, these 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence serve as a rude awakening and reminder that progress in terms of achieving equality in the public sphere does not guarantee equality in the private sphere.

We must not forget that women live the most crucial aspects of their lives in the private, not public domain – in their homes and not their offices; in their bedrooms and not their boardrooms…. And it is in these spaces that they are most vulnerable and that our advocacy efforts cannot effectively penetrate.

As we celebrate progressive laws and policies that advance the interests of women, elevate their status and protect their rights – we must not forget that without peace in their homes, women cannot thrive in their societies nor effectively execute their duties and responsibilities in the public domain.

SHUT UP! No more violence!

A while ago, a certain woman suspected that her husband was having an affair and decided to confront him in order to lay the matter to rest.

The woman decided to enlist the aid of a female friend or relative (I don’t remember) to assist her in interrogating her husband over the allegations and so the pair took the man to task.

...if it burns you on the inside - what makes you think it won't hurt the person you say it to?

They questioned; interrogated, yelled, shouted, hurled insults; screamed at the top of their voices and generally caused a horrible racket as profanities and obscenities spewed out of their mouths.

The man decided to walk out of the room and the wife followed him pelting him with vulgar words and bludgeoning his ears with a constant stream of raw and abusive vocabulary.

He didn’t answer. He couldn’t answer.

In the face of this verbal onslaught – the man was rendered a mute, defenceless victim of the worst kind of demeaning, degrading and abusive attacks – the effects of verbal abuse have been known to render some men impotent.

He walked away because he knew that he was no match for his wife in the shouting stakes; that he was not equipped with the ability to wield his tongue as a lethal weapon to maliciously strip another person of any shred of human dignity they possessed.

That is the power of verbal abuse; the power to reduce a grown man into a dithering, cowering and fleeing fool.

As the verbal violence escalated, as the woman persisted in her attack, as the insults rained like an avalanche of blows on that man he kept walking and she kept following – then to defend himself he turned around and hit her.

Retaliating to the verbal violence through means he thought would be most effective – physical violence.

For the shredding of his sense of dignity – that man chose to attack his wife and with the rage, anger and emotion that had built up in him throughout the verbally induced assailing of his space, person and dignity – he beat her very hard.

Weeks later he was arraigned before the courts facing charges of contravening certain sections of the Domestic Violence Act; his wife was the complainant and she had a doctor’s report to back her up, some bruises and a few tears on standby should she need to invoke pity.

..words pack a punch just like a fist! Shut up if what you have to say is meant to hurt

Yet, in all fairness, she was the aggressor, she had been the attacker, she had been the violent, malicious and vengeful provoker of a man who tried everything to avoid a confrontation, including walking the hell away!

If we are to apportion blame in the incidents of violence in homes and in society – women need to bear their fair share of it because so many of them just won’t shut up when it matters most.

Some months ago a dear friend and fellow blogger, Natasha Msonza blasted the Big Brother Africa All Stars show for what she perceived as the condoning of violence against men citing the eviction of Uganda’s Hannington Kuteesa after a physical scuffle with South Africa’s Lerato Sengadi.

Although the show has ended and although this opinion Big-brother-condones-violence-against-men was made in reference to an incident that has since escaped the minds of many – this blog post has haunted me since then because it rightfully puts women in positions of culpability both in initiating and deliberately provoking violent reactions from men through verbal abuse.

To me the only; silver lining in this unpleasant discovery is the knowledge that if women can accept part of the blame for the violence that our societies are immersed in – then they can claim the right to become part of the solution.

...women have been known to turn their lips into weapons of mass (male) destruction!!

In acknowledging the blame worthiness of their own verbally abusive conduct; women can play a huge role in reducing incidents of violence and the surprising remedy is to learn to shut up unless they can communicate in a manner that does not demean, disrespect and disregard the sense of dignity of the people they are addressing.

Words hurt!

Let’s not downplay the severity of verbal abuse. Some women have perfected the vicious art of verbally undressing their men to a fine art and sometimes they actually push and keep pushing – well stop it!

Shut up! No more verbal abuse, no more verbal violence!

…is anyone worth it?

Recently, a 16 year old girl was lured into a house, tortured, assaulted and disfigured because she was suspected of being involved with a married man.

Her attackers were a 22 year old woman (the wife of the man) along with the sisters of the married man who are still in their teens.

The story makes for a spine-chilling read and demonstrates the most barbaric, horrific and brutal acts of cruelty women inflict on one another in their bid to win or keep a man’s heart.

The trio lured that 16 year old to their house under the pretext that they would help her to secure a job as a house maid and the unsuspecting teenager paid them a visit.

They beat her up severely, they burnt plastics and let the molten liquid drip onto her inner thighs as “punishment” for her being a prostitute who slept around with married men.

They forced her to drink their urine and then broke pieces of glass which they used to write the insult, “wule” (whore) on her forehead and her back – then to make sure that the marking becomes permanent – they used pieces of crushed charcoal to write over the cut and broken skin.

It has taken a while for the sense of outrage that first consumed me at the news of this vicious attack to subside.

And now I have since had occasion to wonder about the man at the centre of these despicable acts – I wonder what he looks like.

Does he have the face of an angel… is he handsome beyond compare that anyone would go to such great lengths to mutilate another person over him? Does he have a six-pack and oodles of sex appeal?

Does he shit gold and pee honey? What makes him special, worthy and deserving of women to go to such extreme lengths to keep him?

Does he have loads of money, a fancy car or is he endowed with a record-breaking lengthy male appendage?

Or perhaps he has charm, intellect and irresistible charisma? Or maybe he exudes power, confidence and success? Or is he kind, loving, gentle and generous? Is he tender, compassionate, devoted and loyal?

What are his credentials as a man and as a useful member of humanity?

I mean where’s his damn CV so I can at least understand why these women went on a rampage over him like that?

Is there any man worth it?

If there is – point me towards him, please.

I just wanna know what kind of man it takes to invoke such senseless, mindless and needless malicious sadism.

Has any woman ever fought for or over a man who was really worth it? And has any man fought over a woman who was worth it?

In fact, is anyone worth it – is anyone worth getting maimed for or worth maiming for?

a legacy of platitudes

A few weeks ago I had the misfortune of witnessing a woman being viciously assaulted by a man; she had a three-month-old baby on her back and while she struggled to keep it from sliding off her back her assailant mercilessly rained blows on her.

He was apprehended by a policeman who happened to be nearby and the woman, whom I later discovered was a vendor, had to breastfeed the child to stop its piercing and heartrending cries.

The man had beaten her  up because apparently he had told her it was time for her to pack up her wares and go home to prepare him a meal but she had remained there to sell her goods paying no heed to his demand.

What I found disturbing was that there were people there who did nothing to intervene, those who did try were interested only in grabbing the baby off her back so that the woman could be further assaulted with greater convenience.

I have no idea how the matter was later resolved, I only know that it is only in Africa were such a disgusting public display of barbarism would be tolerated and even condoned.

So recently when a young twenty-one year old mother appeared at my doorstep, bruised, battered and swollen after being attacked by her husband in the streets, in broad daylight, with no one coming to her aid; I was reminded again of why we became feminists.

I would love to rant and rave against the male sex, to blame it on the men and to say they are oppressing us but I blame every woman who had no legacy to pass on to their daughter except a legacy of platitudes.

Every woman who told her daughter that if her marriage failed it made her less of a woman because that impossible ideal is what has kept many women trapped in loveless marriages.

Every woman who shut the door against her abused daughter sending her back to her marital hell armed with nothing but a platitude that said ‘it’s part of marriage.’

Every mother who makes her daughter believe that she can’t be a whole human being if she isn’t a ‘Mrs Somebody’ forcing her to suffer in silence just to live up to that expectation.

So this woman stood at my door, tears in her eyes and told me a tale that is all too familiar, a pattern of abuse that has become like the theme song that accompanies the lives of many women (married or in relationships).

‘He beat me up for asking where he had slept. He kicked me because his shirt had lost a button. He choked me because I found him fondling someone else in our bed. He slapped me because he says I am his whore, that I belong to him and he owns me. He dragged me outside because he says he doesn’t want me anymore. He punched me because he says I disrespect him.’

And the litany goes on and on but what really angered me was that she had gone to her family, her aunts, consulted her relatives, sisters and other elderly women and neighbors desperately hoping she would find somebody who could advise her on what to do.

They told her that she should be patient, that marriage was like that – they all fed her a heap of platitudes.

In different words they all told her that what she was going through was ‘normal’ that her pain was nothing unique and that enduring that abuse would make her a better woman. They told her to celebrate her pain and to embrace her suffering for these are the credentials of a ‘real’ African woman.

‘Yikho ukubamgumfazi’.

This is the plight of many women whose pain is trivialized and buried under meaningless statements, that reinforce the stereotypical belief that women in Africa are the appendages of their men, properties of their husbands and have no autonomy whatsoever.

We were raised to understand that a man endures pain as an undeserved punishment; but a woman accepts it as a natural heritage; so we became feminists in order to reject the ‘natural heritage’ of pain.

African women are possibly the only exploited group in history to have been idealized into powerlessness; to have been taught to take pleasure in being hurt, tormented and degraded.

So many women have been unwittingly buried alive under platitudes afraid of going against the grain, of defying the status quo and standing up for their rights because they have deeply engrained the fallacious belief that they have no rights.

But that young woman has rights, she has human rights, if nothing else, because she is first and foremost human before she is female.

So where are those who would defend her? No where. They are all hiding behind the flimsy wall of platitudes forgetting what Robin Morgan once noted that, ‘women are not inherently passive or peaceful.  We’re not inherently anything but human.’

Perhaps one day she will (like others before her) snap and retaliate in violence but I hope that when the day comes and I have daughter and she turns to me in her hour of need, I may be able to offer her more than mere platitudes.

Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less. – Susan B. Anthony

Sleeping with the enemy

...the calm before the storm...

...how sure are you that you're not sleeping with the enemy?

Recently a colleague became the butt of a few newsroom jokes after we discovered that the bulk of the stories he had written this year were largely comprised of brutal murders and horrifying acts of domestic violence and assault.

Among the tidbits of advice that were generously proffered was a cheeky suggestion that he compile all his stories for the year and write a best-selling horror novel which, it was said, would likely rival Stephen King’s fear factory of literature.

Typically, I couldn’t just let the matter rest but went on to the library and went through his gory stories one by one and read one narrative after another of gruesome killings involving married couples.

One thought that kept crossing my mind was that all of the dead spouses would probably have never thought that when they died, the person they married would be the cause and that they had literally spent all their married life ‘sleeping with the enemy’.

My first recollection of the marriage institution as a potential deathtrap is nearly a decade old and involves the tragic deaths of former soccer chairman after his wife set their home on fire following a domestic dispute.

I remember thinking at the time that it would have been better if they had had a divorce rather than staying in a situation that had potentially become dangerous and life-threatening.

I site this example only as a way of establishing how disturbing I have always found these incidents of spousal murder to be and not to be critical of a couple I know virtually nothing about.

Having said this, I find it unsettling how blood is shed almost willy-nilly within the domestic sphere and have wondered what really could be done to curb these tragic and horrifying incidents.

I have often found that the average wife is a conformist, accepting miseries and disasters with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain.

I have also found that it is this kind of wife that society embraces, eulogizes and celebrates, our mothers feeding us the tedious dictum of being ‘patient, enduring and long-suffering’ – kuyabekezelwa emendweni.

While circumstances vary, it is almost predictable that the stoical wife may one day be pushed too far – beyond her control, snap and do the unimaginable, a person can only take so much pain.

This is not to excuse such behavior but it is to say that in all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things we have long taken for granted, things like a wife’s ability, willingness and capacity to endure cruelty, abuse and neglect.

I think there are many who will dismiss this article arguing that it is premised on incidents that are rare, few and far between – but those readers would be gravely mistaken because crimes of passion are frighteningly on the increase and our coverage of them represents only a tip of the iceberg.

I am one of those people who believe that a woman must know when to call it a day and for those who want some pointers – call it a day the very day he sends you to hospital with a cracked rib or two.

Crossing over the boundaries we’ve been taught to live within is a tough business. But I’m getting used to the idea they’re not so formidable.

Any man who knows he has been cruel to his wife must know that every act of cruelty, of malice, of neglect and abuse is being laid up in her heart and one day when you least expect it – she’ll turn on you and lash out in retaliation.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, I have to state that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

I recall a book I studied and critiqued in my final year at varsity entitled ‘A Tragedy of Lives: Zimbabwean women in prison’ which was a collection of testimonials by female inmates held at Chikurubi.

I remember my friends and I took special interest in the chapter that had testimonies of women who had murdered someone and found much to our shock that more than ninety percent of them were in jail for killing their husbands!

Usually the act itself was neither premeditated nor intentional but it was usually the culmination of years of frustration, pain, anger and despair endured by these women in relationships that were unfulfilling, oppressive and abusive.

Why did they not leave? We asked ourselves at the time but the answer is one we only uncovered now as we came of age ourselves – they couldn’t act in manner contrary to what they had been socialized into.

So they stayed, endured, cracked and killed.

As the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign commences these blood chilling acts of domestic violence require us to stem the tide of bloodshed and Commit. Act. Demand. We CAN end violence against women!

Parting shot: The moment a man claims a right to control the will of a fellow being by physical force, he is at heart a slaveholder. ~Henry C. Wright