Sunday, June 27, 2010


(By Robert Muponde)
Her voice, he had bound
He had strung, her voice
Her voice, he had strangled, strangled, strangled…
When she spoke of his
Binding, binding, binding her
When she spoke of his
Strangling, strangling, strangling her
He broke her voice with a pick axe …
Smashed her being … for years
Crushed her consciousness … for ages
And enslaved what remained of her spirit
Worked her hard by day
That his fields grew greener each year
Toiled her by night
That stout-limbed children were born
By the bound, strangled, crushed woman.

But one day in a hundred years
As a shadow she came
One day in a thousand years
She rose from her living death
And demanded back her voice
This one day, she spoke with the voice of freedom
The man heard the terror speak
In his mind he saw his green fields deserted
Weeds choking the rich green
Hunger … hunger crunching at his children’s health…
No… no… no…

Rope in hand, he flew at her
To bind, to strangle her again
But the shadow, the slave, the woman
Had unbound herself
Horror seized his reason
When he saw his one time slave-woman about to flee
In wild desperation he called for more rope
For more hands to bind her …
But the ropes, in their thickness
Had become too thin to bind her anymore
In her eyes were the spear and sword of her freedom
To him for the first time she said,
“I’m the woman you’ve been killing for ages, ages, ages …”

**Robert Muponde is Associate Professor of English in the Department of English and Assistant Dean for International Affairs and Partnerships, Humanities, at University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D in Childhood studies. Muponde is also Co-editor of numerous works, including Versions of Zimbabwe: New Approaches to Literature and Culture; Sign and Taboo: Perspectives on the Poetic Fiction of Yvonne Vera; and Manning the Nation: Father Figures in Zimbabwean Literature and Society.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Recipes from a Shona world

'Kubika Machikichori' Shona for preparing delicious meals, carries traditional recipes from Goromonzi, about 50 km out of Harare. This book was compiled by founding member of Zimbabwe Women Writers (ZWW), Colette Mutangadura and edited by Keresia Chateuka. Read about how to prepare pumpkin soup powder, how to prepare mealie rice in peanut butter, how to make puddings from figs or watermelon, how to make porridge from the baobab fruit, how to make coffee from okra seed, how to make jam from guava fruit and many more! Some of the contributors are Colette Mutangadura herself, Claudia Muzembe, Plaxedes Kaseke,Shirley Gumbodete and others.For querries and orders phone: + 263 042925688 or +263 0712525228

Saturday, June 19, 2010

'Toriro and his goats'.... the real-real thing

It is now out...and watch this space for details!

"Chirere has successfully taken the traditional art form... and emerge with universal lessons of love, pain, fear, innocence and guilt with such dexterity that it escapes no reader's notice."
-Edmore Zvinonzwa- The Herald, 14 June 2010.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The ground that African women stand on

'The ground that African women stand on'
(the reflections of sister Achola Pala)
So many of us have often accepted the notion of African “traditional culture” as if it were the enemy of women, and the word “Western” as if it contained women’s rights. Perhaps we should substitute the word “original” for “traditional,” meaning the ground we stand on is rooted in African millennial cultures that supported us long before the arrival of colonial conquerors with patriarchal religions and political systems.

As a young woman growing up in the village culture of west Kenya, for example, I knew that we had a bill or rights and a human rights code by which we lived long before colonization.

The idea of the sanctity of personhood and human agency was enshrined in everything we did. As children we were taught to play together and accept defeat honorably if you lost a game. In principle and practice, human rights were the cornerstone of life and a good mind.

Every human being—child, woman, man, stranger and foe—had the right to be and to be heard. Therefore consultation was at the heart of decision-making. My culture forbade wanton killing of people and violation of people, including children and women. We were taught to treat each other with respect, protect the rights of persons with disability and include them in all activities to the best of their ability.

A widow had the right to choose the man to be with after the death of her husband and she had the right to ask him to leave if the relationship proved unsatisfactory. And a married woman had the protection of her favorite brother-in-law, referred to as the “leopard skin” to denote his critical role in protecting and supporting the sister-in-law from danger or exploitation.

Quarrelsome men who treated their wives with disdain were not respected in the community and were often chided in gatherings for their unbecoming conduct. A woman who married out of the community still kept her family ties in her place of birth. My mother inherited several goats from her mother and always went back to visit her family where she enjoyed enormous respect until her death. And today, my sisters and I (all married with our own homes) continue to have access and use of our mother’s house and a freedom that far exceeded that in cities where women were often forbidden in public places by law on the grounds that women must be “loitering” and must be prostitutes. My sisters and I were educated in the colonial version of education, but equally with my brothers because my parents understood we would need the protection of education and jobs as much if not more.

If we look into our cultures even today, wherever we are in the continent, we will find the ground we are standing on and how to build new viable institutions and equality norms going forward.

As a young anthropology scholar, my early work led me to conclude that African women, by and large, had greater recognition, more rights, greater security of tenure in land and protection, and greater control over their reproductive lives under their original political and economic systems than under the systems adopted from European colonial models.

Even a cursory analysis of the period preceding colonization—looking at matrifocal societies like the Ashanti of Ghana, for instance, or the Bemba of Malawi, that had complementary roles for men and women—points to great strengths of the leadership of women in Africa’s economy, politics, spirituality and arts.

It’s not surprising that the patriarchal colonial gender regimes deprived African women of identity (at marriage, the requirement to drop her own name for that of her husband), livelihoods (communal authority over land became reinterpreted as individual men’s rights) and human security (women became commodities to exploit, prostitute and violate in slave trade, trafficking, tourist commerce and war).
In 1880, when European powers sat down in Berlin to divide Africa into pieces they would colonize regardless of the interest of African peoples, the result was the nation-state. The colonial structure served to separate indigenous communities, language groups and families by artificial borders often drawn with the purpose of dividing and controlling people. Indigenous populations became non-people under the law, and women were even more marginalized.

As violence against African people became normalized, a new culture of violation of women’s rights became part of the overall plan of forced relocation and concentration of indigenous people in marginal lands.

The colonial economy legitimized the destruction of African biodiversity and natural resources, food base and environment through logging, commercial hunting, alienation of communal land, imposition of new intellectual property rights and patents over common goods and communal medicinal plants and vegetables. Chemical fertilizers began to deplete soil fertility and destroy drinking water sources. The shift undercut indigenous farming systems over which African women held considerable expertise and power.

At the same time, forced and under-remunerated jobs took men away from their home communities, truncating family livelihood strategies. Men working in far away cities and mines had little or nothing to send home to their villages. The separation was exacerbated by commercial laws establishing ‘legal’ boundaries between rural ‘reserves,’ commercial plantations and towns—which in Kenya, as in Zimbabwe, redefined gender relations through the restriction of movement and social interaction between ‘tribal’ and urban spaces.

Before the 1880s, borders between language groups had been porous, and a cooperative gift and barter system allowed groups to build trust by exchanging seeds, products and tools. African women played a pivotal role in this economy, especially during periods of scarcity. Imposition of ‘reserves’ disrupted an economy that appreciated cultural diversity, erecting an ideological barrier of ethnicity in its place, which was to become an incendiary nightmare in the 20th Century.

In addition, the colonial need for urban spaces both divided Africans from Asians and Europeans by law and excluded and disenfranchised women. Women could enter the wage economy only informally, in the outskirts of towns and later as domestic workers and nannies. The criminalization of their presence in towns as prostituted women devalued women as a group, and many more were trafficked in the emerging commercial urban sex industry. For women, the rule of law was almost entirely punitive, depriving them of development opportunities and perpetuating social inequalities and violence.

The effects of these policies and laws rippled across Africa and were felt even more acutely in the countries of Algeria, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia and South Africa. As opposed to West Africa, these “settlement colonies” were structured around a small immigrant white population invited in and subsidized to exploit the colony for their motherland. The settlers could acquire large tracts of arable farmland and create black squatter populations to serve as labor.

Today Africa pays the price of embracing colonial structures ill adapted to our well-being. Countries face a paradox in which the “rule of law” is touted as a panacea for good governance but often flouted in ways that undermine citizens’ ability to rely on judicial institutions. Laws that are incoherent and fragmented result in opaque and corrupt judicial practices, and justice is not easily assured for ordinary citizens unable to buy the services of a lawyer. For women, the burden of inequality is often worse.

In many countries we are still stuck with this dichotomy.
No wonder the success of the African state, today, as a protector of citizens is a mixed bag. In some cases, the state is developing as a defender of majority interests, and women are over or close to half of parliaments in countries like Mozambique and Rwanda. In Tanzania, women hold key ministerial posts. Yet in others, heads of state maneuver state apparatus to extend their terms in office. In a number of cases, my country of Kenya included, we have seen failed elections—hints that citizens may be unable to muster the necessary might to exercise rights even where these may be entrenched in a nation’s laws and constitution.

Along with this turmoil, we have seen an unprecedented rise in violence against women, some of it state-sponsored. So we do have to ask ourselves what is driving this change towards violence against women? And what is the kind of state responsibility we want to see in our region?

The common belief is that a rights based approach comes to us from a more universalistic and therefore more legitimate realm of thought, and African culture has come to be regarded as the enemy of women. But we must understand how gender based violence became normalized in the context of colonialism and that the Human Rights approach is essentially a Eurocentric paradigm born out of an expansive phase of capitalism marked by economic competition, slavery and invasion of territory.

What we as African women must do is to identify those aspects of our own political, economic and cultural history that make African women great, and ensure that those are incorporated as rights within the emerging structures of our countries. That is the ground we stand on.
** Dr. Achola O. Pala is a Kenyan feminist researcher, writer and educator

Sunday, June 6, 2010

PROVERBS from the Great Temple Complex of Amun

Wisdom from the Great Temple Complex of Amun of Karnak in Thebes, Ancient Egypt:

•If you would know yourself, take yourself as starting point and go back to its source; your beginning will disclose your end.

•Know the world in yourself. Never look for yourself in the world, for this would be to project your illusion.

•If you would build something solid, do not work with wind: always look for a fixed point, something you know that is stable ... yourself.

•If the Master teaches what is error, the disciple's submission is slavery; if he teaches truth, this submission is ennoblement.

•The first concerning the 'secrets': all cognition comes from inside; we are therefore initiated only by ourselves, but the Master gives the keys.

•Man must learn to increase his sense of responsibility and of the fact that everything he does will have its consequences.

•The kingdom of heaven is within you; and whosoever shall know himself shall find it.

•The body is the house of God. That is why it is said, "Man know thyself."

•Popular beliefs on essential matters must be examined in order to discover the original thought.

•To know means to record in one's memory; but to understand means to blend with the thing and to assimilate it oneself.

•A man's heart is his own Neter (God).

• A house has the character of the man who lives in it.

•The first thing necessary in teaching is a master; the second is a pupil capable of carrying on the tradition.

•The man who knows how to lead one of his brothers towards what he has known may one day be saved by that very brother.