His courage will live on

6 Dec

Mandela fist

A Tribute by Sani Dowa

When I heard the news of Nelson Mandela’s passing this morning, I was struck by how personal it felt. I was reminded of a childhood in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia); of being at the receiving end of a racially segregated society; and following Nelson Mandela’s story with hope and fascination.

In African culture death is always accompanied by much sadness and mourning not just by the immediate family but by the wider community. Yet this morning, the tears that filled my eyes were of pride; not sadness. The lump in my throat was not anxiety but rather an overwhelming sense of being in a moment that will define my own life in ways I cannot yet comprehend.

As my Facebook page lit up with tributes from all corners of the world I could sense a collective gratitude to this truly inspirational son of Africa. There was a sense of awe from many of my generation who experienced and benefitted from the shattering of racial oppression. We’re keenly aware that our freedom came at the cost of leaders like Mandela who gave up so much yet never complained or saw it that way themselves.

In this moment I’m reminded of Nelson Mandela’s words: “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who became a leader because of extraordinary circumstances”. I ask myself what I, as an ordinary African, can do to help change the world for future generations of African children. That’s the legacy Nelson Mandela leaves for us…he made us all want to reach within and find our best selves.

Hamba kahle Madiba! Go in peace Madiba!

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This article first appeared in Plan Australia’s blog http://www.plan.org.au

Quote of the week – Death is something inevitable

6 Dec

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‘Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for eternity.’

Nelson Mandela  

‘I have walked that long walk to freedom’ – Rest in peace Nelson Mandela

5 Dec

mandela fist

As the world mourns a truly courageous icon it seems appropriate to draw on some of his wisdom accumulated over an inspirational life. May his courage and conviction live on in every one of us as we play our part in making the world a better place. Rest in peace Madiba!

1.‘I have walked that long walk to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.’

2.‘No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the heart than its opposite.’

3.‘I dream of an Africa that is in peace with itself. I dream of the realisation of unity in Africa whereby its leaders, some of whom are highly competent and experienced, can unite in their efforts to improve and to solve the problems of Africa.’

4.‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’

5.‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’

6.‘There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.’

7.‘Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.’

8.‘I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being an optimist is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lay defeat and death.’

9.‘It is better to lead from behind and put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.’

10.‘I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.’

Every African – Join the movement!

30 Nov

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Today we’re proud to unveil ‘Every African’, a global movement that’s mobilising Africans, both men and women, around the world to lead Africa’s development.

Our mission is to unlock the abundant talent and opportunities that abound in Africa but are often overlooked or go untapped. We develop leadership at all levels, support female entrepreneurs and build mass platforms to help African small businesses penetrate new markets. In so doing we challenge entrenched stereotypes of Africa and protect African identity so that future generations can rise to their full potential.

What makes us different?

• We’re a social enterprise with an entrepreneurial development model. We believe this is the best way to harness existing capabilities and create mass opportunities that drive economic independence for the regular person.
• We’re proudly African and seek to leverage Africa’s strengths rather than ‘save’ her.
• We see Africans as best placed to lead decisions concerning their economies, lives and future.
• Africa is not a single gender. We believe women should have an equal opportunity to contribute to the development of their continent.

Check out our online shop ‘Made from Africa’ which was inspired by our wish to share the warm vibrant Africa we love with the rest of the world. It’s also a fantastic platform for providing African small businesses with access to new markets.

Our suppliers are African entrepreneurs, both men and women, who’re using their talent and skills to create quality products and services and in the process setting off a ripple effect of economic benefits across the continent. ‘Every African’ is a movement that’s opening doors and transforming how Africans see themselves and how they’re perceived by the rest of the world. Find out more here and get involved!

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Visit http://www.everyafrican.org to support our latest campaign.

Quote of the week – Don’t be afraid

4 Nov

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Dont be afraid to stand for what you believe in, even if that means standing alone.

Unknown

*Photo by Diego Arroyo

Whose virginity is it anyway?

26 Oct

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By Nyasha Gloria Sengayi

So I was having drinks with a hopeful who had so much potential of winning the heart of this stubborn woman. In my head, as I laughed with this guy, thoughts were reeling to a point where I even convinced myself that he was the funniest, most intelligent, most handsome, sweetest man left on earth… but that was until he asked me a question that led to the writing of this article.

All of a sudden, the guy decided to take our conversation from discussing the weather and other small talk issues to another level and asked me a question.

“So Nyasha tell me, are you still a virgin?” asked the Moron of the Century. I asked him to repeat himself.

I’d like to believe that I pick my men well but this guy became a failed project the moment he asked me that question. I was pissed off but maintained my cool and continued to eat my salad and drink my lemon water, both of which I decided to pay for the minute I was asked that question. I remained silent.

“Did I touch a raw nerve?” – another misplaced question

“No, I don’t have raw nerves, mine are just critical,” I responded.

“I’m afraid I don’t get you,” he replied.

Unfortunately, all men who go out there virginity hunting and testing don’t get it as all they want is to be the Nobel Laureate on the Commission of Virginity Breaking! I don’t know why these men give a fuss about our virginity more than we women do; I’ve heard this question from many men and I really find it offensive for a guy to have the nerve to interrogate my virginity status without even getting to know who I really am.

So all the time we are talking, he is thinking about sex? Is that the value he has placed on me? Why is it that every man wants to scramble for a piece of my hymen (or rather every hymen)? It seems like a ploy to keep women in the pit of ransom.

For a while, I was the judgemental girlfriend who had no idea why my friends were ‘giving up’ their hymens (as if there’s a cost attached to them). In this regard, I was perhaps no different to the men I now encounter. But my thinking has since matured.

The idea of breaking

In an expression of untamed egos, the language used when men sleep with a virgin expresses a disturbing power dynamic. Men speak of ‘breaking’, ‘ripping’, ‘tearing’, (wakamuboora here, ndakabvarura), and use a whole lot of other crude terminology. As a general principle, things that we break are fragile and powerless, so what these men, in effect, are saying is that our hymens are exactly that – powerless and fragile! Ladies, are we really that fragile?

You will rarely hear a woman saying, “I threw away my virginity”; we give it and entrust it to someone (in different circumstances where there’s consent). And that’s what women always seem to do; we always give a part of ourselves, no matter how much it costs us. For me, therefore, every man who asks about my virginity first before getting to know my surname has one aim: to break and disempower me.

Mapping my hymen

Having been born with my hymen hidden somewhere in the territory of my vagina, I’ve always wondered why it was placed there. Its location presents so many questions to me as a young woman; questions like, “Why is my vagina there?” and “Who has a claim to it?”

I think about it a lot, particularly about its safety down there. For most of us, the vagina is the last part of the body that we want to interact with outside of sexual pleasure; most of us have never gone down on a mirror just to check out what’s popping ‘down there’! For that reason I’ve heard many stories about women who have no idea how their vagina looks; who have, after a stint with an STI or irregular discharge, been forced – only then – to inspect themselves. At that point, however, they are not so sure if that is really how their vagina ought to look.

For other women, it’s their husbands or sexual partners who get the first sight of that part of their body; reflecting on all of this, my question would be: How do you trust someone to ‘break’ the hymen located in a space you are not familiar with yourself?

As for me, I can map my vagina in my sleep! It is who I am, the root of my identity, the heartbeat of my passion, the pulse of the feminism I have nurtured in my life, it is me. So I’m fully aware – and in total control – of everything that goes on ‘down there’. My friend laughed at me the other day when I went on a Google search to find out how a vagina should be properly cleaned and taken care of. But for me, it is of paramount importance that I know the ‘ins and outs’ – literally and figuratively – of this precious part of my body.

It is from this perspective that I then wonder why men think the easiest thing any woman can do is to simply open her legs for them so that they can enjoy breaking her hymen, without the slightest bit of understanding that the vagina – with or without the hymen – is a complex organ whose functions remain the same.

If the hymen is no longer there, is there a difference between a virgin and a non-virgin? Where is the difference? Why and how does the experience of sleeping with a virgin elevate a man, if at all? Where is the benefit?

Transactional identity

When will our men understand that not everything about women is sexually transactional? We are not a commodity and shouldn’t be treated as such. It’s just a hymen; seriously, I don’t see which part of life you will miss if you don’t have an experience with one. That just boils down to misplaced egos.

While I value my hymen, I don’t see it giving me much after I lose it. It won’t even guarantee me marital happiness. How many women who’ve gotten married as virgins have gone on to get divorced? Let’s be very realistic; how many have been infected with HIV in the comfort of their homes thinking they were safe with the one man who ‘broke’ their virginity? And also, how many women who got married as virgins have had extra marital affairs?

What really are we looking for – virginity or character? Personally, I think the vagina, and not your hymen, gives you your identity; any attempt to lay a claim on my hymen ignores who it belongs to.

It’s my hymen!

I just want to let the men know that keeping your virginity does not always mean you are keeping it for them. That is a misconception based on what men think they are owed. In case they didn’t know, some of us relate to our vagina outside of pleasing men sexually.

Growing up, advice given to us by our parents and other relatives told us to preserve ourselves and our hymens for our husbands. While this is a valuable practice, the truth is that that little piece of meat is mine! Even my parents don’t own it! If it belonged to my husband, then why didn’t God just place it on him?!

My hymen is on my body for a reason. I should decide how it goes and to who. Placing emphasis on the hymen as something we owe to our men displaces our power of choice. I am not saying women should sleep around, but I am saying that if I’m going to keep this hymen intact, that’s purely for my benefit.

The man I will give it to should never be mistaken in thinking that I have preserved myself for him. For me, it’s not like that. I don’t appreciate the whole world checking my virginity status for the sake of massaging their egos; that culture should end this minute! Surely it’s more beneficial to get HIV and STI tests done than to monitor a woman’s virginal state.

What all this drama has done is open new business opportunities for people who are now inventing virginity soaps and other products. Who ever thought that the hymen could be manufactured? And the pity and double standard of it all is that women hardly check men’s virginity status; in fact, we’d be scared to come across a male virgin.

So just before I left the table and paid for my meal (I had to argue to pay for myself and thank God, I had ordered a salad!) I responded and said:

“If your father had checked your mother’s virginity status, you probably wouldn’t be here today. Can you please confirm that for me!”

And with that, I walked off, not looking back.

Mapping my vagina helped me appreciate a lot of things about myself as a woman. Throughout my research on my vagina I have learnt that the things that you draw intimacy from are the very things you know everything about. I find my vagina a very complex organ which is able to shape how my identity is defined out there. So in that regard, it should be respected and dignified whether you are getting some or not from it.

At this point I wish all men would have an appreciation of the heart of our reproductivity and how much respect should be awarded to it. How then do you break something you respect and love?

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Nyasha is a feminist working with a young women’s organisation in Harare. She takes an interest in exploring world issues affecting women globally and is working on opening space for visual documentation of research on the status of women in Zimbabwe. Currently, she is writing her first book.

*Article reproduced courtesy of http://www.herzimbabwe.co.zw

What is the point of marriage?

18 Oct

point of marriage
by Carol Dube

I have just learnt, with terror I must admit, that some of my relatives and a few friends are becoming worried that I may never settle down and get married. I am in my early thirties and strangely, I am assumed to be more than ripe and ready for marriage.

As if that is not enough, just the other day, I had a terrible misunderstanding with my paternal aunt – she fears I am becoming too successful that finding a man to marry me may prove to be just too difficult. I am advised men don’t really like successful women. I can’t help but be concerned.

Are men truly afraid of a successful woman? Isn’t it quite humorous how our society views men and women so differently? It is not in dispute that a successful man is very attractive, quite a catch. A friend of mine the other day was telling me that it is no longer necessary to take stock of the ratio of men versus women but rather, successful men to women, and I am told it’s 20 women: one successful man. Such figures are obviously unofficial, but this portrays just how on demand a successful man is.

The odds are, however, not the same for women. The more successful or the more educated a woman, the less attractive she becomes. It’s really an issue of double standards on the part of our society.

I became so concerned over this issue that I went as far as doing an online survey in some social forums I subscribe to in order to ascertain just why successful women aren’t viewed as marriage material. What became so obvious is that most men do not find a successful woman attractive because they fear that they may not be able to control her.

Just why men find it so macho to control a woman puzzles me. Are women so erratic, unpredictable, wild and dangerous that they ought be tamed and controlled? Is it really proper to control another human being? More importantly, is it profitable for any person to conduct their lives in accordance to another’s rule book?

It appears the brothers in my society are not too keen on marrying for the sake of gaining an equal partner. They seem to want a docile kind of a lady: the one who drops everything for her man and will bend over backwards just to please him; the kind that suffers in silence and dares not question him on any issue. A door mat. One that can easily be tamed.

Just take a closer look at most marriages in our society. Don’t wives seek permission to do just about anything? Most wives hardly ever make any decisions without consulting. Is it that they are incapable of making decisions or maybe they are just not competent enough?

Some men go as far as demanding that their wives dress a certain way; be home at a certain time; associate with certain individuals and obviously disassociate with others. Are women truly incapable of making their own choices on fashion, lifestyle and friends? Must one abandon their person for the sake of becoming what a man demands and expects from them? What is it that strips wives of their power and vests it with their husbands ? Could it be the fact that one pays the bride price for the other?

When a man pays lobola for his wife, is he not merely extending his gratitude for being blessed with a wife? How then does lobola become a symbol of ownership of a wife by her husband? It is beginning to appear as if a wife, like a couch, is just another household item.

The way this institution called marriage is understood in our Zimbabwean society leaves women in a very feeble position. I do not feel I am losing out on anything by not marrying.

What do I stand to gain from marriage? A man? I have one. Furthermore, I certainly can get and keep any man, if I put my heart to it.
Becoming Mrs so and so? Why? I already have a surname. I have been using it for over two decades, and I am sure using it for the rest of my life would not kill me.

Babies? I already have and I did not marry their father by choice. What really is the achievement in marriage? Am I missing out on anything? I have seen so many people marry only to divorce a couple of years later. Why then must I set myself up for heartache, pain and a life of misery?

Maybe one day, I will change my mind. Maybe one day I will choose to be tamed. Maybe I will choose to be controlled, to live a life according to the husband’s strict instructions. Maybe one day this institution of marriage will make perfect sense – I may even regret not having jumped into it earlier.

Until that very unlikely day, I refuse to marry to conform to societal expectations of me. I refuse to marry for the sake of my family and friends, the pleasure of them watching me tie the knot at the expense of my independence and joy.

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Carol Dube is a social commentator who tells it like she sees it

*This feature first appeared on http://www.newzimbabwe.com