It is most certainly saddening and tragic when a nation sinks to levels whereby there are those who actually perceive oppression as some warped form of honour and privilege.
Is this not possible?
Well, then you have not been to Zimbabwe lately!
This troubling mindset — in all likelihood is a result of prolonged subjugation and indoctrination that has become so normalised and entrenched in the victim's psyche that, as time passes, can eventually be construed as not only something good, but something to be proud of.
Let me start with a more commonplace illustration before moving to the more controversial political space.
As I was waiting for someone at Kwekwe bus and commuter omnibus main terminus — I sat watching those who were walking by, and going about their business — and, I set my eyes on a mother carrying a baby on her back.
What captured my attention was her age — as she appeared no older than 15 years old.
Could the baby strapped on her back be a younger sibling, or relative — I pondered to myself!
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However, the garb she was donning made me think otherwise.
She was, without doubt, a member of an Apostolic sect (Mapostori, as they are commonly referred to in Zimbabwe) — with her unmistakable white garments betraying this fact.
This is a Christian sect notorious for its propensity to marry off very young girls — some barely in their teens — usually to much older church members, already in polygamous unions.
Who can forget the harrowing tale of Memory Machaya — who, at only 14 years of age, bled to death while giving birth at a shrine in Mutare, Manicaland province in July 2021?
Then, only last month another young mother — 15-year-old Nokutenda Hwaramba — faced a similar fate at a shrine in Norton, Mashonaland West province.
I brought this issue up because what I believe I noticed on the girl in Kwekwe — as she carried her baby.
Judging from how she was talking, she appeared to be proud to be a mother.
I naturally began wondering if, within her sect, being chosen — since most of these “marriages” are entered into not after courtship, but supposed ‘prophecies’ by some church elders — was not perceived as a sign of honour.
Surely, if these girls are brought up under such an oppressive, abusive and manipulative environment — could being picked or chosen among a host of other young “contenders” not eventually be interpreted as a great privilege?
How do those who, let us say, reach the age of 18 without having been “dreamt of” or “prophesied” feel?
Do they not end up feeling as if there is something wrong or unlovable about them?
As I sat there, my mind racing contemplating on all sorts of things — none of which were pleasant — the possibility of these young girls being socialised to anticipate these “marriages” with bated breath became even more nightmarish.
Could indoctrination really reach such terrifying levels?
Before a second passed, fate gave me an answer.
Along came a young man — possibly in his early 20s — strutting like a peacock, in a clear manner of showing all present that he was one of the“top dogs” at the terminus.
Of course, he was wearing his mark of authority — a worn-out dirty ruling Zanu PF party T-shirt, bearing his leader’s face.
It was not too hard to tell that he truly felt like “king of the castle” — ordering around all the other vendors and bus crews (as well as passengers) within the premises — owned by the opposition-led Municipality of Kwekwe.
The power he had been bestowed — by who knows who — had obviously gotten into his head…in truly big fish in small pond fashion.
The troubling similarities between these two scenarios was not lost on me.
Here were two people who were facing some form of abuse by those in authority — yet, clearly none of them perceived their sad and heart-breaking statuses in this light.
Due to years of indoctrination and repression each actually believed that being placed in the regrettable position they were in — was a badge of honour.
The young girl may have thought being chosen by a far older man as his wife was a privilege — which made her more special than the other girls of her age.
The young man — intoxicated by alcoholic beverages, and maybe other illicit substances — felt invincible, as the chosen one among the vendors, bus crews and even passengers.
I seriously doubt if he ever took time to ponder over his plight — while sober — since that would awaken him to the brutal reality that he has actually been impoverished by the same leader whose face he proudly wore.
Both these victims — that is exactly what they are — may never ever have considered that others of their ages, living outside their tragic environments, were, in fact, enjoying a far much better standard of living.
Their peers, elsewhere, were free, living large and achieving phenomenal things in life.
For as long as this young girl remained confined to that sect — she will always believe she was favoured to be married at 15 years old to an elder of the church.
Is that not why most of these girls will never escape from these marriages — and, may actually defend their husbands from justice?
As long as the young man continued to be restricted to life at the bus terminus — he will always feel a master among vendors, bus crews and even passengers.
Is that not why such young people are prepared to unleash savage brutality on anyone who dares criticise their leader?
Both will never dream of a better life — how can they, when this is the best life they have ever known.
It becomes so clear how being oppressed can easily be perceived as an honour and privilege by the victim.
- Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, researcher and social commentator.