Till class do us apart!
I could not help but notice how a young Netsai almost failed to cope with dealing with her five children. Their ages ranged from 2 to 6 years, that was an assumption I made. In the deep valley of Bocha, a rural village on the eastern side of Zimbabwe popularly known for its high temperatures, the story of young mothers being left by their supposed husbands is one too common.
The writer in me pushed me to engage with Netsai who told me how her husband of seven years left her for a learned woman. She married young, at the age of 17. I asked if she knew that underage marriage was illegal. She avoided the question but proudly went on to explain the honor that came with marrying young. According to their culture, marrying young meant you could bore as many children to your husband in your prime years.
I could only imagine what emotions marriage failure could invoke. It all started when Netsai’s then husband got a job as a garden boy in the city of Mutare. With his wages he managed to put himself through school until he obtained a certificate at one of the polytechnic colleges. His great break came through when he secured a job in one of the oil refinery companies. Netsai’s prayers had finally been answered. She was already imagining life in the urban areas. She had been on a bus only three times in her life and she couldn’t help but get excited over the simple fact that the city life that was now before her meant she could ride those buses at any given time or place.
Netsai had heard many stories about men who went to work in cities who never returned to the village. To her these were just stories. Never did Netsai imagine that she would be counted as one of the statistics.
Four, five, six months passed and Netsai didn’t hear any word from her husband who we will name Lukay. Tears flowed and dried as she slowly began to realize the sad reality that was creeping up on her. Even if she wanted to look for him, where would she begin? Someone who had never traveled to the city in all her 24 years. People in her community started talking. They could all see the misery that was in this young woman’s eyes. A local church pastor came to her rescue when he offered her a chance to send a message to the radio station and file a missing persons report.
Netsai’s story is one of the many untold similar stories. All these women claim that their husbands left them over educated women. The value placed on education has significantly increased in African culture. People of old believed that educating a woman was not necessary as she would someday leave her fathers house. For some it was believed that an educated woman could not submit to her husband.
What do we say in the case of Netsai? The same system that supposedly broke her marriage and left her to the care of five very young children. The ‘cultural system’ limited Netsai’s life to merely just being the teachers of traditional values and their importance. Her getting educated meant this culture would get diluted and the idea of education in a woman was totally unthought of let alone entertained. The patriarchal superiority could not be overruled. A lot of women had tried it and it ended in shame. For some very unfortunate women, it ended in the grave. How things work in my culture always boggled my mind. Many times I have wished I could be born white but that’s beyond me so I’m forced to face my reality. I asked Netsai what she would tell her children when they asked her where their father went. She sadly couldn’t answer me and loudly sobbed. Could she still honor the ethics of the same Ubuntu culture that let her down? I wouldn’t judge her if she chose not to. I too wouldn’t remain bonded to practices that have resulted in my own pain whilst protecting other people. ‘The older women scolded me and said had I put muti (muti refers to african voodoo believed to work magic on the one you desire) in his food he wouldn’t have left. Others said he left because I didn’t bathe properly’.
Nothing Netsai could have done would stop her fate. She was not to blame for choices Lukay made. No one was ever going to go out and look for Lukay and confront him over the family he left in the villages. Chances were he remarried and his new wife would never know that behind this man is a struggling family of six that were left to fend on their own somewhere in the villages of Bocha.
I wish I could tell Netsai that the biggest challenge she was currently facing was her mindset, she became a prisoner to her surroundings. I longed to inform her that in the last 25 to 30 years, modernisation and technology gave the African woman a new freedom she never knew existed. The moment she knew that she could still proceed with her education even after giving birth to four kids, perspectives shifted for her. When the African woman held her first Bachelors degree and still got married defying all odds again, perspectives shifted. When the African woman was taught about her worth and her ability to change her community, the curse was broken.
29 May, 2023