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Zimbabwe Briefing - Special Edition
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (SA Regional Office)
November 29
, 2013

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In public, I was never defenceless - in private I was never defended

As a columnist challenging patriarchy, social norms and the status quo I inevitably attracted a lot of harsh criticism, which I took in my stride as being part of the process of bringing uncomfortable topics to the center of public discourse.

I was and am still known for being outspoken, assertive and embracing feminist ideals insofar as they seek to elevate the status of women and challenge patriarchy in its varied manifestations, particularly the inferiorization of women as a social group.

Regardless of which direction the attack came from or how vicious it was, I was never defenceless because I have never apologized for my views and in those instances where I wrote from my lived experience; I was content in the knowledge that my lived experience is non-negotiable and cannot be contested by those who have not lived it.

Beyond these convictions, I always understood the attacks on my work to be merely the playing out of ideological contestation and whilst my ideas mattered to me, I never felt that they should be exempted from scrutiny, criticism and rebuttal. In those instances when the attacks strayed from scrutinizing the ideas I was advancing and became personal missiles aimed at degrading, demeaning and humiliating me - I fought back the best way I knew how - by writing some more because I discovered that when I write no one can shut me up.

As long as I could write, I could never be defenceless.

I thrived in the public sphere because my talents were recognized and rewarded by a system in which ideas were a legitimate currency and dialogue was an acceptable means of articulating varying points of views. So being in the public eye, being viewed as an opinion leader and attracting controversy by daring to speak up against the patriarchal edifice, I learned not to show weakness and the weakness I strove so hard to conceal was an unhappy marriage that I entered into too young owing to the folly of an unplanned pregnancy.

One day, amidst my thriving public life, my private life rudely intruded in the form of my husband’s small house who woke up one morning, provoked by God-knows-what and chose to cause a scene at my workplace. From what I gathered at the time, my husband had deceitfully failed to disclose that he was married and she had fallen in love with him and was quite invested in a future he had sworn that they would build together. She was deceived by my husband and in many ways, so was I.

I am not sure about her motives with regards storming into my work place and going so far as to demand an interview with the vernacular Ndebele newspaper called Umthunywa where she cornered a student reporter and aired all of my husband’s dirty laundry whilst dragging my name through the muck and leaving whatever respect I commanded in the newsroom shredded beyond repair.

I cannot begin to describe the sense of utter humiliation the incident caused especially as the husband at the centre of the whole mess was conveniently stationed out of town and thus spared the ignominy of that vile visit which was heralded by insults hurled at me for the great crime of being married to a man this woman had been led to believe was unmarried and available for the claiming.

I remember the husband coming back home to me from his work base, very unapologetic and quite unperturbed that his small house whom he had impregnated and promised God-knows-what had decided to show up at my workplace and make a public spectacle of me in a bid to legitimize her own claim on him.

He did not defend me at all or attempt to correct the misconceptions he had created around his true marital status. Not once. Through the midnight calls in which that woman taunted me, throughout the text messages laden with vulgarities and spite, throughout the court cases in which I sought and gained a peace order against her barring her from calling my matrimonial home, coming to my house or my place of business - throughout all the abuse - he said and did nothing in my defence.

This man whom I had placed at the centre of my universe, whom I had lain in bed with, whose child I had carried as a mere teenager, whose love I had trusted and believed in and who had managed to convince me that I needed him more than I needed my next breath of air - he did nothing and said nothing in my defence.

If there is a violence that goes beyond the imprint of a slap on a woman’s face, if there is a violence that breaks something more integral than a rib in a woman’s chest, if there is a violence that breaches something more intrinsically personal than a virgin’s hymen, it is the violation of a woman’s hopes and dreams and trust and love and soul and body all poured into and invested in her marriage. To violate such an investment, is to kill a person even while their heart continues to beat, it is to asphyxiate them while their lungs continue to draw breathe and it is to destroy everything they believe and take for granted about the goodness of humanity.

Gender based violence as it is articulated and appreciated in our societies and in our lives often is centered around physical scars - the outward markings of torn flesh, wounded bodies, broken limbs and bruised skin - when daily many married women in Zimbabwe contend with a more profoundly tragic violation of their hearts, souls and minds in the form of unrepentant husbands who have illicit affairs that expose them to societal shame, scorn, derision and the demeaning of their dignities. I am a divorced woman now, defiantly so. Because to attain this status, I had to start defending myself in the private space with the same fervency and vigour with which I had defended myself and my ideas in the public space.

I woke up one day and realized no one would fight for me and that those who had a desire to fight for me because they wished better for me could only do so much. I came to the realization that I was as defenceless as I chose to be.

I am defiant about being happy and willing to pay any price for it including the price of divorcing. To secure a measure of peace in my life, I am more than willing to pay the price of being a divorcee with all its attendant consequences such as the labelling and the fear and the public admonishment that comes with breaking with convention.

Yes, I left! I learned that it is as important, if not more important; to be safe in private as I relatively was in the public realm. I learned to jealously guard and defend my right to a peaceful existence rather than allow myself to become a casualty of the choices of other people including a husband who kept deciding to stray and drag other women into our marriage.

In public, I was never defenceless, in private I was never defended until I learned that we must live as we believe… or not at all. I wish my ex-husband well and hope he has matured over the years but I refused to continue footing that emotional bill he kept accruing in our marriage through bad and selfish choices that placed both our health and lives at risk.

I chose to seek peace and I found it by leaving the warzone I used to call my matrimonial home. As this 16 Days of Activism against Gender based Violence continues, I hope women and men stop allowing themselves to become casualties of the bad choices made by unrepentant partners.

Perhaps divorce ought to be considered a human right because without it so much harm is inflicted and so much pain needlessly endured in attempts to conform to social conventions of what marriage entails.

The institution of marriage needs to undergo a transformation that emphasizes peace over violence, love over ego, respect over dominance and honesty over deception; until then gender-based violence will remain a scourge in the homes and a blight to society.

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