This article the first in a series I wish to publish on my blog.
I believe I was partly made by music and I want to share my raw experiences from as early as I can remember, with regards to interaction with organised noise. It is raw in the sense that I share what I actually experienced as opposed to some researched stuff. I kept no diary at most material times and I depend on memories and whatever comes to mind as I write.
Born in 1963, I grew up in a rural peasant setting as part of a large extended family that included parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces all in one household at one time or another.
My earliest contact with music reminds me of one of my brother, Lameck Farai, glued very closely to the small radio, which we called a wireless or wairosi. My eldest brother Raymond had bought it for himself and later left the radio to my father. Raymond was a teacher and could afford to buy another one. He also kept a constant supply of batteries to my father who was an “addict” of news. My father’s love for news always brought about conflict with Lameck who liked music and would not bother about the batteries which my father said were supposed to be for news only. The conflict was never resolved. Sometimes the batteries would be so out of power, with the new supply not yet in; we would warm them in the sun put them back and they would work again for a short while. Whether alone, or with friends who joined sometimes to listen to specific programmes, my brother would always sing along songs from The Beatles, Credence Clear Water Revivals, The Hurricanes and many more contemporaries. He had one scrap book after another fully stuck with pictures of The Beatles. On the walls of his bedroom were also pictures which I presume he got mostly from magazines brought by relatives who worked for white families in nearby Fort Victoria and mining towns of Mashaba and Shabani or even as far as Salisbury (now Harare) and Bulawayo. Later he also went to Harare to look for work and whenever he came back he came with a fresh supply of pictures.
The radio station we listened to with him was the African Service of the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation (RBC). It was the same that provided the news that my father so liked, although he always claimed they were lies. My father would also try the BBC once in `
while but with limited understanding of English, spoken through the nose he rarely ventured there unless there was something very topical he expected, especially about his favourite politician then, Joshua Nkomo. He also held long discussions on politics which we innocently listened into, with his cousin, Nehemiah Mhere Zivhu, who was reputed for having seen the pioneers passing through our area. I rue my lack of
appreciation of the stories Zivhu told which would have been a good source of oral history. He died in the 1980s and one opportunity after another to record his stories had passed me. He was more than 110 when he died.
The RBC it seems, initially, had limited choice of local music. For African music there was South African which we called Simanjemanje, Zairean music which we called dzamaKasaai, something called Chachacha mainly from Zambia and unplugged recordings from the likes of Epworth Theatrical Strutters, Sinyoro Jackson Chinembiri, Ngwaru Mapundu, Safirio Madzikatire, Jordan Chataika, John White and others. Some of them could be bought on vinyl records and I remember Sekuru Takaidza, whose sister was married to my uncle bringing a gramophone to our village to play the records for us. Because ours was a wireless with no facility to play records we always marvelled at the few who had. We had a few families in our area that had gramophones.
The social setting for dancing to gramophone music was called the tea party. It was a concert for both elders and young. It was a late-night feast hosted by any villager who had the means. The local brew was for sale to the elders. Non-alcoholic drinks and homemade deep-fried buns (or Vetkoeks), mafetikuku were served to the young. A gramophone was hired and people would take turns to pay for music of their choice and selected who to dance with. It could go all night and it was an occasion to look forward to. It was during the simanjemanje fad that I was at an age where I was sometimes allowed to attend a tea party under strict guidance of my elder brothers or sisters. Brother or sister meant anyone who was in our household, as in our culture, we do not have a word for cousin. In fact, it is deemed discriminatory to call someone in any way that suggests cousinship relationship.
There were no live band performances in our area. The only live band performance could be found in mining and peri-urban areas where the Jairos Jiri Band sometimes came. Mr. Jairos Jiri was a philanthropist from Bulawayo who had set up various centres where people living with disabilities learnt various skills including arts such as music. Most of the centres had bands that would raise money for the charity through live performances. In my early life I attended a Jairos Jiri Band gig once in Triangle Sugar Estates where my brother Raymond worked. They could play anything from pop, rock to simanjemanje and it would sound original to my young ears.
The music on the radio was sweet and “modern” in terms of instruments yet I clearly recall a consistent drumbeat that came from various directions depending on the chosen homestead of the day. It was youngsters playing during the full moon. I am talking of people from around fifteen years of age to their thirties. Normally, participation in these activities which they called “jazz” was by marital status. These were events for the unmarried where dancing prowess could win you a future spouse. They were staged in various neighbourhoods and occasionally one group of village youths would meet another to compete. The main instruments were the drum accompanied by clapping and sometimes percussion from dried pumpkin rattles or hosho. The high-pitched fast singing in riddles of lyrics, that ranged from praise to taunts, from a poetic lead singer provided the thrill. They would be accompanied with fast dancing that was done in pairs, boy to girl, while others watched in a circle. The pairs received cheers according to their performance. It is during this noise that a boy could draw near the girl he fancied and throw a word or two. The groups had leaders who would monitor that this does not become a distraction and also that everyone goes to their home after the event. It was very orderly but there were sometimes spoilers who could start a fight and cause the group to disperse early. The spoilers were normally those who could neither sing nor dance and would not have any way of attracting the opposite sex.
Back to the radio, a certain fusion of simanjemanje (which was basically Zulu/Xosa/Sotho South African traditional) with acoustics and wind instruments that did not have lyrics had earlier on been popular. It was based on a lead flute which we corruptly called furete. It also included a penny whistle. In our setting, the instruments could be improvised from reeds that were plenty in river Tugwane near our village. The penny whistle, in particular brought about the improvisation of reed instruments that herd boys played everywhere. We particularly copied South African kwela/marabi songs and entertained ourselves immensely. More skilled boys played the homemade banjos and a band could easily be formed amongst banjo players and those with reed penny whistles. They were sometimes invited to play at tea parties. We particularly tried Johannes “Spokes” Mashiyane’s music. The dance was dubbed tsavatsava which was mainly some form of twist. In later years this music fusion with improved instruments became what is now commonly known as Afro jazz. Simanjemanje fused with South African traditional as well as what was called marabi gave rise to mbaqanga. This was my early musical experiences in the rural setting I grew up. Let’s meet next week for a glimpse of how elders in my area entertained themselves musically.
I have decided to put together what I have traced over some years as my roots. I will not claim 100% accuracy because of lack of verifiable recorded history of the clan. A lot has been gained in conversations with other clansmen and people who interacted with my clan over generations. I love history and will be very glad if people with further information or corrections help to improve my input. This will remain work-in-progress as it is not foolproof at all. Now to the history!
The Karanga society is mainly patrilineal and most of the history that is captured is that of males. The males are also expected to take traditional leadership positions such as chieftainship, but, in the modern society this is changing as women gain more voice and are slowly claiming a share of the heritage.
VaNhinhi is a clan name for a group of Zimbabweans that are also known as of the Shumba Sipambi totem. The group settled at a hill south east of present day city of Masvingo in the mid 19thcentury. They had come from present day Mashonaland district of Hwedza after migrating again from Mudzi/Mutoko area.
There is a rich oral history passed from generation to generation, as well as the recorded one, chronicled through European and other writers, travellers, explorers, missionaries and traders.
The VaNhinhi are a totem title for a small part of the tribes that are known as the Bantu. The Bantu people have occupied most of Central, Eastern and Southern Africa for centuries. They are identified mostly by the common words with different pronunciations, intonations and other minor variations in their languages. Most history of the Bantu was oral and passed from generation to generation. All accounts oral and written, provide a good starting point of understanding the history of a people who had no known system of easily decodable records, though they mingled with people who had forms of writing such as Arab traders from the Middle and Far East as well as missionaries, explorers and early settler Europeans like the Portuguese. In later years a collection of similar language dialects largely spoken in present day Zimbabwe, Mozambique and some small parts of Zambia became collectively known as the Shona. Shona speaking tribes are known as the are earliest residents at, and the builders of the ancient city of Zimbabwe. The early identity of these people revolved around the Karanga, Kalanga, Rozvi and Mbire tribes, who are part of the bigger Bantu group of people of Central, Eastern and Southern African.
I am neither a historian nor anthropologist and my interest is the simple identity of my personal origins and the general history of the small Shumba (lion) Sipambi totem clan of people also called VaNhinhi, who are settled south of the city of Masvingo in Zimbabwe.
I, Pedzisai Mufara, am a MuNhinhi, whose family is settled in Chivi District of Masvingo Province since early 20th Century, having been moved off their land in the area of present day Chief Charumbira by colonial farmers.
The title of the VaNhini dynasty leader is Mambo/Ishe (Chief) Charumbira. The VaNhinhi are probably some of the later settlers in that part of Masvingo Province having arrived from Mutoko via Hwedza around 1840. The VaNhinhi people broke away from the Budya people of Mutoko.
The Shona-speaking people in Zimbabwe, some Nguni and other tribes in Southern Africa use a totem as a form of group identity. It is normally an animal or part of an animal which they hold sacred and give ritual importance. The Shumba (Lion) Nehoreka totem was huge and had originally tracked south from Tanzania via Malawi and Mozambique as part of the centuries of Bantu migration. Nehoreka, through conquest of other clans, became the paramount ruler in what is today Mutoko district. Among his subjects were many people belonging to other totems. The people collectively called themselves the Budjya. Up to now people of Mutoko identify themselves as Budjya and have their own Shona dialect of the same name.
For centuries and for varied reasons, clans broke away from the paramount Budjya group to form their own. The clans relocated to different parts of the area. Journeying southwards seemed to be very popular and historians have identified many groups with Budjya connections that are settled across present day Zimbabwe.
Around 1800, from the Budya people, came a small group that journeyed South to present day Hwedza District in Zimbabwe. It has not been easy to establish whether they were of the Shumba (lion) Nehoreka totem or not at the point of departure from Mutoko. But when they broke off and trekked south to Hwedza, they lived among the Mbire/Svosve. They also passed themselves as of the same VaMbire clan, (tsoko/shoko totem). Their reason for breaking off is also not clear. Our elders say they were hunters and wanted to trade ivory with Portuguese people who frequently visited Svosve area for the purpose. This story has been repeated mostly by those who listened to the spirit of Chainda, the founder of the clan in Masvingo, as it manifested on one of his grandsons, Masikati Zvitambo. Other sources say they had a cattle-rustling charm that got them into trouble with Nehoreka’s people. This theory is propagated by historian Aeneas Chigwedere. Chigwedere’s theories are doubtful, as he completely ignores the fact that the clan initially settled in Hwedza after leaving Mutoko. He claims that his sources did not trace the journey from Mutoko through Hwedza. Yet, it is from Hwedza that our elders easily narrate their journey. Even in invoking the ancestral spirits, it is often common for VaNhinhi to refer to vakasara Hwedza (those who remained in Hwedza) or vari kwaSvosve (those in Svosve’s land). Perhaps this also reinforces the shoko totem issue, which some now want to deny and say they used it to mislead enemies. That we were originally of the shokototem is hardly disputable. Chigwedere is also inaccurate when it comes to the leaders who reached Masvingo. He thinks Sinamano, who was actually the clan patriarch in Masvingo, was killed on the way from Mutoko, yet there is ample evidence from the oral history and the National Archives of Zimbabwe that Sinamano was the patriarch when they settled at Nhinihuru Hill and is buried there.
In Hwedza the group settled near the confluence of Macheke and Save rivers under Chief Svosve for a sometime. The original leaders from Mutoko, Magwenjere, Samhiwa and Musakadongo are buried in the Mukamba area of Hwedza. Magwenjere is known as the patriarch r of the group, who who led them from Mutoko to Hwedza
In Svosve’s area, the other leaders became Sinamano, Nematukununu, Nguvo (a.k.a Bika), Nyakunhuhwa and Nezvigaro. Sinamano was the father figure and leader of the clan at the time of migration to Masvingo.
There are many stories about why they ended up in Masvingo.
The story from our elders is that one of Sinamano’s son, Chainda became possessed by hunting spirits after having been snatched by a mermaid and disappeared into a pool in Macheke river for a year. The myth of the mermaid is highly believed among the Shona and Bantu people in general. Myths aside, it is evident that Chainda became a great elephant hunter using powerful charms for most of his life. It is these charms and prowess at hunting elephant that led him to track down to Masvingo area looking for ivory. But it is also claimed that, when he came out of the mermaid pool, Chainda had gained some horn blowing skills that unsettled the Svosve people. They wanted to get him tried for causing alarm by blowing a trumpet as if there was a war. He fled together with some of the young clansmen he used to hunt with. Yet, another theory is that they had committed a murder against Svosve people and they were chased away. Besides, Chainda, the other prominent people he fled with were Nyakunhuhwa and Rakawota. They tracked southwards through Buhera and Gutu until they crossed Mutirikwi river. The area they settled was ruled by Chirichoga or Mumeri who was also called Nemanwa. It was called Rusvingo. They introduced themselves as hunters and befriended Chirichoga who found them useful in getting rid of problem animals, especially elephants that were destroying crops in his area. They were also to become handy in Nemanwa’s future wars with Mugabe of the VaDuma clan, over the control of the Great Zimbabwe monument.
The group’s ritual was to kill an elephant and keep the tusk on the side which it fell, then give Mumeri the other. They used to take back the tasks to Hwedza and sell to the Portuguese who visited and had also been intermarried with locals to form the Sinyoro Moyo totem. Legend has it that Chainda and his friends were so good at killing elephants that they used a simple axe or bow and arrow. They say Chaenda used to blow the trumpet and his charm would cause the elephants to dance in confusion and become “sitting ducks” as they killed them.
Mumeri decided to marry off his daughter to Chainda. The daughter’s brother was called Chiringaringa. But chainda was under an oath not to touch a woman, so he ceded her to his cousin Rakawota. As they became more settled, they decided to ask their parents in Hwedza to join them and settle in Rusvingo. Mumeri, who was also known as Chirichoga or Nemanwa allowed them to bring their parents and settle in Rusvingo. They brought Sinamano the father and his brothers, as well as other prominent leaders such as Nguwo (a.k.a Bika), Nematukununu, Nyakunhuhwa and Nezvigaro. This group propagated into the totem/clan known as vaNhinhi. The clan was named after the hill they had made their headquarters, which is called Nhinhihuru. Although Sinamano was the father figure, the prominent leader of the group was Chainda. He shared power with Nguvo who was commonly known as Bika (cook) because of his prowess at concocting different charms. Legend has it that Bika could make a fire on top of a thatched hut and roast his meat there without burning the hut. He gave his dog some charm that made it capable of killing bull elephants easily. There are also claims that, all predators would shy away from attacking Chainda, Bika and their fellow hunters when they met them in the bush because of the repelling charm they possessed. Hungry prides of lions would pass them as they roasted their day’s kill for dinner. I must warn the reader here, that VaNhinhi, including living ones today, have a well-known penchant for exaggerating!
The group was not always united. For instance, Nyakunhuhwa went on to define his own totem as Shumba Chipamutoro or Jichidza and settled in present day Zaka district. There were other minor splits that led to other small shumba groups that proliferate the Masvingo area up to today.
Chainda and his people and their descendants became very useful to Nemanwa’s fights with other tribes that were competing for the control of the ancient city of Zimbabwe. It is not known at what point Chainda took over Nemanwa’s daughter who he had ceded to Rakawota, but in due course he had several wives including Chiringaringa’s daughters and many children. Together with other VaNhinhi families, they had a strong army that helped factions in disputes over the control of Great Zimbabwe.
Chainda and his clan were not interested in the control of Zimbabwe but would help one group or the other, with the result that they played a big role in ousting Mugabe of the VaDuma clan from Great Zimbabwe. That was also the beginning of their carving of a territory for themselves and stretching all sides from their original settlement of Nhinhihuru.
The Europeans who wrote about the great Zimbabwe mentioned the VaNhinhi many times. Karl Mauch who is known as the first European to record sighting of the ancient city had several mentions of Chief Charumbira with various misspellings. The European who showed Karl Mauch the ruins, was Adam Render. Render had settled in the area and is said to have married a local woman. Karl Mauch, records the wife as the daughter of Pika, a corruption of the name Bika. Other writers like Render’s son, refute his marriage to local women. But it is clear Render, a hunter and fortune seeker, had settled among the VaNhinhi hunters. He probably also benefited from their hunting prowess and shared notes.
VaNhinhi were quite ritualist like most of the people at that time. So most of the places they occupied became “sacred”. They had different sacred sites for purposes such as rain making and burying royalty such as Barapate. Mauch also briefly delved in the VaNhinhi myths by trying to locate the mystic pot (pfuko yaNevanji, which was also known as pfuko dzaKuvanji) at Mufurawasha hill in vain. All hills in the lands that VaNhinhi annexed were considered sacred; Nyanda, Magari, Mufurawasha, Ruvhure etc. and they are mentioned in their praise poetry to emphasise their ownership.
The other records, that are corroborated by oral history are of the VaNhinhi participating in wars for control of the Great Zimbabwe city. In one instance, Mugabe was ousted from the city by the Manwa people with the help of Chainda but the shrine kept on changing hands. Chainda started to carve a territory gaining land from all surrounding chiefs that included his in-law, Nemanwa, Mugabe, Mapanzure, Shumba, Bere and Chivi. Although, they had come from Hwedza as people of the Svosve Mbire or Shoko/Tsoko totem, Chainda’s people were by now known as of the Shumba (lion) (i)Sipambi, meaning the lion that does not loot, (probably in reference to their disinterest in Great Zimbabwe and that they were getting land as a reward for their fighting prowess). This, despite the fact that, it is also clear, they carved their territory out of other people’s land.
The prominent names among Chainda’s children were sons, Makoti, Marombedze, Chitanda, Mudavose, Mudavanhu and Musundiwa. Chainda allocated them different pieces of land to settle as his heirs. By the time of his death, he had gained all power of the clan and was considered as the chief. Thus, a chieftaincy had been formed to rival other groups around the area complete with a governance structure led by Chainda.
Chainda’s leadership was inherited by one of his son Mudavanhu. Although, he was not the eldest there were some ritual omissions and commissions that ended up with him taking the leadership. In the end, it is Chainda’s spirit that possessed a family member and named Mudavanhu the heir as he had been disappointed by the heir-apparent Makoti. This is one version, while the other was that, when mothers of some of the brothers were approached, as was the custom, they had refused to have their sons take over Chainda’s reigns because they did not want their sons to also inherit his powerful charms (makona, which sometimes were viewed negatively as they could cause both good and harm).
Mudavanhu continued his father’s legacy as a hunter-warrior. He increased the original territory and became famous. It is the fame that gave him the name “Charumbira”. “Kurumbira” or “kukurumbira” is to be famous in Karanga language. Charumbira, that is, the famous one’s other nick-name was “Chikumbwe” which is a black cricket, assumedly because of his dark complexion. He had many sons organised into 8 houses for the purpose of taking turns in chieftainship. It is only the leaders of these “houses” and their offsprings who take turns to the chieftainship.
The women among the VaNhinhi play pivotal roles. The spirit medium of Chainda was once possessing Chitema, his daughter. The honorific for addressing VaNhinhi women is “VaCharu”, as in short for Charumbira. An even higher honorific is VaChana which depicts the most honoured “sister/auntie” of the clan. The women are normally consulted to provide counsel in difficult situations in the Karanga tradition of vatete (aunt), who gives mazano (advice). Spinsters and married women can also be honourably addressed as “MaSibanda”, adopted from the Ndebele language. For both ritual and social purposes, the women are consulted but they always remain in the background. Their children, the nephews (vazukuru) to VaNhinhi, are highly revered and play a roving ambassador role, settling family disputes and performing rituals.
Charumbira’s power was later partly neutralised by the arrival of the Matabele, who had superior war methods and were easily overrunning most of the Shona-speaking tribes. Many of his people were also taken as hostages and incorporated into the Matabele impis (warrior regiments). This was done to all clans and most never returned and were assimilated into the present days Ndebele tribes as part of the Sibanda totem.
In later years, under the rulership of Mudavanhu’s children, the European colonialists came. The clan was weak then, and cooperated with them. During the process of colonisation, the Europeans tried to understand and re-organise the chieftainship inheritance of all local tribes. It was and still remains chaotic. In the case of Charumbira, they put on record the 8 houses but like most traditional leaderships in Zimbabwe, things have never been the same for the Charumbira clan. This, however, is not the subject of this work.
Mudzimbasekwa – My Lineage.
Among the chieftainship “houses” is one led by Mudzimbasekwa. Mudzimbasekwa was a prince through and through as his mother was Princess Gawa, one of the two daughters of Tavengegweyi, the founder of the Shumba Chivi-Mhari dynasty and paramount Chief in present day Chivi District. Mudzimbasekwa was given land to settle by Tavengegweyi, his maternal grandfather, at Chivhuraugwe Hill in the then Masunda area of Chivi, about 60km south of present day city of Masvingo. He lived there for some years before the advent of colonialism until he was called back to take his turn at chieftainship. He ruled the VaNhinhi clan and died before the colonisation of Zimbabwe. After his death, his children, led by the eldest, Chisveto settled within the Charumbira territory at Vadanda River about 30km along the present day Masvingo-Beit Bridge highway, near Tugwi River, that demarcates into Chivi District.
Chisveto, the leader of the family died there and leadership of the family went to his young brother Rugiyo. The other brothers were Mufara and Nhukudu. The land was allocated to Europeans during colonisation and a white man, who our elders only knew as Chijaka took over. He allowed them to stay but was using their sons as forced labour (commonly known as chibharo in Karanga), taking them to work for free at his other farm in Beit Bridge area. Rugiyo’s sons, Chabwenya (est. dob 1900) and Kwangware (est. dob 1906) and Mufara’s son Mapombwa (est. dob 1906) were always exploited this way by Chijaka. The exploitation intensified after the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 and it is around this time that Rugiyo led the family away from Chijaka’s farm. Rugiyo, Mufara and Nhukudu’s families sought refuge with their aunt’s family, the Zivhu’s (Hungwe), who had some land under Chief Chivi. Chinjiki, Mudzimbasekwa’s sister was the matriarch of the Zivhu family. Nhukudu moved back to settle at Nhinhihuru in waiting for the Mudzimbabsekwa house’s next turn at chieftainship. His son, Kanganisai (dob 1922) went with the rest of the family to Chivi. The brothers seemed to have gotten tired of the squabbles that often accompanied succession but passed oral history of the “house”’s claim. They however kept in touch and the family has always been part of succession discussions.
Rugiyo died while the family was hosted by Zivhu. Because, the Zivhu family lived near Chibi Mission of the Dutch Reformed Church, Kwangware gained enough education to become a helper (African teacher) to other villagers. Him, together with Mufara’s son, Kwandi (est dob 1911) became the literate members of the family. They were close friends to Mhere Zivhu (est. dob 1885), their cousin, who had seen the pioneer column as a young herd boy. Muzukuru Mhere Zivhu, who had also briefly attended Chivi Mission contributed a lot with the oral history of the family. I often had unrecorded interviews with him which I regret to have taken too lightly. He lived up to 1980 which means he had a possible full century or more of life. Mufara inherited most of his brothers’ wives and with one of them had other children including sons, Bvakacha, Mandivamba, Svodziwa and Vunganai. Mudzimbasekwa’s sons had many daughters who they married off as per tradition. Most were married in chieftain and village headman families as it was known that we were also royal. They had great deep Karanga names such as Punha, Tetesva, Maroyi, Gugwayi, Chirinde, Musiyiwa, Mandivona, Mativone, Maribha etc.
After staying with the Zivhus for some time Rugiyo died and Mufara became the leader of the family. He thought of taking the family back to Chivhuraugwe Hill, the place that Tavengegweyi had given his grandson Mudzimbabsekwa, Mufara’s father. On his way, he passed through Chief Masunda area. He passed by a harvest beer feast where he learnt that Chief Masunda’s area was being demarcated. The original Chief Masunda’s mother was a Charumbira clan daughter and by virtues of that all the Masundas revered all Charumbiras, male and female as their “mothers”. The Masunda who was taking the western area of the division was called Zvakavapano. He offered Mufara an area to settle as one of the village heads or Sabuku. Thus, he did not proceed to Chivhuraugwe, but Mufara village was founded and is presently located along the Tugwane River, adjacent to the Masvingo-Beit Bridge Road about 50km from the city. At the time of settling there, Rugiyo’s remaining son was Kwangware after Chabwenya had died. Kwangware, later led his and Chabwenya’s family to settle in Chiware area under Chief Takavarasha in Chivi, along the Runde River that border Zishavane’s Mazvihwa Communal lands.
Nhukudu, who had remained in waiting for the chieftainship lived until 1971. The story is that an inauguration date had been set for 3rdJanuary, 1972 but he unfortunately died on 31stDecember, 1971.
Meanwhile, the Mudzimbabsekwa family has multiplied but are all settled in Chivi, far away from Chainda’s land. Many more VaNhinhi are all over the country and the world at large.
Dynast History Book 4: The Shumba Sibanda Dynasties, 2016.
There is a lot of controversy and revisionism around this totem issue and some clansmen get sensitive about it; adamant that we have never been of shoko totem.
List may not be exhaustive (some say they were 32 sons). Highlights depict the rotating “houses”. Authors lineage in yellow.
One of my friends from another African country just asked me what I want to be in the “new” Zimbabwe. I said I will remain who I am, contributing what I have always contributed to the best of my ability; taking every opportunity to contribute more. He also wanted to know whether, I have no close enough affiliation to gain from the new dispensation to get a high post. I said, I still hold the same qualifications and experience that he knows and they are very relevant in Zimbabwe and I will use them effectively. I knew his questions were in jest but they prompted me to think more about what I have always worried about in terms of Governance practices in Africa. My first-hand experience of this is of course in my motherland, Zimbabwe. I have a passion for rural development and perhaps it is the right place to start my blog.
The complexities of the African economic models are intriguing if not maddening. There is an oft repeated truism that Africa is not poor; it is rich in resources but its people are poor. This structural poverty would not be much of a tragedy if practical steps were being taken over the years to address it. But having lived under a settler regime for the first 17 years of my life and 37 years in an independent Zimbabwe, I am experiencing that despair of seeing myself leaving this world with evidence that my country is in a worse state than I found it when I was born. My despair is not about personalities, regimes and allegiances. It is my personal experience of watching things deteriorate at all levels of life; sometimes a complete stop and even a reversal of all progress being made over the years.
In a basic rural family like the one I grew up in the arid Chivi District, which is in what is called region 5, meaning the least climatically and agriculturally endowed area of Zimbabwe, food self-sufficiency was taken for granted. Indeed, we never received food aid from anyone during our youths. We grew our food and our parents sold the surplus to send us to school including relatively expensive secondary boarding schools. There were many lean years where the rain may not have been enough as well as real drought years, but we would be having some grain reserves from previous season and also sell livestock to buy some. Our food self-sufficiency status was shared by at least 70% of the population. The families that did not have enough food were either plain lazy while others were vulnerable people due to old age, or being widows. There were able bodied people who did not have draught power for tillage but I must emphasise people really cared for each other. It was common for those without cattle for tillage draught power to be assisted by relatives or to be given animals to look after and use by those who had excess. So the safety nets from starvation were there and the solutions were local. No-one came to feed us from overseas. We had enough not only for ourselves but even to feed battalions of freedom fighters that lived with us for the last 5 years of settler rule leading to independence.
I was reminded about the promise of independence by one ex-fighter I met. We were reminiscing of the war-time exploits and adventures. It was not because I had forgotten about the promises of independence; I have always kept them dear to my heart and have cried over how the dream is being trampled upon by selfish individuals, some of whom, sacrificed nothing for its attainment. This, can be saved for another day. What has happened to our food self-sufficiency?
The most immediate excuse is climate change! Yes, we have had really bad rainy seasons especially in the region I am writing about. But mark my words, as I grew up, I saw a strategy against this unfolding although I had no clue what it was all about. In those days, Government people who came with machines and stood in our fields one at each end mapping how contours should shape to form a single unit of a tillage area. Once the mapping was done our parents were shown how to dig ridges, drainages and water reservoirs that shielded rain water from running down slopes without downward sippage. Our parents were literally forced to dig and shape these drains by the colonial masters. They called them makandiwa, a localisation for the word contours. The whole concept was forced and apparently misunderstood by locals and they coined a song they sang during community work gatherings. The song was called Nhamo yamakadiwa, or the bother of (being forced to dig) contours. Besides preventing runoff, contour ridges stored water for a considerable period. This allowed fast growing crops t to withstand longer periods of absence of rain. This is my layman understanding of it but there is more to it if experts care to explain further. It was one way that was effective in getting at least some agricultural produce in these arid areas. Perhaps also the colonialist’s way of making sure we forget about the more fertile land that had been snatched from us, as our harvests improved; but today it falls under climate smart agriculture. This needs a lot of attention from government; get people to practice this type of agriculture for basic food security.
There were also, in the same district, a few irrigation schemes for supplementary cropping with massive plans for new dams over the years. In my area one huge dam was completed about 10 years after independence but the irrigation scheme planned with it has had several false starts and promises during election times until recently when some work started on it with donor funding. It is now functional. In the same district again, the Tokwe –Mukorsi Dam took forever to complete with one excuse after another while people were queuing for donor food like paupers in their own rich motherland. Surely there are several ways to fight climate change at both micro and macro level and whining and blaming are not the best of them.
Is there a way back to food self-sufficiency? Yes, and the first step is for communities to be allowed to take full responsibility of their development, of course with central government support. Government support does not mean donating or mobilising donor community, hell no! Government support means progressive policies, efficient support structures such as extension services, research, farmer education and leaving people free to pursue their dreams without dragooning them into (often violent) party politics. We need rule of law in these communities where people realise fruits of their sweat without being forced to “donate” to leadership that is bringing nothing to them.
Communities have always been known to donate to celebrate births, to manage funerals or simply to help the vulnerable. We are seeing too much coercion towards “donating” unaccounted for monies. We are also seeing too much patronising of able-bodied people by both Government, political parties and NGOs offering the “relief” food even under the slightest hint of an emergency thereby completely killing initiative amongst people who were food self-sufficient less than 37 years ago. People had cohesive safety nets against hunger in my home area.
It is lamentable that I have to say the way education and industry were arranged gave more opportunities to the villagers in my area than it is now. The school system had bottlenecks. Besides those who dropped school without primary school certificates, there was a strict bottleneck at the last primary grade. Less than a tenth of our generation proceeded to secondary school, not only because of the bottleneck but also due to lack of school fees or the general apathy towards education by some of the parents.
Most dropout boys from our village ended up joining the nearby asbestos mines of Mashaba and Shabani, initially as ‘garden boys’. They would graduate into various menial roles in the mines as they grow up. More adventurous ones would move to garment factories in Bulawayo and metal factories in Gweru. The employed family members also became part of the safety nets during lean years. Of course those who did not make it to town became master farmers sometimes. The working boys always invested in livestock which became good savings used when they grow up and retire. The veterinary systems were efficient enough to dip cattle as regularly as was required. The main roads were fenced and there was no unnecessary loss of livestock to road traffic accidents like what happens today in the nearby Masvingo-Beit Bridge Road.
Today, most school leavers, who now have secondary and tertiary level education, queue and fight for relief food. They are also available for hire by unscrupulous politicians to visit the mother of all violence upon their own neighbours during election periods. Surely, can we not make our young people productive again? Can we not be food self-sufficient again? This takes me back to my encounter with my wartime comrade which I referred to earlier.
He was an armed combatant trained in Mozambique and a sub-commander; I was a collaborator or mujibha, a local boy available for errands and reconnaissance. There were many of us and I was very young and actually not supposed to be a mujibha although I enjoyed spending time with the fighters. This time I gave him a lift from Chiredzi and we did not remember each other until we started to talk about our homes and I discovered that he operated in mine during the war. Once we remembered each other we started to reminisce.
We talked about one incident that he had to hijack a bus to escape Rhodesian forces that were pursuing him. Almost as if talking to himself afterwards, he said words to this effect, “Imagine I was doing all that for the love of my country and people. The promise was for a better Zimbabwe for all, not for us the fighters only. I never thought one day I will receive privileges over others just for volunteering to fight for justice. Now all I hear is mawarvet want this mawarvet that. Always talking of things which were not on our agenda. Our agenda was for everyone; not for us only!” We were silent for a moment. I did not want to comment. I wanted to ask a question but I did not know how to frame it. His thinking was too reasonable and unconventional for someone who is receiving benefits. But I think he said it out of real conviction and was not apologetic about it. We talked about other issues but what he said has remained in my mind as one of the developmental issues the Government we got after independence missed in a big way. Inclusivity! I am not sure how, we as a society have compartmentalised ourselves so much from village level to national level, because inclusivity is a vital cog of development. And, diversity is a great asset for any society!
It is not a secret that the war veterans themselves have felt, justifiably, that they have been victims of exclusion by politicians in independent Zimbabwe. Besides the demobilisation pay, there was no post-war rehabilitation and re-integration into society. Parents and relatives were left to deal with the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) of their children while some politicians enjoyed the fruits of the newly independent Zimbabwe. Rhodesians and nationalist politicians had caused the war by failing to reach some majority rule settlements on countless opportunities. The young combatants fought valiantly for their country but once freedom was attained they were also left out by politician. It took real threat of opposition, 17 years after independence for the war vets to be remembered but only as storm troopers who could be enticed with rewards of largesse. Unfortunately, they also quickly forgot who had cared for their PTSD and started terror against their relatives and actively participated in exclusion of the so-called opposition supporters; actually, fellow countrymen who happened to think differently.
It was never conceivable that the people who galvanised the rural people to take the highest risks for their country will be the same people who will divide them for personal gain of selfish politicians. I am a firm believer of the freedom we fought for. People and groupings of people should be left to pursue their legitimate economic and social endeavours without anyone forcing divisive ideologies on them. We had our own way of relating in the village where it was possible to exchange and spread cohesion through, family, totem, marriage, neighbourhood and simple camaraderie. But all what divides us now is politics of the stomach; that is who gets what freebie from passing politicians and irresponsible NGOs driven by their employees’ self-interest. We had character and I know it can be restored if we are freed to pursue our life endeavours. We have always been hardworking survivors, loyal to each other and patriotic to our country. We are being divided by a few overfed politicians for their self-interest. We can be productive again even in our arid region. All we want is the infrastructural support that Government has an obligation to provide using our taxes. We need security that ensures that the criminals among us are apprehended to face justice; not impunity.
My vision is of a society where people are free to pursue their life endeavours. A society with basic local solutions and safety nets to poverty. Donating for consumption must only be contemplated in exceptional circumstances of natural disasters. We cannot celebrate being charity cases. Over the years Zimbabwe invested in education and skills training at levels unparalleled in the whole of Africa. This is one of our independences’ enduring legacy. We have also achieved very admirable work ethics that are lauded all over the world where Zimbabweans have scattered to due to economic hardships. The challenge is, can we have the best among us take the post they are most qualified to deliver? Can we ride the bane of nepotism? If we properly place our manpower according to talent and ability the dividend will accrue to everyone. It is no use allocating huge resources under that stewardship of people who are not qualified to manage them simply because they are related to powerful people. Nepotism is a huge drawback in African economies. My really hope for Zimbabwe is that we see merit and exploit it of r the benefit of all.
Let us get on track by starting with the basic things such as food self-sufficiency. Let us empower ourselves. It is possible. We have been there before!