Home » Human Rights » Days of Beating Up Women Are Over [column]

The young man from Nhiriri Village beat up his wife because he said she was due for disciplining. In the middle of the night, when all was quiet and only the owls and hyenas were moving around, the beaten wife ran away, leaving a nine-month-old baby lying on the old double bed next to her husband.

The young man, whose name is Jairosi Nhiriri, was woken up by the screaming baby around sunrise.

The baby was hungry.

Jairosi did not pick the baby up.

Instead, he put on his trousers, went outside with his pink shirt in hand.

Outside, he yawned, put on his shirt and called his wife by his son’s name. “Mai Desire! Mai Desire!” but she did not answer.

She was well and truly miles and miles away from the village, nursing her black eye, a result of being beaten up the night before. She was running away to faraway relatives where Jairosi had never been before.

When Mai Desire failed to respond, Jairosi noticed that her handbag and good shoes were missing. He picked up the screaming, hungry and wet baby from the bed and took him to Mbuya, his grandmother, who lives just a few metres away.

Jairosi handed over the baby to her. Mbuya immediately changed the baby, fed him red millet porridge, bota rezviyo and handed him back to his father.

Jairosi begged Mbuya to take the baby while he went to look for his wife.

But Mbuya said no, he should take his baby with him and search for his wife then resolve the differences they have with each other. Jairosi packed the baby’s nappies, blankets and clothes.

Then he walked to his wife’s village.

We saw Jairosi around midday, walking along the tarred road between Save River and Hwedza.

The sun was beating so hot on him and the baby. Jairosi had the baby strapped on his back, the way women carry babies.

It was a most unusual sight. Men do not carry babies on their backs unless something bad has happened to the mother of the baby.

I stopped the car and asked what had happened. Why was he, a young man, carrying a baby on his back?

Where was the baby’s mother? Before Jairosi could answer our questions, he asked for a lift to Hwedza.

We could see the distress on his sweating face. He handed over the baby to my cousin Piri who was sitting in the front seat as usual.

We were coming back from a small marriage ceremony in the village. In the back seat was my niece Shamiso, her husband Philemon, baby Prince and Sekuru Batsi, Philemon’s uncle from Bocha in Buhera.

Sekuru Batsi had been on a mission to pay part of the remaining bride price for Shamiso, as is the custom. A man never finishes paying the bride price.

Each time he gets a little bit of money, he goes back to his in-laws to pay a cow or some more money. They say, Mukuwasha, the son-in-law, is like a fig tree, it never stops giving out fruit. This way, lobola or the bride price keeps strengthening hukama, family relationships. Lobola also allows mukuwasha to beat his wife if she misbehaves.

That is the way it used to be like among our elders. Though it was wrong to abuse and beat women, some men said the bride price gave them authority to discipline a woman, kuranga mukadzi.

When Jairosi was settled in the car, sitting between Sekuru Batsi and Philemon, he told us how he had arrived home the previous evening only to find that his wife, Mai Desire was still at church or visiting friends or relatives. “I said to her, ‘Mai Desire, your duty is to me, your husband first. You must know when it’s time to come home and cook for me,” I said.

But Mai Desire did not pay attention to Jairosi’s complaints. Instead, she placed the screaming baby on the floor, started making a fire to cook sun dried vegetables.

Did she not know that Jairosi hated sadza with sun-dried vegetables?

There were so many chickens running around the yard. Why did she not kill one for him seeing it’s almost time for Christmas and Jairosi was already feeling quite joyous? Mai Desire then said Jairosi was always in a joyous mood after a drink. Christmas or no Christmas made no difference to him.

She told him to go to Harare and look for a job because she was tired of having a lazy man around the house all the time.

“That is what got me. My wife called me lazy. How many people are lying around under trees in Harare because there are no jobs? Is it my fault that I have no job?” Jairosi looked at all of us, searching for an answer.

“Life in Harare is hard my brother. Zvakaoma,” said Philemon.

“So Mai Desire kept on saying a lot of all rubbish. A man can only take so much. I slapped her. She fell and screamed, running to Mbuya’s house. They came back together and Mbuya tried to mediate between us. I apologised to Mbuya but not to Mai Desire because there was no need say sorry. Mbuya left. Mai Desire cooked sadza. I did not take any because I do not like dried vegetables. She ate quietly while I smoked my cigarette outside. Then we went to bed. This morning, I was woken up by the baby and Mai Desire was nowhere to be seen.”

“Why did you not go to her village?” Piri asked. Jairosi said he had already been there and she was had not been there at all. Mai Desire’s father was alone at home. Jairosi said he left the father very quickly because he was too embarrassed to explain why he had the baby.

“So, where are you taking the baby now?” asked Shamiso.

“To the police station at Hwedza,” said Jairosi. “Why?” we all asked.

“So the police can go looking for my wife. It is a crime in Zimbabwe for a woman to abandon a baby that is still being breast-fed,” said Jairosi.

“It is not a crime to leave your baby in the care of his father. But it is a crime to beat your wife. You can go to prison for that,” said Shamiso, chewing and blowing bubbles with her bubblegum. Philemon looked at her with a big frown on his face.

“How can I be called a man if I cannot discipline my wife by giving her a good beating?” asked Jairosi.

“You should not discipline a woman. She is not child,” Piri said, with an unusual calmness. “Why not?” interjected Sekuru Batsi.

Then he went on to give us a lecture. “When a woman behaves badly, a man must discipline her. That was the way it was with our grandfathers and our fathers. A woman will think you do not love her if you fail to beat her up once in a while.”

From the rear view mirror, I could see Jairosi smiling and relaxing.

He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his pink shirt. Then he said, “I paid lobola for this woman. She must learn to obey me. Sekuru, ndinonzi murume chii, ndisingarovi mukadzi?” asked Jairosi, meaning how he can be called a man when he was not capable of beating up his own wife.

“This business of beating up your wife is not allowed. In Western countries you can go to jail for domestic violence,” I said.

“Tete, let the Western countries do what they want to do with their women. After all, they do not pay lobola. Our women must know that the man is the head of the house. Why do women want to change the way we were created?” asked Sekuru Batsi.

“Speak Sekuru, speak,” said Jairosi. Taurai zvenyu Sekuru. Both Philemon and Jairosi nodded their heads in agreement. Sekuru did not stop there.

“I have heard that overseas, some women do not like men. A woman can fall in love with another woman and then look for a man to put a seed in a tube. That seed is then taken with a syringe and placed in a woman.” We all laughed at Sekuru’s attempts to sensitively and politely explain the process, zvisinganyadzise.

“That is a lie. A woman cannot have a baby like that,” said Piri.

I said, such complex incidences of fertilisation do happen in Western countries where same sex love happens.

“The stories you are telling me now speak of a culture very different from ours. A boy who grows up in a village learning how to be a man will not do that. He will only know how to love a woman,” said Sekuru Batsi.

“He will also know how to beat up a woman,” said Piri laughing. “And suffer the consequences.”

We stopped at Hwedza Growth Point and dropped Jairosi Nhiriri and his son Desire. As we left, we saw him settling on a bench outside the shop and feeding the baby Fanta from a plastic cup. “That will teach him a lesson,” said Shamiso, spitting out her bubble gum and throwing it out through the open window.

“The days of beating up women are over.”

Dr Sekai Nzenza is an independent writer and cultural critic.

Source : The Herald