Home » General » The Past and Our Culture of Lying [opinion]

During the days when this country was called Rhodesia, my mother lied to government people a lot. She was not the only one who did this.

Most people in the village and all over the country lied. In those days, it seemed perfectly normal to do so.

At the dip tank, we had eight cattle, and everyone in the village knew them all by name. But when the dip tank attendant, Mudhibisi, came to our village to ask if my mother was compliant with the Rhodesian livestock policy that Africans should have only five cattle because there was not enough grazing land around, my mother lied.

I recall her standing there in front of the granary, barefoot, wearing a blue crimpline dress, a green and pink floral apron and a paisley patterned-headscarf tied over her thick plaited hair.

With confidence, my mother said we had three cattle, one steer, one cow and a calf.

That was not true because we had five more cattle including one big bull called Mhofu, a black cow called Tokasi and the best milk producing cow called Chitima. But we all looked straight at Mudhibhisi and nodded even though we knew that our mother was lying.

Then Mudhibhisi left us alone and carried his cattle register to my grandfather, Sekuru Dickson.

He inquired about the number of cattle Sekuru Dickson had.

Apart from Munhenga, the grinding mill owner, Sekuru had more than 20 cattle, several goats, sheep and a few pigs.

Sekuru also lied about the number of cattle he owned and so did everyone right across all the villages. Cattle were wealth.

Admitting to more cattle than your quota meant that you were forced to sell to the European farmers on Charter Estates, so they could interbreed their cattle with the drought resistant Mashona type.

My mother’s ability to lie reached the height of success when she took each one of us children to be interviewed as part of an application to get a birth certificate at the Native District Commissioner’s office in Chivhu.

In those days Chivhu was called Enkeldoorn, an Afrikaner or Dutch name supposed to mean “single thorn”.

When we reached Grade 7, it was mandatory that each child produced birth certificates before writing the final examinations.

No birth certificate, no entrance into high school. It was government policy. Since we were born in the village and nobody was recording the exact time of birth, all those details were quickly forgotten, only to arise again when applying for a birth certificate.

Two adult witnesses were required to confirm that you were your parent’s child and you were born in the kraal.

Each year the education department varied the age required when entering Form 1. For my mother, it was necessary to comply by lying in order to get all eleven birth certificates for us.

For a whole week before the trip to get a birth certificate, my mother coached the village kraal head, Sabhuku and the midwife, Nyamukuta, because they were regarded as the credible witnesses at the Native Commissioner’s office. She trained them in the art of lying about everything including the date and year of birth.

We travelled to Enkeldoorn and waited in long queues because everyone from the Tribal Trust Lands brought their children to get birth certificates. Some of the children came with uncles, grandparents and other relatives who pretended to be the parents.

The questions from the African clerks were many, asked each witness separately: “When was this child born? What is her English name? Which kraal was she born? Who was there when she was born? What is the name of your school? Show me your father’s ID.”

In the background was the European Native Administrator, smoking and moving around in his black trousers, white shirt and tie.

He looked scary. I had never been that close to a white man other than the cattle inspector who came to the dip tank occasionally.

I remember wondering whether he would know that all these people were lying.

We failed two times to get a birth certificate because the midwife caught a glimpse of the Native Administrator and she froze with fear and forgot my name or what day or year I was born.

She confused me with one of my older sisters. We were called liars and unceremoniously thrown out. Later on, after much coaching to lie, the midwife got over her fright and she lied with such confidence the third time around.

As a result of the lies, what I have on my official ID documents today is still a lie. I am not the only one with such documentation.

Many of us born in the village before Independence will never know their exact day or date of birth. These dates were often forged, manipulated or changed to suit the system at the time.

Were my mother’s lies to so many Government offices good lies or a bad lies? She did not think so. The overall result of her lies is that we got education and those without birth certificates at the time never went past Grade 7.

During the liberation war, just before we ran away to the city, our lies got worse.

One early December day, when my sister Charity and my brother Charles and I were ploughing in the fields, the soldiers suddenly appeared.

There were eight white soldiers and three African ones carrying guns pointed ready to shoot at something, people or animals.

I stood in front of the cattle, shivering in fear. “Have you seen the gandangas?” They asked.

That was the name they gave to the liberation fighters. Sometimes they called them terrs, bastards and other bad names.

We all shook our heads vigorously and said, no, we had never ever seen the terrorists.

The soldiers said we must look out for the terrorists and if we saw them, we were to report to them straight away. We promised to do that.

Our lie was so convincing.

Only the previous night, we had been gathered at the pungwe, the night vigil with the comrades under the foothills of Dengedza Mountain. Everyone was there, including the headman, the school teachers, the agriculture officer and tsanana, the hygiene and sanitation officer.

The liberation fighters or comrades, as we called them, sang and held big AK47 guns in the air.

Then they gave us history and political lessons. During the war, it was necessary to lie for survival. We were living in an environment where lies were normal.

Then after the war, people thronged the Government offices to get birth certificates and identification cards.

That is when my cousin Piri got her birth certificate and changed her village Shona name from Sarudzai to Priscilla. Piri for short.

But we did not just lie to government officers only. Around the villages, there were some people renowned to be shocking liars.

The biggest liar was our nephew Mukono, the son of my great aunt. Whenever we saw him coming, we would run and listen to a funny humorous story about an incident which he claimed to have seen with his own eyes.

He often described how he had single handedly rescued a calf from the mouth of a hyena.

Mukono acted out each story and made us roll on the ground laughing until our ribs ached, kuoma mbabvu nekuseka.

The elders listened to Mukono’s funny stories and laughed along with us, shaking their heads calling Mukono a liar and a trickster. “Iiii Mukono! Kunyepa!” For Mukono, the difference between fantasy and reality was the same. He made us laugh.

Today, we would call Mukono, the village comedian because he was so good at stretching the truth.

We accepted certain degrees of exaggeration because it was good humour. It did not hurt anyone.

After Independence, some of us did not stop lying. We have continued to lie at different levels, within the family, at work, in politics, business or in love.

In Shona, we say, zirume risinganyepi hariwane, meaning the man who does not lie will never get married.

It was, and perhaps still is, culturally acceptable to lie when you were courting a girl.

But, at what stage shall we begin to tell the truth?

Dr Sekai Nzenza is the CEO of RioZim Foundation. She writes in her personal capacity.

Source : The Herald