Zimbabwe: African 'Tradition' And Women's Oppression

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Government of Zimbabwe
Southern Africa

THERE is a problem with the way the oppression of women and girls is explained which, if not challenged, will mean that gender will become a racket, an industry, without even reducing, let alone stopping, the degradation of the majority of women.

For those who believe that clear thinking, accurate and scientific explanation and research are important steps in the pursuit of freedom, this problem is the use of so-called "African tradition" or "African culture" as a catch-all explanation for the suffering of women.

Debate is needed because it appears that now, as in the colonial past when white settlers invented the myth of the African community as permanently "traditional" and white settler community as forever mordenising and progressive, the idea that African "culture" is responsible for women's suffering and oppression has become the easiest expression of one's implied approval of existing so-called "modern" social and political arrangements.

Despite the worsening brutalisation of women and children through existing contemporary power structures and institutions, the idea is that the present donor-dominated and NGO-congested system is all right. The problem is in the "tradition" of the African male in particular.

The December 5 2010 issue of The Sunday Mail carried stories on two documents originating from the US Embassy, Harare.

One of these is the classified cable of July 2007 by former US ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell, which WikiLeaks released as part of a slew of US government cables covering 274 countries.

The second is former US ambassador James McGee's Fiscal 2010 Strategic Plan for the same US Embassy which has also been leaked from another source in a manner similar to WikiLeaks.

The first cable demonstrates that what the US government does and says in public may be the exact opposite of what it says and does secretly or privately; and that the purpose of a policy stated in public may be the opposite of the real purpose.

US officials will praise certain groups and even arrange for honours, prizes and awards to be showered on persons, parties and orgnisations they despise or look down upon, as long as they believe that such inducements and pretencs will enable the US government to secure selfish US interests.

The second document itemises the means which US officials employ to achieve their objectives and purposes in other countries. For instance, in Zimbabwe they "created" 29 new NGOs in 2007, 32 in 2008 and 35 in 2010; they exerted pressure against the Government of Zimbabwe while assisting certain forces, including parties, who oppose the same Government; and they offered relief to some of the people who suffered as a result of the pressure exerted against Government, pressure which includes illegal economic sanctions.

In simple language this means US officials presuming that the people who make up the Government of Zimbabwe are not the same as the people of Zimbabwe and that hurting the Government will not hurt the people.

However, just in case that presumption is wrong and the people really get hurt together with their government, the US Embassy's strategic plan includes a huge relief programme of nyaradzo and chema for the "suffering people," a programme also meant "to use the fight against HIV/Aids to create a good image among the suffering people of Zimbabwe . . ."

In plain language this means that the US and its allies employ illegal sanctions and other "pressures" in order to destroy or diminish the capacity of the Government to assist and protect its people. Then, through Usaid and the proliferating NGOs, the US government and its allies offer relief to the same people, which is to say they try to offer themselves as a better alternative to or a better replacement of the elected Government.

All these diabolic tricks together seek to achieve what the McGee document calls "transformational diplomacy goals".

Transformational diplomacy goals is a polite phrase referring to the fact that the culture and values of the people of Zimbabwe remain an obstacle in the path of foreign-sponsored regime change.

The culture and values which united African men and women against white settlerism and imperialism, the culture and values of the people which motivated them to overthrow apartheid and UDI, the culture and values which inspired the people to reclaim and repossess their white-stolen land after one hundred years, the culture and values which caused the people to refuse to be taxed for the purpose of paying back the land thieves -- that culture, those values, have to be "transformed", wiped out, before illegal regime change can succeed and produce a "fresh start".

The US and its allies know that, for the last 100 years of settlerism, that culture, those values, have been nurtured and protected by African women. So these women are a critical factor in the creativity and resilience of the African social and political order which the US and its allies call "the regime".

The legacy of Queen Nzinga, the legacy of Mbuya Nehanda, the legacy of Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru, the legacy of Winnie Madikizela- Mandela, the legacy of chimbwido, refers to a real living history.

In the eyes of the US government and its sponsored NGOs, these real African heroines have to be replaced by NGO-groomed nannies who are willing to be awarded meaningless prizes for collaborating with imperialism. These are the likes of Beatrice Mtetwa, Jestina Mukoko, Jenny Williams, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson and Betty Makoni. That is what "change" or a "fresh start" would mean.

What all the leaked cables together create is a picture of US foreign policy as dictatorial, destructive, intolerant, totalitarian and narcissistic. Even the tragedy of HIV/Aids has to be exploited for the selfish ends of the US empire.

There is clear evidence, for instance, that structural adjustment since 1990 and sanctions since 2000 worsened the brutalisation of the majority of women and children together with men and that there is nothing African or "traditional" about this programme or the sanctions.

Yet the symptomatic appearances and effects of this brutalisation in society are still being explained as consequences of African tradition.

It is time we pointed out that the men and women who so casually claim that women and girls are oppressed because of African "tradition" are, in fact, saying they like the current social system (with its structural adjustment, corporate cannibalism, illegal sanctions and land inequity) so much that they believe it would lead to a perfect society if it was not for the backward "African traditional values" which keep intruding upon this otherwise happy existence on the edges the neoliberal global "market economy".

African "culture" has become for the women's freedom movement what the myth of the communist "evil empire" was for the Western rightwing during the Cold War.

When the former Soviet Union collapsed, two paradoxes emerged starkly and they still haunt rightwing propagandists: First, this communist evil empire, which most Western leaders always said was about to take over the entire world and impose its tyranny, could not in fact hold on even to its Second World War borders.

Second, the evils for which this empire was being blamed around the world have, in fact, become much more prevalent and overwhelming: genocide, wars, terrorism, hunger, mass poverty, tyranny and capitalist anarchy.

Just look at Haiti, Afghanistan, Gaza, Sierra Leone and Iraq. In fact, there may be a link between the embarrassing disappearance of the demon of the communist evil empire as the main cause of the world's suffering and the need now to find a new and equally irrational explanation of women's oppression in the form of African tradition.

In the Muslim world the demon has been indentified by the same Western-funded forces as "Islamic fundamentalism". Yet Muslim women who fled to modern France find themselves vilified and excluded by the liberated French women.

My first appeal to the open-minded journalist therefore is to adopt the attitude expressed in the African proverb: "One does not go begging for palm oil with a gourd without an opening."

The knowledge needed for emancipation is as precious as palm oil. We cannot develop it if we start with the popularised conclusion that women's suffering is caused by African tradition, without even defining and locating such tradition. This sort of explanation goes back to the arrival of the first missionaries and settlers here. Yet another African piece of wisdom we may consider is the proverb: "One should not first defeather a bird and then ask the elders for its name."

In other words, those who insist that they have found the cause of women's oppression in African tradition may be themselves involved in distorting or even destroying the evidence needed to carry out a proper inquiry, just as the kid who destroys the feathers of an unknown bird before asking the elders to help him name it is also involved in the destruction of the true identity of the bird.

The next step is to ask questions which may open up the debate on women's oppression, at least for the men to think about how they should do their part to deal with the growing contemporary oppression of women.

l In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, a white man called Dahmer lured, captured, starved and mutilated young women. He stored their body parts in his flat for a long time before he was caught.

l In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, in the 1980s another white man lured, captured, raped, mutilated and starved young women of African descent and hid their bodies in the basement of his house. He had killed several before he was discovered.

l In the late 1990s a white Belgian man lured, captured, sold, molested and killed little girls. He was also a dealer in little girls as sex slaves.

l Recently also, sex slavery using children has become so advanced in Western "democracies" that it is now carried out through the computer and Internet, the most modernised, anti-traditional and sophisticated of all modern technologies.

Significantly, our feminists, our journalists, our academics and human rights activists accept on its face value the Western explanation that what happened in Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Belgium -- what goes on, on the internet all the time too -- are just isolated cases of individual madness which have nothing to do with the moral quality and culture of the societies in which they take place. Even former US president Bill Clinton's sexual involvement with an intern on his staff was explained away by women in terms of the president's personal psychology and history and not as an integral feature of modern US culture today.

Our writers accept the Western explanation that child pornography and sex slavery promoted through the internet are the justifiable price which free societies have to pay in order to enjoy the freedom of expression and access to information which this latest technology represents. No tradition is involved there. And therefore there is no need to look at the degradation of women as part of Western "democratic culture"!

The same feminists, journalists, academics and human rights activists often tell us, however, that when African men are accused of acts of barbarism similar to those of Dahmer or similar to those promoted on the internet, these must be the results of African traditional culture and that most of them constitute something called "ritual murder." White men in Philadelphia, Milwaukee or Belgium could not commit "ritual murders" because they are "modern", not traditional or primitive. You see.

Besides, defining what happened in the USA and Belgium as "ritual murders" would automatically mean that the source of the practice and the values it represented came from the larger society. White people are individuals who commit private and individual sins. Society has nothing to do with them. But when it comes to reporting Africa, the link between the murders or rapes and the whole society is automatic, while a white president who engages in sex with his intern is explained in terms of personal insecurities from his childhood which have nothing to do with superior Anglo-Saxon "democracy"!

More peculiarly, if we examine the majority of cases of the worst brutality against women and girls in Zimbabwe, we discover that the men involved are not "traditional" at all.

They are the types of men of whom the white missionary, the white native commissioner and the white expatriate teacher would be very proud; because they have "evolved" completely away from communal African culture. They speak English, even to peasants. They are fiercely ambitious in the best sense of what our colonisers call having an "entrepreneurial culture".

That means they are the most aggressive hustlers and conmen colonialism has ever groomed. They are superbly individualistic and alienated. They use convenient symbols of "tradition" the same way advertisers use them to sell jam or beer. That is entrepreneurship.

In fact, The Herald editorial of August 4 1999 pointed out that the men who hire the rapists and murderers who get caught and convicted are themselves rarely caught because they bribe everyone, including the police. They are like the tycoons who hire pimps.

The pimps are usually the lumpen proletariat who are as alienated from communal culture as their handlers. Neither could be correctly described as motivated by African communal culture. Culture is only a raw material, a natural resource, to be used in one's con business.

The outrage which often mobilises whole communities against these criminals and conmen, when the crime is finally exposed, means that the crime is not condoned by the community as part of "tradition." These rapists and murderers always have to be protected by the neo-colonial courts and the police, not the African "traditional" community, when their crimes become known.

Let us all re-examine our explanations of social reality. In the film Neria, for example, what makes Neria and her husband Patrick really modern, while her brother-in-law Phineas remains traditional?

Is it not possible to say these relatives, in fact, clash with one another precisely because they have similar aspirations and tastes resulting from their condition of neo-colonial underdevelopment in a racist society? Does Phineas's greed and cruelty have to be "traditional" to make sense under conditions of petty capitalism and underdevelopment? Why?

Because of the overwhelming involvement of donor-funded NGOs in the HIV/Aids awareness programmes, there were two obvious risks for the African community: In the name of combating Aids, donors would use the HIV/Aids pandemic and mass disaster as an opportunity to attack and overturn those African values they have always feared or viewed as obstacles to their influence.

Therefore, the confessional and individualistic approach to communication in HIV/Aids programmes and advertisements was a real risk, since it tended to vilify African society in the name of fighting stigma against individuals. It treated a mass disaster as a matter of individual fate and personal rights. It would not be possible to dignify and protect the individual sufferer while denigrating or defaming the society and community.

In 2004 the United Nations Fund for Population Activities and the University of Zimbabwe published a booklet called The Zimbabwe Male Psyche with Respect to Reproductive Health, HIV, Aids and Gender Issues.

The publication signalled three significant developments:

l The neoliberal conversion of UN agencies into mere conduits for Northern donor funds and donor policies;

l The donor-funded prostitution of academic work, whereby it became difficult to separate academic research from donor propaganda; and

l The donor manipulation and interpretation of the real existing suffering and oppression of women in pursuit of what the US government and Usaid call "transformational diplomacy goals".

Indeed, although both men and women, boys and girls were experiencing similar oppression and suffering as a result of the same macro-economic and social and political factors, the booklet focused on women against men.

In that 2004 UNFPA booklet, the authors -- P Chiroro, A. Mashu and W. Muhwava -- wrote as follows:

"It was hypothesised that the Zimbabwean male psyche is characterised by an internalised, insatiable and self-centred desire for sex with multiple partners, coupled with an intolerant attitude towards women who are perceived to be, primarily, objects of sexual gratification and child bearing."

Without any reference to control studies based on other societies elsewhere in the world, the authors concluded thus:

"The results of the study provide strong support for the research hypothesis in that the Zimbabwean male psyche appears to be characterised by an internalised, insatiable, self-centred desire for sex with multiple partners, coupled with an intolerant attitude towards women who are perceived to be, primarily, objects for sexual gratification and child bearing. In addition, the results of this study showed the following:

l Most Zimbabwean men and male youths hold very poor sexuality standards which are characterised by a strong reluctance to engage in safe sex practices during high risk sexual encounters.

l The study reveals that the majority of Zimbabwean men and male youths view women as inferior to men. Adversarial sexual beliefs and gender role stereotypes are used to justify violence against women and to deny their sexual and reproductive health rights.

l The culture and legal system in Zimbabwe provide a fertile ground for the propagation and perpetuation of adversarial sexual behavior among men and male youths. This exposes them and their partners to the risk of contracting the HIV virus as well as compromising women's human and reproductive health rights."

In simple language, what was this UN agency and the three university researchers trying to say? The English dictionary meaning of psyche is the human soul, mind or spirit. So, in what way could the UNFPA claim to have pinpointed and isolated a definite factor called the soul of the Zimbabwean male or the spirit of the Zimbabwean male, which could then be made responsible for the spread of HIV/Aids in this country?

Indeed, the UNFPA and its consultants attempted to tell the whole world not only that there was definite, separable power called the Zimbabwean male psyche; but also that they had demonstrated that this definite force or power was responsible for promiscuous sexual behaviour, lust, discrimination against women, abuse of women and girls and the spread of HIV/Aids. They also meant that the Zimbabwean male psyche was so different from the psyches of other societies that it could be identified as typically Zimbabwean.

What the authors also implied was that we could select indigenous African foods such as dovi, muboora, nyemba, madora and grains such as mhunga, mafunde and rukweza for use in fighting HIV/Aids; but the culture which created the ingredients forming this healthy diet was no good, especially in its male form. That culture had to be suppressed together with the virus itself.

Since that time, the defamation of the African in HIV/Aids campaigns and adverts here has followed that highly questionable theory of African tradition and the presumed inherent nature of the African male psyche and male sexuality as responsible for the spread of HIV/Aids.

Although it does not require a great scientist to prove that the allegedly inherent African male psyche is neither typically African nor typically male and Zimbabwean, too many African scholars have complained privately and never dared to challenge this racist re-invention of the 400-year-old myth of African sexuality for fear of losing donor support and fear of being labeled male chauvinist pigs.

Yet, one simple way to demonstrate that this thesis of an inherent Zimbabwean African male psyche is a fraud would be to look at scholarly studies of sex and sexuality in non-African societies in other countries.

Re-Making Love: The Feminisation of Sex, is a book published as far back as 1986 by North American white female researchers and dealing primarily with what can be called the response of the white middle class woman to the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Chapter Six of that book is called The Politics of Promiscuity: The Rise of the Sexual Counter-Revolution; and it documents cases of sexual promiscuity and sexual aggressiveness among white North American women. The promiscuity and aggressiveness are almost identical to the sexual promiscuity, aggressiveness and casualness which UNFPA and the UZ writers chose to present as caused by a typical Zimbabwean male psyche.

In the North American book, the chapter on The Politics of Promiscuity opens by introducing Ellen (34), who thinks she has made "a nice little life for herself", because she has earned enough to buy a small house and because she has "what used to be called All-American good looks -- straight, gleaming hair, and clear blue eyes" which enable her to attract the lovers she wants. "Her present relationship is just one more phase in her continuing sexual exploration." She was "randy as a teenager" and it "was a relief to let my sexual needs explode . . . I made a lot of demands on men too. I chose them for their sexiness and sensuality."

But readers may say that is just one woman; what about collective surveys? Redbook magazine sent out a sex questionnaire to which 100 000 women happily responded in 1975. And "a considerable number were having affairs while happily married to men they loved and nine out of ten of the young women . . . were engaging in intercourse before they married".

Five years later in 1980, Cosmopolitan magazine also sent out a sex questionnaire to which 106 000 women responded, reporting that "on average, they had had nine lovers". One of them was quoted as saying, "I have lovers because what else is there in life that's so much fun as turning on a new man, interesting him, conquering him?"

By 1983, three magazines -- Playboy, Family Circle and Ladies Home Journal --- decided to survey married women whom they described as "sexually enthusiastic, confident, romantic and satisfied". Whereas in 1958 Alfred C. Kinsey had reported that 6 to 26 percent of married women were engaging in extramarital affairs, the 1983 surveys showed that the percentage had jumped to between 21 and 43 percent, depending on the type of magazine doing the survey and the type of readers. "Among Playboy's readers, young married wives were 'fooling around' more often than their husbands."

The attack on the Zimbabwean male by UNFPA and its sponsored authors can be explained by quoting a passage from Re-Making Love:

"These experts all assumed that women hated casual sex and [were mere victims of male lust and aggression], but they offered no explanation for why so many women were engaged in it."

One woman tried to correct the misperception about men saying: "If you [as a woman] go ahead and give in to your desires [not his desires] . . . and you do go to bed with him, then lots of times you really will lose the man because they [the men], without even realising it, feel like you've been too quick and too easy."

It is also implied in the foreign-modelled HIV/Aids campaigns that the societies whose donors fund our pseudofeminists here have solved the problems of gender violence. In fact, they are very sick violent societies. Here is a description of US society borrowed from a male scholar by feminist Professor Mary Daly for her book called Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy.

"Culturally, the emergence of male homosexual sadomasochism from underground has coincided with a burgeoning of overt sadism against women in all the communications media. This coincidence has not been by chance. While gay activists were campaigning against stereotypical images of 'gay people' in the media, male homosexuals who have direct access to media have been promoting with a vengeance all stereotypes of female masochism.

We are witnessing [throughout Western society] the convergence [coming together] of what was once deemed a gay sensibility with what was once deemed a 'heterosexual sensibility.' That convergence . . . now reveals itself as fully thriving on female degradation."

It therefore means that the UNFPA and its UZ consultants put forward a generalisation which can be dismissed objectively as a fraud. They failed to separate and define such concepts as culture, instinct, drives, habits and needs.

They presented an ideological assault on the African male as if it were a new scientific discovery. In doing this, they adopted a racist strategy and technique established way back in the days of slavery.

When it ceased to be feasible to justify slavery on the basis of religion, white society invented anthropology as a pseudoscience to do the job, because a "scientific" justification would appear to be unquestionable.

This is indeed the subject of Professor Bernard Magubane's book Race and the Construction of the Disposable Other.

The disposable other in the UNFPA study is the resurgent African male whose energies need to be separated from the energies of the resurgent African woman in order to keep Anglo-Saxon imperialism in power for a bit longer.

There is therefore a need for a different approach to Zimbabwe's struggle against HIV/Aids. More on this later.