In one of his songs, Tinevimbo on the album Tinevimbo Leornard Zhakata says, “Vose vamunoona vachingomberereka zviri mupfungwa dzavo zvakakomba. Deno maivabvunza maizodudzirwa simba revimbo rakakosha.” (All those wandering people have their own burdens. If you quiz them, you will realise the strength of hope.)
I came to comprehend the full import of these words after a prolonged talk with a number of women who I have been contemplating discussing with. These are a rare category of women I have ever met and as usual, they appeared to my keenest senses arousing my most ardent curiosity leading to my compulsion to have a talk with them.
I was a bit hesitant to approach them but decided to take the bull by its horns after gathering pseudo-confidence. Perched under some small trees surrounded by tall grass, the dominant women group is busy grinding huge stones into the fine quarry. They are located in Mbizo 11 Kwekwe.I stood watching them crossing the road several times picking huge stones from the other side of the road and piling at their ‘bays’. I desirously sought to understand how they were surviving the rigors of such strenuous and labor-intensive work.
There were about nine women and three men intently focused on hitting the huge stones into small pieces. Some heaps of ready stones were ready for sale.
In more than an hour of talking with the women, it was evident that time was ripe for serious re-thinking on whether men can really logically stand to claim the unrivaled role of being breadwinners.
All the women had harrowing tales of their existence explaining also how they found themselves under the bushes ‘dueling’ with large stones.
The 58 aged woman looked exhausted not only from hard work but the psychological traumas of the fruitless toiling under the sun. Born Eveline Takavarasha, she is a widow looking after 5 children. This family stays in one room.
One of the children failed to complete her grade seven while the siblings failed to commence kindergarten level due to unavailability of money.
“When my husband was alive, it was better, but with his passing on I then realized that any gun was supposed to shoot me. I joined other women here too so that I can pay rent and buy food for my family.
“The whole of today I am just looking for customers. My whole body is aching due to overwork. I have been bedridden but I can’t afford to be at home. I was evicted where I was staying and I just do not want to face the same situation,” she narrated.
One of the women who heads a family of six indicated that her health was fast deteriorating as she is on antiretroviral.
“My son, I am on HIV treatment and this work I’m doing is not suitable for my condition. I spend the whole day cracking these stones on an empty belly. I’m fast deteriorating but if I seat back my family will starve to death. My body is repulsive to this kind of work, but son what can I do?” she sobbingly narrated her ordeal.
“My husband deserted me and I am looking after five children. One is in grade 2 while the other is in grade 0. The other one failed to complete the ordinary level due to a lack of money. My husband is alive but if I tell you, he never communicated with me for the past three years. Now it’s three months without paying my rentals. If we are to have many families headed by fathers only, I tell you it would be a world of disaster. The world would be a dangerous place to live. Men have a certain incomprehensible hardness of heart that is dangerous for human survival.
“The economic hardships that we went through were a blessing in disguise. They have brought a new shift in thinking, my husband could not withstand being jobless and decided to leave his family suffering. Women have always been breadwinners but because our husbands were in formal employment you would not notice. Now we are here doing the strenuous work and our families are surviving,” she added.
Jennifer Mhambimbi was abandoned by his husband who is rumored to be working in Chegutu at a farm in Chegutu while Stella Nyamutowa stays in one room with her five children who all failed to access education due to financial challenges and are into gold panning.
A 20-liter bucket of quarry stones costs a dollar while a wheelbarrow cost US$2 and a huge load of 60-wheelbarrows costs US$120.
Competition with other companies like Bimco and other people who choose to gather their own quarry makes it difficult to have constant sales.
“At times I go for the whole week on US$5 except when a fortune knocks I may find a person who wants to buy loads but this is very rare. We share that money in our numbers. We also look for menial jobs like gardening and land clearing to augment our meager earnings from the stones,” said Gratter Vhiriri a mother of six who also looks after her grandchildren.
Throughout the discussion, there was one old man who was busy loading his stones on his ‘bay’ as they call it. I had the irresistible urge to get his side of the story as he seemed the only owl among chickens.
Mr. Mbire seemed exhausted due to incessant hard work for Midsec Security Company for the past 25 years. Now life is getting more and more unbearable and I can hardly look after my family. I stay in one room with all my children including my daughter who also has a child. We just divide the room with a curtain.
“I go to work in the evening and in the morning I am here crushing stones which we sell to people who are building houses. This is what I thought best to supplement my intermittent salary. My January salary is not yet paid and if I pull all my eggs in one basket, Oh my God I perish. Unfortunately, my wife cannot help me because she is asthmatic,” he said.
What piqued my heart most was when the whole group concurred that in as much as they have enormous problems, there was one of them who was absent and had a heavy and insurmountable burden on her shoulders.
They talked in a chorus manner that I could scarcely follow up on one person at a time. Piecing the jumbled debris of information they were churning to me in a hubbub, it was clear to me that Vaida Chikwanda whom they said was in her 50s was married to a man who is 122 years. She is looking after 7 children who share the only two rooms for that big family.
“Uh, that family is mired in deep problems to the extent that they pay rent for only one room and clean the public toilets in the compound as payment for the other room. They clean toilets every day. The children and the mother take turns to clean the toilets,” said one of them.
The situations narrated herein are indicative of the gigantic shift in thinking and practice with regard to issues fending for the family and contributing to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Lindiwe Ngwenya of the Zimbabwe Women Resource and Network (ZWRC) highlighted in a Gender Budgeting Training workshop in Kwekwe recently that women have always been contributors to national development but focus has always been on the formal sector.
“With the collapse of industry and a massive reduction in job opportunities, it is crystal clear that the role of the informal sector is invaluable in economic development. Many families are now being headed by women through their little but reliable earnings from the informal sector. This should bring new thinking,” she said.
These suffering women are neither without conscience nor heart for their city as evidenced by the voluntary works they partake in communities. Some women have graduated as community health workers. They move around educating the community on best health standards with a huge bias on safe waste disposal. Where mistakes have already been made they clear the waste and safely dump it.
For the few married women, the major complaint is sexual complications with their husbands as hard work at times makes them weak to perform their conjugal roles. The women have no disposable income to use for their medication.
“In laboring to fend for our families, we are also creating a huge problem in our ‘bedrooms’ as husbands are now behaving like ‘wild dogs’ looking for other women to quench their sexual desires. At times I just do that for the sake of my marriage and husband but I will be helplessly exhausted to perform any sexual act or even cook food,” said one of the women.
To passersby, the women are doing business but upon closer scrutiny, one will be undeniably satisfied that their predicament is quite a bird of another feather.
The plight of children is central to all this toiling but inevitably their education suffers the greatest and enduring blow. According to one of the celebrated female writers, Jane Austin, “Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody.”
Taking from the above adage, it is proper to assert that these children, who are deprived of education due to various circumstances beyond their control, will inexorably become a cost to their families and the nation, reproducing cyclical poverty and suffering.