The burden of womanhood: An unreceptive society
By Byron Mutingwende
Christine Gutwa (50) has been called all sorts of bad names. The society considers her a whore, a witch, a liar and a cheat. Her resolve to soldier on and look after her family alone as a widow makes her brush aside the idea of committing suicide.
“No one greets me in this neighbourhood. I, together with my mother, children and grandchildren live in this ramshackle building. We have been here since 2004 when my husband died,” Gutwa said, sobbing.
She revealed that they co-owned a housing stand in Kuwadzana Extension with her husband who later tested positive to HIV before he was fired from work due to ill health and subsequently succumbed to the AIDS pandemic in 2004. That was the turning point in her life.
Stranded with the lifeless body of her unclaimed husband in the mortuary, Gutwa spent the whole week trying to convince his relatives in the Tamandayi area of Chipinge District for them to come and do the burial rites. The husband’s relatives eventually came to Harare after the intervention of their local traditional leader, Chief Musikavanhu.
“I was customarily married to my husband who is from the Mhlanga Clan of Chipinge. Traditionally, I am not allowed to bury my husband in the absence of his relatives. When they came, I was forced to pay a fine for not letting them know that their relative was sick to the extent of dying. Surprisingly, there were medical documents which showed that Mhlanga was HIV-positive,” Gutwa said.
As if that was not enough, her husband’s relatives carried all her possessions – furniture like kitchen units, wardrobes and stoves as well as clothes and the Mazda B16 truck that he used. They did not consider that Gutwa had four children with Mhlanga, the last-born child a mere two years old in 2004.
“By then, my eldest daughter was doing Grade 7 at Kuwadzana 1 Primary School. The second was in Grade 5 and the third one in Grade 2. My husband was the sole breadwinner. I then decided to look for a job as a housemaid and got one in Glenview 3. The wages were paltry so I found it hard to pay school fees for my children,” Gutwa said.
To add salt to the injury, Gutwa also lost her Kuwadzana Extension housing stand to a Harare conman who promised to give her a grinding mill. The conman connived with local government officials and doctored the documents that made him the bona fide owner of the stand. Efforts for restitution were futile and she was finally given a stand in Whitecliffe for settlement.
The housing stand is in an area owned by Eddie Pfugari, the owner of Eddie Pfugari Properties. Gutwa is not in the database of stand-owners, according to documents seen at Pfugari Properties. As a result, she was told to vacate the ramshackle building that she uses as her home together with her old mother and four children and three grandchildren. The new owner of the housing stand moved her near a hill to pave way for construction.
Her new place is hounded since it is a haven for snakes, rats, monkeys and other wild creatures, which live among the rocks in the hill. Hooting owls can also be seen from time to time at her house. The new owner of the house and other neighbours began to spread the fake news that Gutwa was a witch and a thief. In 2016, she was in the news in a local daily vernacular newspaper as the community accused her of practising witchcraft.
“I am no longer allowed to fetch water from the communal borehole. I am even shy to move around in the community since young children pelt me with stones and call me a witch. In addition to this, my children are a laughing stock since they don’t go to school. I can hardly feed my family since the new landowner took the piece of land that we used to grow our food on. We are facing starvation, ridicule and dishonour on a daily basis,” Gutwa said.
Gutwa’s eldest son, Michael Mhlanga is epileptic and her husband’s relatives blame the ailment on her. They accuse Gutwa of bewitching her own son so that she can strengthen her witchcraft powers. However, a popular Budiriro-based prophet, Alfred Mupfumbati dismissed the accusations and implicated the Mhlangas who want to take all her children away from her. On Sunday, 18 June 2017, Mupfumbati, using his spiritual powers, trapped a snake and an owl ostensibly sent from Chipinge to cause havoc and more problems at Gutwa’s homestead.
Between January and September 2016, the Zimbabwe Republic Police received 40,500 cases of domestic violence, mostly perpetrated against women and girls. Zimbabwe has made strides in trying to bring justice to the women in marriage, especially those women who get divorced and end up looking after children on their own. The Maintenance Act (5: 09) gives parents a legal obligation to support their children with financial or material support for their upkeep.
According to the Anti-Domestic Violence Council of Zimbabwe, the Domestic Violence Act (Chapter 5:16) was enacted on 26th February 2007, became operational on 25th October 2007 and the Regulations were gazetted on the 20th of June 2008. It makes provision for the protection and relief of victims of domestic violence and provides for matters connected with or incidental to that. However, there are calls for more stringent penalties against offenders in order to promote a free society that respects the rights of all regardless of gender.