My Motherland, My Zimbabwe by Rutendo Wazara

When Kay and Thandie first asked me to write about Zimbabwe, I was excited, proud even, to share my love for my country and my people. Though my excitement soon turned to dread as I thought, “how can I do justice to a country that I had not lived in for fifteen years?”. 

Similarly to Thandie, my father’s job took our family away from Zimbabwe when I was young. We lived in Botswana, Nigeria and eventually settled in South Africa. I have lived most of my life outside of Zimbabwe yet have never felt that Zimbabwe was too far from me. My mother, my aunts and the women in my life passed down Zimbabwe through practice and creed. My identity as a Zimbabwean woman is a reflection of these women, who represented to me an ideal of exceptional Zimbabwean womanhood.


Family is so important to a Zimbabwean and our understanding of it is limitless. I was always surrounded by cousins, aunts, uncles, and people of whom I am still unsure of our relation. I learnt from my mother that the most important people in your life are your family, a value I have come to make my own.

slide1For myself, my aunts are never ‘auntie’ but ‘mamma’.

In the Shona language, the words we have for ‘aunt directly translate as ‘older mother’ or ‘younger mother’, depending on their relation to your parents. In many senses, besides etymology, they are an extension of your mother. The English word ‘aunt’ does not truly reflect the deepness of the connection.

And it is from all my mothers that I learnt what it is to be a successful woman.

They set an inspiring example as entrepreneurs, distinguished intellectuals, and pillars of their respective communities. More than anything, however, their love for each other proves that an African woman can have it all- without tearing down other women or compromising her integrity- we all could benefit from learning that.

My mother was an actress, teacher, pastor, and scholar. She particularly was responsible for teaching me what it meant to take pride in where I came from. She read me stories of great Zimbabwean activists before bedtime, and told me to be myself, that for my ‘Zimbabweaness’ alone I was already unique. She encouraged me to express my heritage in my writing, art, style, and even in my research-to become a walking articulation of where I come from.

My ‘grandmothers’ are also to me more than what this term denotes. As with ‘aunts’, your grandparents’ siblings are also your grandparents, extending you familial system to your great-aunts and great-uncles and beyond and my grandmothers played a practical role in teaching me what it means to be a Shona woman. Gogo Wazara, my father’s mother, handed down to me a proficiency in sweeping and bed making and the gift of storytelling. My maternal grandmother, Gogo Esther, taught me the skill of conversation and the integral art of tea making.

I was fortunate enough to know all four of my great grandmothers and I know what I mean when I say that there is wealth in knowledge. Their collective life experience is a rich volume of Zimbabwean history including a tumultuous civil war and the story of our liberation. While their struggle may always remain a mystery to me, that they were able to see generations of their family, the fruit of their labour for freedom, makes my heart swell with love and humility.

There is a temptation to be insecure about the fact that I have been so long away from Zimbabwe but I was brought up to know that Zimbabweans carry our country with us and we share it with others. I am Zimbabwean because of the instruction, guidance and nurturing of those who call me their own and who I call mine.


Rutendo Wazara is currently studying a PhD in Elephant Behaviour and Welfare and working at a career in Veterinary Conservation. Follow her Instagram here and Twitter here

 

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  1. Debbie Coetzee-Lachmann

    Dear Rutendo, dear Thandie,

    I found this website after watching and listening to the incredible talk you gave on Ted.Talks, Thandie. I am a white South African woman, aged 43, who has been living, studying and working in Germany since 2002. I teach English, communication and intercultural competence to students, business people, officials and people doing voluntary work with refugees here.

    Your essay, Rutendo, took by back to my wonderful childhood and teenage years when I had the privilege of being raised by different women: There was my own mother – an artistic, unpredictable, busy and spontaneous Afrikaner woman, there was Selina – a Ndebele and one of the most beautiful and kindest women I have ever met, there was Sarah – an incredibly funny and physically tough Venda woman and Emma – a strong and quiet Tswana woman whose emotional strength to this day serves as an example to me.

    I love all of them. What a blessing it was to grow up in South Africa and learn from African women. I still pass on to other people what I learnt from them: The importance of understanding your roots and being patient and kind that Selina taught me, the joy of being an honest, unpretentious woman enjoying the powers of her own body that Sarah taught me and the power that lies in being quiet, true to yourself and unphased by outside pressure that Emma taught me.

    I miss them all very much.

    I would like to thank both of you for using words to create spaces in which I could reconnect and gain strength again.

    I salute, respect and admire you!

    Warmest regards
    Debbie Coetzee-Lachmann

    June 11, 2017 at 11:09 am

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