February 14 was quite an unusual day. Even though it was Valentine’s Day, being a political animal, I spent the whole day following political developments in South Africa.
By Whitlaw Mugwiji
Former President Jacob Zuma had been recalled by the African National Congress and was now expected to either resign or face a vote of no confidence in parliament the following day.
But immediately after finishing dinner, I began seeing tweets saying that our former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, had passed away.
I did not believe those tweets, I thought perhaps someone was playing a really nasty hoax, until I saw the news confirmed on the SABC YouTube channel (ZBC, this could have been you, but you prefer propaganda). Even though, I knew he was really sick his death still came to me as a shock. Somehow, I thought we still had time with our dear leader, but God had other ideas.
When the news eventually sunk in, that “Save” was no more, I was overcome by a deep sense of loss. No words can express exactly how I felt.
Farewell to thee: son of the soil. Go well my leader, you fought a good fight and stood in the gap for your nation. Zimbabwe will forever be grateful and indebted to the love, dedication and sacrifice you offered to us as a people. We will not mourn your passing, but, instead, we will celebrate your life and legacy.
A few days ago, I watched with shock and disgust as Tsvangirai’s younger brother divulged family problems in front of the camera. Every home has got its own problems. Why divulge yours, to the rest of the world ? Instead of soliciting sympathy you have brought not only ridicule but shame to the Tsvangirai family. As a piece of advice, please resolve your family problems, away from the camera. Gogo Manyonda, I know you are grieving, but please, reserve the drama for another occasion. We want to bury your son and our leader in dignity without fail. I hope that is not too much to ask.
Secondly, Tsvangirai was a politician and so to speak, politics was his vocation. So as a family, please, do not mix Tsvangirai’s work issues, with your family disputes.
During his days as a trade unionist and as the leader of the opposition, Tsvangirai was always able to force the nation to discuss difficult issues. True to his nature, even in death, we are once more forced to discuss, one more difficult issue. That is the treatment of widows during and after the burial of their spouses, by their in-laws.
I have nothing but respect for you, Elizabeth Tsvangirai. You have maintained your dignity and a sense of level-headedness during this difficult period. We can only imagine the pain you are going through. Not only are you grieving the loss of your loved one, but having also to bear being publicly accused of infidelity and other misgivings. We feel your pain too, no wonder why Gogo Manyonda received a public backlash on social media. Please, know that you are in our prayers.
It is indeed true that to every dark cloud there is a silver lining. Let us make the most of this sad episode. And have a frank discussion on this matter that affects a lot of grieving spouses.
This is not a gender problem but a national problem
Somehow, I had naively thought that we were over this issue. Apparently, the lessons we learned from our heated discussions after the screening of the movie Neria over two decades ago, were incomplete.
Rather than restrict this debate to what happened to Elizabeth, let us discuss this issue in the broadest of sense. As a society, we must always be sensitive to the widows/widowers’ feelings and respect their rights as surviving spouses. They have feelings, they are human beings too, especially when they are still hurting from the loss of their partner. Hands off their property and stop the unnecessary slander and gossip. Why add more problems to the ones already existing.
Too often, we see widowers asked to pay the full bride price before they can bury their wives. Of course, we have accepted this pathetic behaviour under the guise of culture. Which is nonsense in my view. Surely, how can fathers place money over the decency of their daughter’s burial? In some occasions, the in-laws can be greedy leaving behind the widower with no kitchen utensils. It is true that according to our customs, kitchen utensils belong to the wife. But is it not high time we do away with some of these customs? It is extreme as it does occasionally happen.
Except for a few leaders in the feminist movement, this issue has not received the attention it deserves. The sidelining of Thokozani Khupe within the
MDC-T received far louder cries than this issue, yet this issue affects a lot of ordinary women in our society.
I know, it is not a question of either or. Both issues are important and both issues, must be confronted. But if we are to grow the feminist movement and the level of consciousness within our people, these are the issues we must take with gusto. They relate to every woman, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, urbanite or villager.
During the past few days, I was feeling so much anger over the way Elizabeth was being treated. Yes, I ranted and vented my anger on social media. But then I thought, instead of venting, maybe it was Tsvangirai’s last political act. A true politician even in his death, forcing us to have this difficult discussion.
Thank you once again Save, you are a legend and a hero to many. Your legacy shall forever be ingrained in our hearts. An ordinary villager, who did extra ordinary exploits. Go well Save, rest in peace and rest assured, we will take the struggle forward.
Whitlaw Mugwiji is a political analyst for Khuluma Afrika — a centre for analysis, commentary and investigative journalism.