Jairos Maruwe used to beat up his wife so badly he once knocked her unconscious and broke her arm. It landed him in jail at least once, but it was the way he was raised.
“We grew up thinking that women are our tools and we can do whatever we want with them,” the 34-year-old farmer in northeastern Zimbabwe’s Marondera region told IRIN.
“We have this tendency to resort to violence and emotional abuse when we think they have wronged us,” he said.
That was then.
Now, Maruwe is the secretary of the local branch of a group set up to reduce domestic abuse in Zimbabwe, where one in three women, according to a 2013 study, experience physical violence by their spouse or partner during their lifetime.
“It is important for us as men to accept that we are the main culprits where GBV [gender-based violence] is concerned,” he told IRIN.
“The reality is that, in most of the cases, we are the ones that are wrong. My involvement in the GBV group has taught me that there are many ways of solving domestic disputes without having to resort to violence. I now preach the anti-violence gospel,” he said.
Maruwe is among hundreds of men in 26 rural districts (Zimbabwe has 59 districts in all, over 40 of which are in rural areas) to have taken part in an innovative project set up this year by local NGO Padare/Enkundleni, with funding and logistical support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). The scheme encourages men to get involved in the fight against GBV.
It forms part of a four-year, US$96 million Integrated Support Programme (ISP) on Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV prevention launched by the government last year in conjunction with UN agencies, international donors and local NGOs in an effort to reduce maternal mortality, cervical cancer, HIV and GBV.
ISP aims to provide services to 7 000 survivors of sexual assault and rape, in addition to reaching more than a million people with interventions to address some of the underlying issues that result in violence against women and girls.
Village groups Kelvin Hazangwi, director of Padare/Enkundleni, told IRIN rural communities have been largely by-passed by anti-GBV initiatives which have tended to focus on towns and cities.
He said they had so far trained about 50 men in each district on community engagement, gender and human rights issues and methods for working with men to combat GBV. Those men then transfer their skills and knowledge to village groups (each with up to 50 members).
The men in these groups meet to talk about local reports of domestic violence and how to deal with them, in part by engaging with known perpetrators about the negative effects of GBV.
“While there are numerous initiatives and tools to fight GBV, men, who are generally seen as the perpetrators, have largely been ignored as agents of change,” Hazangwi told IRIN.
The groups write “commitment charters” which promise, among other things, to speak out against GBV and use dialogue to stop violence, to end child marriages, and to create partnerships with relevant local institutions such as the police and health centres. The charters, which are written in local languages, are posted on billboards close to busy places such as rural business centres, while local male artists are hired to paint murals at local community halls and livestock dipping points.
Padare is also targeting two schools per district where groups of a 100 male students have been formed to educate their peers about GBV.
In Marondera, where anti-GBV men’s groups have been set up in several villages, the programme is already paying dividends, say activists.
Rugare Samuriwo (60), an elder in Maruwe’s village and a member of the men’s group, told IRIN that cases of domestic violence had dropped sharply since the programme began.
“The village is now more peaceful. Involving us [men] in fighting violence in the home works, because we have the power to change our own attitudes by talking to and counselling each other. Men are now generally ashamed to be violent because they have been made aware of the negative effects of doing so,” said Samuriwo.
Hazangwi said there are plans to evaluate the programme to establish its efficacy; to date there has not been any independent assessment of the project’s impact.
Obstacles Samuriwo admitted they faced resistance from some male villagers who refused to be part of the group and still felt that beating up their spouses and subjecting them to abuse was a way of asserting their authority in the home.
Female victims of domestic violence, he added, generally still avoided reporting their cases to the police or health institutions.
According to the 2013 study (a baseline survey on GBV in Zimbabwe), only one in every 14 women who were physically abused reported it to the police and one in 13 sought medical attention.
It is rumored that US publisher, Random House paid at least a million dollars each to secure the US rights to two novels – The Girls by Emma Cline and The Longings of Jende Jonga by Cameroon-born Imbolo Mbue.
This all happened in Frankfurt a few days ago. Publishers came to Frankfurt ahead of the book fair, which ran from October 8 – 12, to shop for new writers and promising manuscripts.
Publishers Weekly reports that David Ebershoff of Random House snagged the US rights for Mbue’s novel after a bidding duel with Susan Golomb, the agent who discovered Jonathan Franzen.
If you’ve never heard of Mbue, it’s probably because she’s never published anything. At least, not yet. Her first ever published story will be out soon in the Threepenny Review.
The Cameroonian writer, who moved to the US in 1998, has written an immigrant novel that clearly has publishers very excited.
“Mbue’s The Longings of Jende Jonga…opens in New York City in 2007 and focuses on the West African immigrant of its title, who lands a job as a chauffeur for a high level executive at Lehman Brothers. Jende’s family becomes close to his employer’s – Jende’s wife is quickly hired by the exec’s wife – only to have both families thrown into disarray when the 2008 financial collapse hits.”
The way I see it, if publishers are willing to pay this much for a debut novel, the story must be off-the-charts amazing.
Golomb – a front runner in the bid for the novel – not only compares Mbue to Adichie but also notes that her novel is built around “some of the most delightful and refreshing characters seen in recent fiction.”
I’m guessing it won’t take much for Mbue to be admitted into the new elite African writers club where she’ll be in good company with the likes of Chimamanda Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun), NoViolet Bulawayo (We Need New Names), Teju Cole (Open City), Dinaw Mengestu (How to Read the Air), Taiye Selasi (Ghana Must Go), Lauren Beukes (Broken Monsters), and others.
Congratulations to Mbue! We can’t wait for her novel to be published.
Brittle Paper is an African literary blog featuring book reviews, news, interviews, original work and in-depth coverage of the African literary scene. It is curated by Ainehi Edoro and was recently named a ‘go-to book blog’ by Publisher’s Weekly.
I land in Johannesburg for the third time in four years. I drive into the city guided by faint memory and intuition. I drive carefully but still I end up taking a wrong turn and land in the middle of town, on Main Street. Two things then seem clear: The first – there aren’t any white people on the streets. However, this is inaccurate; I look harder and find a single, tall white man exiting a mechanic’s shop. He has dropped off his Audi and is walking across the street towards a coffee shop. Though the abolishment of apartheid happened 20 years ago, downtown Johannesburg’s colour palette has changed, but not in the way one would have predicted.
The second: There is a plethora of big, fat, abandoned buildings, ten stories and higher, each of them marked by broken windows, barred doors, and bricked up floors. They are beautiful, hallowed objects left behind by time and a history long forgotten. From art deco to modernist and post-modernist architectural treasures, they are spread out sporadically from block to block, colour-less. Witnessing these human structures, one is reminded of post-apocalyptic, dystopian worlds popular in science fiction films and literature. Yet this is our world today, one in which thousands of people, most of them black citizens from all over Africa, live on the streets surrounded by squalor, in a city famous for its gold and diamond trade. Many of these individuals who migrate south hope to escape the hostility of war torn countries and encounter instead, a different type of war zone in Johannesburg.
Fascinated by how the city seems to have abandoned these buildings just like it has some of its population, I can not imagine that, almost six weeks later, I would find myself transported from the roof of one of these dilapidated buildings to a jail cell in Johannesburg’s central police station. The jail cell – with its many barred, fenced, and frosted glass windows–made me feel helpless. By contrast, the abandoned buildings – where most windows are broken or missing altogether-made my team and I feel an empowerment and awareness that vibrated with possibility.
Consider windowless buildings. Bleeding and gutted buildings. Consider a system in which government and privately owned buildings are left uncared for from block to block throughout the heart of a city. If the broken windows theory prescribes a zero tolerance policy for even minor damage to property, how can entire structures be abandoned, left to rot, without devastating effects on those who can not afford to move to other neighborhoods?
It was back in 1982 that the broken window theory was first introduced by social scientists Wilson & Kelling. They asked their audience to consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows were not repaired, vandals would likely break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and – if it was unoccupied – perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.
Chapter two, section 26 of the Constitution of South Africa states that “Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing.” With so many evictions happening due to Mayor Park Tau’s “Operation Clean Sweep” and with thousands of people in the inner city with no place to live, how can we go on ignoring all of these buildings that could be renovated as potential homes? “Demolition by decay” – as it is referred to in the blogosphere – still plagues the city centre today. The wickedness of some owners is only matched by the sheer indifference of the municipality, taking no action, even when owed millions of rand in rates.
As I keep thinking of these still beautiful buildings, I speak to friends of mine, local artists, about turning them into “Living Sculptures” so that the people of Johannesburg are reminded of their presence and the injustice they embody.Maybe we could highlight the buildings? Maybe we could paint them hot-pink? From what I had observed in Jozi’s urban environment, there is not much of that colour anywhere… no South African brands seemed to use this colour and therefore it would be easy to create new associations in Johannesburg’s cultural landscape. The artists, and most people who learned about the project in the following weeks, were excited about the idea and “valued the style, urgency, underground stealth, surprise approach and the overall intention” of the project.
It is not until later, amongst painters, photographers, and print-makers that we decide on the style of painting: we will pour the paint from the top of the chosen dilapidated building first. Then we will go down floor by floor and collectively decide which windows will “bleed out.” We are excited by the notion that the buildings would appear to be crying, bleeding, leaking colour. The colour and medium of choice will take the form of more than 1000 litres of hot-pink, water-soluble paint.
Once the idea is solidified, we spread the word over a period of three weeks. More than thirty local creative agents of all colours and creeds join our nightly excursions to help paint and document our process. Friends invite friends. All show up after midnight wearing their old clothes, their curiosity, and their courage. We start in the last week of June and finish in the first week of August.
We study the buildings during the daytime: we draw up floor plans, circulation patterns, and check the finishes on floors and walls – mostly scattered debris. Then, at the agreed-upon early morning hour, we gather and travel downtown with our buckets of paint and our ladders. The big challenge with most of our buildings is gaining entry to the second floor – once inside, we usually have access to the rest of the building. We walk up to the roof, and prepare our tools, pouring the pink paint slowly and evenly from top to bottom. As much work as could be done in preparation, we never have control over how the paint will actually adhere to each building. The speed and texture always varies, and it is always exciting to gaze upon the end result the following morning.
It is not until we have found a comfortable pattern, meeting and working together while most of the city is asleep, that the head of security of our seventh highlighted building approaches us and calls the police. He wants to know what we are doing and why were doing it. From our pink stained attire, everyone could easily assume that we are responsible for the buildings that have been dressed in pink in the previous weeks.
As the leader of this project, I feel it is my duty to take care of whatever charges may come up and asked my fellow artists and activists to leave the scene. The police ask me to follow them to the station, along with the security guard, to talk to the colonel. Once there, I realise that I have no phone, no identification, and no way out.
At first, he claims that he could not let me go because I have no way to identify myself. Sometime after three in the morning they find a case number for a “malicious destruction of property” that had been pressed the previous week for one of our transformed buildings. With the case in hand, I am booked into Johannesburg’s central police station as a suspect. Feeling completely isolated and alone, one question comes to my mind: “what is more unjust: to allow buildings to decay and create an atmosphere that permeates of fear, or to use colour to create a conversation about how we can all be a part of bringing said buildings back to life?” And also, aren’t these buildings, a vital part of the fabric of the city of Johannesburg, all of our responsibility?
There are no white people to be found in the police station either. Again, this is inaccurate, as the colonel who deals with my case, pale and blonde haired, does so in a heavy Afrikaans accent. Everyone else in the prison, from the guards to the captives, range in colour from dark-chocolate to dark-caramel. My own colouring, pale-olive by comparison, is so striking to the rest of the population that, in the morning, one of the janitors come into my cell and inquire about why I am there. He claims that I look “out of place.” Even earlier, when I was being admitted, the constable looked up from her form and asked me if I was Black, Coloured, Indian/Asian or White. I looked back at her responding that I am not any of those things. “I am Latin American, Hispanic.” Looking back down and speaking sharply she responded, “We can just say you are White.”
Some parts of the prison feel as neglected and dilapidated as the buildings that I have been studying for weeks. Buildings like the CNA, Shakespeare House and New Kempsey – a full city block of historical Art Deco buildings, bricked up and left to crumble as rain pelts through the broken windows – are not that different from this local police station, and its inhabitants are often the very same hopeless people who sit and walk around the city’s Central Business District.
Painting is a way for us to challenge our colour-blindness to these issues. By highlighting these facades in pink, we have generated important dialogue and debate among the denizens of Johannesburg. We hope that these conversations will in turn, be a call to action. The project we started is ongoing and more buildings will be painted soon. Just like some of the legacy of apartheid, these buildings may be abandoned, but they are still standing. Now more than ever we are responsible for being aware of colour – whether it be in the black and white of race, or the pink of social injustice.
Yazmany Arboleda is a New York-based Colombian-American artist who lectures internationally on the power of art in public space. He is the Creative Director of MIT’s ENGAGE program as well as The Brooklyn Cottage. His work has been written about in the New York Times, Washington Post, UK’s Guardian, Fast Company, and Reuters. In 2013, he was named one of Good Magazine’s 100 People Making Our World Better.
The work of South African costumer and puppet maker Macdonald Mfolo caught our eye after a recent interview with Another Africa highlighted the large scale puppets he created as part of the collaborative fashion and photography exhibition NOT x Chris Saunders. The cross-cultural project fuses the work of South African artisans and designers together with that of Jenny Lai, a New York-based experimental womenswear designer, and Chris Saunders, a photojournalist living and working in Johannesburg. The exhibition puts a spotlight on the social and cultural climates that creatives from New York and South Africa find themselves inhabiting while showcasing the viability of global collaborations in this digital age.
Mfolo, who is based in the Orange Farm township and picked up his puppet-making skills a few years ago as part of the production crew on the Pale Ya Rona Carnival, primarily works as a costume designer for the Pantsula dance group Real Action Pantsula. His full-bodied puppets are put together using papier-mâché and re-purposed materials such as discarded cement bags salvaged from construction sites and plastic bottles from a nearby recycling depot. Mfolo’s collaboration with Lai takes the vibrant Pantsula aesthetic and blends it with Lai’s avant-garde apparel for a surreal visual experience captured through Saunders’ lens and channeled through the movements of South African performance artist Manthe Ribane, who wears the puppet suits.
Though his puppet-making work currently exists only within the sphere of performance, Mfolo’s goals are and always have been community-oriented. “I want to create a skills college,” he told Another Africa. “I think skills development needs to be more emphasised in South Africa. We export a lot of things instead of creating them here.” In 2005, he established Farmland Production, a free workshop-based initiative that aims to empower local women and youth by teaching basic sewing skills that would help the community to become more self-sufficient. In addition to this, Mfolo’s organisation produces uniforms for local schools, and spearheads talent showcases and dance competitions. Read the full interview to learn more about the emerging designer.
Two years ago, a floating school in Lagos’s ‘floating’ slum of Makoko was labelled as ‘illegal’ by authorities who then threatened to demolish it. This year the school, which is the brainchild of Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi, was nominated for the London-based Design Museum’s Design of the Year award.
Adeyemi is the founder of NLE, a design and architecture company focused on creating sustainable buildings in developing regions. His innovative design came about after he had had several discussions with Makoko residents about how to resolve the environmental issues – such as flooding – that concerned the local community. He and his team came up with a prototype for a floating building, which is now the Makoko Floating School.
“There are hundreds if not thousands of Makokos all over Africa,” Adeyemi says. “We cannot simply displace this population; it’s important to think about how to develop them, how to create enabling environments for them to thrive, to improve the sanitation conditions, to provide the infrastructure, schools and hospitals to make it a healthy place.
“My belief is that in developing Africa we need to find solutions that can be developed by the grassroots, through the grassroots, and achieve the same level of significance as we have on the high-end projects.”
Read more about the construction of Makoko Floating School
Now, in a new documentary series by Al Jazeera that looks at unconventional pioneers in the architecture industry, Adeyemi’s floating school is brought to life in the episode “Working On Water”, directed by award-winning South African filmmaker Riaan Hendricks. Launched on August 18, the six-part Rebel Architecture series will air every Monday through to September 22.
Dynamic Africa is a curated multimedia blog focused on all facets of African cultures, African history, and the lives and experiences of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora – past and present. Visit the blog and connect with the curator, Funke Makinwa, on Twitter.