September 9 marked six months since the abduction of prominent Zimbabwean activist Itai Dzamara, a prominent critic of Robert Mugabe’s government. On 9 March 2015, he was forced into an unmarked vehicle and has not been heard from since. His wife, Sheffra Dzamara, spoke to Amnesty. This is her story.
Itai has been my husband for almost 9 years. We are very close, we share everything and he is my best friend. He is well respected by his community. Whenever he would go to the local barbershop, the place where he was abducted, people would always gather to hear his thoughts about what is happening in our country.
Knowing how things are in Zimbabwe, I was worried about him. But he felt this was his calling.
Itai took a petition to the president, asking him to step down and make way for new elections. He spoke about how many people were unemployed and said that the president had not created the jobs he had promised. After he delivered the petition, the trouble started. We began living in fear. Whenever he came home late we would worry that something might have happened to him.
I knew something was wrong when I noticed two cars going up and down our road. Every time they went past our gate, they slowed down and peered into the yard. They went back and forth five times. This was on the Thursday before Itai disappeared.
The authorities felt that that Itai was a threat. They became afraid that people were starting to support his thinking and that this would cause trouble for them. So, they decided to remove him from the picture. Those who took him know that everything is not well in Zimbabwe and that eventually people would have stood with Itai and supported his cause.
“We live in fear”
This is very difficult for me. Itai did nothing wrong. Everything he did is allowed in the constitution. He protested peacefully and never destroyed anything. He didn’t even retaliate when they beat him up. He does not like violence. He even wrote “10 golden rules” on using non-violent strategies in protest. It is worrying and disheartening that Itai never used violence and yet there are people out there who use violence and are never arrested. How can we live freely in this country when those who peacefully protest disappear?
We live in fear. We are afraid that they might take one of our children or maybe they might take me now, because they are unpredictable people. But as a family, we still have hope, especially me.
It was his birthday recently. He is not a birthday person, but last year we celebrated as a family at our house. We bought him cake and cooked his favourite meal. It is painful and hard to comprehend that Itai just turned 36 years old and we don’t know where he is.
I would urge everyone out there, and other governments, to help us put pressure on the government to say something about Itai. President Mugabe has not said anything about him.
Itai was the breadwinner in our family, so his abduction has affected our family’s survival. We now rely on donations to be able to afford day-to-day essentials. Our children constantly ask for him. The youngest gets excited when you show her a picture of Itai, but the eldest does not want to talk about his father, or even look at photos… he won’t go out and play with his friends anymore.
Wherever he is, we as a family need to know what has happened.
I look forward to a truly free Zimbabwe, where people can express themselves and are able to protest without fear of what will happen to them. That is what I hope to see.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have written to President Robert Mugabe calling on him to set up a Judge-led commission of inquiry into the disappearance of Itai Dzamara.
Last week, I stumbled across a BuzzFeed video of children from black families reminiscing about their parents’ struggles to put them through school and give them better lives. They talked of exceptional sacrifices: a mother who went without food to feed her sons, another who left a dancing career because of childbirth, or even the absentee father who made a point of always being there for his son. They spoke of retired parents rejoining the workforce to make enough money to get their children through college and of a mother sacrificing relationships because she wanted to avoid turmoil for her children. Like every normal person, I was moved by these stories and touched by the depth of sacrifice these parents made, as well as the gratitude their children exhibited. My disappointment in humanity however was awakened when I scrolled down to read the comments: “Are you going to make a thing about white families sacrificing for their kids too?” asked one user. “As parents we all make sacrifices for our children,” said another. There is something systemically off with these lines of thinking.
First, it is indisputable that all parents make some level of sacrifice for their children. Whether it is the discomfort of waking up in the middle of the night to check their crib, or forgoing something for the sake of their young ones. Nobody denies this. But the problem with the statements above lies in their complete ignorance of historical context. When the video showed black children remembering their parents’ struggles, it did not negate other people’s struggles. It does not mean that because they had difficult childhoods, then everyone else had it easy. When one story is told in positive light, it does not inevitably send everything else in darkness. Thus, the people who felt some level of bias in the story missed a crucial part of American history. History is not comparative in its telling, it is not linear in its production and neither is it singular in perspective.
This idea of sameness of struggle is usually echoed in response to the “Black Lives Matter” movement that sprung up after a number of police shootings in the United States. The same people who disregard America’s racial history want it to be said that “All Lives Matter.” But in reality, that statement in itself is an oxymoron and asserting it as true is nothing less than insincere on the part of its proponents. If all lives did matter, then the American justice system would be a completely different scene today. But all lives don’t matter, because American history is one of intended and completed racialisation of minority populations, especially black people.
Eric Garner and Tamir Rice are not victims of circumstance; they are a disclosure of successful policy implementation. American history is white history. The same country that declared “all men are created equal,” propagated slavery. If it was self-evident that some men were more equal than others in the founding of America, isn’t it logical that they still would not gain equality in the building of America? Whether it is America’s Prison Industrial Complex, or the Japanese Internment, whether COINTELPRO and the Black Panthers, or the Federal Housing Agency and Colour Coding (aka Redlining) which led to the rise of the Projects, American history was the active disenfranchisement of one racial group at the expense of another. The ideology of racial supremacy that founded the United States informed policy and led to the current injustices facing the black person.
If one is not a minority, they have probably benefited from the policies that allowed their families to own a home when other families could not because the FHA would not subsidise their mortgages since they lived in yellow or red lined zones. My point is not that people who are racialised as white are automatically racist, but they have benefited – whether intentionally or unwittingly – from the historical injustices of racism.
It is only in failing to understand this fact that you can hastily declare that all lives matter, and thereby repeat the incongruities in the founding documents of the American state. You will not understand that poverty breeds a social bubble in which violence is the only outpouring of economic frustration, because you have never needed to be violent. If you have only been on one side of history, you will never understand what it means to bend the arc of history toward justice when your opponent has power on their side. You will not easily wrap your head around the fact that at some point, this history shows itself in modern life; that this context paints the black life in all shades and hues. So, we could probably make a video of white children talking of their parent’s struggles after the housing bubble of 2008, or even of those white innocent people who die of police brutality. But we cannot account for their history because it has been the only history that has been told. What of that one police officer who likes black children? Or what of the fact that you have black friends? Or what of the fact that you have been to Africa? If you think these can erase the fundamental flaws and systemic injustices created in the writing and telling of American history, you are part of the problem.
Franklyn Odhiambo is an alumni of the African Leadership Academy, and a student of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a Kenyan.
I’ve been pondering about the origin and meaning of the two terms, Botswanan and Batswana. How nationals in African countries self-identify and how they identify their fellow citizens can tell us a lot about the level of inclusiveness and nationalism in a country.
According to Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries, the correct English term for nationals from Botswana is Botswanan. Therefore, it’s the preferred term by editors and writers worldwide. The majority of nationals from Botswana prefer the use of the complicated term Batswana. The addition of “Ba” meaning “the people of”, seemingly implies that everyone in Bostwana is Tswana. This makes it a term loaded with problematic histories of colonialism, exclusion and ethnic relations.
Who then, is Botswanan?
Botswana’s political borders were formed under colonial rule, bringing together diverse ethnic groups who comprised Bechuanaland. It was renamed Botswana in 1966 when the country gained independence from Britain. Today, it continues to be a multi-ethnic society.
Its main ethnic groups include the Tswana, Kalanga, Batswapong, Babirwa, Basarwa, Bayei, Hambukushu, Basubia, Baherero and Bakgalagadi people. In addition, there are other minority groups including whites, Indians and immigrants from other African nations.
Colloquially, all these ethnic groups are referred to as Batswana. However, applying the term Batswana to them is misleading.
Who then, is Tswana?
Nearly four million people who identify as Tswana live in southern Africa – one million in Botswana and three million in South Africa. It is used to describe the North Sotho, West Sotho, Sotho, and Pedi ethnic groups who have a similar culture and speak the same language.
The West Sotho Tswanas live in Botswana. They consist of eight ethnic groups and together make up a sizeable amount of the inhabitants, comprising roughly 70% of the population.
Due to their numbers, Tswana language and culture dominates mainstream Botswanan society. They have a distinct culture that is different from the other ethnic groups living in Botswana in terms of social organisations, ceremonies, language and religious beliefs. Therefore, a unifying Tswana culture that distinguishes them exists. Culturally, they are arguably more similar to the Pedi and Sotho in South Africa then they are to some ethnic groups within Botswana. Therefore, the term Batswana can be seen as a reflection of the presence of a dominant Tswana culture in Botswana and not a reflection of the multi-ethnic society Botswana actually is.
Botswana does not constitute a homogenous nation with a single language or culture. Therefore, the term Batswana should not be an umbrella term for all of the people within Botswana’s borders which include non-Tswana groups who have a different culture and may speak their own language. Additionally, anyone speaking the Setswana language should not be considered Batswana because this dominant language needed to function in contemporary Botswana where 26 languages are spoken. Therefore, an ability to speak a language doesn’t make a person the ethnicity of the people from which that language derived. As an example, the ability of the Khoi-San to speak Setswana does not technically make them West Sotho nor Batswana.
Who then, is Basarwa?
The Basarwa, who are commonly known as the Khoi-San or “Bushmen”, are often lumped in to this broad category of Batswana. They are made up of Khoi and San people who are further divided into distinct groups with their own languages and culture. They have long resisted being labelled terms such as “Bushman” and even “Khoi-San”. Calling them Batswana would just be the latest name to be forced on a group that has struggled to maintain their identity and culture.
Their identification has always been problematic. They are thought to be the “original” people of Botswana. The government does not award them (nor any other ethnic group) “indigenous” status though – they maintain that all citizens of the country are indigenous in order to promote a sense of “sameness”. In part, this is an attempt by the government to incorporate them in the dominant culture by promoting a strong sense of national identity and “developing” them to fit in with Batswana people who are considered “modern”. By labelling them Batswana they are forced to identify as such or risk being labelled as “backward” or otherwise “othered”, which marginalises them. In part, it is also an attempt at controlling their resources, culture and land – for tourism and diamonds – under the pretext of homogeneity or “oneness”.
Given the aforementioned relations between the Baswara and the Tswana-speaking groups, calling them “Batswana” when they feel their culture is threatened by them is problematic.
Similarly, other groups in Botswana may feel similar offense when being called Tswana for much less severe reasons such as simply not being Tswana.
Who then, is Batswana?
Simply speaking, the term Batswana is problematic for those ethnic groups such as the Khoi-San with their own cultural, linguistic and genealogical identities.
Botswanans need to be more conscious when they identify everyone from Botswana as Batswana in order to be more inclusive of the minority groups. Such a loose term which is meant to unify people can have the opposite effect by further marginalising minority ethnicities.
Next time someone problematises my use of the term Botswanan, my simple response will be, “What then, are the Basarwa?”
Sitinga Kachipande is a blogger and PhD student in Sociology at Virginia Tech with an African Studies concentration. Her research interests include tourism, development, global political economy, women’s studies, identity and representation. Follow her on Twitter: @MsTingaK
For the last 13 years, Sierra Leone has seen a dramatic decrease in its maternal mortality rate, due in large part to the introduction of free health care for pregnant women. One of the most devastating and yet rarely acknowledged impacts of the Ebola epidemic is that it threatens to undo all this good work.
It’s not just the loss of more than 220 health workers, including many midwives, to the virus, with little training or wiggle-room in the fragile health system to replace those skills. It’s also the lingering fear of hospitals and doctors among the local population, which remains traumatised by an outbreak that has claimed almost 4 000 lives and still sees new infections each week, albeit small numbers.
A World Bank report in July – Healthcare Worker Mortality and the Legacy of the Ebola Epidemic – estimated that Sierra Leone’s maternity mortality rate could increase because of the current crisis by 74 percent, to levels not seen since the end of the civil war in 2002.
“During the Ebola outbreak, there were many challenges that we encountered that led to many pregnant women not coming to the hospital and this may have led to the [recent] increase in death rates [among pregnant women],” A.P. Koroma, medical superintendent at the PCMH (Cottage) Hospital in Freetown, told IRIN.
The hospital has lost 85 mothers since the outbreak was first reported in May 2014, which Koroma said is “definitely a sharp increase compared to previous years.”
“People were, and are [still], afraid,” he added.
Before Ebola came, an average of 10 700 women each year gave birth at Cottage Hospital. Since the outbreak, this number has dropped to 6 723.
The most recent maternal mortality rate is not yet available at the national level, but given the hospital attendance records and the risks of at-home childbirth in Sierra Leone, it is expected to rise.
“During the Ebola outbreak, people had the impression that when they come to the hospital, they may be infected,” Koroma explained. “For those coming to the hospital, we did our best… but some of them came to the hospital late because they were told that if you have bleeding, which is one of the symptoms of Ebola, no nurse or doctor will want to touch a patient until an Ebola test is done, which can take up to three days.”
Others, who did come, died while waiting for the Ebola test results.
The hospital now has access to a rapid diagnostic test, which can give results in less than three hours.
Despite this, and better safety measures generally, many hospital staff are still afraid to tend to pregnant women, given the fact that childbirth puts them in direct contact with bodily fluids.
“When we started hearing of our colleagues dying, everybody was afraid and nobody wanted to even touch a patient,” Koroma explained.
But not all women are staying away.
“Some of my friends said that if I came to the hospital I would get Ebola… so I became afraid,” said 22-year-old Mary Conteh, from Freetown, who gave birth earlier this month. “But later I decided to come to Cottage Hospital…. I thank God I had a safe delivery.”
Shortage of health workers
Sierra Leone lost an estimated seven percent of its nurses and midwives to Ebola, according to the World Bank report – a devastating loss for a country that had just over 1 000 to begin with.
“This is just a terrible shock to an already weak healthcare system,” said David Evans, Senior Economist at the World Bank Group. “And if one were to put this [loss of health care workers] into actual numbers, that’s an additional 1,850 women dying per year [in Sierra Leone] just as a result that we’ve lost health care workers due to the Ebola epidemic.”
If Sierra Leone is to prevent its maternal mortality rate rising further, experts say more investment is drastically needed to plug the gap in maternal healthcare.
“In terms of response, it’s not rocket science,” Evans said. “These countries and the international communities supporting them need to hire more health workers and provide resources so they are well paid and want to be in Sierra Leone working there. And, as the Ebola epidemic wanes, as it continues, making sure they have protective equipment.”
In the short-term, to avoid a further increase in maternal mortality, Evans suggested a “stop-gap measure” of employing foreign healthcare workers and birth attendants, allowing local capacity to be built up over the longer term.
Women in Sierra Leone say they are praying for just that.
“All I want is to have a healthy baby,” said 25-year-old Frances Tucker, who is five months pregnant. “I don’t want to have problems like other pregnant women have had by staying at home, afraid of coming to the hospital… putting you and your baby’s life at risk.”
This question came to my attention while encountering a recent article on The Africa Report that drove me into a rage. Truthfully, it was not the report so much as one sentence that riled me up, which was:
“Following the US’s endorsement of same-sex marriage in June this year, many Ghanaians have expressed resentment at the practice, describing it as un-Biblical, un-Christian and, therefore, un-African.”
I tweeted the last portion of this excerpt, the part where the logic of this assertion is revealed, and asked Twitter users to tell me what’s wrong with this sentence.
The majority of answers mimicked my own thoughts. People did not hesitate to point out that “un-biblical, un-christian and therefore, un-African” was an oxymoron, wrapped in a riddle, served on a plate topped with hypocrisy in a restaurant called Ignorance.
I could not agree more. The idea that African culture and Christianity could be considered inseparable, struck me as just plain wrong. But what was even more wrong to me, was the reality that in many parts of Africa where Christian missionaries had carried out prep-work for European colonialists, there was a large group of people who
seriously believed that Christian practices had become their culture.
I was still picturing Christianity as this completely Western institution that was carried in on boats and slave-ships not that long ago. I could not fathom the mixture of Christianity and African culture ever being anything but unnatural.
I knew that culture is an evolving thing, constantly absorbing new beliefs and ideas until the customs of ancestors are unrecognisable to descendents. I accepted this premise under the condition that the new beliefs would have to rise organically – whatever that meant – from the imaginations of the people that formed the communities.
Upon further reflection, this struck me as odd. I thought back to all the non-Botswana African people I’d known throughout my childhood. Having attended English medium schools for the entirety of my education, and having been terrible at Setswana by virtue of having a foreign mother, my childhood was rife with a plethora of international friendships. Friends from Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Rwanda littered my childhood and perhaps inspired the earlier sparks of pan-Africanist sentiment that would light a fire in my belly throughout adolescence.
But when I went to their homes, or had their families visit mine, one thing stood out as a unifying factor. Despite having different “home languages,” different tints to their browness, different kinks to their fros, they had one thing in common that I’d known for sure then, but somehow forgot as I got older.
They were all seriously Christian.
When I googled “Christianity in Africa,” I expected to get results that were a mixture of “ancient” history (the beginning of the Ethiopian Orthodox church, one of the world’s first churches in the 4th century) and news on the bizarre church stories of our time (eg. pastors making congregants eat grass), and I did. But I also got an opportunity to reflect on the space in between.
Instead of dismissing this new idea because of the few centuries in between, where African practices were crushed and Christianity was introduced as a precursor to colonial oppression, I realized I might gain far more by realising that most African Christians did not do this.
The average African Christian does not exactly walk around thinking himself a product of cultural domination. He considers his faith as organic as I do the earth. It is natural to him to believe in the Christian God, and, like many Africans, he sees no evidence – besides the whiteness of the Jesus statue in his church – that Christianity was anything other than his all along.
I always thought this strange, as well as an opportunity to tout my victims-of-white-brain-washing horn into the ears of whoever would listen. But then I found out that, according to David Barrett, most of the 552 000 congregations in 11 500 denominations throughout Africa in 1995 were completely unknown in the West.
I was introduced to the term “African initiated church” and started to make connections in my mind that I should have been making all along. Africans had been “taking back” Christianity for decades and I hadn’t even noticed. I had remained stuck in my simple-minded box, still thinking of African culture in terms like BC (before Christianity) and AC (after Christianity) where the latter signified death to me.
I was refusing to see all the contradictions and hypocrisies I’d noticed in African Christians as the formation of a new Christianity. I too had been taking part in cultural trivialisation by refusing to see African culture as a living, breathing, complex thing that would not forever remain in the animal-skins and tribal-dancing of our ancestors. Our beliefs and customs hadn’t died, they’d just found new ways to live in Christianity.
How else would one explain the ZCC?
If you live in Southern Africa, there is a chance that you are aware of the existence of one of the largest churches on the continent. Walking through the bus station in almost any city south of DRC, you are likely to encounter women in robes and intricate scarves covering their hair and men in military-esque khaki uniforms; or at the very least, plain-clothes people with a star-badge on their chest.
These people are part of the ZCC: Zion Christian Church. Although it traces its origins to the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion, the ZCC has been a symbol of African Christianity for decades. This church has been able to take in Africans into the Christian faith without beating their identities out of them.
It is a church that has been difficult for academics to understand, and indeed for many Africans to understand – particularly Africans who, like me, had a very limited fundamentalist idea of Christianity as a Western notion. But the people of ZCC have managed to make the practice of Christianity a lifeline of their previous lives.
The drinking of holy teas and the laying of hands as a healing methods can all be traced back for centuries into histories of African societies.
The ZCC is just one of thousands of “African Indigenous Churches” that were formed by ‘black prophets’ who wanted to give Africans an alternative to the crushing anti-black sentiment of European denominations.
So what if Christianity is African?
If Christianity is African then I’m stumped. I’m outsmarted. I can no longer argue against African Christians on the basis that they worship alien ideologies. I can no longer turn my nose up at African church-goers as sheep ignorant of their bloody pasts. I can no longer dismiss the beliefs of those that don’t agree with my politics because of Christian scripture.
I am stumped.
I can’t even call them hypocrites any longer: accuse them of picking and choosing which scripture they follow, because being denominations separate from the West means Africans are free to emphasise what they wish as being Christian.
How can I point out their acceptance of infidelity and corruption while taking such a harsh stance on homosexuality? How can I ridicule them for their fringe groups eating grass and licking hair for healing?
How can I ignore that many of the parts of African Christianity that offend me are the African parts? Can I continue to blame the ghosts of white Christians when Africans claim that mini-skirts are offensive? Can I continue to conjure up the spirits of European colonisers when Africans assert that homosexuality be punished by death?
If Christianity is now African then we have nobody to blame but ourselves for our failings. We can no longer look to our colonial pasts and claim that bigotry, hatred and oppression are Western inventions. We can no longer look at pastors who take advantage of poor Africans as a continuation in the centuries-long tradition of Western institutions crushing African lives.
We can no longer ignore the fact that if Christianity is now African, so is the oppression we subject one another to.
That’s what it would mean if Christianity is African.
Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 21-year-old mathematics major at the University of Botswana. She is currently slumming it in Finland. Follow her on Twitter: @SiyandaWrites