Category: Perspective

Yellow bones: The ‘blondes’ of the black community

(Pic: Flickr / Suedehead)

‘Are yellow bones more beautiful than dark-skinned girls?’ screamed a recent headline the Sunday News. This followed a period in which both the media and public went into a frenzy discussing whether or not the current Miss Zimbabwe – given her dark complexion – was beautiful enough to represent the country. Now, I will not go into that discussion. Countless newspapers have already done this ad nauseam. But what I would like to talk about is a different side to this whole ‘yellow bone’ versus ‘dark cherry’ debate.

There is a new, implicit wave of ‘yellow bone’ bashing that’s going on, and things don’t look like they are about to change any time soon. If you don’t believe it, see here, here and countless other places where you will find piles of narrow-minded literature on this subject.

In recent years, Zimbabwean society caught onto this phrase, ‘yellow bone’. Suddenly, it is no longer sufficient to call light-skinned women just that: light-skinned. And many times, this derogatory and callous word is used in reference to light-complexioned women when they are compared to ‘black cherries’ or dark-skinned women, as they are disparagingly referred to themselves.

A different cat-calling experience

So my first real encounter with the term ‘yellow bone’ happened last year as I was minding my own business at a busy shopping centre. I walked past a vehicle in which sat three men who clearly had nothing better to do. One of them called out something inaudible to me and I kept walking. He called out again, and when that did not elicit a response from me, went on to open the car door and shout very loudly something along the lines of, “You might be a ‘yellow-bone’, but you certainly aren’t pretty after all!”.

A lot of men feel entitled to yell all kinds of things at women going about their business on the street. But this experience stood out for me for one reason: it seems I couldn’t get away with simply ignoring street heckles like any other woman would do, without being insulted a second time about my complexion.

Do those with a lighter complexion – the so-called ‘yellow bones’ – live in a cloud of appreciation? At the most superficial level, I find that light skin might be thought to carry a kind of halo around it. We see someone with an attribute that so many others desire, and by association, assume that they have been blessed in other departments too.

But there are a lot of prejudices that work against light-skinned women.

The ‘blondes’ of the black community

I have not been conferred with advantages throughout my life, and certainly, my life as a so-called ‘yellow bone’ woman has not been all sunshine and roses. Growing up as a light-complexioned, skinny girl, I had my fair share of insecurities. All around me I saw pretty girls who had beautiful curves and smooth skin. My conception of what constituted beauty was a combination of things ranging from physique to disposition of the heart.

To put it in context, we the so-called ‘yellow bones’, are often considered to be the ‘blondes’ of the black community. You constantly have to prove yourself, because for some reason, something about your complexion gives the impression that you have neither brains nor brawn.

In a lot of places, I am automatically considered ‘musalad’. People often have weird assumptions that you don’t speak Shona or eat sadza and maguru (tripe) which just happens to be my favourite food. Neither do they think you can cook sadza! I have a distinct memory of a time many years ago, when I first went to my husband’s rural home. The neighbours flocked to see the new muroora. There was a lot of whispering, mainly things to do with my complexion. It did not help that I wear spectacles that tint in the sun. But the killer for me came from one elderly woman who took my hand into her calloused one, analysed my palm and asked rhetorically if such a pale-looking hand could mona (cook) sadza (insert eye roll here). Follow-up question:

Elderly woman: How is it that you are so light in complexion?

Me: Er, genetics?

Yes, I do sometimes get asked such moronic questions and it’s just plain exhausting. I mean, really!?? Is there any link between one’s complexion and one’s ability to flex wrist muscles?? I have yet to establish the connection between the colour of the skin on my hand and my ability to cook sadza, but so far there haven’t been any complaints in my house!

Stereotypes, stereotypes!

Don’t get me started on the ‘vakadzi vatsvuku vakasaroya, vanohura’ (light-skinned women are either witches or promiscuous) stereotype. This particular one I often hear from other women.

Other times, I am forced to justify my complexion, until it becomes pointless. I find that there is often an automatic assumption that light-complexioned women use skin-lightening products. It’s almost like how people generally assume that all obese people are that way because they overeat.

On lucky days, I am just mistaken for a mixed-race or coloured person. But on not so lucky days, sometimes people ask outright what cream or injectable I have used that has lightened my complexion so perfectly and uniformly. I had an experience once, where a woman in a hair salon very rudely took my hand and began to analyse my knuckles. Apparently, no matter how good a skin-lightening product you use – knuckles, elbows and knees will always give a user of such products away.

In my experience, fellow women are the most brutal with their judgments and opinions about a so-called ‘yellow bone’. There is a hair salon I stopped going to, because its owner always had colourful things to say and ‘joke’ about my complexion, all the while patting me on the back and calling me her ‘sister’. This was somehow supposed to take away the sting in her words? She joked once that the Diproson cream that my hairdresser loved to apply to my scalp was not only doing wonders for my dandruff, but also my facial complexion.

It appears that in some spaces, you just can’t be innocently light-skinned anymore. I have never used a skin-lightening product in my life, yet this stigma hangs over my head until people prove for themselves, in some way, that I am authentic. Yes, there is a scourge where a lot of women have started bleaching themselves, probably to conform to some elusive societal construct of beauty. But it is also interesting that at least in Zimbabwe, this phenomenon applies to women only. Nobody seems bothered about ‘yellow bone’ guys.

Nevertheless, I doubt that I will ever understand or be able to explain the fascination obsession with ‘yellow bone’. I could go on and on about some of the hurtful experiences I have had, just because people ascribe to me the term ‘yellow bone’. But I will stop here and highlight that the so-called ‘yellow bones’ are human, like everybody else. We feel things too.

All I can say is that we should all be mindful of the fact that what is considered beautiful is socially determined. This can hopefully help us to overcome our biases, regardless of our inherited physical traits.

Natasha Msonza is an information activist and communication strategist passionate about human rights and social justice. She blogs at This post was first published on Her Zimbabwe.

The AU owes young people inspiration

Hundreds of people adorned with traditional regalia from different cultures march through the streets of Durban on May 23, ahead of the he annual commemoration of the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity, presently recognised as the African Union. (Pic: AFP)
Hundreds of people adorned with traditional regalia from different cultures march through the streets of Durban on May 23, ahead of the annual commemoration of the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity, presently recognised as the African Union. (Pic: AFP)

The African Union owes the citizens of African states an opportunity to gain true inspiration from their organisation. We have not been given that opportunity. The average educated African citizen sees the Union as a toothless dog barking at its problems, and if they surmount, merely burying them in Africa’s backyard, which I imagine is an abandoned desert filled with broken dreams. If this appears to be a dramatic analogy to you then allow yourself the chance to imagine what the uneducated citizen considers the African Union to be. Nothing. And no dramatised imagery can take that truth away.

Numerous articles have been written on the ineffectiveness of this organisation.  Disaster after disaster has visited the member states of the African Union, while those involved in it appeared to do nothing more than shake their heads at the graveyard of missed opportunities. And who has suffered the most? The African people.

The purpose of the AU is to promote peace and security in Africa, but recent al-Shabab attacks in Kenya are thought by some to be a result of the mistakes made in the AU’s mission in Somalia which had an initial mandate of six months – yet close to eight years later, the operation remains active.  The AU has also been accused of “regionalising local conflict”.

The purpose of the AU is to promote improvement in healthcare access for African citizens, but the Ebola crisis showed an organisation that seemed to insist on always remaining many steps behind local and international efforts to combat the epidemic.

The purpose of the AU is to promote Pan-African development. Since its founding in 2001, and despite the rise in trade-agreements between member states, intra-Africa trade has remained below 12%, an embarrassing figure when compared to Western Europe whose intra-continental trade clocks in at 80%. It is clear to even the most optimistic observer that African states just don’t take these agreements seriously.

More of these failings can be seen as you go down the list of objectives the AU set up for itself upon its birth. And every failure comes with its own excuse: low resources, pressure from the West, etc. But despite some of them being valid, the rest I chalk down to a blatant refusal to take this organisation where it should go as well as an obvious lack of faith in the vision that birthed the AU: the vision of a united and self-sufficient Africa.

How else can you explain the clumsy handling of regional conflicts? How else can you explain the slow response to healthcare disasters? How else can you explain the sheer lack of implementation of agreements between member states? How else can you explain how Africa can continue to produce almost entirely things it does not consume and consume things it doesn’t produce?

It is a complete lack of commitment to self-sufficiency, it is a complete lack of commitment to the vision of a united Africa.

To reject a vision is to reject the future. And what is more a sign of a rejected future than the African Union having a centenarian president as a representative of the youngest continent in the world? To reject youth is to reject the future.

And so far, I have seen very little being done to engage young people in the AU’s mission.

But something can be done. Schools all over the continent can energise young people by creating AU clubs. How they will go about it can be determined by the resources and abilities of their respective faculties. If the AU has shown us anything, it’s that this can’t be done with a top-down approach. It has to be a “grassroots” movement implemented by teachers and communities that do believe in the dream of a United Africa.

And nobody can tell me such a thing is beyond the abilities of the often poorly-funded schools that form the majority of education systems in Africa. If there can be debate clubs and science competitions, however under-resourced, there can be a model AU after-school club.

I am aware that a model AU conference takes place in South Africa from time to time, but such an occasion seems limited to the privileged few who can afford the tedious process of getting visas (another barrier to intra-Africa trade, unaddressed by AU) and funding.

But I am talking about the average African student, who naturally craves, as all young people do all over the world, to make a real difference: to matter. The poor children in rural schools who feel forgotten by the world are just the people we need to engage in the vision of a compassionate and prosperous AU.

If I sound like a dreamer it is because that’s just what the AU needs, young people like me filled with optimism and dreams, and how else shall the two meet if not by gaining familiarity in this fashion?

All over the world, the model UN conference operates and ignites passions in the souls of young people who are eager to feel involved. A continent-wide model AU program might be just what is needed to put into the minds of my peers that leading Africa is our rightful place and no amount of bureaucracy, corruption and poor resources will stop us from claiming it.

On Africa Day, the day we are supposed to celebrate Africa’s achievements since 1963, when 30 newly-independent and ambitious African states got together and birthed a vision of a prosperous continent, we have to realise that the AU owes us inspiration. But we will be damned if we wait for them to hand it to us. We must seize it for ourselves and push ourselves to victory.

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

6 African novels to fuel your wanderlust

(Pic: Flickr / Susana Fernandez)
(Pic: Flickr / Susana Fernandez)

We’ve picked out six African novels about travel guaranteed to delight any wide-eyed traveler like yourself looking for adventure. No matter how classic or unconventional your taste in fiction might be, you’ll find something on the list to comfort your travel-weary soul or tease out your inner adventurer.

1. Traveller To The East  by Thomas Mofolo
Thomas Mofolo’s turn of the century classic is a petite, purse-size novella, but it chronicles the larger-than-life experience of a man called Fekisi, who abandons family and land and heads east to a mythical land where he hopes to encounter God.

Mofolo’s first novel is a travel story made alluring and exotic with the intensity of poetry and myth.

2. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola
Who wouldn’t want to get enveloped in a fog of magical delight?

Tutuola’s second novel is what Alice in Wonderland could have been if Lewis Carroll had enough grit and gumption to imagine a world haunted by outrageous beasts and ghouls.

The novel charts the adventures of a little boy lost in an enchanted forest. His search for the way back home seem to take him deeper and deeper into secret colonies of creatures living in a plane of reality at odds with human life.

3. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Reading a novel this good can be good or bad – good because it blows your socks off, bad because it’s a once-in-a-life-time experience.

There is literally nothing out there like Beukes’ time-traveling serial-killer romp of a novel.

Harper is a creepy slime of a man who travels through time to kill women. Kirby is his only failed attempt. She survives his assault and commits her life to finding Harper and putting a stop to his murderous hatred for women.

For the lover of crime thrillers, this quirky time travel novel is a gift straight from the god of fiction.

4. Nigerians in Space by Deji Olukotun
Wale is a Nigerian lunar geologist. He is under the spell of a life-long dream to traveling out to the moon when the mysterious Mr. Bello offers him the chance to man a Nigerian space-exploration mission. But like most dreams, what starts out as the magical fulfillment of desire quickly slips into the realm of nightmare. Wale is caught within the complicated web of an African political illuminati. His attempt to piece the puzzle of his ever crumbling reality takes him on a nomadic jaunt through Houston, Stockholm, Basel, Paris, Abuja, Bulawayo, Lagos, Capetown, Johannesburg and Paris.

An exquisite blend of unpredictable twists and lightening-speed plot.

5. Our Sister Killjoy by Ama Ata Aidoo
Ama Ata Aidoo’s quirky novel is a tourist adventure set in Germany and London. It charts the journey of Sissie, a bright and self-assured Ghanaian student who wins a European travel scholarship. Like any good explorer, she is very aware of her surroundings—an awareness that she conveys in a blend of poetic and prose expressions. In novels like this, travel through space easily becomes a journey into the self.

6. The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami
Step aside Marco Polo! Estebanico, a Moroccan survivor of a doomed Spanish expedition, is our latest guide through the alluring enigma of unknown lands and peoples.

It is 1527 when a ship with a 600-man crew and a calvary of 600 horses leave Spain and heads out to the gulf coast of the United States. Ravaged by a series of misfortunes, their great number is decimated, but Estabanico lives to tell the story of their subsequent travels across America and how their dream of becoming wealthy conquistadors becomes a humbling journey in search of self-discovery and redemption.
Give yourself a priceless gift. Get Laila Lalami’s new novel.

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.

Operation Murambatsvina: Fear and suffering 10 years on

19 May 2015 marks 10 years since the Government of Zimbabwe’s programme of mass forced evictions, locally know as Operation Murambatsvina (Operation Drive Out Rubbish). According to the United Nations, some 750 000 people lost their homes and businesses in the widely-condemned programme. Ten years on, the affected people have not accessed effective remedies, have not been compensated for their loss and thousands allocated plots of land under the Operation Garikai/Hlalani kuhle (Good living) live in settlements with no basic services, schools, clinics and were driven deeper into poverty. Farai Machena* had his home destroyed. Here, he shares his own experience.


A picture taken on June 17 2005 shows a house being destroyed in Chitungwiza, about 30km south of Harare, as part of Robert Mugabe's government clean-up campaign named Operation Murambatsvina. (Pic: AFP)
A picture taken on June 17 2005 shows a house being destroyed in Chitungwiza, about 30km south of Harare, as part of Robert Mugabe’s government clean-up campaign named Operation Murambatsvina. (Pic: AFP)

Operation Murambatsvina started on 19 May 2005 in other areas, but reached our settlement of Hatcliffe Extension on 27 May.  On that sad day, state security agents moved into our community and physically removed my family from our home before pulling down the structure we had built.  We had been living in Hatcliffe Extension since 1993. My home was destroyed by the government despite the fact that it had actually settled us there.  We had a lease agreement officially recognising our occupation of the property.

After our homes were destroyed we were left in the open for days during the beginning of Zimbabwean winter. We were later taken to a holding camp at Caledonia Farm on the outskirts of Harare where life was terrible – the services were extremely stretched, children dropped out of school, we did not have enough food, shelter or toilets.

Operation Murambatsvina marked the beginning of a new phase in our lives. It started with promises by the government for a better life under Operation Garikai.  Government promised to build better houses.  However, most of us ended up in tents. The government gave us four wooden poles and four metal roofing sheets.  From these we were supposed to rebuild our destroyed homes.  To add pain to injury, government said we had been evicted in error since we had Lease Agreements.  We were told that we could go back to the same plots that our homes had been destroyed.  Well-wishers gave us plastic material to construct shelter with. All privacy was lost as family members shared the little living space.

The situation has not improved 10 years on. We are still languishing in extreme poverty, surviving from hand to mouth. The majority of the over 20 000 people living in Hatcliffe Extension have no source of income.  Operation Murambatsvina made worse an already desperate situation.

Operation Murambatsvina robbed us of our sources of livelihood.  Today development or progress in our beloved mud city, Hatcliffe Extension, as it is affectionately known, is non-existent.

Lost hope
Despite the existence of a national housing policy and a Constitution that prohibits arbitrary evictions, we continue to live with the fear of another forced eviction.

I cannot stop thinking of what my community lost. Living in an independent Zimbabwe, I am yet to enjoy any benefits of independence. My education was disrupted by the forced evictions. Our lives have not improved. All I know is suffering. I have to struggle for everything.

During Operation Murambatsvina, despite the destruction and the accompanying suffering, we actually had some flicker of hope. For a moment we thought that it was just a matter of time before our longtime dream of adequate housing was fully realised. Little did we knew that it was like that moment after a long walk in a desert that you lift up your head and see  something you mistake for an oasis, you gather your last strength thinking that you will soon quench  your thirst only to realise that it was something else.

The forced eviction has also exposed young people in my community to exploitation. As a young person living in Hatcliffe Extension I feel that people are not being afforded the opportunity to participate in development issues that affect our community.  We have become victims of exploitation from opportunistic political parties, politicians and pseudo-development agents who masquerade as liberators of the youth.

Young people’s voices are ignored resulting in disempowerment. The situation of young people makes me recall Paulo Freire, who says ‘to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation (is equivalent) to treating them as objects which must be saved from a burning building; it is to lead them into the populist pitfall and transform them into masses which can be manipulated.”

As young people in Hatcliffe Extension we want to participate in our community on an equal footing with other stakeholders. We were all affected by the forced evictions. We have the passion, zeal, enthusiasm, and a deep motivation to transform our situation.  There is no dignity in begging. We want to be able to support our own families.

*not his real name

Amnesty International has been campaigning against mass forced evictions in Zimbabwe since 2005. We are campaigning for effective remedies for the survivors, including access to basic services such as healthcare and education.

My shitty country

(Pic: AFP)
(Pic: AFP)

You should walk down First Street in Harare just before summer starts. You should smell the scent of the purple jacaranda flowers, it is a mixture of petrol and sugar, a scent that excites my senses. You should meet a Zimbabwean vendor at Avondale flea market, trying to sell you a wooden knobkierie of NyamiNyami , the River God. His charisma only will make you part with your hard-earned 25 dollars. His humour will make you want to know him more. He will tell you about Chido, his 14-year-old daughter with more brains than her father. He will tell you about her aspirations to study medicine at the University of Zimbabwe.

You should take a kombi from Fourth Street to the nearby town of Chitungwiza. You will hear about Tapiwa, Lisa’s boyfriend, who keeps calling her incessantly, checking if she has arrived at the bus stop yet so they can go and fondle each other under the Musasa tree before Lisa has to go home and start cooking. You will hear about how the electricity always goes off except on Mondays. You will see the whindi (conductor) paying off the traffic police more times than you can count.

You should take a walk down Sam Levy’s Village, a shopping paradise. There you will see people who do not experience water or electricity shortages. You will see people who have never used KK and Munga buses or any form of public transport. You will hear talk about Tin Roof and H2O, the hottest night spots in town. You will see teenagers who dress like Drake or Nicki Minaj, children who look like they stepped off the pages of Vogue. You will meet people who do not know that Zimbabwe went through an economic crisis in 2008.

You should fly to Victoria Falls. There you will truly realise that nature’s beauty is ineffable. You will hear thunder that will remind you of twenty vuvuzelas being blown at once.  You will meet people who have learnt to use their hands to craft masterpieces that travel the world. You will talk to the supermarket cashier who has never been to see the “beautiful” falls even though she has stayed in Victoria Falls all of her life.

You who think you are an expert on Zimbabwe’s political and economic situation. You who so causally paint a picture of hunger, strife and misery without having set foot in my country. You who are so ready to dish out advice from the comfort of your sofa on exactly what should be done to “change the course of Zimbabwe”. Visit us and we will show you all we have to offer. Only then, after you have come to know us, can you casually call us a shitty country.

Keith Mundangepfupfu is a student at The African Leadership Academy, who identifies himself as a writer and activist. He is currently chasing down his dream of becoming an author. Follow him on Twitter: @whiplash16