My story is six hundred pages and not a sentence, paragraph or chapter
This book is coloured purple to make every reader feel royal
We are born victorious and not victims
I told my story so that you could tell yours too
This book is truth and only truth
Something unique and extraordinary about this book which will make it enjoyable to any reader in any part of the world is that it passed through the hands of extraordinary women and men who gave their time critiquing and editing to bring out the richness of the story. Betty Makoni carefully selected men and women from various parts of the world to review the book and pass on comments and recommendations.
Everyone involved in transcribing, editing and critiquing the book was selected from every continent in this world. Diversity is what Betty Makoni shares in her story. Her principle is that for an individual to thrive and reach the top, one has to embrace the magic of difference and work with virtually everyone they think can help. Among the many people who share Betty Makoni`s story are men and women from diverse backgrounds. Some issues she brings in her story are universal and can take place in any setting in the world.
Betty Makoni has a vision for this book. If the reader removes her name and her geographical location, they may end up telling their own story. The story is “one size fits all.” The story is not necessarily confined to Betty Makoni. It is a story to evoke the reader so that they start telling their stories with a goal to say, Never Again.
Right at the end of the book, you will find many contributors to this story. At this point in her life, Betty Makoni`s voice is not the only one telling the story. Many other people come in with testimonies, press releases, and email messages. All of these were sent voluntarily just to appreciate the work she did to inspire them. There are many people who tell their stories and they must be encouraged to always keep it accurate and truthful.
The organisation that Betty Makoni built is a huge global movement to an extent and those writing her story are many and all over the world. How amazing that an orphaned child and street vendor who was not anywhere to be seen or known could have now the whole world writing about her in such a powerful way.
Betty Makoni also thanks everyone who has written her story and helped evaluate the impact of her work through direct personal messages, which she has kept as a separate testimonial book as they could not all be fitted into this official autobiography. There are also many publications in the form of books, films and blogs about Betty Makoni and individuals who went at length to write the stories did a fantastic job. On the contrary, those who worked against Betty Makoni and tried to tell her story in a way that undermines all her great efforts towards empowering girls are hereby corrected. Not even one news online website that covered her story knows even the exact location of Betty Makoni`s work, even if many of such individuals are Zimbabweans. Those who made attempts to bring her attempts down or hijack her work are hereby presented an opportunity to read and learn more from this biography.
Many times we ask people to write about us for window dressing and to impress, but Betty Makoni has made sure that all the messages she voluntarily received from people inspire many others who will read this book. A lot of the impact of Betty Makoni`s work had been evaluated by consultants, making it sound academic and for donor purposes only and yet there is so much of this work evaluated by ordinary people voluntarily and informally that no one would ever get to know about if this book was not written. Therefore, everyone whose message is included in this book spoke not because they had to answer prepared questions from an evaluator or researcher, but these are messages which were directed to Betty Makoni from those she helped and worked with; they are a clear testimony of impact of her work.
To make this book rich, texts from many who wrote to Betty Makoni have been kept in original form with nothing changed except keeping some names secret. This is a life story and not fiction, and so real people are involved in telling Betty Makoni`s story at the end of the book.
Chapter 1 – Mother is No More
I was born on 22 June 1971. This is me Hazviperi Betty. My name Hazviperi translated means something that does not come to an end. Picture shows me when I was 4 months.
I was concentrating deeply on my work when there was a ripple of whispers around the classroom. Everyone’s eyes moved to the window where the school head stood, signaling with his forefinger for my teacher to come outside. She stood up abruptly and hurriedly walked out of the classroom. She had never bolted out in the middle of a lesson before and I wondered what kind of emergency this could be.
It wasn’t long before she re-appeared, her tearful eyes looking straight at me. I felt uncomfortable. I was only nine years old. For some I was naturally reserved. I hated any form of attention. The only time anyone noticed me in class was when I was called upon to collect prizes for top grades, which I’d worked hard to win. Now everyone stared at me as my teacher said in a gentle but hoarse voice, “Hazvi, come here”.
As I stood up, she pulled me by the hand and tried to bring me closer to her chest. She had a big bust and, like my mother, she was light in complexion. Many women were light in complexion because they used Ponds skin-lightening cream, but my teacher was naturally light. I could tell because she did not have any black patches on her skin. She then led me out of the classroom and I was surprised to see my uncle standing outside the door. Tears streamed down his face, “Mai hakuchina,” he sobbed. “Your mother is no more.”
READ ON FROM AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Chapter 2 –Domestic violence made my neighborhood a war zone
Visit to my old family home in 2006 and found most of my peers had died before they reached 40
I grew up in the township of Chitungwiza. Chitungwiza is 30 kilometers south of the capital, Harare, and was formed during the colonial era from three townships: Seke, Zengeza and St. Mary’s. It is a popular dormitory town for poorly paid blacks that performed menial, non-skilled jobs like gardening, driving and milk-selling in Harare, the Capital City. There was another class of professionals such as teachers and nurses who lived in richer neighborhoods. We lived in St. Mary’s. The houses are mostly high-density, detached units with a small yard, with row after row of identical houses. In Chitungwiza we used certain names for certain things. The Shona word, “maraini,” described our neighbourhood. Raini in English translation is line, meaning that all our houses were in a line and they were numbered. House numbers 1148 to 1168 were part of our maraini and my family lived at number 1154. We got it from all sides and my father was a part of that vicious and violent patriarchy!
Because we lived so close together, it was impossible to keep secrets hidden. I learnt from a young age about the violence and darkness surrounding our lives. I saw and heard things that are not meant to be for innocent eyes and ears. When a young child witnesses violence and ugliness they will either follow suit and grow up to be violent and ugly people, or they will grow up strong and determined to make changes. Luckily, I was one of the latter and what I saw and experienced at a young age has remained with me for life and fuels my resolution to bring about a change in the lives of all women and girls.
Shebeens, which are illegal, drink and whorehouses were dotted all around St Mary’s township. The shebeen queens looked forward to every Friday night when the men would come in with their full wage packets to squander their money on drink and “bitches.” It was pitiful to see the empty wage pockets the next day, filling the shebeen bins and scattered around the toilet areas. None of the wages got home to the families that so desperately needed them. Instead, men would bring home their drink-fueled tempers and take it out on their innocent wives and families. The violence often started before they got home, when fights broke out amongst the shebeen queens and their patrons. I declared our maraini a domestic war zone but, being a small child, I wasn’t yet ready to take on the fight! Reader, you know the full scale war in Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Afghanistan and elsewhere where people have guns, but picture the war in the home with hoes and knives. Many of our homes are war zones and a full -scale genocide has taken place with no United Nations, European Union or African Union to intervene.
Baba Cecilia lived at number 1156 and had ten children who ranged from one to eleven years. We always thought of them as sets of twins. Some of the names I recall for the children were Cecilia, Serenia, Maidei, Enock and Soneti. They gave names which almost rhymed. The father was very tall, hard-hearted and very dark in complexion. Perhaps the reason why he was so dark is that he worked as a dustbin man—“Madhodhabini;” his name was linked to the dirt in the bins. He was a very ill-tempered man, always very drunk. He always looked agitated and frustrated. He had ten children by the age of thirty-eight and had an income which could support only one or two children. He was forever beating his wife and each time he beat her he would pull her by the neck and drag her out onto the road.
The whole Raini encircled the couple and cheered the man. The woman would kneel down and plead with her husband to stop, and every woman recited the man’s totem to calm his anger. Today I say, “Bull shit to these semi gods!”
“No Baba, I now listen to all you say. I will never go next door to Mai Davie again” she said. Mai Davie was my mother. My father who had joined the circle upon picking up the name of my mother told everyone in the circle that he was going to beat my mother even harder. The whole circle disbanded and followed my father hoping to see more action. They weren’t disappointed because my father would carry out the same violent abuse on my poor mother. But baba Cecilia’s violent days were numbered.
CHAPTER GOES ON AND READ ON FROM AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Chapter 3 – My Rape Ordeal
Many young girls in the Maraini became vegetable vendors and I followed them about from the age of five, learning all the tricks of the trade. Night selling was commonplace and we had no choice, as our fathers did not bring money home to our mothers. This was all we could do to help our families. After about a year, I had learnt every tactic of selling and I was ready to carry a huge basket on my head, which was sometimes heavier than I was. I walked for kilometres, calling out my wares in a clear, loud voice inviting customers to buy my tomatoes, greens and mangoes. I worked extra hard at my selling technique as this was the only way to lighten my load as quickly as possible. At the age of six, my friend Lucky and I were the youngest vendors, but we sold more than anyone else in the group did. In retrospect, it becomes very clear to me that this was the start of my involvement in a girl movement. We started a girls’ vending club and worked very hard to sell our wares. Every success came from our sweat and we expected no handouts. We were independent, proud and hard working.
I am not sure whether the other girls worked as hard as I did, because I had duties to perform at home before I could leave with the vegetable basket. I rose at four am. each day to help my mother with the housework. She was often frail and ill, especially after her Caesareans, but still expected everything to be spotless. She had a very high standard of cleanliness and I would feel confused and sad to see her rewashing the dishes after I had already done them. This was when I was angry with her for being such a clean woman, as I had tried very hard to help her. I would try even harder the next time, as I knew how much she suffered. She always worked hard even though the doctors told her to rest for at least two months after the operations.
I knew she had terrible scars on her stomach from the operations so that all her children could be born. She also had to contend with the stigma attached to having children this way instead of the natural way. We were all labeled “Vana vakabva kuhowa havanzwi,” meaning we had come through unnatural ways. People said such children are always naughty and unbecoming. This is why our father would beat us for the slightest mistake, because he considered we were naughty and unbecoming. I wonder if the beatings he gave my mother had something to do with this, too. Once I peeped through the doorway and saw her showing Mai Enock a deep hole in her light-complexioned stomach. I cried out and this drew mother’s attention to my hiding place, so she shooed me out very quickly. I had seen my father kicking her in the stomach not long after a Caesarean and she had to go back to the hospital to have it fixed.
I would sell vegetables early in the morning and then again after school. It was a very long day. I dreaded my classmates seeing me so avoided the Marainis where they lived. They would have imitated me at school and given me terrible nicknames. Everyone considered vegetable vendors, who walked about shouting, to be very poor and I could not bear the embarrassment. It meant walking kilometres away from home but was worth it to save myself the mental torture. The only two neighbours I walked with were Lucky and Susan, the sisters of Enock, our hero who had disabled his father.
On and on we would walk with our big baskets shouting out “Muriwo werape, matomatoes and onions!” Other vendors’ voices shouting the same thing echoed around the township. The competition was fierce!
One day after school, I took my big basket and met up with Lucky and Susan as usual. Our voices rang out almost in harmony as we moved from street to street, “Muriwo werape, matomatoes and onions!” “The one with vegetables comes!” yelled a voice from a nearby house. I ran up to the door as fast as I could, because the other girls were following behind me and I wanted to make the sale. Before customers bought our vegetables, they would pull them out of the basket recklessly, examine them and throw what they did not want back into the basket. This used to annoy me intensely as they would break the tomatoes or unbundle the vegetables. I did not show my anger but knelt on the ground in humility and greeted them politely. I was a polite girl desperate for their money!
I also had regular customers. One was a big fat woman named mai Raiza (mother of Elizabeth) who always called me the same time every day. Every day we went through the same rigmarole. Holding up a bundle of vegetables, she would say rudely, “Are they fresh?” “Oh yes,” I would say, looking for another bundle which may be even greener. “Here take this one,” I would say in my kindest voice. She would scrutinize the bundles, screwing up and puckering her mouth in disapproval. “Hurry up!” I would be thinking, “I still have kilometres to go!” “What about mbasera? I am your regular customer.” She was asking for extra vegetables free of charge. I laughed as naturally as I could and said, “Mother always counts the bundles and I mustn’t be short. I will ask her tomorrow.” “Oh your Mum, does she know how to count? Does she have new child?” I maintained my politeness because I was very afraid of her body mass, “Oh yes, she’s just come out of hospital and we are all very happy.” “Why does she have all these children and keep you selling on the street like this?” I giggled trying to block out this unholy conversation about my mother and our family.
At least she did not ask me to collect the money on my way home as she usually did. She waddled into the house to get money for the vegetables and my heart started pounding as I thought about stories I had heard about her. She was taking a long time to come back and I imagined her in a half faint on her bed. I wondered if she would be able to make it back outside?
They said her husband did not beat her, because she was a witch. It was rumored that the people from her village banished her for being a witch. Her husband worked for Dairiboard and apparently brought home lots of dairy products to fatten her up. Fat women were considered to be treasured wives, well looked after by their husbands, but I had heard stories about him; children are expected to be seen and not heard but they hear everything. He was very thin and drank a lot of kachasu, a home brewed beer made with fertilizer. Everyone regarded him as a drunkard and a gambler because he spent the whole weekend in a village near Seke and once came home with a tooth missing as well as losing part of his skin and hair. This household was weird and there were many strange stories about it.
After what seemed a very long time she re-appeared. It looked as though she was having difficulty moving so I quickly ran over to where she stood in the doorway. She held out the money towards me and I clapped my hands in thanks before taking it. I carefully tied the money into a piece of cloth sewn inside my pocket. “Maita Mama” I clapped my hands again in the polite traditional way before bidding her farewell and finally getting on my way. My voice became weaker and weaker as I tried to call out my wares. Kilometres and kilometres of marainis came and went becoming a confusion of houses and faces. I was very tired.
It was nearly nine p.m. and dark before Lucky, Susan and I, having sold nearly all our vegetables, headed towards home. We wanted to sell everything and take empty baskets home. We were close to home and outside the house of VaNdera who ran a small tuck-shop. VaNdera stood outside his door gesturing with his index finger for us to “come”. The community considered him a wealthy man and Lucky and I ran towards him, hoping he would buy the last of our goods. Susan tried to pull us back as she was older and wiser than we two small girls were, but wanting to empty our baskets was all we could think of.
Susan said, “Let’s sell these things and go home straight away.” We could not understand her urgency, as we had not yet heard all the stories about this man. He went through our baskets setting aside the vegetables from each in separate piles. Totaling up the cost of each pile, he drew some ten-dollar notes from his pocket. We did not have the change he needed, so he said, “Wait a while, I’ll be able to get some change from customers who come to buy my goods. It shouldn’t take long.” Susan started getting agitated and he noticed this: “You go home, Susan.” He said. “Leave the little ones to wait for the change.” The stories Susan had heard about VaNdera involved older girls so she must have thought we would be safe. She left us there and went home.
Lucky and I sat on the floor in the tuck-shop, waiting for the customers who would bring in change. We looked around at all the goods in the tuck-shop. He had small dried fish called matemba on a shelf. Matemba was a great favourite to eat with sadza—the stiff mealie meal porridge that is the staple diet of Zimbabwean people. People said the small fish came from Mozambique, so it was very special. He kept his little shop well stocked; there was milk, oil and bags of mealie meal, sugar, tea and boxes of sweets. I looked and looked and we waited and waited. My eyes grew heavy, as it had been a long hard day. I drifted off to sleep curled up on the floor.
I woke up startled. There was a heavy weight on me and I tried to scream but there was a big hand over my mouth. There was grunting and tugging at my clothes. Even through the hand, I could smell the heavy foul, stale tobacco breath. My panties clumsily ripped and were pulled aside. Then I felt a searing pain; it felt as though my body ripped apart as my panties had been. I was panic-stricken, unable to breathe. The silent scream rose in my throat again and I tasted bitter bile in my mouth. Fear turned me into a wild animal; I was trapped and unable to think or do anything to help myself. Suddenly there was a loud knocking on the door! I heard Enock shouting outside; he must be looking for his sister, Lucky! The unbearable weight of VaNdera lifted off my body but the terrible pain remained in my most private area. The knocking at the door became more urgent. I saw VaNdera standing by the door, hesitantly, and then he threw the door open. “What are you doing?” demanded Enock. Lucky and I did not wait to hear the wicked man’s reply. We took advantage of the distraction and made our escape.
It was agonising for me, but gritting my teeth against the pain, I staggered the rest of the way home. Lucky dashed into her house and I moved slowly into mine. I had felt the warm wetness, but it was only when I entered the light of my home and looked down that I saw blood pouring down my legs. Mother looked shocked and sat down on the sofa, shaking and weeping. She did not hold out her arms to me. She was so accustomed to violence in her life, it seemed she had no love or compassion left in her heart. I wanted to climb on her lap and feel her arms around me but I knew she could not do this. “Were you at VaNdera’s tuck-shop?” she asked. Her mouth was tight and I could not reply. I did not realise it at the time, but now I know she was trying to think of a way to cover the disgrace, which had befallen our family.
She went into the kitchen to heat water to bathe me. She added salt to the water and made me sit in it. I trembled, shocked by her tone of voice, “Don’t come out until I tell you!” I sat in the salt water and felt the pain throbbing through my body. This same pain is in my abdomen to this day and has prevented me from enjoying pregnancy as other women do. It has stopped me from carrying my children to full-term. The effects of this one experience are like demons, forever trying to destroy my happiness.
Mother could not let anyone know what had happened, as it would bring shame to her door and she wanted to erase this incident as quickly as possible. She thought by doing this she would also erase it from my mind. Oh Mother, how wrong you were; this has remained with me all my life! I have spent these many years suppressing the pain I had to do all those years ago.
My mother tended my injuries with kind and gentle hands, but never spoke to me about the matter again. She became very glum around me and spent more time with Mai Enock. They spoke in whispers and always ended each conversation with an obvious stare at me.
Lucky and I could not go out selling without an adult after this terrible incident. Because of my mother’s silence, there was no charge or punishment meted out against this evil man for his monstrous crime.
If my mother was alive today, I could speak to her about it woman to woman. It was so unfair that this could not happen and very sad that I lost her when I was only nine years old.
BOOK ENDS ON CHAPTER 60 and SO READ ON