Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Voice That Inspired Many Women in Zimbabwe

The voice that inspired many women

By Joyce Jenje Makwenda
Zimbabwe Herald

IN the olden days, women used stories as a way of educating children.

They had skills to tell relevant stories according to age, for instance, children’s stories were told through characters of animals because they knew that animals fascinated children.

We still find this tradition adapted to modern technology through films like Lion King, which borrowed the African story-telling method.

Sometimes women would talk affectionately to their children, through reference to the family’s totem; for example it could be a lion, crocodile, elephant etc and this could be followed by praise of that family.

Women were custodians of the values of their families, communities and society.

Women were also very good at getting information quicker than men were, and disseminating it to different appropriate groups.

This information could be news about bereavement, or about possible attack, or what is negatively referred to as gossip, which entails information and women have skills to pay attention of what they see and hear and as a result are always the first to get information.

When women came into the city they did not have the power they had, that of telling stories to children, educating and informing.

New storytellers called journalists, producers and complicated technology, replaced them and they got lost in the new order.

Women in the 1950s realised that if they wanted to remain as custodians of society they had to know how to use the media as a way of communicating.

Ambuya Miriam Mlambo (Ambuya Chiramba Kusakara), used the media to teach, tell stories and entertain children since 1956.

During that time, the children’s programme was broadcast from Zambia during the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland up to 1958, when it moved to the Harare (Salisbury) studios. "Zipper-a-di-do-da. Zipper-a-di-diday. Mayo Mayo what a wonderful . . . " was a popular signature tune for a children’s programme produced and presented by Ambuya Mlambo.

She also presented a programme called "Children’s Corner", on Radio One.

Women journalists like Baphelile Hove, Angeline Makwavarara, Mavis Moyo, Gladys Matema, and Canaan Jenje used the media in the 1950s to educate women who were trying to find their feet in the early urban set up, they also used the media to celebrate women’s achievements through home craft clubs.

They also used media to highlight the plight of women in the townships through different mediums.

Baphelile Hove became a radio producer in 1954.

"There were not many radios in those days. Women gathered in their Home Craft clubs at a centre to listen to radio programmes that were aired which had to do with women’s development. Unfortunately the Home Craft Club was banned, probably because it had become so powerful and the authorities felt threatened," said Baphelile Hove in an interview that I had with her in 1993.

"I don’t know why it was banned, maybe we used to speak politics without realising."

Baphelile Hove went to London in the 1950s and continued producing women’s programmes and sending them back home; she was driven by her sense of duty to educate women through the media.

Mavis Moyo was another of the trailblazers.

She started journalism as a part-timer in 1953, and became a regular correspondent for the African Daily News.

Children who came to school hungry and with torn clothes would disturb her having been in the teaching field for 13 years.

With knowledge that she had herself got from the media by reading magazines and listening to the BBC Women’s Half Hour, she realised the power that the media had, as through the media she could solve some of her problems or get the information she needed.

She started writing for some newspapers as a way of educating the community, unfortunately most of the women whom she was trying to target could not read or write.

This was frustrating to Mavis Moyo as her efforts were in vain. For her to reach a wider audience radio broadcasting became the answer.

"I realised that through radio women would be educated as long as they can hear they can learn something."

Since 1959, Mavis Moyo has used the radio as a tool for change in its true sense.

Moyo believes that people in the media have a duty to critically look at the way society functions and especially at the position of women and to try to promote change and strengthen women’s aspirations.

She says women themselves have to be the main agents in changing their own subordinate status.

Women should be involved in important issues that impinge on their work.

Although she retired from broadcasting in 1994, she was one of the longest serving journalists in the country.

Mavis was the founding member of the Federation of African Media Women of Zimbabwe, and she established a communication system called Development Through Radio.

Angeline Makwavarara is the first black woman in the print media, she was a champion in many fields. She was also the first Permanent Secretary for Development of Women’s Affairs and was also first woman ambassador appointed after the attainment of independence.

Angeline got into journalism because of the problems that women faced in the townships. She also felt that because of women’s diversity they could gather news fast.

Angeline trained as a nurse in Durban after completing her secondary education at Nada Secondary School in Natal. Although nursing was the order of the day as there were not many choices, she says she has no regrets as the nursing profession influenced the rest of her life, being in contact with different people from different backgrounds made her understand the broader and complex issues of the society.

Angeline’s first community project of looking after women who had given birth and had no one to bring them food made her realise the importance of the media.

In an interview in 1999, she said: "During the 1950’s when I was staying in Mbare women would give birth and no one brought them any food except if they had relatives who brought food from home, but for those who did not have any relatives they would just starve."

It was during this time that Angeline and other women came up with an idea of forming Batanai Women’s Club in order to organise food for the expectant women.

"We looked for people who could publicise the plight of the mothers through the radio and papers so that they could get more help.

"It was through the media that the municipal council started preparing food for the women."

Having realised how powerful the media was Angeline began writing articles to the African Daily News advising and educating the public on how to prevent certain diseases and how to have them treated.

She was approached by the Daily News to be a fulltime staff writer and editor, but as she was on maternity leave and had preferred to raise her child on her own, she turned down the offer.

It was only after she had been assured that she could take the baby with her to work that she accepted the offer and she became the first black woman in the print media. "I used to go with the baby and her baby-sitter at the office as I felt my baby was safer with me."

Mothering has been a stumbling block for many women to venture or to excel in a number of professions, but Angeline was to change all that.

Canaan Jenje was the second female print journalist. She worked for the Daily News. Before she became a journalist she was a teacher in her home area in Gwatemba and taught at Zishabeni and Mwele Schools and when she came to settle in the then Salisbury she worked as a secretary. Writing and stories had always fascinated her and in 1959 she joined the Daily News as editor/journalist.

Unfortunately when she left for maternity leave she could not go back to work as a journalist, but the short time that she was in journalism had an impact on those who were around her. She inspired my sister Josephine, my daughter Tandiwe and myself to take up journalism.

Canaan was my teacher when I was studying journalism and she is the one who encouraged me to take up the course as I had started writing without any formal training, but what she did not realise is that she had for many years trained me informally to be a journalist. It is through the stories that she told me that I came to understand about women’s lives, their struggles, their tribulations and their achievements. This shaped my perception as regards women.

The 1960s and 70s saw few women in the media industry.

Some of them were Shieka Khumalo, Jane Esau, Tandiwe Khumalo, Mandi Mundawarara and Jean Zulu.

Since 1980 women have made strides in the media industry; radio, television, print, and some have branched off into public relations, becoming spokespersons for the corporate world and international organisations.

However, many women did not end in those sectors, they went on to form organisations to advocate, and educate, women journalists and women in general about the use of the media as a voice.

Some of the women who have made notable achievements in the media are Sekai Holland (Hove), Busi Chindove, Musi Khumalo, Jennifer Makunike-Sibanda, Tsitsi Vera, Sarah Chiumbu, Millie Phiri, Tsitsi Mawarire, Josephine Zulu, Ropafadzo Mapimhidze, Alice Mutema, Dorcas Hove, Elizabeth Karonga, Susan Njanji-Matetakufa, Tendai Manzvanzvike and then came Hazvinei Sakarombe.

Hazvi as she is affectionately known, enjoys the road that was paved for her by the women, who came before her.

We celebrate early women journalists through young women like Hazvinei DJ Chilli (Woza Friday). She will liven up your Friday.

This is how F. Kadzere describes Hazvinei, " . . . Unhindered, uninhibited.

Totally in your face. When she’s on the set of Woza Friday the 28-year-old Hazvi, a.k.a. DJ Chilli, takes it to a whole new level . . . "

We will continue to feature women in the media and celebrate their achievements. The history of women in film will also be celebrated in this column.

--Joyce Jenje Makwenda is a Researcher, Archivist, Writer and Producer. She can be contacted on:

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