This is arguably the most traumatic, painful, and difficult article that I have ever penned in my entire 31 years of social justice activism through media writings – having embarked on this long and treacherous journey at the tender age of 16 years.
Whilst doing Form Three at Kwekwe High School – as I have had to pray long and hard for the strength to publicize aspects of my growing up, that I had kept only to myself and my immediate family all my life, yet felt compelled to come out, in an attempt to embolden the long-suffering and ever-oppressed people of Zimbabwe to finally stand up for themselves against the incessant bullying and brutality inflicted on them by their own heartless government.
The so tragic and nightmarish nature of my childhood experiences, are what have defined how I have lived my life, and the type of person I became – both positively and negatively – however, most outstanding being my strong and unparalleled disdain for any form of bullying and repression committed against any person, by those who consider themselves more powerful and entitled than those deemed weaker.
That is when the spirit of social justice was instilled in me – coupled by my witnessing some elements of Gukurahundi atrocities by the Zimbabwe regime against Ndebele-speaking people, burning down of houses and beating up of opposition supporters, workers’ rights abuses (I remember, in my early primary schools days, attempting to galvanize our domestic worker and his colleagues in Redcliff, where we resided, to form a union that would stand up for their rights, as I felt they were being mistreated), to today, whereby nearly every citizen has been reduced to a pauper (whilst those in power live in shameless opulence), and activists are brutalized, abducted, and arrested on spurious charges without any convictions.
Such childhood bullying and abuse was the major inspiration in embarking on my social justice career at the age of 16 years. If anyone wants to get on my wrong side, just oppress someone weaker.
As long as I can remember – from when I was in pre-school (which was referred to then as creche), up to around grade six – I was subjected to some of the most disturbing bullying by older and stronger boys, such that some of these events are still very fresh and entrenched in my mind, as if they only occured a few weeks ago, including physical violence, name-calling, and so much more – and, I seriously doubt whether these will ever be erased – whereby, oftentimes, I would miss school, in terror of these bullies…yet, they still had the audacity to come to our house, stand at the gate, and taunt me with songs over my non-attendance of school.
Home, as the usual place of refuge for most people, did not provide much of a reprieve either, as I was met with regular sexual abuse by a girl whom my working parents were staying with, and had been entrusted with helping in taking care of me, whilst I was doing grade one – who would take advantage of the privacy of our shared bedroom to force herself on me on numerous occasions.
Why did these people see it fit to abuse me – considering that this was not just one group of bullies? What was it about me that made me an easy and ‘attractive’ victim?
I may never know, unless if I were to ask the abusers themselves – but, I am tempted to believe that, as an only child, I grew up being very quiet, reserved, and perverse to any form of violence, which possibly, made it extremely enticing for any bully.
I am not going to provide an in-depth description of this bullying and sexual abuse that I endured for years – rendering my childhood a defining point of the rest of my life – since this article is not really about me, but is about the people of Zimbabwe, whose daily struggles at the blood-soaked hands of a ruthless, cruel, and cold-hearted government, always reminds me of my own extremely harrowing upbringing.
This also brings back to mind a very close friend and cousin during our creche (pre-school) days, Gilbert Marangwanda (who is now based in the United Kingdom), who witnessed most of this bullying, was so pained, and ended up asking a question that still rings in my mind, “Tendai, you have all those muscles, why don’t you use them?”
Of course, being a non-violent person – even today – I did not take him up on his offer, but it, indeed, opened my eyes to a whole new thinking and worldview.
I realized that bullies and abusers were nothing more than coward weaklings, who suffered from a serious psychopathic low self-esteem, and craved reaffirmation and compensation for whatever shortcoming they believed they had (consciously or subconsciously) by targeting those weaker than themselves, and riding roughshod over them.
As these bullies are actually cowards, they are driven by a pathological paranoia, that makes them live in destructive fear – such that, when confronted by someone ‘stronger’, or their victim(s) start resisting, they will eventually succumb and flee – in spite of vain attempts to lash out.
Such are the parallels with the toxic, dangerous, and repressive political, economic, and social environment Zimbabweans face today, at the hands of their own so-called leaders.
Anyone who regards it appropriate to deploy armed security forces to brutalize, and even shoot dead, unarmed citizens, is a bully.
Anyone who finds it befitting to steal the country’s resources for them own self-aggrandizement – that should benefit and be enjoyed by every citizen – whilst, the rest of the population lives in abject poverty, is no better than a schoolyard bully who forcibly grabs a weaker pupil’s lunch.
However, there is one major weakness for the bully – they are always cowards, who put on a facade of power and bravado, in order to ‘protect’ themselves against those they fear. The Zimbabwe regime is no different.
These ‘leaders’ (for lack of a more appropriate word) are people who live in fear of their own people – as they know that they are not truly loved by the population, and would rather rule through the barrel of the gun. Why should they expect to be loved by those whose lives they have turned into a nightmare? Would that not be utter foolishness – if not madness?
These are people who are prisoners of their own fears – as they can never do anything or go anywhere, without heavily armed security personnel surrounding them – yet, still being unsure whether this same ‘security’ is actually there to protect them, or turn their guns against them.
Once the people of Zimbabwe know this trait about bullies, the more they should be fearless in standing up for themselves.
As in my own childhood, there is really no need for violence, but merely boldly and relentlessly resisting, standing up, and speaking up against the ongoing unfettered corruption, closing down of democratic space, and economic alienation of workers.
As the Shona adage goes, “Zizi harina nyanga” – translated means, the owl has no horns, and thus, should not be feared. Similarly, as my friend and cousin asked me at creche, all those years ago, “Tendai, you have all those muscles, why don’t you use them”, but I ask Zimbabweans, “We have all those muscles of our constitution, and our numbers, why don’t we peacefully use them?”
There is only one rule to a bully and abuser – once he sees that his victim is no longer intimidated, and is prepared to fearlessly stand up, no matter the consequences, he will flee. Even the Bible says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee”. They may lash out, in a desperate hope of reigniting the prior fear, but will eventually flee, once they notice that it is not working, as their victims remain steadfast.
I grew up being bullied and sexually abused, and made a decision that, never in my life would I ever fear a cowardly bully anymore. I pray that this is the same spirit that Zimbabweans finally invite in their lives. If not, they will always be victims – generation after generation.
© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Calls: +263733399640 / +263715667700, or Calls Only: +263782283975, or email: email@example.com.