Colonialism, Christianity, culture and violence


A FEW days ago, there was a discussion on one of our radio stations on gender based violence.
I allowed myself to be tortured by sickening statements blaming domestic violence on African culture.
It was alleged that African culture disrespects women through, for example, allowing them to be disciplined like children through beatings.
This culture was also accused of tolerating sexual violence through practices like chiramu and underage/ forced marriages.
This trashing of African culture went on uninterrupted until one of the panelists made reference to a statement from Chief Charumbira to the effect that most of the articulated vices were not supported by African culture.
However, many gender activists tend to equate social vices with African culture.
Why this confusion?
Days before Amai Jukwa had written her piece about violence in our society.
She was commenting on the violent mob that wanted to attack Fortunate ‘Tafadzwa’ Mapako at the civil courts.
Amai Jukwa appeared to be agreeing with conclusions by two other writers; Joram Nyathi’s view that we are generally a violent people with no respect for the rule of law and a Ugandan Professor’s view that Africa’s private values are not in step with the public values of a democratic society.
To this, Amai Jukwa further adds that consequently our society cannot produce politicians that respect the rule of law.
She cites general and particular examples to support this.
The sweeping claims about African culture and gender violence, or any violence for that matter, are simplistic and not supported by research.
Not much effort has been made to understand African culture or Gender violence in specific historical and social contexts.
Gender activists have been content to parrot Western and Christian prejudices about African culture.
In the few examples below I seek to show that violence in Africa is more a political, economic and social issue and less a cultural matter.
Growing up in Unyetu we had an unwritten rule that boys could not fight girls. This rule was generally respected both at school and while herding cattle. Occasionally it was broken and on such occasions the boy would be left with egg on the face.
If a boy lost such a fight he would for a long time be cursed for being a disgrace to boyhood.
If the boy won he would still be cursed for cowardice; he froths fighting girls.
Real boys were imbued with sense of love, respect and protection in their relations with girls.
Real boys distinguished themselves fighting boys.
In the early 1980s, I took up a temporary teaching position at an upper-top (rural day secondary school).
One day the Teacher-in-Charge (TIC) assembled the whole school, to publicly discipline two students for truancy.
The national anthem was sung and the two culprits brought to the front by four prefects.
The poor boys were made to lie face down.
A bundle of gum tree sticks…sticks is an understatement, these were poles.
The TIC took off his jacket and started raining blows mercilessly, and as if possessed, on the two boys.
The lady teachers and some of the girl students screamed in horror.
My eyes became wet.
I was very upset.
I felt the violence was aimed at us.
Around the same period, I happened to be visiting a girl I had started seeing in a neighbouring village.
She had assured me this was alright since her mother was spending most of the day away attending a meeting at the local township.
She decided to treat me to a lunch of sadza and rabbit biltong, which she prepared very well.
Just before she served the lunch her mother unexpectedly appeared.
Mother sat next to daughter and kept quiet.
Their dog, unable to resist the aroma of the food made an appearance inside the kitchen.
Mother withdrew a burning piece of firewood and gave the dog a violent blow. The dog screamed for dear life.
I trembled.
She then ordered me to make a written undertaking that I had been caught red- handed and intended to marry her daughter.
I wrote as dictated.
She then left us to enjoy our lunch.
I did not enjoy it and neither did I marry the girl.
History tells us of the Anglo-Zulu wars and the shivers the final result sent to the Ndebele state.
The British thoroughly defeated the Zulus at the battle of Ulundi.
Lobengula learnt of this and of the subsequent capture of King Cetshwayo on August 28 1879.
He agonised over this news.
These developments were a thunderclap to Lobengula and the Ndebele nation. The annihilation of the Zulu army was welcomed by Christian missionaries like Joseph Cockin who expected the British to take power in Matabeleland that year.
White managers in early Rhodesia had degrees in violence.
Recalcitrant workers were fined and occasionally imprisoned, but most often whipped.
At the very centre of compound discipline was the leather, preferably the sjambok, made of rhinoceros hide, mvuu.
Many of these whippings were so brutal that they required more than one man to administer them.
Workers were held down at their wrists and ankles by police boys while the lashes were delivered by the compound manager.
An average flogging varied between six and 25 lashes.
Some of the beatings ended in death.
Today a significant part of gender violence involves use of mvuu or its imitations.
Women had restricted access to urban areas.
In mining compounds violence confined women to the precarious confines of the compound.
Mahure, prostitutes, were viewed as the main cause of conflict among poor workers.
Under-age girls were likely to be raped if not constantly watched.
Married women were also at risk.
They could be raped or led astray.
Historical records are replete with brutal incidences of resultant gender violence. Watchtower, a Christian church, sought to address tensions caused by the shortage of sex.
The Church encouraged promiscuity among women as long as they prayed before the act.
Women, including married ones, who resisted sexual requests, were publicly condemned by the Church and the male brethren.
Is gender violence, at least in our context, not an offshoot of colonial violence?
I find very little African culture in the DNA of our violence.


  1. Reference your article suggesting gender violence is derived from colonial influences, I’m sure Mzilikazis impis where most respectful to their captured female slaves! Ha! Ha!


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