Attacking our dignity (07-12-06)

'There is a proverb you surely ought to know: Horses sweat, And men perspire - But ladies only glow.' - Ogden Nash
But that was in a different world from ours. I have been struck how low we have been forced when sitting in a crowded kombi on a hot day I noticed ladies who sm

ell like overworked horses – and the rest of us smell worse.
Attacking our cleanliness is attacking our dignity. Just after our local ‘tsunami’ I heard a woman ask ‘And are we trash?’ Being called tsvina seemed to hurt her more than losing her house.

Zimbabwe has no water or soap
We used to be proud of our cleanliness and, maybe unjustifiably, to look down on people who have different standards. For example, the Batswana, living where water is scarce, don’t always wash before eating. That led one of the local Vapositori where I lived in Botswana during the war, to remark to me ‘but they are such dirty people’. Now we are being forced to feel we are dirty people.
Bathing in the morning and, even after that, washing our hands before we ate, used to be a part of our identity and a source of our self-respect. Can we keep up that standard now, when many of us only get water two nights a week? What does that do to our sense of our own dignity and worth?
I remember an old missionary who made space for trade unionists and aspiring politicians to meet and discuss national issues in the 1960s. He used to say that the dominant feeling he picked up from much of their discussions was a sense of wounded dignity. That covered all our biggest grievances against the settler regime, at least for those of us who lived in town. Yes, rural people would have said land was the issue, but the underlying issue of dignity was there too. Have our rulers since 1980 ever shown respect for our dignity?
We are still expected to stand to show respect when a magistrate comes into court, a foreign custom and therefore a further attack on our dignity. Ever since 1980 we have been ordered off the road when we hear the wailers coming. People have been killed for not moving fast enough. The message is that we are not worthy to use the same road.
Yes, taking our land was an attack on our dignity, but wasn’t the way it was ‘restored’ another attack on that same dignity?
If they treat us like that, then isn’t it quite possible that our shortage of water is not just a result of corruption and carelessness, but welcomed by some people, who have their own private boreholes, because it keeps the rest of us in our place?
That is quite possible if we consider the fuss there was recently about women’s sanitary requirements. It looks as if letting poor women feel clean is a threat to national security.
Yes, we need to remember that Jesus defended his disciples who sat down to eat without washing their hands, in a society that attached even more importance to that than we do. He said ‘It is not what goes into a man’s mouth that makes him unclean, but what comes out of it.’ When we hear the insults that pour on us from the mouths of some of the chefs, we should ask who is really dirty. But we should not forget that, when we do get a change, we must still provide all our people with clean water – and dignity.

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