A different form of gender abuse exposed

old_women_zimbabweAs Zimbabweans recognise 16 days of gender activities throughout the country, there is one woman, an elderly 72-year-old, who cries herself to sleep every night because of gender-based violence that she has endured since 2008. (Pictured: Older women can become victims

What makes her case unique is that the type of gender violence she is experiencing is not perpetrated by a husband as in most cases; but by her own son, in fact her eldest son who is a 53-year-old well known businessman with a reputable engineering company in Zimbabwe.

Imagine going through pregnancy for nine months, giving birth and raising a child, seeing to his education and enduring ill-treatment and abuse from a husband who has another wife under his roof. Your husband has older children (same age as you), some who verbally and physically abuse you. Your father tells you to leave him, but you vow to live with him because each time you look at your son, your eyes swell with tears at the thought of him growing up without a mother like you did. Your husband becomes a fully-fledged polygamist, and you endure more abuse by the other wives who are physically stronger than you because you are always sick (from ulcers that have no doubt come as a result of the stress and psychological pressure you go through). Then the war comes. Other wives leave for the city, and you stay behind to look after your children.

Suddenly, there is a gleam of light when your eldest son, the one you live for, gets a scholarship to study at a prestigious university in the United Kingdom. You tell your friends and relatives that it was worthwhile not leaving your children and enduring the marriage after all. You smile. You dream of a happy ending after all. Your son is one of the early been-tos, who returns to a new Zimbabwe armed with a golden degree.

Yes, he is a very intelligent young man. You are happy when he gets a good job, establishes his own company, builds a house that he invites you to stay in, and takes on board the welfare and education of his two youngest siblings. Suddenly for you its no longer a rainy day, but the sun shines brighter. Your co-wives start to respect you (out of fear and anticipated financial gains of course) although jealousy is breeding deep down. Almost all your children graduate from various universities with golden degrees. They all look after you, financially and physically.

It starts raining again. Your son is involved in a terrible road accident. Incredibly, after you and his other siblings rally efforts to save his life, you, the mother, start being accused of having caused the accident. At first, other children try to manage the information, and the son appears to see reason, as he is indeed of a sound scientific background, but as the months turn to seasons and years, he is now loudly blaming YOU his mother, for having caused the accident through practising witchcraft.

The nightmare begins

Whatever has got hold of your educated son? He is now on a warpath, denouncing you publicly to the glee of the obviously jealous, less successful wives; he starts all manner of fights with his outraged siblings, and ends up holding extended family rallies where he continues his diatribe against you. You try to enlist the help of family elders to have the matter discussed at family level, and in the meantime you move out of his house where you are maligned guest, to give dialogue a chance. The nightmare has only begun, your son frustrates all efforts at amicable resolution, which efforts were rightly encouraged and supported by your now elderly husband. But no, the same son goes onto to confuse the 87-year-old father, creating conditions that ensure that no amicable family INDABA can be held.

The rain becomes heavier, in fact, a hailstorm falls, when the son completely stops talking to you, then apologises, stops talking to you again, then finally he evicts you from the village house that he claimed to have built for you. Your husbands wives are now his allies. He starts to send you threatening letters, and a letter formally evicting you from his house. Luckily you have other children, who give you alternative accommodation.

You have now been humiliated beyond measure, and have been alienated from your environment of 56 years, you are receiving insults and threats, then you reluctantly make a report to the police. The police try to intimidate you and tell you to withdraw charges (obviously they know where their bread is buttered), until a powerful, influential female Police Officer intervenes and sees that a thorough investigation is made and a criminal charge is raised under Part VI of Chapter V of the Witchcraft Suppression Act (as amended in 2006) which states that “Any person who groundlessly or by the purported use of non-natural means accuses another person of witchcraft shall be guilty of indicating a witch or wizard and liable.

Limping to court

At the courts your son tries to use his financial power to have the matter thrown out, but it finally goes to trial. You think maybe justice is on the way, but no, you are soon to find out that you will be limping to court every Thursday for seven months (because osteoarthritis is gnawing your right leg, and you now walk with a stoop because of an injury sustained due to long hours of working in the field).

You go to court, outline your case and your son is sitting in the dock, he has hired three powerful lawyers against you. You look at him, in your heart moaning that son you gave birth to 52 years ago, that son whose nappies you changed, washed and waited by the riverside until they dried, because you only had a few of them; that son you raised and fed when he was hungry; that son who built a decent house in the village and raised your social status and promised to heal your wounds.

However, in the dock you see a different son. A son sitting with your foes, your husbands hitherto estranged wife, who has now come to claim that son as her own! A son who has now teamed up with your husbands mistress and tried to have you abducted by corrupt police officers that he even provided with a vehicle to abduct you!

You see the other wife of your husband smiling, grinning, in fact. You see your husbands nieces and nephews that you helped to raise; the grandchildren that you clothed and raised, all rallying around your son and pretending to be there for him when you know all they want is the cash that your son is splashing. The court is adjourned, again, and again, and outside you see your grandchildren, the numerous nieces and nephews (obviously who are unemployed but now got a job to come to court and jeer at you) milling around your son, hands in pockets, and throwing wicked smiles at you.

A new exile

You go home, to your new exile, willing for the world to end for you. Your inner spirit tells you to fight, and fight until you get justice. You tell yourself your justice is other womens justice. But there is no clue when the court will end. Even a murder or armed robbery case would have ended by now.

Your phone rings. You answer. Its a sympathetic neighbour in the village telling you that your husbands wife has been given the keys by your son to occupy your house which your son has now given to her. You hear that the wife is telling anyone who cares to listen that the case has been thrown out of court and that you will limp to court until you get tired or die. You are told, again, that she is now farming on your piece of land that you tilled for 56 years until a disc slipped in your spine, giving you that permanent stoop.

You go to the court to ask the officials if in deed the case has come to an end, and ask them how it could end without you being told the judgement or decision at least since you are the complainant. This is the story of a woman called Marian Chifamba, who cries herself to sleep every night. This story is a challenge to gender organisations in Zimbabwe as it highlights gender violence perpetrated against mothers by their sons. It is a challenge to the politicians to fight corruption and manipulation of loopholes in the legal system, and enact laws that help to safeguard elderly, vulnerable people. This is the story of my mother.

In response to this, a Foundation has been formed to help women in my mothers situation. Visit www.zfae.org. As we celebrate gender activities throughout the country, let us remember this woman whose gender violence is different from the well-documented cases of violence between husbands and their wives, remembering that sons can perpetrate violence on mothers too.

Post published in: Opinions

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