I was walking through the Avenues one sunny morning, taking in the sights and sounds as I went along – the nurses dutifully making their way to work, the vendor selling her wares at the corner, a woman with a wailing baby on her back waiting for transport to Mazowe/Concession/Glendale/Bindura/Mt Darwin…the touts yelling all of the above whilst dangling from kombi doors. The chattering, giggling schoolgirls, the Harare Municipality lady in her scarlet gown sweeping the street with a huge, dried up palm branch, grappling with stubborn bits of litter clinging between one of the gigantic trees’ sprawling roots that had, over time, heaved and surged until they had surfaced onto the pavement. Wondered why these roots had gone to all the trouble. Perhaps they’d come up to soak in some of this sunshine too or just to say ‘Hello. We are here (in case you had forgotten)’…Some distance away, a young expectant mother was crossing the road, looking just about ready to do the same as the roots had done at any moment - puuuuuuussssshhhhh. I whispered a little prayer that it would all go well for her as I walked on smiling. It was a beautiful day. The streets of Harare were bursting with life and all these remarkable women were right at the heart of the action.
Then suddenly this word came to mind. Mudzimai meaning ‘woman’ in Shona. It occurred to me at that moment that this word could be broken down into two words: ‘mudzi’ (root) and ‘mai’ (mother). I wondered if it’s merely a coincidence, or something about the word’s origins actually relate to women being the ‘root’ of society, the central nerve of human existence? I realised I would need to find an etymologist to get an answer to this, but in the meantime look up the word. One dictionary defines a root as ‘that part of a plant that grows under the ground and absorbs water and nourishment from the soil’. A second definition was ‘a source or basis’. I liked where this was going and went on to get a little ‘refresher’ of high school Biology, using a trusted online encyclopaedia, which stated ‘…The major functions of roots are 1) absorption of water and inorganic nutrients, 2) anchoring of the plant body to the ground, and supporting it, 3) storage of food and nutrients…..’ This sealed my notion!
In all sectors of society, women play some of the most vital and key roles. Not only are they the bearers of children, who then see to it that these children grow into healthy adults; they also formulate and instil the ideals and principles that become the conscience of entire civilisations. They convey the language (mother-tongue), give instructions on hygiene and social conduct, hand down the creeds and traditions and influence individuals in ways whose effects can be global and colossal. Beyond the home, women have been at the core of industrial growth, scientific advancement and creative innovation though often without worthy recognition and visibility. Despite the gloom and pressure of existing in ‘burrows’ their whole career, they just calmly keep on doing what needs to be done to keep feeding into the structure. Discreet. Diligent. Determined.
Looking at the local arts scene, I’ve often asked myself why so few ‘sistaz’ are rising, making waves and getting noticed in comparison to the ‘brothaz’, as I did each time I looked at the contributors page of the previous editions of the POVO publication, where most of the smiling faces were male. On a mission to put together an all-female squad for this edition of POVO, I discovered that though it may seem as if there are very few women actively participating in the arts in Zimbabwe, I was (at the drop of a hat!) able to name nearly fifty women who ARE out there. But one had to really DIG DEEP to find them, get their contact details and find out where to locate them because they are – as it turns out – the ones nurturing and supporting the ideas of others and contributing in immense ways to the growth of many-a-career, but nearly always very far from the limelight themselves. They are extremely busy. Behind the scenes and hidden in the shadows. Hustling and tussling away to keep things going and growing. The distended roots along the pavement now carry a new meaning to me. They now represent the women, working beneath the surface, whose relentless involvement in everything simply goes unacknowledged. Until they decide to make themselves visible – by pure ginya!
There may be several women in the arts that have truly excelled and are regarded with respect and admiration. Standing tall like majestic baobabs. Roots that pushed past all adversity and shot straight for the sky. Like what the ones along the concrete pavement are trying to do, I suppose. I personally take my hat off to those women, who, regardless of their success and accomplishments, still offer support and guidance to younger creative persons (male and female alike!). They still do so much to ensure that others are also able to progress. I can only attribute this to the fact that women never forget that they are the roots! Now, if only the concrete were to simply make way and move over a bit. If only the obstacles that trounce a sista’s efforts to be seen (and heard) were to be lifted away so that she could grow in whichever way she pleases. Surely there is enough sunshine for the leaf, the fruit, the stem AND the root to all enjoy together! The time has come for a real transformation of our local artis-tree.