By Hopewell Chin’ono
Today I want to talk to the fellaz, varume vemuno muZimbabwe. Living in the English village is seen as a sign of status in the United Kingdom.
Many would buy a small flat in London and go back to the village every Friday to be with their family.
They call it the English countryside, something that many of my generation have disconnected from in Zimbabwe.
We come from a culture where the village home is always in the custody of the men not women. The logic is very simple, the woman gets married and goes off to live at her new husband’s homestead.
So in our culture, the measure of someone’s responsibility or lack thereof was determined on how someone’s homestead was maintained.
This however faded and changed with the metropolitan culture that we embraced in the 1980s.
Many of my father’s generation would ask why they had to be buried in the city as if they didn’t have an ancestral home.
“Ndovigwa mutaundi kuti handina musha here inini,” they would rhetorically ask.
This example is best captured with the death of Chenjerai Hunzvi who led a fast life in Harare but when he died he was declared a national hero.
As is with tradition, all national heroes are taken to their village home before being buried in Harare.
Hunzvi’s home was a disgrace, as the helicopter landed, the chopper blades were swinging the little hut’s door, it was surreal but not exceptional.
Many of us find ourselves in this difficult and yet unavoidable situation. Zimbabweans moved to cities and started new lives there with NO concern of the village anymore.
Many go back to the village to only visit their parents or grand parents but are not emotionally or economically invested in village life anymore.
I was like that too until my two brothers who lived in England passed on. This left me as the only male sibling in the family and the responsibility of the village plot was firmly thrust on my shoulders.
The goodness or the badness of everything to do with my ancestral home fell on my lap.
I had never lived in the village because my father was a senior civil servant so we lived in semi metropolitan centers as my dad did his work.
When he retired, I would chose not to go to the village but to my sister’s home in Harare and eventually I left the country after college.
So I had NO emotional ties to the village, I just saw it as a place where we all get buried one day when we pass on to the next world.
My parents had built a good home there before they died but it lay derelict for 12 years until I was faced with the responsibility of being the only mukomana asara (boy left).
My brother had passed on in England in 2014 and I had only one choice, to bury him at the village.
My parents would turn in their graves if anyone of us were buried in the City, we just grew up being told that.
I thought about the state of the village homestead and said to my sisters that it would be so embarrassing for all my friends who usually come to my big home in Harare to suddenly see my ancestral home in such a state, Hunzvi’s situation came to mind. Thankfully it had not deteriorated to such a level.
When someone dies in the UK, it takes anything from 5 to ten days processing the paperwork, so I used that time to fix the place.
I would drive out every morning to supervise the work and was fortunate because one of my old friends had given me a truck to use.
I brought in a team of builders to radically sort out the home building structure and also a fencing company to put up a diamond fence covering one acre.
A painter joined them because the place was dying for a fresh look.
The chaps did a wonderful job and when my brother’s body arrived from the UK, I was comfortable welcoming friends and family to this home that I had never stepped into in 12 years.
After my brother’s memorial, I calculated how much I had spent and realized that it was just over US$30000.
At this point I made a rational and yet abrupt decision that this village home was now my home and that I was going to fix it and live there whenever I can.
I asked the fencing company to come back and fence an extra 8 acres with diamond mesh.
At that time I had a flashy Mercedes Benz CLK convertible, I sold it and used every penny into making my village home modern. When I look back I even ask myself why I had bought that car in the first instance, a story for another day.
I drilled a borehole which was meant to cost me roughly US$3000 but I was lucky that one of my neighbors in Harare had already paid for the same service to be done at his village in Mutoko.
So I ended up only paying for the drilling and not transport, the cost came down to around US$2000.
What I am saying here is that I could have buried my brother and drove back to Harare and carried on driving my fancy Mercedes CLK and forgot about the village and yet one could never run away from their roots.
Zimbabwean women do not carry this burden because of the cultural intricacies but they bear the embarrassment non-the less if men don’t take these responsibilities seriously.
Eventually I realized that putting an expensive solar system and a solar borehole made no sense if the village plot lay unused, that is how I started breeding Boer goats.
I took my friend Beatrice Mtetwa and her partner Professor Sam Moyo to my new village home. Prof Moyo was one of the leading Agrarian scholars in Africa before he tragically died in a car accident in India.
He took a look at my piece of land and said “…iwe mupfanha urikutambisa ivhuka iwe.” (Youngman you are wasting land).
He argued that Africans only think of productive land in large-scale terms and yet one can earn a decent income from a small plot.
His partner Beatrice Mtetwa suggested that I start a goat project.
The Prof put me in touch with the late Professor Lindela Ndlovu from National University of Science and Technology. Prof Ndlovu’s PhD had been on small ruminants that include goats sheep etc.
He took me through what they required and eventually pushed me towards goats instead of sheep.
I felt energized by all this so I bought a 5000 liter tank and had the solar powered borehole pumping into that tank which meant that I now had plenty of water not only for myself but also for the village when need be.
My father had drilled a manual borehole before he died on the plot, so I skillfully avoided to fence it into the property and donated it to the community.
So I started off with our hard Mashona type of goats, learning how they behaved and eventually after 6 months, I went to South Africa and bought the Boer Goat breed, 35 of them that cost me just over R125000.
Had I bought them here they would have cost me US$35000, which would have been R525000 at the time.
So I started breeding these goats and selling them as weaners (6 months old) at US$350 to US$500 each.
This project has made my village a productive entity for myself and those around it and it has given many around us a reason to also try their hand on it.
More importantly and emotionally for my family, we spent our first Christmas as a whole family at the village, including nieces and nephews some who had come as far afield as England.
“Tosangana kumusha, (we will meet at the viilage)” was the clarion call as we got close to Christmas in 2014.
I have homes around the world but this to me is now where my soul is not the city, I feel at peace there knowing very well that my grand parents, my own parents and my siblings are all resting there.
I have also decided that I too will also rest there when my number comes up and I have picked a place where I want to be buried, as is part of our tradition.
I have done so knowing very well that when my time comes, those I leave behind will not be embarrassed at the thought of taking me to some run down place.
Our children do not hate the village, they hate what we haven’t done there.
Even my nieces, nephews and their slay queen friends enjoy going kumusha because it is comfortable, they can still watch DsTV, do a braai and have their drink.
When I want to go through my documentary film brainstorming, I now go there, it is serene and quiet. I only hear birds singing and goats bleating.
I have looked at our agriculture system and usage of land and I am surprised that I now supply Boer goats to large-scale farmers who drive to my sleeping village every month looking for top quality goats.
Now if we could all invest at village level, we would create village economies there after empowering our people who can breed just a mere goat and sell it for a top dollar.
I sell a 6 month old goat to a commercial farmer for US$400, he cross breeds it with a $20 Mashona type goat and sell the kid born out of that cross breeding for $200.
If he has 50 Mashona females and they all give birth after invest in my goat (the male), he makes $10000.
There is a huge shortage of good quality goat meat at the moment because the big scale farmers are failing to do what needs to be done except for a few.
Now imagine the good money that we throw down the drain every weekend at Pabloez, if we could invest half of it in village economies, what would become of the standard of life of our people?
Governments don’t invest in communities, they only create conducive environments for the citizens to prosper.
The little that I have done for myself at the village has brought relief to all around me at the village.
They now have access to clean water, they have a place where they can charge their phones.
They bring their local goats for cross breeding for free, they now protect my project and homestead as theirs because they have unlocked value from my return to the village.
So when we are downing those Blue Labels, Chocolate blocs and Dom perignons, remember that they could substantially change the look of where you came from, if you drink them moderately.
I will end by saying that after my return and all I had done with my village home, the elders told me the truth of what they thought of me all along before I went back.
I will leave it to your imagination what they said….
More importantly for me, my return to my roots taught me that you can happily be modern and still not be lost from your ancestral past.
I also taught me that you can also make money whilst at it and never spend a penny of your city work as the place can run itself.
Jamaicans have a saying, “…dance a yard before you dance abroad.”
Those who unlike myself still have their parents at the village, I urge you to take a keen interest in what happens there and not be simply visitors.
Your wives and family will be more than glad to go to the village if you do what needs to be done there first.
Your friends and frenemies will also stop asking where you get money from when they come and see what you are doing with your village inheritance.
Instead of a braai at Mereki, go with them to the village where they will have goat meat, a drink but more importantly, learn something. That is why they say wisdom resides in the village.
My heart is now at home, at the village, such that when the award winning photographer Joao Silva of The New York Times whose life was immortalized in the movie Bang Bang Club was in town with the New York Times Bureau Chief, I took them to my village showing them where my parents and two brothers are resting and telling them about my family history.
You feel complete when that full circle has been completed.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.
He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film coming out which is looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind. State of Mind has been nominated for a top award in Kenya.
You can watch the documentary trailer below. Hopewell can be contacted at [email protected] or on twitter @daddyhope