Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Hopewell Chin’ono: Sexual abuse is unacceptably rampant in Zimbabwe and also underpinned by cultural norms

When I was filming State of Mind, my documentary film on mental health, I came across a woman who was sexually abused by her own father-in-law, and yet she was told that she will be dishonored if she said a word of it by her mother-in-law, the mother of her husband.

By Hopewell Chin’ono

The tragic story of sexual abuse told by the actress Chi Mhende is a common occurrence for the average Zimbabwean woman but they suffer in silence.

Hopewell Chin'ono
Hopewell Chin’ono

I have come across many women who have been victims of this kind of rape and continuous sexual abuse that have suffered silently because of how our society is wired through the patriarchy architecture.

Many of these women were afraid to say anything because they wouldn’t be believed, or they would have been accused of bringing it upon themselves.

This foolish justification has become the norm in our society when rationalizing and explaining sexual abuse in defence of the perpetrators.

When I was filming State of Mind, my documentary film on mental health, I came across a woman who was sexually abused by her own father-in-law, and yet she was told that she will be dishonored if she said a word of it by her mother-in-law, the mother of her husband.

In most instances it is senior women who protect these sexual deviants from prosecution and public shaming, that is why the abuse continues unrestrained to this day.

The perpetrators don’t stop with that one person, they move on to the next victim available around them, it is a sick and twisted game for them that they will continue to play until they are stopped.

Again whilst making State of Mind, I came across many young ladies who were groomed by their father’s best friends into sexual play things.

One even got pregnant and couldn’t say the truth to her family for fear of a massive backlash from both families, hers and her father’s best friend.

So the man concerned, her father’s best friend and perpetrator, got one of his workers to take responsibility for the pregnancy and pay damages and he continued with the sexual abuse.

The perpetrator was even invited to the traditional ceremony for “payment of damages” as a family friend, imagine if the truth were to come out that he was the man behind the pregnancy and the scam to pay damages!

He probably was advising his friend, the father of his victim, to let it slide and accept the damages, a true definition of absolute betrayal if ever there was need for one.

He then got the girl to lie that her baby-father had moved to England but was looking after his child, the girl became his Small House/mistress until one day when she realized that what had happened to her was called sexual grooming.

Most women I came across were abused by people very close to them, uncles, in-laws, bosses at work, politicians, pastors, teachers, neighbors and even cousins.

One woman was repeatedly raped by her husband’s best friend until she summoned the courage to expose him by reporting the sexual abuse and rape to the police, and yet her husband accused her of having put this rapist in this situation, and he subsequently divorced her.

“Why didn’t you say or tell me about it the first time it happened,” was the common thread, she became the villain instead of the victim that she was.

Because of the economic make up of our traditional African families, women end up keeping quiet fearing for what it will mean to their children’s welfare if these men are exposed, they have seen what it meant for others who stood up.

Complete ruin and social stigma, some end up committing suicide to escape the emotional trauma and shame!

Most of this sexual abuse is anchored by power, money and fear, I recorded an interview of a woman who was coerced into a relationship by her husband’s boss and then she got pregnant.

I imagined that the husband eventually knew what was happening, but that he felt powerless, most folks asked why a man would allow that to happen under his nose and why the woman gave in to this man’s sexual desires.

I have no idea and probably the power of economic strength allows these predators to get away with it, whilst the victims shoulder the burden of silence or shame where such cases are exposed voluntarily or otherwise.

Without understanding how these things happen, we are quick to condemn these women for being part of the unacceptable sexual outcomes, but a leading psychologist told me that these men are masters at what they do.

Some of them are so twisted that it is a thrill for them to sleep with people that they are not supposed to have sexual relations with.

They are not just looking for sex the psychologist told me, but they are looking for sex with someone they are not supposed to sleep with, and that excites them and they continuously pursue such sick thrills.

If they come across single women in general life, they are not interested in chasing after them because according to this psychologist, they don’t provide that thrill, that sickening and twisted pleasure.

These sexual predators start off with just the ordinary affair because it is forbidden and therefore it provides a measure of excitement but only momentarily.

They then sleep with their maid, then a friend’s wife, then a brother’s wife, then a wife’s sister or friend, then their own daughter-in-law, their church congregant and in some instances they will even sleep with their own daughters.

Guess what, in most such cases they get away with it because society allows them to do it and it also allows them to escape legal and social censure.

If the mother-in-law had stood up with her daughter-in-law when she told her about how the father-in-law continuously raped her, that sexual deviant of a father-in-law would have been exposed and caged.

But the mother-in-law chose an easy way out by protecting her husband over her own son, WHY?

Probably she did that because of the economic consequences of the fall out if her son had found out and of the ingrained patriarchy that cornerstones our society.

A female friend told me about how she was sexually abused by a cousin from the age of 15 when she was in high school.

The cousin was 23 years of age studying at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ).

During college holidays he would come to stay with them at their Harare home in Marlborough, and he would then sexually abuse her unbeknown to her parents.

This abuse continued until she was 21 and only stopped when she told her classmate at the UZ who conformed this sexual deviant and threatened to expose him!

It is called grooming, where someone is made to feel that what is being done is ok and because they don’t tell anyone, they can get into adulthood whilst being continuously abused without understanding the depth of how they are sexually trapped!

Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child or young people to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or aggravated rape.

Children and young people can be groomed by a stranger or by someone they know such as a family member, family friend or professionals such as teachers, doctors, pastors or sports coaches.

Another female friend was abused by her uncle, her own father’s first cousin, who again was being looked after when he was studying at the UZ.

He would wake up in the middle of the night and sexually abuse her, and she was also afraid to say anything because her father held this guy in high regard and saw him as a standard for what his kids should aim for in life due to his academic excellence record.

The whole family was dotting on him and yet that is how he repaid their generosity by abusing their child, his own niece and in their own home.

These people will continue doing these things everywhere they go until they are stopped!

A certain prominent man was sleeping with his niece, the daughter of his wife’s sister, this girl is a sister (cousin) to his own kids but alas, he saw nothing wrong with what he was doing.

She was groomed when she was 17 through being spoiled with gifts and then the sexual abuse started until she got married.

He continued sleeping with her until he died in a car accident, his wife was given his personal artifacts including his phone, and all manner of his very dark world came tumbling to the floor including that case.

This is a man who could have gotten himself any woman he wanted, but he chose to sleep with a niece of all people, his own daughter culturally!

We also have cultural habits that are used as entry points for this kind of habit by these sexual predators.

A young girl is jokingly called Mukadzi wavaDewa (Dewa’s wife) referring to a male family friend called Dewa.

Dewa’s wife will even jokingly call the daughter of this family friend, Amainini (my husband’s second wife).

Dewa starts grooming this girl hiding behind what seemingly is an acceptable cultural thing, buying her expensive gifts under that guise underpinned by our very own society.

This girl will accept this disturbing attention because our culture says it is ok, she accepts because everyone around her jokes that she is Dewa’s wife, and then the next thing she is being sexually abused by Dewa.

Whilst making State of Mind, I filmed these interviews and unfortunately all the women came back and asked me not to use the interviews in the film.

They feared how society would have perceived them including their families and communities and how they would react to their stories of sexual abuse.

Zimbabwean actress Chi Mhende
Zimbabwean actress Chi Mhende

That is why I salute Chi Mhende for speaking about her unfortunate sexual abuse and rape, and if only she could have named the perpetrator, it would have given other women the courage to come out of their painful emotional shells too and speak out.

The abuser and sexual deviant is NEVER far from the abused woman, mostly people who are supposed to protect these women are the ones that end up sexually abusing them.

If you read Fay Chung’s book, Re-Living the Second Chimurenga, Memories from Zimbabwe’s Liberation Struggle, you will see how senior commanders especially on the ZANLA side used sex as a weapon to subjugate women and humiliate women.

They referred to them as “blanket raShefu.”

Some of today’s leaders were and have continued to use their limitless power to sexually abuse women with no consequence whatsoever for their actions.

One of the most senior female freedom fighters, the late Freedom Nyamubaya used to constantly remind journalists of how women were abused during the liberation struggle for Zimbabwe’s independence, she even named the men that raped her.

This is not exclusive to only powerful politicians, it is not also specific to ZANUPF, it happened and continues to happen to this very day in the MDC, Non Governmental Organizations, Embassies(both Western and otherwise), Newsrooms, Corporate boardrooms, classrooms, homes the list goes on.

We have a serious cultural problem that we must first accept that it exists and not be in denial about that reality, and then figure out how we can STOP this social deviance.

It won’t happen overnight but the girl child must feel safe in these spaces, the same perpetrators have daughters, sisters, wives and aunts but their twisted mentality makes them unacceptable deviants who belong to jail.

Everyone who has read this story knows a victim or a perpetrator, what have you done about it?

I hope that the women I interviewed for my film will one day summon the courage to let me use their interviews and tell their horrid stories, they are as painful as they are shocking.

This sexual abuse must be stopped. Society must put an end by stopping the habit of shielding these sexual deviants!

A friend said to me that most of her peers talk about their sexual experiences as acts of rape that were formalized into relationships.

It starts off with woman’s bum being pinched and society laughing it off, and then leads to aggravated sexual abuse, which is said to be uncomfortable to talk about.

This is sad and it must STOP! Chi Mhende’s courage should be publicly applauded in order for many victims to tell their stories and expose the sick and twisted perpetrators.

Read Chi Mhende’s full story here: https://nehandaradio.com/2019/05/05/chi-mhende-i-was-raped-as-a-child/

Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker.

He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow, CNN African Journalist of the year and CNN Television Journalism Fellow. He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa Leadership Institute.

Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.

The late superstar Oliver Mtukudzi wrote the sound track for State of Mind.

It was recently nominated for a big award at the Festival International du Film Pan-Africain de Cannes in France, in the UK at the Heart of England International Film Festival and in Texas at The US African Film Festival (TAFF).

You can watch the State of Mind trailer below. You can contact Hopewell at [email protected] or twitter @daddyhope