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Chinyoka on Tuesday: On why certain criticism must be ignored

By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka

One of the best teachers l had, was my Grade 7 teacher, in Shurugwi where we lived briefly after leaving Mberengwa, the land of my fathers. The teacher hated me. With a passion.

Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka

Not because of anything I had done, but because of who I was.

You see, Mr Chigovera was a certified n’anga and member of ZINATHA. He even had the badge to prove it. And because my mother was teaching at the same school, having just recently gone back to teaching after the sad departure of my father, we were neighbours with Mr Chigoverah.

And my mother had one habit that Mr Chigoverah hated: she prayed. Still does. Every morning from 3am until 4am my mother wrestles with her god and is unrelenting. Mr Chigoverah didn’t like my mother praying, not one bit. He tried to have the headmaster ban it, then when that failed he became just mean. To me.

Mr Chigoverah came to the school the year I went into Grade 7, so no one knew his idiosyncrasies. We found out as we went along. In fact, having been the best student coming from Grade 6, Mr Chigoverah liked me the first few weeks. Until he discovered who the person that prayed outside his house was and whose mother she was.

But, he taught me an important lesson: the world can be cruel and full of hate, and when you become it’s victim, there is very little you can do about it.

One day he found me in his way as I was kneeling down doing my sums in the sand (I loved Maths then, really really). I think he didn’t want to be made to not walk in a straight line that day, because instead of doing so, he just kicked me in the stomach and sent me flying to the side of the road, out of his way. The kick knocked my wind out, and the pain was excruciating, but that was not the worst bit. Have you ever felt that stinging pain in your throat which is not caused by anything physical but the emotional anguish of betrayal? I can still taste the bile.

Speaking of walking in a straight line, on another date, he again found me in his way as he walked in the verandas. I don’t recall what l was doing, but l know that one moment I was laughing and the next I felt this pain on my face after the most electrocuting of slaps you will ever experience.

For a few seconds I must have felt the pain, before I passed out. I came to much much later, and by then I had been carried to our house and I found myself in my mother’s bed. I missed school for a week, during which time I started reading the Old Testament from end to end.

The swelling dissipated after three days, but l can recall the sound it made. I complain to those who say they love me that they should speak up for me to hear, they think I am joking and never speak loud enough. Maybe if l mentioned the blood that oozed from my ear after this event….?

He never once came to check on me, Mr Chigoverah. The headmaster did, as did his second wife, she liked me and treated me like a son, taught me many things about this world but that’s for another day.

Mr Chigoverah laughed when l failed Grade 7, before confessing much later that he had pulled and spiked one of my papers resulting in me getting a complete fail in the subject. Like I said, he hated me.

Back then, I was convinced that if I tried hard enough, Mr Chigoverah would like me. After all, what primary school child doesn’t want to be loved by their teacher?

So I tried everything. I picked mangoes for him in late January, just after he started hating me, and one day as he was eating one bhurumango he peeled off all the skin, made the inside all juicy then offered me to eat, but dropped it on the ground as I reached for it. Then he forced me to eat it. Have you ever chewed sand? I hadn’t, but after one clap (not the lightning one, that one wasn’t until September) I found that sand in mangoes can be chewable indeed.

I was given a nickname I hated by the headmaster’s son, (he was not the second wife’s son, and now that I think of it she might have been the reason) and Mr Chigoverah made sure that l answered to it. You can cry as a primary school child, but that kind of paid doesn’t go because you cried. It lingers. To your last day on earth.

I lived in the school and used the staff toilets but Mr Chigoverah made sure that during class I was not allowed to go to those. He made sure that I cleaned the school toilets for General Work well knowing that I gagged each time I went inside.

 I was clapped, pinched, kicked and spat at, and still I tried to be good. I was Number 1 in second term and still that didn’t impress him. Seemed to anger him even.

I have carried the scars of Mr Chigoverah’s one year stint in my life for a very long time. Hate, is something I try not to do but I have known it. When someone doesn’t like you, when someone loathes you, you sure can feel it. 

People ask why I don’t have friends. I had friends then, back in 1985. They did nothing. Zilch. In fact, on the day that our Grade 7 results came, one of my closest ‘friends’ came to laugh at me for failing, before l knew my own results. A large part of why I worked as hard as I did in secondary school was because I wanted to be better than him in life. I still ain’t finished trying.

I have known intense dislike and hate. Hate that makes you feel it in your face, in your eyes and in the little pain that comes up your spine then breaks in your throat. Hate that betrays your best efforts to please the person. Hate that makes you blame yourself for being hated, makes you start thinking that maybe you deserve to be hated.

That hate. It lingers long after the perpetrator is gone (I heard he died, Mr Chigoverah, but he could equally be alive, I don’t much care) and you remain. Hate that makes you believe that you are incapable of being anything if you can be hated that much by one person. That hate.

I have learned one big lesson from this hate, and for that I have Mr Chigoverah to thank: when people hate you, there is no point trying to change their minds. No point trying to make them see you differently. You just end up making a fool of yourself.

When people have made up their minds that you are one thing, don’t bother convincing them otherwise. When people hate you so much that they only see what is negative in everything you do, the last thing you want to do is try and explain yourself or apologise. If someone says ‘you are this or that’ and it’s not true; just don’t bother trying to point to your good deeds: say ‘thank god for his mercies’ and move on.

While it is very easy to make someone hate you, (in fact sometimes like in my cause, you don’t even have to do anything to invite it), it is impossible to make a person like or love you. They either do or they don’t, anything in the middle is pretense. So imagine this, if someone already hates you, what hope do you have convincing them to move from that to liking you?

They will make fun of how you speak. They will blame you for the actions of the people around you. They will credit people in your past for the good things you do, and blame you for the actions of people you used to walk with in the past.

They will see everything you do in a bad light, and not talk about anything good you do unless when they can find ways to credit those things to someone else. They will castigate your children to the fourth generation, even when their own are far much worse.

Does hate have power? It surely does. If you stop to entertain it, to try and bargain with those that deploy it, it can kill your spirit. It can make you sink to the abyss. You ignore hate and live, you try to bargain with it and die. It is that simple. The protagonist in The Shawshank Redemption has a line that is the best solution to hate: ‘either get busy living, or get busy dying.’

Because you really can’t make people love you, no matter what you do, if they already don’t.

Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a qualified lawyer and social worker, living in Harare where he practices as an Advocate. He is a member of the ruling ZanuPF. Follow him on @TinoChinyoka