Tendai Rupapa in MASVINGO
TRADITIONAL leaders and elderly people here have welcomed the introduction of Nhanga/Gota/Ixiba concept by First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa, as she spearheads efforts to fight teenage pregnancies, immorality, drug abuse and disrespectfulness, among other vices which are now generally associated with today’s youths.
In what has never been seen since independence, the First Lady is advocating for a return to the traditional way of life which had in built mechanisms to foster morality.
Themed “Dzidziso yaAmai munhanga/mugota/ixiba yevachirikuyaruka”, the concept involves elders playing their traditional roles of imparting wisdom in youths, while also teaching them the dos and don’ts of life.
At the captivating introductory session held at Chief Nhema, Mr Ranganai Nhema’s homestead in Zaka on Saturday, the First Lady was assisted by Gogo Fadzai Bwawanda-Nhema, mother to Chief Nhema and the chief’s wife — Portia Nhema, Chief Mazungunye of Bikita’s wife Chiyedza Maipisi, Chief Ndanga of Zaka’s wife Patricia Makono and Chief Bere of Masvingo’s wife Susan Bere.
All Covid-19 prevention measures were observed at the interactive session which had times for laughter and serious communication.
In the gota with the boys were chiefs and Masvingo Provincial Affairs Minister Ezra Chadzamira.
In the nhanga, the First Lady appointed girls who were present as ambassadors of the programme and gave them the responsibility to educate others in their communities and schools when they go back and would invite the First Lady after setting up groups to assess whether or not her teachings would have circulated.
The children were drawn from all the districts from Masvingo.
Amai Mnangagwa began with an introductory lesson where she asked what nhanga was all about.
Others said it was a hut where girls slept, while some did not know.
“We have come to teach you and remind you as young girls and grandchildren that you are important,” said the First Lady.
“We want to lay a firm foundation for you to protect your bodies. We also want to know whether you are performing domestic chores and the way you relate to elders and whether or not you are keeping yourselves pure. We also want to know whether you still treasure education.”
The wife to Chief Mazungunye, Chiyedza Maipisi, voiced concern that some girls were now boastful and difficult to assign tasks to.
“Children of today are difficult to assign tasks and they complain a lot thinking they are being troubled,” she said.
“Such a way of life is unacceptable and is among issues that have prompted the First Lady to pay us a visit and roll out such a programme.”
Mbuya Nhema weighed in, saying the First Lady’s programme came at a time they had given up and did not know how to counsel young girls.
“We had lost hope and did not know how to control you, our young children,” she said. “We wish to thank the First Lady for coming up with this programme. It is her wish to bring us back to our traditional way of life. Some of you our children, you no longer respect elders and your dressing is now weird.
“Girls are now wearing trousers and mini-skirts in a very shameful way. Hypertension among elders is partly being fuelled by naughty children.”
The First Lady sought to know why girls were rushing into sexual relationships.
“Tell me if there are any advantages of rushing to have sex before the time is ripe,” she said.
“Do you know that you may fall pregnant and affect your education, while you may also contract sexually transmitted diseases and be a shame to your parents.
“Ishuviro yedu sevabereki kuti mukure murivasikana vane hunhu hwakanaka muchikoshesa your education uye muzoitawo dzimba dzenyu kana nguva yakwana.”
The young girls said no one had either sat them down or inclined an ear to the challenges they faced and promised to be good ambassadors.
Some of the girls aged between 14 and 16 indirectly confirmed they had boyfriends and promised to break up with them after the First Lady’s educative session.
They also attributed some of the mischief they engaged in to lack of education from their grandmothers or aunts.
Mrs Portia Nhema expressed gratitude to the First Lady for rolling out the programme, saying it helped restore the country’s cultural values and dignity.
“Our values and dignity start in the Nhanga where the proper dressing for girls is espoused,” she said.
“Because of having an early sex debut you end up seeing yourself as being of the same age with your mothers and start being disrespectful. We want to thank you Amai for the intervention.”
Amai Mnangagwa said early signs of maturity like development of breasts could be driving some girls wayward.
She asked what developing breasts meant and one of the girls said it was a sign of growing up and one can get married.
However, the First Lady and the chiefs’ wives disagreed with her, saying some people developed breasts even when they were not yet mature, hence one should not rush into early marriage all because she would have developed breasts.
During the interactive session, the girls were afforded an opportunity to ask questions.
The First Lady spoke about menstrual hygiene and after the lessons they all went into the kitchen hut where they were taught household chores from lighting fire to cooking and grinding finger millet.
Chief Ndanga, Mr Wilson Makono, who presided over Gota proceedings in the Gota there were cardinal factors each boy had to take into account each day.
“When starting the day, children must greet their parents with respect,” he said.
“Each day a child does not just leave the house without performing a schedule of tasks they would have been assigned by their parents. We told the children that they should not intervene in their parents’ quarrels. Should they find their parents quarrelling, they should notify elders or neighbours to intervene.”
Chief Ndanga said in the olden days, boys and girls used to even swim together without challenges since they grew up with good morals.
“No child is born stealing and this is something that develops over time,” he said.
In separate interviews, elderly men and women from the community praised the First Lady for the noble idea.
Mbuya Tendai Mavhu-Mashava (89) said the First Lady’s intervention could not have come at any better time as today’s youths needed a complete overhaul from their dressing, right up to morals.
“In the olden days we lived well, teaching our children as they grew up,” she said.
“As they reached puberty, we gave them rules on dressing.” They were not allowed to leave their knees bare so that they looked presentable, not nowadays when they walk semi-naked. It was taboo. During our times we sat down with our mothers for counselling sessions.
“Even the way we lived in the home doing our household chores like grinding millet, everyone was given her own winnowing basket and mothers would notice one who worked hard and the lazy one.
“She would take remedial action on the lazy one immediately and made sure she followed her up until she changed her ways. That is how we grew up. Nowadays, if you ask a child from the community to fetch you even bathing water, they will ask whether or not you have money for payment.
“This is something new as we never grew up that way. Even when we met an elderly woman carrying a load, we would take it and carry it. But nowadays it’s no longer the case. You carry your own burden.”
Gogo Mavhu-Mashava expressed gratitude to the First Lady for her intervention, which she said will help mould today’s youths into morally upright citizens.
“What the First Lady is doing is helpful because the children of today are a lost generation. With the clothes they wear nowadays, you can foresee trouble because even girls are putting on a trousers,” she said while throwing her hands about in disapproval.
But it is not only today’s girl child who needs help.
Sekuru Adonia Mberikwazvo (71) decried that today’s boys were rushing into marriage before they were fully prepared to handle the home.
“In our Shona way of life, all boys would be taken by our grandfathers to the dare, especially in the evening because we were not allowed to be near where women were preparing meals,” he said. “At the dare, you were expected to bring even mice and were taught fatherly roles like trapping animals, farming and even roofing houses so that you can be able to run your home in the future.”
Sekuru Mberikwazvo expressed worry at the way today’s boys were running issues concerning courtship, wishing they could take a leaf from what transpired in the olden days.
“As boys, we were warned against rushing after girls,” he said. “If there is someone you loved, you would have to go through elders like their aunt who would arrange her for you, not nowadays when people just meet in buses and kombis and the next thing you hear they have agreed to stay with each other.
“There was a go-between called gwevedzi. Until matters were sorted, you would not meet each other. There was nothing like going out together. You would only be considered a grown up man capable of getting married after assessing how you use your hands to weed, roof houses, making hoe handles so that you would use the skills in your home. Nowadays we are looking after grandchildren when we are still raising their parents and this was not the case in the olden days.”
Commenting on the worrying surge in teen pregnancies, Gogo Loice Nheme (75) said in her time, there were mechanisms that were put in place to ensure boys and girls did not meet alone.
“When we were young and growing up, we were advised to bring home any boy who was courting us so that he could be seen by aunties or elder sisters,” she said. “We would exchange garments and these were kept by the aunt.
“When walking, we were not allowed to be held on the shoulders by a boy or even a breast. Even the one who loved you, would come home but you would just accompany him as far as the gate and go back home.
“This was done to prevent instances where you would be forced to have sex and end up falling pregnant. You had to listen to advice from the aunts or grandmothers.”
Among those interviewed was Ambuya Jonhi Muchanyara (97) who encouraged young boys and girls to observe chastity.
She said it took her husband two years proposing love to her and they never had sex before marriage.
She said her grandmother would inspect her at the river for purity unlike these days when boys would propose love to girls and bed them the same day.
Gogo Jonhi was full of praises for the First Lady’s initiative which she said had come at the appropriate time.
In her address towards the end of the proceedings, the First Lady said she was on a mission to ensure children grew up morally upright.
“I have come today as a mother so that we start reverting to the teachings of yesteryear which we received as we grew up so that our children grow up in the right track,” she said. “This is not my responsibility alone. As the community you are already in this programme of teaching children and moulding them.
“I, therefore, urge chiefs, their spouses, aunties, grandmothers, religious groups, pastors, bishops and their spouses to come on board so that we work together and take remedial action. Let’s put our heads together. All parents we know the boys and girls we are targeting.
“Let’s unite and counsel our children in the homes. These teachings we have had today must not end here. They must reach far and wide so that our children grow in the right path.”
The mother of the nation said she was encouraged by the promise she got from children that they would reform and leave wayward behaviour.
Chief Nhema described the First Lady’s programme as an eye-opener and pledged to carry it forward. He said he would start operation nhanga/gota/ixiba in his community.
His son Enoch recited a poem explaining the origins of nhanga/gota/ixiba and its importance.
Minister Chadzamira thanked the First Lady for the programme, saying it came at the right time because most children had lost morals.
Amai Mnangagwa donated food hampers and toiletries to the children who attended the programme and also gave rice and fertilizer to the Chiefs and their spouses.