How much faith can a woman have, when all she remembers of her past is wars, rumours of war, violence, pain, fear, abuse and a dysfunctional family?
So much! Just so much! Betty Makoni would gladly tell you.
She had it rough, challenging and uninteresting. Years of pain and seemingly unending sorrow. But they are now in the past, her past.
Now all she can see is the beauty of the sun, hope and the joy of saving more than 60,000 girls from the evil hands of perverts and thoughtless abusers.
A bit of about her background………….
She was born in St Mary’s in Chitungwiza Zimbabwe, in a neighbourhood known for violence and irrepressible drunkenness.
At age six, she became a child vendor who sold Tomatoes and candle sticks at night. The only way she knew to escape the domestic violence she and her siblings faced each day.
But that was just enough to save her from the trouble in her home but not the one in the dark streets. On one of her work days, she was raped at knifepoint by a shopkeeper in her neighborhood who believed that raping virgins brings luck. Regrettably, the perpetrator was left to go scot-free; for fear that an alarm may result in violence.
“It involved almost 10 girls in the neighbourhood, and out of the 10 I am the only one who went up to Grade 7, the rest of them died along the way.
Our mothers staged a cover-up in fear of domestic violence, so they did all the treatments in private. I remember my mum using salt and whatever she could use to treat me. The whole abuse left physical and psychological trauma, everything stuck into my sub-conscience.
The offender was a man in the neighbourhood who used to run tuck shops. He thought raping little girl would make him rich … a belief that raping virgins brings luck.”
Things were bound to change soon, but maybe not for the better. Few years later, Betty’s mother died in a tragic domestic violence incident. Leaving her to cater for her siblings- four brothers and a sister.
And that marked the beginning of a new phase of struggle and endless labour.
Her frail shoulders immediately toughened to be able to endure the weight that life was bent on thrusting on them. She got a job as a cleaner in a mission school to raise enough money to care for her siblings.
During school holidays, Betty would stay back in school to clean the dormitories, and in return her fees were waived.
That was how she paid her school fees all the way to form 6. She calls it – “six years of child labour”.
After secondary School, Betty was awarded a scholarship by the government of Zimbabwe to study Linguistics at the University of Zimbabwe. She also earned a second degree in Theatre Management from the same university.
Betty’s experience as a victim of abuse has led to a lifelong quest for justice for others. Since then, she has remained at the forefront of identifying and tackling abuse as well as providing mentoring to at least 60,000 girls around Zimbabwe.
In 1999, she founded the Girl Child Network (GCN), a charity which cares for Zimbabwe’s young sex abuse victims and responsible for putting 4,000 child sex offenders behind bars.
She is also passionate about protecting girls from the cruel act of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a ritual she was made to undergo as a child, which is usually performed by unskilled practitioners with unsterilized instruments and no anesthetic and is believed to be a sure way to control women’s sexual behaviour.
She suffered a severe form of genital mutilation – labia elongation. Instead of cutting the genitals out, she says “the whole private parts are pulled out.”
“It can take up to six months and is as painful as cutting,’ she says. ‘It is about changing your sexual organs to please men. Either a woman does it, or the girl is trained to do it herself. It is like forcing a child to masturbate. Labia elongation is rampant here with African girls.”
She encourages women to stand up and join this fight for freedom. If we must be heard, then we must be ready to speak up.
She says, “I was raped as a six-year-old and there was silence around it in my neighbourhood. If we talked about stolen cars and stolen cows, how come not about the stolen dignities of women?”
In her interview with New Zimbabwe, Betty shares her secret to a happy and successful marriage. She encourages men to take the responsibility of caring for their women.
“If you love your wife, house work is all about caring. The only time some men show some caring is when they are coming to bed! Simple things like making a cup of tea is what women enjoy; things like picking up shoes or a dress which is out of place does not kill. Women are not looking for millions of dollars. It’s the small things that count.
We don’t need to be bought Toyota Corollas these days, we are working women and we have the cars. It’s the simple acts of love, expression, that we are after. Sometimes a man comes from work and gets stuck in his newspaper while the woman, also coming from a 9-5, cooks and burns herself. How can she be expected to be alive in bed? Where does she get the energy from?
But imagine for a change when the woman comes home and finds the floor clean, clothes ironed, and everything in its place … the woman would want to do more for him, she would feel she has a partner not a house-bound!”
Her passion to fight for helpless girls and fellow women has seen her win more than 33 international accolades.
Including the 2007 World Children’s Prize, which she received alongside Nelson Mandela, while in 2011 Newsweek named her in its list of 150 women who shake the world and in 2003 the Women’s World Summit Foundation awarded Makoni with the Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life.
Betty Makoni currently resides in Britain with her husband and three boys and also runs a girls’ club at a London school – a pilot she plans to roll out to every girls’ school in Britain.
Like Betty, we can all let go of our pasts, so that we can effectively create a beautiful future for others.