Sold: a young mother struggles to cope.
Now Daily Investigation
Madzibaba Roderick calls himself a prophet of the Johane Masowe eChishanu ‘apostolic’ sect. With a long white beard and shaved head, he fits perfectly into the traditional stereotype of a devout man of God, the sort of image portrayed in religious films and books about the great prophets of old like Jeremiah and Abraham. It is when he starts talking about women that you realise that he is no prophet but a serial abuser of women and young girls.
I visit Madzibaba’s house in southern Zimbabwe because he was in the news in 2015 after being arrested for making a 12 year-old girl pregnant. I am working on a Now Television documentary on child marriages and decide this is the perfect way to proceed with a project that I got involved in quite by accident when someone asked me to do some professional research for her on the subject.
It was then that I was alerted to the horrific abuse young girls were going through and about Madzibaba’s activities. I had read all the statistics and persuasive arguments by organisations like Girls Not Brides, Unicef, UN Women, Veritas and followed the debate in parliament initiated by former women’s affairs, gender and community development deputy minister Jessie Majome.
A high-level meeting on the subject attended by heads of several UN agencies in Zimbabwe, including the UNDP resident coordinator, was held. I helped draft a concept paper calling for the setting up of a committee on child rights in parliament. Then there were street marches and the whole thing appeared to deteriorate into the usual lousy NGO agenda item and money spinner for a few clever activists, the sort of thing I don’t want to get involved in.
In particular, I was horrified when Grace Mugabe addressed a women’s meeting in Chinhoyi and suggested that people who marry young girls should be castrated. Zimbabwean policy-makers are fond of suggesting these wild and impractical ‘solutions’ which never get implemented for their brutality and inhumanity. Prosecutor-general Johannes Tomana was forced to issue a statement on why the courts appeared lenient with child abusers. His observation that the issue of child marriages was difficult to deal with from a purely legal perspective because there were so many cultural and religious issues involved was deliberately misinterpreted for political reasons and the debate got mired in Zanu PF factional wars.
Then came the landmark ruling in the Constitutional Court in a case brought by Loveness Mudzuru, a victim of early forced marriage, affirming the position that it was illegal for children below 18 to be married, except in very special circumstances.
It was not until I visited Madzibaba’s home that the force of the problem hit me. I found two young girls sitting outside, one suckling a young baby and hungrily scraping porridge from a dirty pot. They told me that ‘daddy’ was in the house and one of the women went inside to fetch him. The woman with the baby, I was later told, was the one who had got Madzibaba arrested allegedly for rape of a minor. She displayed all sorts of immature behaviour, such as hollering a religious tune at the top of her voice while eating. The other girl, who I noticed was pregnant despite her young age, appeared nervous and distressed, randomly beating up a group of Madzibaba’s kids who were scrambling for porridge.
Finally, Madzibaba came, buttoning his shirt, followed by a young woman of about 20, adjusting her skirts. After complaining that I had disturbed him while he was ‘busy’ in his bedroom, the man introduced the woman as his first wife. When I asked how he could have such a young ‘first wife’ when he was 68, Madzibaba explained that several women had left him, describing them as ‘prostitutes’ and ‘witches’.
We got down to business. Madzibaba told me that the rape case had been fabricated by his enemies who, he said, had been influenced by the devil.
“This is my wife; she is now 14,” he said, pointing to the woman with the baby. “I’ve got six wives and the youngest is 12. I still want more wives. I want them to be 15.”
Madzibaba showed me a photograph of the six wives, all of them holding young babies and standing outside mud huts at his rural home on one of the occupied farms. He told me that in all, he had 15 children. When I asked him how he managed to fend for such a large family, he explained that it was the women who were supposed to take care of him through farming and other fund-raising activities like weaving baskets and making clay pots.
- Campaign: No marriage before 18.
As we talked, a young girl arrived from the countryside, barefoot and asking for school fees.
“This is my daughter. She is 12 and I must find a husband for her because I cannot continue paying school fees for her,” Madzibaba said.
I discovered that there is a thriving racket in the sale of young girls among sect members. Madzibaba told me that he was trying to beat a young member of his sect who had 15 wives before he even reached the age of 30.
He asked me how many wives I had. When I told him that I had no wife, after my fiancé died, he appeared surprised.
“You must come to our church. We can give you two wives, young ones,” Madzibaba said.
What shocked me was the sort of abuse the women were subjected to. Many of them were not allowed to go to school to further their education after they got married young. They were used as baby vending and sex machines, as well as for cheap labour. They faced hunger and deprivation and could not openly enjoy or even expect the love and attention of their husbands, who, like Madzibaba were often too busy with their new acquisitions of younger and more exciting wives. The women could not choose husbands. They were forced to marry men chosen for them by the sect or their parents.
Sickness and death related to childbirth is common. The women are not allowed to go to modern hospitals and are forced to rely on traditional birth attendants who are not trained or equipped to deal with emergencies.
The sheer scale of the problem horrified me but I realised the efforts of various groups trying to resolve the problem tend to be disjointed. There is urgent need for the establishment of a coalition of all the forces fighting child marriages in Zimbabwe. It could be called the Coalition of People Against Marriage Before Eighteen (CoPAMBE) and harness all the energy that is floating around on this subject.
One of the major problems is the failure of the country’s population policy. There are ample reasons to discourage early marriage on health, moral, legal and educational grounds. However, conflicting statements by politicians, including president Robert Mugabe have disempowered the authorities in charge of enforcing the law. The constitution is clear that there should be no marriage before 18. However, when senior government officials are seen marrying young girls or encouraging their friends and relatives to do so, it sends the message that the law is not important.
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