15 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Benhilda: An Indomitable Spirit

Photo: File Photo
Benhilda Marume

THE death of Benhilda Marume in Mberengwa over the past weekend is sad news to Zimbabwe generally, but a specific loss to civic society and the entertainment industry. Known to most television viewers as Tamara, Tom Mbambo's hard-hearted sister in Studio 263, Benhilda could not have been more different from the character she portrayed.

The only thing they had in common was the disability. Benhilda was paraplegic and needed a full-time helper. But unlike Tamara, she was a warm, loving woman who loved to laugh at herself and at the world. She was always ready with a joke and equally eager to hear one.

When I met her in 2008 during a stint as production manager in one of the several attempts to keep Studio 263 alive I was apprehensive. My perception of Benhilda was fully built on Tamara.

Then I met her and within minutes we were chatting like old mates as we became new friends. She was involved in activism for the disabled and she was the best person for the job.

Benhilda mainstreamed her disability by living with it. She would openly talk about it, answer any questions and she never at any moment elicited expressions of sympathy or felt sorry for herself.

Benhilda told me of the car accident that took away her mobility and caused serious damage to some of her internal organs. Waking up to pain and the inability to do mundane things you have taken for granted for so long, many would feel justified in being bitter and railing against fate for picking us out for such misfortune.

But not Benhilda. She did not waste time on asking why her and took it all in her stride. It could not have been easy but she accepted the limitations without letting them define her life.

There was the total reorientation of her whole outlook on life in learning to live with things such as the sacrifice of privacy that she had to put up with at every costume change.

She used to say that the accident may have broken her body, but it had done nothing to her brain. Her heart was not affected either as she did not lose the ability to love.

Her indomitable spirit saw her through the hardest patch. That same spirit saw her living a full life beyond the accident, not a mere existence. She used to say that her family's support had made all the difference.

People with disabilities face challenges like discrimination and insensitivity. Negative attitudes and lack of empowering technicalities like user-friendly access points often subconsciously subdues them into accepting a life that pushes them on the edges of life.

Job opportunities, education, social acceptance and other basic rights we take for granted are implicitly denied to them.

Benhilda rose above that. Everyday when we were at the shoot, I would look at Benhilda and marvel at the way she would never demand special attention. She would uncomplainingly shoot until late even when other actors were being prima donnas demanding to have their scenes wrapped first so they could call it a day.

When she needed it and I had not anticipated her needs, she simply asked for help. There were no histrionics which made working with her a very easy task.

Disability was not a dark taboo to which we tried to pretend blindness, but a living issue that we all have to take in our stride even if we are not directly affected because it happens to people just like you and I.

After I left the production, we would occasionally chat on the phone and I never heard Benhilda sounding gloomy. Not even on the days when she would say that physically she was on the low side.

Benhilda has died young, aged just 30, and that is always sad. But she has left a lasting legacy which proves that life is not about thecards that fate deals you, but more about how you handle them. She was not a disabled woman, just a woman of many abilities with a disability.

Monica Cheru-Mpambawashe is a former Lifestyle Editor of The Herald, a published author and development consultant.

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