MASHONALAND Central Province's rural communities have fully embraced First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa's call for a return to the traditional way of life in the wake of rising child marriages and delinquency among youths, under an initiative that promotes moral values and dignity among teenage girls.
Statistics show that 34 percent of girls in Zimbabwe get married before they turn 18, while five percent are married before their 15th birthday. Mashonaland Central tops in child marriages.
It is against this background that the wives of chiefs and headmen in the province hit the ground running to set up a model of the "nhanga' concept that promotes good morals, proper dressing and hygiene.
Traditionally, girls were imparted with life skills at the "nhanga", which was run by elderly women, while boys did the same at "padare", where they also received life skills and wise counsel from their grandfathers, uncles and other elders. The recent Covid-19-induced lockdown resulted in some girls withdrawing from school owing to pregnancy and early marriages, hence the First Lady's intervention, prompting her to engage spouses of traditional leaders.
They roundly agreed that the country was facing major challenges which called for the setting up of counselling stations for girls and boys.
Yesterday, the wives of traditional leaders invited the First Lady to Nyava in Bindura South, to see how they had taken her advice.
Mrs Norah Nyaumwe, wife to Chief Musana, said her province embraced the nhanga concept and was already reaping benefits from the programme.
"We gathered all the women and girls in this area to assess how best we can promote good morals and saw it fit to establish the nhanga concept. This concept addresses the challenges we were facing with our children. Most of them eloped during the Covid-19 lockdown. As per the concept shared by the First Lady, we advised our children to value education," she said.
On empowerment projects, Mrs Nyaumwe said: "We were taught by Amai that a woman is the backbone of the home. We took up various projects and reared road-runners, turkeys and goats. Other projects which we carried out included soap and detergent making. We also established gardens where we grew traditional grains and beans, which are all nutritious."
She was grateful to the First Lady for previously giving spouses of traditional leaders in her area some goats to start a project with women from their communities, which is now thriving.
The women gave the First Lady goats for onward distribution to other areas so that more people in the country benefit.
Jinda raMambo Musana, headman Mrs Tendai Chivese, said through the programmes initiated by the First Lady, they were able to teach other women various life-changing skills to become self-sufficient.
"In our courts we find women on the receiving end when a child elopes. All this is because these children are no longer being taught the traditional way. As traditional leaders, we were charmed by seeing the First Lady pressing ahead with the need to return to the old way of doing things.
"We went around with the wives of Chiefs Musana and Masembura speaking about this in our communities, especially early child marriages. We are also seeking to equip girls with skills that define a woman. If a child rushes into marriage and is found wanting, I am blamed as a mother. We even started 'mukando' here which was popularised by Amai with very little contributions up to a point where one could do one's own projects at home," she said.
Mai Esther Chiweshe, wife to Chief Chiweshe of Centenary-Muzarambani, was moved by the work being done by the First Lady and urged her to visit farms where she said moral decadence was high.
"I make this request to you Amai in relation to our children in the farms where they marry young. Because of Covid-19, children have not been attending school. Young girls are being married off to equally young boys and you shudder to think what the future holds for them.
"Young girls who are supposed to be in Grade 7 are falling pregnant and you feel pity whether she will pull through the pregnancy. We have faith that the nhanga and dare concepts will help our children," she said.
Amai Mnangagwa promised to visit the said areas.
An imitation of the "nhanga" was set up at the function where the First Lady took turns with headmen and chief's wives to counsel girls.
The First Lady said issues to do with children were everyone's responsibility and people should not wait for the chiefs and headmen's wives.
"You do not wait for the chiefs and headmen's wives when it comes to teaching children because wherever you are there are children. nhanga is all about teaching the girl child how different she is from a boy and what is expected of her.
"It is in this nhanga where we teach the girl to grow well and know how best to run their marriage when the time comes," she said.
"Girls are also taught how to bath, how to walk, how to dress and how to present themselves in front of people. If you are a cultured child, the way you dress and the respect you show to your elders will make other people see that you were brought up in an upright manner."
The First Lady implored girls to treat all women as their mothers and women to treat all children as theirs. She spoke strongly against people who do not take kindly to their children being counselled by neighbours and other members of the community.
"Let your children be counselled by anyone as long as it is good advice which builds her. There are certain traits being done by girls which are shameful. This is why we asked the wives of chiefs to ensure dignity is restored. Mwanasikana chengetedza muviri wako."
While addressing the gathering after the counselling session, Amai Mnangagwa thanked the women of Mashonaland Central for working hard. The women displayed various products and projects they are undertaking in their communities.
"I thank you heartily for inviting me to come and see the projects you are undertaking and counselling our daughters. The wives of chiefs and headmen you make me proud.
"I always heard that you are good advisors and today I have witnessed this for myself. I have seen the works you are undertaking under the leadership of chiefs' wives. What I have seen here shows that you made use of the teachings I give you time and again," she said.
She implored women to encourage their families to eat traditional foods which are highly nutritious.
"The farming season is upon us. I implore you to embrace the Government's Pfumvudza farming concept. I have brought you seed which will benefit households. Please do not waste or sell seeds. This seed is for you to plant wherever you are and you will harvest something through the Pfumvudza concept."
Amai Mnangagwa spoke candidly against domestic violence and urged people to make use of neighbours, close relatives, traditional leaders or the police whenever they have problems.
She recounted the case of the Chivhu woman who slit the throats of her children following a dispute with her husband before setting the house on fire and said better dispute resolution methods should have been used.
Through her Angel of Hope Foundation, the First Lady donated cotton seed, fertiliser and an assortment of foodstuffs that included rice, sugar, cooking oil and laundry soap, among others.
She also gave baby preparation sets to pregnant women and reusable sanitary pads and toiletries to the girls.