MEN from Matabeleland South Province yesterday turned out in droves and had a day to remember when they held fruitful discussions with First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa as she spearheads a search for solutions to their health challenges, gender-based violence and drug abuse which are rearing an ugly head in communities today.
So timely and befitting was the intervention in the province which tops in the HIV prevalence rate.
Before the engagement, the mother of the nation humbled herself before the traditional chiefs and all the men present to show respect and sought permission to discuss with them various topics.
The traditional chiefs led by chief Nyangazonke welcomed her and gave her permission to address the men adding that her programmes were beneficial to them and the whole nation.
Statistics showed that men were reluctant to get tested for various ailments, including HIV and prostate cancer but soon after getting a health lecture from the health ambassador, Dr Mnangagwa, the men besieged the health tents that were offering Covid-19 testing and vaccination services seeking to know if they were also testing for other ailments like HIV and prostate cancer.
The men confirmed that the First Lady's hearty and wise counsel drove them to heed the call of getting health check ups underlining once again the rate at which the mother of the nation has been touching and changing lives.
They were referred to their nearest health centres for immediate health checks.
Amai Mnangagwa raised concern at the general lawlessness and lack of respect among youths today.
"They have lost focus and they are now unable to make their own decisions to identify themselves in the community. On the other hand, our daughters are now competing with their fathers in consuming alcohol and have lost all respect for their bodies as is shown by their adopted western dressing.
"Also gender-based violence has become common in our families and the society as a whole. Let us talk about it today. Who is causing this? Is it vanamai who are giving problems at home or its you vanababa giving problems at home? We need to introspect and come up with solutions for the betterment of our families, communities and the nation at large," the First Lady said.
She implored men to keep an eye on their health saying statistics showed that most of them were known for not wanting to have health checks, unlike women who do so regularly.
"I will talk about your health as men. Men do not go for health checks despite the diseases we have around us. There is a challenge of prostate cancer which mostly affects men.
"Those who have the chance to be checked and are told their status, are taking pills from the pocket without informing their spouses. But if you are found with such an ailment, tell your spouse so that she may also access similar treatment.
"We want men to show their leadership qualities in the families so that what the children learn at home manifests wherever they go," she said.
Dr Mnangagwa, who has traversed the length and breadth of the country with her Gota/Nhanga/Ixhiba and Nharirire Yemusha programmes said she had heard numerous complaints from children about parents who fought in their presence.
"During the Ixhiba sessions, our children said their parents maltreated each other in their presence. How can we end this and how can we tell our parents that we do not want this? The children asked.
"During Nharirire yemusha, issues of cheating were also raised. Some got to the extent of stealing money from their wives to drink alcohol and even use the money with their small houses. Retain the respect that you are supposed to carry as heads of families. Childrem want fathers who lead by example through leading respectable lives that our children can emulate," she said.
"How do we stop these challenges? What do you think we must do to end these challenges?" she asked
The First Lady promised to take points raised by the men of Gwanda and put them together with views from other provinces.
During her interactive segment, Mr Jabulani Nyoni voiced concern over the surge in drunkenness and promiscuity by men.
"Men are now drinking a lot and having extramarital affairs. They spend days on end without returning home until women start asking their whereabouts and they bash them for this. When they go away they bring diseases and start taking medication secretly thus exposing their wives to sexually transmitted diseases," he said.
Youthful Mlondolozi Sithole decried the loss of respect for culture by today's youths and thanked the First Lady for addressing this through her Ixhiba educative programmes.
Another discussant, Mr Samson Gombingo, said greed was behind the increase in child marriages.
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"Out of greed some parents are marrying off young children, destroying their future. We humbly ask our traditional chiefs to help us on this matter in communities as the custodians of the culture because children are our future yet we are spoiling things for them. Thank you Amai for finding time to engage us as men. We are grateful," he said.
Mr Tebogo Moyo said couples must remove restrictions when it comes to cellphones, which had become the root cause of challenges in marriages.
"We say both men and women should not have secrets especially when it comes to mobile phones. Why put pin codes? What will we be hiding? The moment a wife asks for the phone some men will even act as if they will swallow the gadget just to avoid his wife touching it. Phones are the major contributors to domestic violence," he said.
Chief Sitaudze, Mr David Mbedzi from Beitbridge, paid tribute to Dr Mnangagwa for her educative and non-selective programmes which are leaving no one and no place behind.
The National Aids Council expressed concern that Matabeleland South Province had the highest HIV prevalence rate in the country.
Mr Raymond Yekeye from NAC told the First Lady and the gathering that things did not look good for the province.
"We want to bring it to your attention Amai that the province has the highest HIV prevalence rate at 17, 6 percent against the national average of 11,6 percent. The province has a total of 93 980 people who are living with HIV. We also note that issues to do with sex work, gender-based violence and spousal separation are some of the major drivers of the HIV response in the province."
"According to our surveys that we have conducted on a regular basis 23 percent of women in Matabeleland South experience some form of physical and sexual violence from their male partners hence there is need to deal with this menace in our society as soon as possible. Evidence also indicates that fewer men than women are utilizing available HIV and health services. Thank you Amai for coming to Mat South to discuss with men because your initiative as the ambassador of health seeks to optimise utilisation of services by men and hence the entire family," he said.
The Matabeleland South Police Victim Friendly Unit corroborated the same fact with worrying statistics that the youngest rape victim they had recorded was three years old while the oldest was 93 years old.
According to Inspector Ngwenya, sexual and gender based violence were global issues of pandemic proportions which had an impact on all societies.
"Sexual and gender based violence affects the victim. ZRP is joining hands with stakeholders to end this menace. Sexual offences increased by 33 percent compared to the period between January and March the previous year. Sexual offences include rape, indecent assault, aggravated assault and many other different things. Domestic violence also increased by 2 percent compared to the previous year. Juvenile rape increased by 2 percent and rape for those above 18 years of age remained constant. The victims are children below the age of 16. The raped constitute 68 percent and below 5 years 7 percent and adults contributed 25 percent. The youngest perpetrator is aged 15 years and the oldest perpetrator is aged 75 years old," she said.
Mrs Failess Matemba from the First Lady's office said the 575 national gender based violence call centre, launched by the First Lady was paying off for the nation.
"The First Lady, concerned with the ever rising cases in gender based violence in Zimbabwe, launched the national gender based violence toll free line 575, which is operated directly from her office. The main thrust of this initiative is to eradicate any forms of violence relating to gender and foster peace in the domestic set up.
"Since the inception of the national gender based violence toll free line, statistics gathered show that women are mostly victims with men mostly being perpetrators," she said.
Chief Gwebu thanked the First Lady for her educative and informative visits.
"We are thankful as the people of Matabeleland South for your visits always. As traditional leaders we highly respect you for all your visits to the province. You show so much interest in the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe. You have created relationships between men and women, you are mending broken families. We love you greatly," Chief Gwebu said.
In a speech read on his behalf by provincial secretary Mrs Latiso Dhlamini, the Minister of State for Matabeleland South Provincial Affairs and Devolution Abednico Ncube said the province was grateful that Dr Mnangagwa included the province in her national programme to interact with men and interrogate various health issues that affect men.
"It is very difficult to find men gathered together for such a crucial activity like we are having today. The bible states that a man is the head of the family. Men should continue to play a critical role in the well-being of a family and indeed a country," he said.
The Minister said he was concerned with the decay of the social fabric as evidenced by the incidences of alcohol and substances abuse, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections including HIV and cancers.
Pastor Thabani Masange said cases of gender-based violence were of great concern in society and there was need to treat this as a matter of urgency before more deaths, divorces, mental casualties and many other devastating effects rose to alarming records.
"A wake up call is that the church has to support gender mainstreaming programmes. Women empowerment is very vital to reduce women dependence on men. It is this dependence that causes much vulnerability to physical and sexual abuse. We want to thank the First Lady for introducing various income generating projects for women countrywide," he said.
Chiefs and all the people present received food hampers and toiletries from the First Lady.