Men Who Sing While Women Take Charge

I try to keep reminding myself that Robert Mugabe was once a towering figure in the epic anti-colonial wars on the African continent.  These days, it’s so easy to dismiss him as a very senior citizen who really ought to withdraw from public life.  Mark you I’m not saying Mugabe is senile.  But we shouldn’t ‘nyam up’ ourselves so much over his provocative generalisations about gender politics in Jamaica.  After all, Mugabe today is not his finest self.

In the 1920s when Robert Mugabe was growing up in what was then Southern Rhodesia, he was destined to become an obedient Catholic.  His parents raised him in the faith and he attended Kutama College, an all-boys high school run by Jesuit priests.  But Mugabe did not take refuge in religion. He became a man of the world.

Kwame Nkrumah

After graduating in 1951 with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, he became a lecturer at a Teacher Training College in Zambia. Mugabe then went to teach in Ghana where the pPortian-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah was prime minister.

Fired up by the radicalism of the times, Mugabe returned to Southern Rhodesia in 1960 and became a member of the National Democratic Party (NDP).  Led by Joshua Nkomo, the NDP was later rebranded as the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU).

Mugabe and Nkomo

In 1963 a rival liberation movement emerged: the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU).  Mugabe joined ZANU and was arrested in 1964 and detained indefinitely when both parties were banned by Prime Minister Ian Smith’s white racist regime.  While in prison, Mugabe took several correspondence courses, earning more degrees from London University. In 1974, shortly before he was released, he was elected as leader of ZANU.  By 1980, Mugabe was prime minister of the new nation Zimbabwe.

Mugabe sings a different tune

As is now well known, Bob Marley was invited to chant down Babylon at the independence celebrations.  His song Zimbabwe had inspired freedom fighters. I suppose Mugabe had no problems then with men who sing for a living.

Natty Dread it inna Zimbabwe

Set it up in Zimbabwe

Mash it up-a inna Zimbabwe

Africans a liberate (Zimbabwe), yeah.

No more internal power struggle;

We come together to overcome the little trouble.

Soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionary,

‘Cause I don’t want my people to be contrary.

Three decades later, contrary Mugabe is singing a quite different tune.  His irrational attack on Jamaican men who supposedly sing, smoke and drink themselves into unconsciousness seems completely childish.  And the charge can be easily dismissed.  It’s simply not true.  The vast majority of Jamaican men are not dysfunctional.

Yes, Bob Marley did sing and he smoked a considerable amount of ganja in his time, but the holy herb does not appear to have harmed him.  In fact, many artists claim that herb heightens their awareness and creativity, making them ‘sight’ wisdom that they might not ordinarily ‘vision’.  True, some people’s head cannot manage ganja and they go off the deep end.   In exactly the same way, some people’s head cannot manage alcohol – a legal drug – and they also lose their way.

Cooking books

Quite frankly, what is even more troubling is Mugabe’s attack on Jamaican women.  It’s the same old sankey.  High-achieving women are to be blamed for the failures of men.  We constantly conspire to make young women feel that their success is at the price of their male peers.  We do not focus on the many ways in which our school system consistently fails to address the learning styles of boys.

Tsitsi Dangarembga

Robert Mugabe is the product of a fiercely patriarchal culture in which women still struggle to be educated.  One of the novels I’m teaching this semester is set in Zimbabwe.  It’s Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga.  Incidentally, I didn’t have to resort to sexy advertising to sell the African/Diaspora Women Writers course this year. It filled from the get go:  residual benefits of my marketing strategy.

Tambu, the central character in Nervous Conditions, is discouraged from going to school by her father.  He asks her a most vexing question:  “‘Can you cook books and feed them to your husband?  Stay at home with your mother.  Learn to cook and clean.  Grow vegetables.’”  With the reluctant support of her mother, Tambu plants maize in order to earn her school fees.

She describes her mother’s ambivalence in this way:  “I think my mother admired my tenacity, and also felt sorry for me because of it.  She began to prepare me for disappointment long before I would have been forced to face up to it.  To prepare me she began to discourage me. “‘And do you think you are so different, so much better than the rest of us?  Accept your lot and enjoy what you can of it’”.

Portia Simpson Miller

When Robert Mugabe looks at Jamaica what he sees is a woman who has taken charge as prime minister.  Portia Simpson Miller is a tenacious woman, like Tambu, who refused to accept her lot in life as a poor black girl destined for domestic service.  Cooking is a vital job, not to be dissed.  But men can cook just as well as women if they put their mind to it.  Just think of all those male chefs who have made a very good living from cooking up a storm.  Their meals are a great pleasure – just like a fine song.  Put that in your pipe, Mr. Mugabe, and smoke it!

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3 thoughts on “Men Who Sing While Women Take Charge

  1. It is really frightening the manner in which Mr.Robert Mugabe imposed an utter wrong description on us men in Jamaica in an hasty generalization. I personally don’t smoke of drink for nearly in my teen age. Not all Jamaican men sit up on walls like Humpy Dumpy and have celebratory marijuana smoking. But to be honest there is a vast percentage of us who are deeply guity of what he has said. The vast majorty are not guity. It might be true that rum bar and churches are whidespread in our society the two extremes of good and evil.
    Still, Mr. Mugabe need to check himself and respect the precursers who have done invaluable input in his stuggles against Ian’s Smith regime. Are vyou going to bite the hand that emancipate you from the indignity of the ignoble regime of Ian Smith? We should take back our Order of Jamaica from this disgusting despot.
    It might be true that it is painfully true that our men are not so much attuned to educate themselves and universities are filled with females. But certainly not with even a terse amount of male chauvinism I will categorically denounce him by saying it was the Jamaican males who played the most telling part in the struggles against the merciless regime of Ian Smith. The men and their music played a significant and indelible role in their timely departure from the previous tyranny.

  2. Mugabe not all jamacan smoke and drink. I know you maybe talking in general, i say be more specific. I’m guessing that is what you here in to music in jamaica why you think that men here are distructive of alcohol and marijauna. Respect to you because we all AFRICAN, and we hoping to repatriate back to our mother land.

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