Calling into question the Chivanhu of public spaces

Society & Culture | By Barbra Anderson, Poet | 28 December 2016

After experiencing violence in many public spaces on many occasions, I have begun to examine how safe the spaces people occupy in public really are and how to mediate by encouraging a basic respect for human life which I like to call ´Chivanhu´. ‘Chivanhu’ is a term commonly used in Zimbabwe to mean the behaviour of a society and the values that governs behaviour, promotes respect and peace.

I began to look at the concept of ´Chivanhu´ when I was younger and dealing with the changes of becoming a woman, my journey of defining and upholding this concept has brought with it a lot of enlightenment and a lot of pitfalls. Regardless of what consequence I put a lot of value in the experiences I have collected and I have come to base my ethos around self love, love for another with respect, a sense of independence and too an exhibition of pride and strength in the face of adversity. ´Chivanhu´ symbolises for me a certain kind of peace and sets guidelines for how I can look to the future to progress and I feel that it can be a tool to combat the violence and discrimination people are faced with everyday.

My experience of public violence has been different over the years, some incidents to the point of physical confrontation and others based on shaming. One of the two experiences I want to talk about happened on a main street in Harare known as Jason Moyo, when a ‘street  kid’1 surprised me by snatching my sun glasses from the top of my head. My second experience was at a shopping centre in Munich, where a middle aged white man walked over to me and my Zimbabwean female friend and spit right in front of us. In both these situations I can not clearly tell what I truly represented in the mind of my attackers but I am sure that they targeted me because I was different from them. In the first instance maybe because I was woman and seemed vulnerable and in the other probably because I was and a migrant.

What disappointed me the most about these two situations was not only my aggressive attackers but that I received no support or acknowledgement from the people who witnessed what had happened to me.

My situations are but a few of public gendered and racial violence that is felt by a number of people and often perpetuated through insults and physical confrontations. I feel that the hate and anger I see exhibited is a sign of a certain kind of hierarchical socialisation that is apparent in most societies through gender and class structures that are stagnantly promoted by religion, educational institutions and political structures. In a world that is weighed down by events like the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Rwanda genocide, the Vietnam, Iraq, Libyan and Syrian wars and now most recently President Trump, it is no wonder people are confronted with violence everyday and inequality is rampant in both the social and political structures.

Despite the wars and inequalities in the world there is a shift, noticeable today, as conservative public spaces all around are becoming centres of varying belief structure and cultures which could in the long run prove to be powerful enough to move past prejudices and discrimination. The `diverse society` that I write about might seem like a holistic view but I think it is possible through nurturing and implementing the `Chivanhu` of the world. I am certain that the first step to achieving this is by caring and fighting for others who face violence because of their sexuality, gender and race. Violence no-matter what reason is wrong, public spaces should be reserved for human interaction and social development. As a young, African woman I can do my part by talking about my experiences with others and giving room for the understanding of the power of communal values and universal love.

1 a child who lives on the street