Driven to expand awareness about the rights enshrined in Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution, a group of poets has compiled a book in Shona to deepen citizens’ knowledge of those rights and to raise consciousness on other issues as well. The need is clear. A study shows that while 70 percent of respondents said they were aware of the new constitution, only 28 percent had been educated on its values and contents.
HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Sharon Hofisi, a human rights lawyer and lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, says all Zimbabwean citizens, from schoolchildren to grandmothers, should understand the rights enshrined in the nation’s 2013 constitution.
So he and other poets started writing.
The poems in their compilation, “Hodzeko Yenduri,” Shona for “Milk Pot of Poetry,” are designed to broadcast facts about the young constitution and speak to other modern social and cultural changes in Zimbabwe.
Hofisi’s poem “Ngairove Hana,” Shona for “Your Heart Should Beat,” concerns Section 81, the rights of children in Zimbabwe, and is both a reminder and a celebration that children have a right to housing, an education and protection from harm.
“I found it worthwhile to include key aspects such as the preamble, national objectives and the bill of rights that are in the constitution, so that members of the public are aware of these,” Hofisi says.
Here are the first few stanzas from
Chindima Changu Sedungamunhu
By Sharon Hofisi
Ndaisiona mbuya mukaradhi vachinditarira chindima,
I used to wonder why my beautiful grandma would make me till our family land,
Ndaisakura kusvika ndazunza tsangadzi yaivhunga zvirimwa.
I would weed out the running grass that caused stunted growth for our crops.
Nhasi pachindima chemakumi masere chiri mubumbiro
I understand why Section 80 of the constitution was included.
Chindima chiripo ndechaamai,
It’s a section about women’s rights,
Chinovapa mukana wakaenzana newemunhu wese.
The section gives women rights that are equal to all human beings.
Hofisi adds that his decision to write in one of Zimbabwe’s local languages is intended to empower as many Zimbabweans as possible.
“I saw the need to write the poems in Shona to enable even a grandmother in the rural areas to understand the rights as provided for by the constitution,” he says.
Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution replaces the Lancaster House constitution of 1979, a cease-fire document whose values and ethos were meant to safeguard minority interests during the transition to a majority government.
The 2013 constitution voices the nation’s commitment to individual rights, and it limits future presidents to two five-year terms. Chapter 4 outlines the nation’s commitment to health care, shelter, education, equality and nondiscrimination, identifying these as justiciable rights capable of being upheld in court.
Chapter 1, Section 7, mandates that the government promote public awareness of the constitution by disseminating it as widely as possible, and including it as a part of school curricula.
Fortune Gwaze, a researcher with the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan policy research group, welcomed the book and says a serious deficit exists in terms of what the constitution aspires to and what is happening on the ground.
He says the government hasn’t done much in terms of educating people on the constitution, and therefore many are not aware of the rights the constitution guarantees.
A recent study supports his view that more needs to be done. According to a 2015 survey by the International Republican Institute on local governance and constitutionalism in Zimbabwe, 70 percent of the 1,215 respondents said they were aware of the new constitution, but only 28 percent had been educated on its values and contents. The study found that only 15 percent knew where to go to learn about the new constitution.
Anna Mercy Chemwanyisa, a Shona high school teacher who helped review the volume for the poets before it was published, says poetry is a lively way to spread the word about constitutional rights — especially to schoolchildren.
Chemwanyisa says one of the poems, “Zvekodzero Inhoroondo,” Shona for “Human Rights Are Historic,” offers important information on the making of the constitution from 1979 up to 2013. Other poems, she says, “highlight women’s rights and offer in-depth understanding of rights to people from all walks of life.”
Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ Zimbabwe
Francis Matambirofa, a lecturer at Zimbabwe University who contributed to the book, says the collection encompasses other topical issues in the country as well.
Matambirofa says his poem, “Mwana Mwana,” Shona for “A Child Is a Child,” was written specifically for boys. He says he felt boys were being neglected because much of the advocacy in Zimbabwe seems to be focusing on empowering girls.
“I do not begrudge the girl child, but what I wanted to express is that in trying to correct a wrong, if not careful, you can overdo things to the point of diminishing your intention,” Matambirofa says. “I felt there was a lot of emphasis on the girl child, to a point where the boy child seemed as if he was no longer there.”
Gwaze says the poems enable readers to interact with the constitution. “The use of art as a medium to raise awareness is very innovative, and it must be commended,” he says.
Gwaze says institutions like the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, which is charged with protecting and raising awareness of the constitution and human rights, are underfunded and fail to carry out their mandate.
Hofisi and the other poets would like to read the poems in schools in Harare. In the meantime, he says, the book was approved by the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council in May as part of the new curriculum for advanced-level students who take Shona literature classes.
Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ Zimbabwe
Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.