My mother, the overcomer

Khanyi Gumpo pays tribute to a super heroin from whom she derives inspiration…

girl firewood

Have you ever found yourself unemployed, broke and at the verge of homelessness in a harsh foreign country, with no kith and kin to whom you can say, “Gogogoi ndauyawo pano?
That is where I found myself in the winter of 2012, after a friend who had taken me in when I lost my job eventually threw me out. I had a few relatives I could call on, but living in a foreign country is equally tough for everybody; I didn’t want to be that extra mouth to feed.


I read the phone message over and over again straining to read with eyes that were swollen from several hours of crying.
“I want you gone by tomorrow I can no longer afford to take care of you”.
She had had enough. But I, too, was fed up of the humiliation of having no means to get by and being at the mercy of someone’s expenses. I was tired of looking for a job with no success, of living in uncertainty. I thought I had reached my human limit until I heard my mother’s words echo in my head; “You children have no idea how privileged you are, ini ndakakura munhamo inobvira moto asi zvakandipa shungu, chionai nhasi ndirimumwe munhu.”

Quitting is no option

Those words gave me the resolve to soldier on, and I refused to compromise my values in the process, even when forces around me were pulling me in all directions to. My mother pleaded with me to come back home. She begged, negotiated and even threatened to disown me. “Hauna kupisa musha mwanangu. Dzoka.” (You still have a home. Come back, my child).
I remained adamant, I carried her DNA, and there was no trace of the XX “quitter” chromosome in my genes. The stories of her perseverance were the blocks that formed my perspective on life.

The stubborn village girl

She is one black woman who dared to believe at a time when circumstances did not permit a black woman to soar. My mom was born and raised in pre-independent Zimbabwe, where the white supremacist government of the time made education policies that advantaged one race over the other. The education system for Africans was inferior, characterised by a strategic “bottle neck” system that restricted the number of Africans progressing to a higher level at any given time.
To be a woman in that era meant little to no chance of acquiring a basic education because the black female’s role was exclusively reserved for childbearing and other things that did not need a formal education. Marriage was the only tag a woman carried, and to aspire to be anything else was unacceptable. During that time, it was regarded a financial waste to send a girl child to school because, after all, she would be married off. Education in most families was reserved for male children. My mom was defiant. She told me that early marriage was never an option for her (most girls were married off by 16). Mom rejected all marriage proposals that came to her through relatives, who often mocked her determination to stay in school and could not understand why her father supported her. To amplify it all was the fact that her family lived in abject poverty and such extreme deprivation only made her circumstances dire.

A child in woman’s shoes

As if that was not enough, her mother fell ill and was absent from the family home for many years. Mom, being the eldest child, had to take full responsibility of rearing her younger siblings. At 13 years of age, she single-handedly took care of her siblings, including a baby, and still went to school. Money was a commodity that was simply not available, so she had to scrounge for school fees by working menial jobs in peoples’ fields, or brewing traditional beer for sale. Her determination paid off when she was awarded an educational bursary for her outstanding performance in school.

Success, at last!

In the end, mom made it. She became a school teacher, and was able to finance four of her younger siblings’ education. She later became the first woman in our district to hold the position of school head at a time when it was commonly held by bespectacled safari-suit clad males. She was the first female to hold the position of District Education officer, and she is still achieving praiseworthy feats. Her circumstances robbed her of a normal childhood; her culture dictated that she was female so she couldn’t get an education, the government of the day pre-set her to fail because of the colour of her skin. Her background deprived her because her family was poor. Yet in the midst of all that deprivation, she defined for herself who she was and made it out of poverty. Had she lived her life according to what was spelt out for her then she would have simply become another “female black fail”.

My mother’s daughter

Like her, I chose to fight and today I overcame adversity. No matter where you find yourself in life, there is no limit except that which you place yourself. I made it, I am gainfully employed and doing great strides in a foreign country that once threatened the end of me.

Khanyi Gumpo likes to write, especially on issues that pertain to black female experiences. A natural hair advocate, who enjoys mixing up homemade hair care recipes to try out. She is a big lover of the great outdoors, a passion she has from growing up in an adventure filled resort town of Kariba, Zimbabwe.
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