Growing up, the only black white collar professionals were teachers and nurses. What I also remember from my childhood is that my grandmother was one of few rural women who had running water in her rural home. The nurses of the village had no such luxury.
The struggle for independence
The liberation war sent several young ambitious blacks into exile. Many of them returned post independence, having acquired degrees, first world exposure and children who spoke in strange accents. My grandmother had three children who fled the war and returned with an education that the white settler government would have denied them in Rhodesia. Arriving home, they found their aging mother still carrying a bucket to the communal tap at the mission that was set up by white evangelists. They immediately got grandmother a kitchen sink with taps.
Coming from countries where even the remotest farms had indoor plumbing, her children were horrified. But other rural women were making five kilometre walks to the communal boreholes and rivers to fetch water. Nurses, the most respected black professionals then, only saw tap water at the mission hospital. When they hung up their white dresses and went home for the weekend, nurses also had to balance buckets and firewood on their heads where they normally wore white caps.
Ashamed of my privilege
As I child, I wore it as a badge of honour; my grandmother has tap water in the village. But as an adult who questions norms, I find it shameful. Imagine being a rich man feasting on pizza and prawns amidst poverty and squalor. My grandmother was one in a million, a rural African woman who had water gushing from an indoor tap. Fast forward three-four decades later, Zimbabwe’s rural women are still carrying buckets, still gathering firewood in the bushes, even though there are alternatives; solar power, hydro electric power and gas.
It’s not just nurses who matter
The week, the photograph of a nurse carrying firewood went viral. People are appalled, because nurses deserve better, especially at a time when health workers are on the frontline of the war against coronavirus. But think about it, why are we so horrified? Many other African women carry firewood, water and cow dung daily. Is this now so heartbreaking just because it affects nurses? Do other women of Africa deserve to suffer while nurses, lawyers and doctors live in comfort? Don’t get me wrong, I too was moved by the image of the nurse. But it did not only serve to remind me of the plight of nurses who toil for US$40 a month but the entire population of Africa’s women. To put things into perspective, African women are no better off from their ancestors who suffered beneath the heel of white leaders. Our grandmothers carried firewood and our daughters are still carrying firewood.
The hardworking and resilient women of our continent deserve better.
My pen is capped.