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10 Mimosa Flats: Zimbabwean women send-off Ambassador Rudo Chitiga in style

Congratulations Rudo!
You have made us really proud!
We are proud to claim you as one of our own!
Please go and represent us well in France!
We will miss you!
We will remember the fruitful times you spent with us!
So Rudo, you are going to the Vatican?
So you will meet and brief the Pope?
Zimbabwean woman, to the Vatican!

The venue was number 10 Mimosa Flats, Blakestone, Harare. I sent my daughter an APP, asking her to describe 10 Mimosa Flats, and she sent back the following phrases. “Women’s safe space’, ‘women’s hide-out’, ‘women’s wellness centre’, ‘women’s organising centre’, ‘women’s empowerment centre’. Call it what you want, but this place has really saved and served Zimbabwean women from all strata of life.

Today I imagined number 10 Mimosa developing a mouth, and telling the whole world, “I am an office for Hope Africa, and my boss is Hope Chigudu. I have four brushed pink walls and my entrance door tells a very strange story in pictorial representations. They are pictures of a rare but possible world, a world many women dream of everyday. It is a world where women occupy powerful spaces in governance institutions, and where they make informed decisions about the well-being of everyone else in this country. My boss Hope Chigudu is a Zimbabwean-Ugandan feminist goddess, muroora, community builder, hope restorer, peace-builder, unifier, conflict manager and transformer. She gives more than she takes back, always. She has resurrected many lives from the dead. I welcome all, women and men alike, as long as they have a progressive and clear development agenda. I welcome the young, middle aged and old. I love them all – rich, poor, middle class, down –trodden, powerful, fearful, sinners, transgressors – as long as they have a heart, mind and soul inside them. ”

The event was a farewell party for Rudo Chitiga (A.K.A. Sissy Rudo). Did you say ‘what farewell?’ So you have not heard what I heard in the grapevine of the sunshine city? Yes, she has recently received multi-country accreditation to represent the Republic of Zimbabwe in France, Portugal and Spain, and yes she is a woman, a Zimbabwean woman. She grew up here in Zimbabwe, began her career at the Ministry of Community Development and Women’s Affairs in Zimbabwe, and has held senior leadership positions in government, intergovernmental and civil society organisations at national, regional and international levels. She has strong commitment towards empowering people at grassroots level as well as ensuring their participation in development processes. She contributed a lot to community development during her tenure as Secretary-General of IRED (Development Innovations and Networks), in Geneva. IRED is an international network of grassroots organisations working in the fields of economic empowerment, local governance and policy alternatives, and true, she held the post of Deputy Director at the Commonwealth Foundation in London, where she was very much involved in the Foundation’s Citizens and Governance programme. This was before she came back home to do lots of work with the Government of National Unity and the Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration.

The women here present, proud sisters of the Ambassador poured accolade after accolade on Rudo. The event signified both how hard it was for them to part with her, the love they have for her, as well as their willingness and happiness that a woman has been recognised for high level representation. One by one the women testified their joy.

Pat Made (A.K.A. Ms Pat - muroora) is a leading gender and media consultant in Zimbabwe. As former director general of Inter Press Service and former editor of the Southern African Economist magazine she played a key role in introducing a gender policy and transforming the editorial content of the sixth largest news agency in the world to a balanced gender perspective. “I was proud when I heard the news about Rudo’s appointment. It was as if we had all become ambassadors. We share this blessing with Rudo. I have always seen Rudo as someone to look up in many ways. She has been strong through many processes, and I remember when she was at the Commonwealth how she always remembered us. I know kindness will go with her everywhere.” Ms Pat brought a healthy cauliflower salad for the women to share. It had no artificial additives, just cauliflower, Greek yoghurt and other natural ingredients. How she transformed it to taste like a mayonnaise potato salad remains the secret of a black woman’s culinary prowess.

Joyline is a Wellness Specialist, teaching breathing courses at the Art of Living Centre in Harare. “For me it is such an honour to be among all these powerful women. I met Rudo through Hope, during the breathing courses that we do together locally, and also at the advanced breathing course that we did in Bulawayo. I sat next to Rudo in Bulawayo, but had no idea she was this powerful, and that I was sitting next to the succeeding ambassador. There was something about her though, I always felt a big presence and personality. When I look at all the people around her now I can tell she has a big heart. I feel lucky that out of nowhere, and all because of Hope, I am also here today with you. I feel honoured to be in the presence of someone appointed to go to Paris.

Isabella (Bella) Matambanadzo is a Zimbabwean feminist raised with a deep awareness of her country’s struggles for liberation and self-determination, which has influenced her life’s path. She studied Journalism, Literature and Theatre Studies at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. Bella, ‘the African fashion queen’ enjoys reading, writing, painting, gardening and making jewellery.

Yaa, it’s amazing to be in women’s private spaces, you should have seen Bella's fashion on your own! the fashion queen was bubbly as usual, and the fashion hints came fast and foremost, “Sissy Rudo, the only thing that will set you apart in France is your African style. Do you remember the attire you wore at the Women’s Peace Conference at Wild Geese? That one really spoke about you, it said, ‘I am a professional, I know what I am doing and I represent Africa.’ Then you will need a few pieces of African beads and earrings to complete the style.”

The space was for sharing old memories, fashion hints for African women, and for imagining a better future wrought from women’s efforts and contributions. Names of Muthoni Wanyeki, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Patricia Bekele were mentioned in relation to fashion and power. Bella was overwhelmed, and came short of shedding a tear of joy as she explained how she met Rudo. This was after she performed the ritual, popping Champagne in the air, summoning the goddesses and spirits around the Universe to grace this occasion. And Bella went on and on, “I feel very happy to be sending Rudo off today. I have learnt a lot from her. As a student journalist I had good occasion to interview her one day when she was with IRED, and she treated me like a knowledge maker rather than a simple learner. I remember how she would sit up until very late in her office waiting for me to come back from school and accommodate me after work. She grew me in many ways, and my brain grew every time I read the papers she wrote. I have learnt from her that if we do not do something about Africa it will sink and drown. We have a part to play as African women. Rudo is the right person to go and represent us. She will connect us with other Zimbabwean sisters and other African sisters and continue the feminist work within the elasticity that her job will allow her. At Commonwealth Foundation she did not hide her anger as an African woman, and neither did she lose it. In same manner she will channel it towards a better African for us all. Well done Sissy Rudo.”

Farai (Fari) Samhungu has worked in development communications and media for over 20 years. The trajectory of her career has involved developing successful communications strategies, communications programmes and projects; as well as mobilising resources for their effective implementation. Fari has worked for many organisations, including IPS and UNFPA to mention a few. In Fari’s own words Rudo is not someone you would talk to every day because she was always occupied with development work. “ I have known her for many years since her days with IRED, and through personal friendship when we used to hang out till she went to Geneva. Every year we would connect and talk about how we were doing and what spaces we were in. At Commonwealth she was instrumental in getting us funding for training as Zimbabwean journalists, and she took us to Australia where we had a fantastic time of learning and sharing. We have always felt proud of you and we know that everywhere you go you leave a legacy of how a true Zimbabwean connects her country to positive processes. I am proud to have a woman like you in that space where you are going. Congratulations Rudo, a woman going to the Vatican? This is great, well done.”

Glenda is in her late 20’s and youngest in the space. Glenda joined number 10 Mimosa less than a year ago, but she has become outstanding in the manner she handles and endears women who bring their different problems and joys to this place of refuge. Glenda has a wedding dress lodged in one of the cupboard at Number 10 Mimosa. The wedding dress was bought by Hope Chigudu at the local clothes market in Harare, and will be kept here ‘until Glenda finds the right man to marry and wed with.’ The wedding has already been planned by a group of women who frequent Number 10 Mimosa, and Ambassador Rudo was one of them. Glenda’s wedding dress is a symbol of hope, and evidence of women’s visions to transform monotonous order. Why should a man be found first before the dress all the time? Why can’t people find a wedding dress, plan the wedding and find the right man later? And if the man is never to be found why can’t people keep their wedding dress and keep taking it out to re-plan the wedding for as long as they live? Young women should be groomed to focus on important achievements first, and leave the right man to come when time is ripe, not vice versa. Glenda’s wedding dress is evidence of women finding safe spaces for creating fun, envisioning possibilities and even planning for them collectively. Well done Glenda!

As for yours truly, I was greatly honoured, privileged to be in this space of powerful women. How I found myself here is known only to the Universe and its unending mercies. I met Sissy Rudo through Hope Chigudu. I remember that day vividly, there was a performance show for young feminists at Delta Gallery, but I was not intending to go - for my own reasons. Then I received this call from Hope Chigudu, summoning me over. “Dudzi, you simply have to come because I want you to meet Rudo.” When I got there I saw Sissy Rudo, and since that time I have grown under her shadow like the rest of the women in this space. Reader, I have the faith of the biblical Hannah that unblocked her cervical tubes, and yes, I do believe that once I sit near an Ambassador, I will one day be accredited to be one.

Then came in Joy Kambarami, rushing straight from a late ending Sunday Service, and in full uniform. Joy was in such a hurry, as if she carried a message for the Pope, to whisper into Rudo’s ear in good time before her departure. “Carry our message to the Pope Sissy Rudo!” I remembered 1980, at Independence – strange how time flies – when Prince Charles visited Zimbabwe at Independence and Comrade Chinx Chingaira composed a song for him to carry our message to the queen that Zimbabwe was finally independent. Now it’s a woman to carry our message to the Pope!
So this was the complete table of 8 women, but there was a ninth man around, and his name is Eddie.

Eddie is one of the Wellness Expert, and teaches breathing and Taekwondo for wellness, safety and security. He works in collaboration with Ibrahim, a Yoga expert. “I knew Rudo through Hope, and I have been providing lessons for her and many other women in this space. I work with Ibrahim, who is a Yoga teacher. My first impression of Rudo when I first met her was that she was such a giant, and strong woman too, and her strength was to be manifested when we went for breathing camps. She was always strong through all the exercises and I learnt that once she sets out to do something she does not turn back. Rudo has been an inspiration. My message to her is to always remember that she has a heart inside her body and that heart will always require to breathe. She must continue to do the exercises.

In response Rudo had this to say to Eddie, “I will always take heed of what you said Eddie, and will continue to breathe. Thank you for teaching us to take care of our bodies, and for being patient with us when we were late for exercises. You also played a big role Eddie, you brought us news from as far as Highfield, and kept us updated about the world and made us face reality.\"

When Sissy Rudo finally opened her mouth to speak, after everyone else, it was like listening to a new person altogether. I have sat close to Sissy Rudo in many spaces, and I thought I knew her enough until this moment. “I feel excited, daunted and humbled. It is a real honour. You are not asked every day to represent the President, and you are not even qualified but just honoured to be asked. I thank you for being my friends when I was nothing, and for continuing to be my friends today when I am elevated. Please continue to be who you are, and to uphold your ‘Africaness’, harnessing all values for a better world. I take heed of all you have said, and I will sell my country in a more positive manner and will need your support and couching so that I am not always shouting and pointing fingers. If you think there are areas I can make a difference please don’t stop telling me. My prayer is for you and other never to abandon me. I am happy I have been honoured, and that it happened in my lifetime. It is an honour I have always yearned for, but for as long as I am still here in Zimbabwe with you, I remain Rudo Chitiga. I will only become the Ambassador when I get to my place of appointment.”

But Sissy Rudo has already had her share of backlash. “ I met someone, and expected a congratulatory message but all I got was, “Oh! I did not know you were ZANU PF. I can only laugh at these levels of naivety. There are still too many closed systems and silos, and people chose never to look beyond the lines that separate them in order to build Zimbabwe, and Africa.”

Zimbabwean women, change is expensive but necessary. Until when shall we remain separated by lines defined for us by others as women? Shall we ever be able to cross those lines and unite for womanhood, and for impacting change in our country?

Go well Sissy Rudo, carry our message to the Pope. Tell him diplomatically to revisit and revise the Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Tell him our Zimbabwean Constitution recognizes women’s right for equal participation in all processes, and so we stand ready for our right to be ordained for priesthood.

Hamba kahle, Bon voyage, Fambai zvakanaka sissy Rudo!

  • Gender-based Violence
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