Dudu Manhenga - leaving footprints.
I haven't had feedback from my midwife yet - was rushing to do the interview and get something down before the deadline. Not that satisfied yet - would appreciate comments. with thanks
It’s a Monday morning. Dudu Manhenga is just back from a month’s homecoming tour in her birth city of Bulawayo, from hosting a Saturday night show in Harare with other women artists and poets to mark the last day of the 16 days of activism against gender violence and a full Sunday back at her home congregation where she and her husband are both on the board of deacons. The family is moving house, the new place just fell through, and she is on her way to pick up her 4 kids from where they have spent the night with friends.
“This is the kind of day where if I was a drinker I’d have a beer. Give me one of those” she jokes, pointing to the left over Saturday night cocktail special, a screwdriver, chalked on the blackboard of the café where we are meeting.
She is perfectly turned out as always – dressed in cool green, wearing her trademark turban, high heels and powerhouse smile.
Dudu is an artist: a singer, a diva. She is also an advocate and a lobbyist – for women and for the arts. A wife and mother. An inspiration and a role model to young women. She embodies the fulfillment of potential, the art of possibility.
She describes herself as a creative entrepreneur who has gone beyond being a performing artist “I am passion, I am strength, I am love. I am a person who sees a situation that is wrong – who will not only talk about it, but I will make a change”.
She has done that in her own life, taken charge early on. Her father was a violent guy and she had to take ‘big people’ decisions as a little girl. By the time she was 10 she was determined that she would not let herself get into her mother’s situation, that she wouldn’t get married until she had her own stuff in her own right and that the day a man beat her was the day she would leave. “ When I turned 16 and got my i.d.” says Dudu, “I said to my Mum - I am taking the kids (my other siblings) so she didn’t need to stay with him any longer because of us.” That’s when her mother finally filed for divorce.
She and her mother had a different kind of relationship. Even now they greet each other not in a traditional way, “Hey my mother, my father” calls Dudu,
“Hey my sister, my daughter” answers her mother.
The essence of Dudu is absorbing the best of all worlds and making it her own. “If you don’t decide, someone else will” she says. “ Sure in this country there are external forces – the powers that be have the authority, and ultimately God is in control – but I can work with what I have in my hands. Fine the country is like this – so take charge – what are you going to do about it?”
Women’s issues resound with her spirit as does the empowerment and encouragement of the girl child. “That’s the battle of my generation – of trying to find a balance.” There is a dilemma for the independent young lady who met a guy, had a child but who wants to stay single. The girl child has been prepared to be a good wife. What if she doesn’t want that?
“During my tour in Bulawayo, I went back to the schools where I learnt – and presented a personal prize to the head girl just to encourage her and also managed to source a prize for the best student. It was good to have an opportunity to say to the kids that I grew up in a tough situation, but I can change my life.”
“I told them about the year when my Mum couldn’t buy me a uniform and I went to a tailor who turned my old uniform inside out so that the bright colour would now be on the outside. Sometimes I would walk home instead of using the transport money so I could buy a new pair of socks.” This was inspiring for the kids, the idea that yes they could use their imaginations and take charge of small changes in their lives.
She and her husband Blessing are quiet changemakers. They are deeply committed Christians, who within three weeks of meeting each other in a down town recording studio were staying up all night having long conversations about their beliefs and how they would raise their children. They did make the decision to raise their children in a Christian setting. Dudu feels that traditional culture is wonderful when things are going well but that it is not supportive when things go wrong. With Christianity when things go wrong we love you more.
“I like the idea that we are made in the ‘image of God’ – it means the potential is there for creativity. Chrisianity gives you open access.”
It wasn’t easy for them in the early part of their relationship. They were clashing with family and friends in their insistence on living a new way true to themselves. ‘But the alienation was good for us – it made us closer”
Dudu is challenging the status quo by living the future she wants to see. “I am change” she says. She produces three pink books out of her bag – a planner for 2011, a notebook which is her stock take of herself, (her achievements in different areas of her life) and a ‘think pink’ book – her reflections and musings on what it means to be a girl child. She calls it discovering pink – and the realization that as much as pink is soft and sometimes limited, you can put it with anything, so it is a lesson in appreciating the soft femininity as well as the wilder side of woman.
She points to a quotation in the planner
‘The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude.’ William James
She loves this idea. It is what she does – continually reinventing herself and her power. ‘I want a role in the arts not just as a performing artist – by the time I am in my 50s I want to be performing at special events a few times a year. Right now my glass ceiling is because of policy issues – I want to change policy’
She also wants to leave a legacy, something that will live longer than she will “I live by the motto -in life live in such a way that stories of you will be told when you are gone. I love leaving footprints” she says with a giggle.