Excerpts from Betty Makoni`s Autobiography: Never Again, Not to any woman or girl again
I had struggled to get a place at this school for girls. I clung to the school and refused to be expelled. I was expelled many times from school because of non payment of school fees but I returned to same school to advocate for my education. To many in the world working on girls education, besides paying for girls education , I want to say we must empower them to stand for their education. If you ask me what made me come out of poverty, I will simply say my inner strength to stay at the school. I had no parents to turn to for advice or encouragement. We must also unleash this activism in poor girls. Please share this story with any girl who is about to give up her education. I took it from my autobiography and one day I hope to address girls on why they should be advocates of their education.
Chapter 10 -I had the brains but no money
I left Chishawasha Mission with highest grades obtainable in the country Maths –1 and English 1. My sister Ella remained at the school as I finished grade 7. My brother Moses had drowned and died. My brother Davie started being invisible and was of no fixed aboard.
My father and his woman tried to sustain the cracked marriage but it just collapsed and that was it. He suffered a big blow, my big brother with a deep scar and almost lost his hand, my younger brother Tatenda almost beaten to lose his hearing, then Moses drowned and dead. I was just withdrawn completely from him. My sister Ella became worse and went from house to house looking for shelter. She stayed mostly in people’s tuck shops. There is a time she appeared possessed. She started fighting this woman. It became scary even to me. It was so sad. People told to my father he had to reconcile with my mother but he brushed that off as complete nonsense.
It became apparent that my father could not pay school fees. In the second term of my schooling at St Dominic’s I had been called twice to office to honor my payments.
The school head was Mr Madubeko and I totally understood he was running a business and not a charity. By summoning me to his office to demand the payment he was doing his part. He looked like a debt collector as he moved around with a list of those who did not pay school and ordered them out of class. Each time I saw his dark complexioned face by the door I shivered to death as I knew my name would be called out and felt embarrassed to stand up and ordered to stop lessons and act on the debt first. I was surviving on other girls’ parents. Many times I tried to explain that my father would owe the payment but he brushed it aside as my father always promised to pay but he never did. He told me I lied and wanted to cheat and learn for free. He gave us sermons in his office about honoring debts. He preached honesty. He wanted the money, otherwise we were supposed to foot back home. I just looked at him with tears flowing down my cheeks. I was so thin and worn out. I looked fragile and how could he not spare me. I was a rape victim and he did not know. He did not know I was on the streets vending and now I could not stay on the streets because of class. My uniform was just too long as this was done to make it grow with me.
The school had girls from the middle class families. Some girls were rich and everything and sometimes even more to throw away. Most girls could speak English with an accent. It meant they had gone to group A schools. I had come from the dumping site of Chishawasha Mission. I was one of the junk that needed cleaning up. Honestly sending me home was dumping me and this time to a poverty pit where I would be buried forever. Even if I was to go home my father stayed at the taxi ranks all week. We never saw him at all. The verdict was clear I would go home. He even announced it during Assembly that we could not pay and that we had to go home. It took away our self-esteem. How could missionaries who read about the poor in the bible expel poor girls from school and deprive them of lessons? But of course missionary work also demands money. My father and not missionaries was to blame.
I always found myself back home via Tafara and Mabvuku route. Tafara and Mabvuku are two high-density suburbs some 20 kilometres from St Dominic’s. That was the route to catch the nearest bus to the capital city, Harare and then to Chitungwiza. It was beginning of term and so everyone who saw me with this uniform knew what was wrong - Poverty stricken girls forcing themselves where they are not supposed to be. For sure I wanted to be at this school and my grade seven results were the highest in the whole country. I wanted people to know that you do not move up the ladder because you have money but also brains. I had brains and no money. To think a Roman Catholic Church would send me home where there was no one to turn to, was something I will never forgive. It is almost like seeing all these white elephant organisations with labels all over but when a child knocks on the door the likely response is a frown and a hard hit bang on the door.
On my way back I felt my world closed. I loved my new school St Dominic’s as the beatings were less. But they had sticks that were more psychological than physical. Expelling a child from school is expelling potential. It is exposing a child to uncouth, idle and hopeless people in the community. It is like saying to poor communities you are not welcome to the high table. I found a real struggle ahead of me. On one side I never blamed the school head and in any case this was his job. It was made clear upon taking places that we would pay. My father had signed and committed he would pay in full. Every time I was sent home, he always gave me a letter explaining why he could not pay. He sent me back to school with letters and not money.
The school head ended up setting up a first point of call for returning girls at school fees payment desk. That forced many to pay but being in a family of a single parent and five siblings I knew nothing could come out even if I were to do a hundred prayers per day. But why had God abandoned me? I cried inside of me. I brought God to a trial and there was no answer. I clung to my bible and read about the poor. I even read God lifted the poor from the rubbles and placed them at the high table. The Roman Catholic Church preached about the poor, the orphaned and the widowed. We always gave something at Sunday mass and it was for villagers around us and not some of us villagers from afar who were within. I told myself if only charity could begin at home.
Each time I was forced back home I had this time to face my father’s elder sister. She insisted that I wanted to cause trouble by going to that school. After all she had been married at 13 and that never killed her. She was this time with her sixth boyfriend. This was an old Mupostori with white beard as if he originated from the Arabs. I hated old men and this man kept referring to me as mainini – little wife. Nxa to his lost teeth and too much saliva coming out as he spoke. Nxa to his hypocrisy. Nxa to his polygamous life. Nxa nxa nxa to everything he was and he would be. I felt like spitting on his face. I had come home for school fees and that was all I wanted. I was missing on lessons and that was missing my life.
My aunty Ivy was such a dubious character. Sometimes it was her sex partner VaMupostori who ran a stagnant business of selling firewood stalking me to join his church. He had four other wives and worked as a night watchman. My aunt asked me to sell her firewood. She would cook and feed her children only and many times she left me out. When the hour to have food was nearing, she played all tricks to send you away. I thought that was better than someone who ate right in your face and forced you to wash their dishes.
Being sent back home to get school fees left me more vulnerable and even up to now I don’t know how I survived falling into those many traps. Girls eloped to their men when pregnant, girls ended up selling boiled eggs and beer in shebeens and many were reportedly married with parents charging a fortune as damage. There was nothing to show where a girl’s life started and ended. I isolated myself from the mess and decided to lock myself up in a room most of the times.
When my father finally came home on a Sunday he started shouting at me as if I was the one supposed to pay the school fees. As I said before my father is naturally an arrogant man. He said I was becoming a real big problem to him, as I must stick to his instruction to refuse to come out of the classroom when the school head calls out my name. Does my father imagine what I had to go through to hide my poverty? Does he know I tried to save every penny by using old newspapers and not sanitary pads? Does he know I have to tie together old rags to make underwear? Does he know how carefully I wash and preserve my uniform dress and the brown sandals so that I look like any other girl? I have done a lot to hide poverty but with payment of school fees I can’t hide much as the school head is in charge.
Always when I returned from school I found my father with a woman to introduce to me. This time he had another fat and huge woman he acquired from Zvishavane. His sisters nicknamed her Zvishavane and she looked to me like a traditional healer or maybe she was once. I have never seen this before. My mother would have laughed to death. My father could fit into her lap. He introduced her as the woman he was preparing to marry. She looked like a wrestler. She just sat in a corner and never stood up. I don’t know whether she was able to stand up on her own. The whole of her body was covered in fat. That was my father’s latest acquisition. Heavy built woman who looked like a wrestler. This one looked as if she could poison you and disappear. I greeted her politely and then disappeared.
I was lucky to get what remained in my father’s weekly envelope. He had lots of debts and he owed ten times he earned. I don’t know why he kept getting women who wanted babies when he could not look after us. The one child he did not want to disturb was Davie, my brother who was at St. Johns High School at Avondale. I never saw Davie chased from school for nonpayment of school fees. He always paid for him first.
The next day I was back to St. Dominic’s with just a tenth of the whole fees. The school head was angered by this and made me sit outside. It was terrible as this is the time I started bleeding endlessly. I resorted to use of old newspapers with my one torn underwear. The more he showed anger the more I bled. I just shivered. It was late and was allowed to go to the hostel. I felt bad that I was going to be a parasite on other girls’ parents. I was great potential. I had the brains but no money. The school head was told by one of the nuns that the bench where I sat had some blood underneath and that I should be released to the hostels. I took the opportunity and disappeared into the dark and found myself back into the hostels to clean my school uniform dress soiled with menstrual blood.