The Zimbabwean Media and negative representations of women: The case of Pokelo
It started just as a minor characteristic, it is slowly becoming everyday reality, and before we know it, it will soon become media policy in Zimbabwe that women should be stereotyped all the time. True to the findings of the study by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), when women are featured prominently in the media, they are often presented in a negative way as a result of the reinforcement of stereotypes for various reasons. Sad for Zimbabwe is the fact that whilst the world media fraternity is concerned about highlighting the badness of terrorism, violence, and is helping communicate strategies on uniting against the kidnapping of innocent girl by Boko Haram, dominant discourses in most of the Zimbabwean media, ranging from radio, to newspaper and down to WhatsApp centre on dehumanising and stereotyping women and girls. I am irked by today’s analysis of Pokello’s engagement to Elikem, in the NewZimbabwe.com, and am proud to display myself a strong supporter of this brave and young woman celebrity’s views and assertions that many people have harshly spoken against in the media. I support Pokello because she has been honest and open minded about her relationships, and also because what she says if analysed in its true context and by people who understand the richness of the Shona language is true to bits. I don’t see Pokello as a wild young woman but as a victim of a half-baked, cheuvinistic and shallow journalist who calls him/herself the Staff Writer in the NewZimbabwe article on Pokello today. No wonder why they call themselves Staff Writer, confident journalist would always want to own their copy without fear or favour.
The context that brings Pokello’s unfortunate attacks from this journalist are her utterances on twitter after being proposed to by Elikem. People, a woman has a right to express her views and bring her haters to shame after what she personally values as a rare achievement, having her hand asked for in marriage when some parts of society believe she is not worthy for such. The words were "Unobva washaya kuti vaya vanovenga vanovengerei. Wozonzwa zvichinzi mahure haaroorwi. Asi wozoona ring ichipfekedzwa wobva wazvishaya." These words got an unfair translation from the Staff Writer viz: (You wonder why there are haters. Some people say prostitutes do not get married and when you see someone getting a ring, you wonder) It is unfortunate that we did not listen to Pokello speak these words, therefore the vowel intonations associated with the actual speech can only be imagined. However, even as it is, to a good journalist with deep and rich Shona language skills the same statement could also mean “You never cease to wonder why haters hate us (celebrities). You will hear them saying (these celebrities) are prostitutes and they will never get married. But then you will see us getting married and you just wonder.” Why the journalist chose to focus his translation in the manner he did only serves to confirm his biases and pre-conceived ideas about women celebrities like Pokello.
I get depressed each time I see how our journalists are stuck in their rushed and sensational analysis that is rooted in highly patriarchal perceptions of women and men in love relationships. The media for me is a very important tool in society in that it can frame, construct and influence opinions and mindsets either positively or negatively depending on the awareness levels of media personnel involved. Our children love facebook, internet and twitter, and all they get from such journalists is to have negative masculinities instilled and engrained into their young minds, and so patriarchy is perpetuated. At a higher level, this journalist’s shortcomings are not a reflection of an individual journalists' failures, but of the shortcomings of the Zimbabwean media as an institution. The way our journalists are trained is key to inform the kind of journalism they will pursue. This particular journalists who calls himself Staff Writer in the NewZimbabwe lacks language skills. Journalisms depends so much on good listening and writing skills and in my view understanding of local languages should be a major requirement for recruiting those journalists that will find interest in making analysis of speeches delivered in Shona. The Shona language is highly complex, in fact as complex as the Shona tradition itself, and should be taken seriously especially by media personnel who have potential to produce perceptions that can be both useful and harmful to society. Before I even moved to University where I studied lexicography, the richness of the Shona language was introduced to me in level 3 at High school. I remember my Shona teacher very well for his passion for Mipanda and zvivakashure. This is where I learnt how Shona words are broken down in classes for them to give their intended meaning to the reader. For the benefit of the half-baked journalist that calls themselves Staff Writer in the NewZimbabwe.com I will share one of my Shona language lessons. There are 21 noun classes (mipanda) in the Shona language viz: (1) mu (2) va (3) mu (4) mi (5) ri (6) ma (7) chi (8) zvi (9) i (10) dzi (11) ru (12) ka (13) tu (14) u (15) ku (16) pa (17) ku (18) mu (19) svi (21) zi
Going by the above noun classes, what Pokelo meant when she pronounced the word 'mahure' would fall under class 6. That word ‘mahure’ can be pronounced in two different, and also yielding two different meanings depending on the intonation used and also on the context. Examples would be – Mahure ari kufamba – directly translating as prostitutes are walking. The second one would be vaimbi vechikadzi mahure – meaning female songstresses are prostitutes when directly translated.
For me Pokello’s words cannot be understood outside their context. Here is a young celebrity whose love life has created controversy in the media before, when her private sphere was pried on by the unscrupulous paparazzi and a sex tape of her encounter with her previous boyfriend was leaked. This has nothing to do with her personal behaviour because almost everyone has sex with their boyfriend/s or girlfriend/s in their private spaces. The issue rather has a lot to do with the insecurities in our everyday spaces, and also with how women’s bodies are commercialised to benefit the more powerful in society. It has a lot to do with how the media as a foot soldier of patriarchy can be manipulated to the detriment of women’s lives in certain societies. When this young woman who is highly despised in society because of the sex tape leak finally gets proposed to for marriage, and on television, she finds every reason to celebrate and to spite her haters, and in my view she is entitled to that.
Now putting her words in context, Pokelo was talking about the haters who believe celebrities are prostitutes and therefore will never get married, and so she said the controversial words above, "Unobva washaya kuti vaya vanovenga vanovengerei. Wozonzwa zvichinzi mahure haaroorwi. Asi wozoona ring ichipfekedzwa wobva wazvishaya." The words should in my view be read with a raised intonation on the word ‘mahure’ and their meaning is 'haters say they (celebrities) are prostitutes and they will never get married, and this statement is different from 'mahure haaroorwi' with low intonation where the journalist wrongly assumes that Pokelo is admitting to being a prostitute. I have read and re-read the statement as both a Karanga woman and high level former student of the Shona language but I don’t hear Pokelo admitting that she is a prostitute at all. Pokelo could be what my society term a ‘hure’/prostitute, (which in my view is very difficult to define until a woman or a man personally and openly identify as one for reasons well know to themselves), but in this case I find her just a victim of a half-baked un-informed journalist who is an unfortunate product of a disempowering media education system. If Zimbabwe still holds the notion that a celebrity is a 'hure'/prostitute, we can only keep hoping for a better day when there will be positive shifts in people's mind-sets to start viewing women as subjectivities and not as objects of manipulation and ridicule.
What is more disturbing is not that Pokelo has been called all sorts of negative names like ‘wild animal’ by men, but that even some fellow women are ridiculing her in same manner. Women of Zimbabwe, tell me, when will we learn to scrutinise reality and think differently? So many women have had many adventurous relationships in their lives, some of them really larger than life but two things are key here: these relationships have all happened with men, and why women only should then be labelled as ‘mahure’ is only an issue of hetero-normative perceptions and ideals of what it means to be a woman or a man in a love or sexual relationship in Zimbabwe. Secondly, most of these relationships have happened quietly and the same women have wedded church pastors in some of today's charismatic holier than thou ‘Jesus-is-Lord’ gospel preaching churches that castigate 'mahure' while upholding rapists. But sad for Pokelo, she is a celebrity and the line between her private and personal sphere has become very thin to an extent that what could have been her first sexual encounter with her boyfriend is recorded and leaked - which then warrants even the most promiscuous journalists to call her a 'hure'.
Why really are some people called 'mahure' and equated to wild animals? Is it because they have not conformed to the societal expectations of choosing to remain in stifling marriages, and so single becomes synonymous with ‘hure’? But I have seen and heard of so many of my married sisters having rushed - they call them 'quicky' sexual sessions with work mates, bosses - and for favours too, so who is not a ‘hure’? Maybe the marriage factor makes them better ‘mahure’? I have heard of married women declaring 'no-money-no-sex' rules in their 'holy matrimonial homes' to ensure the poor man labours and surrenders all the money to them without affording himself an opportunity to buy himself even one soft drink. When relationships depend on money like this - isn't this transactional, and does the marriage factor make anyone any better? Ahoy Zimbabwe, change is expensive but worthy. I respect other people’s choices, and will always stick to mine, without calling anybody names.