By Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda
They were a very young couple, with dreams for their future and their children. It was in the 1950s and they had 4 children at that time. Muzhanje Dizha was a young man whose arranged marriage resulted in him starting a family with Rozaria Marumisa, a girl from the neighbouring village. The Dizha and Marumisa families were vana Sahwira, the best of friends! Back then they would exchange gifts, cows and even marry their daughters to each other. Muzhanje’s aunt, Maita, had years back been married to Marumisa. Decades later, Marumisa reciprocated by marrying off Rozaria into the Dizha family.
This dying negative cultural practice of arranged marriages thrust these young people into marriage unprepared, young and without choice. The boy, though older, did not equally have much of a choice. Therefore both Muzhanje and Rozaria were both victims of forced marriage. Therefore both Muzhanje and Rozaria were both victims of forced marriage. Such young people had to swim or sink as they weaved their new nest.
Often many just accepted their marriage as fait a compli, and recycled the stories of their forefathers into a cycle of poverty. In some instances the newly married couple had to defy tradition, build a new narrative for their children, break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and inter-community marriages..
Muzhanje and Rozaria did not see a future in standing with the same old traditions, and holding the lifestyles of their forefathers. Remaining in the same village, hunting and foraging for sustenance did not provide a reasonable future for their children. They both yearned for something that would give their own children opportunities and face the same arranged marriages.
VaMuzhanje opted to migrate from Dizha village and settle just across Ura river in Magaya village. What he was still looking for was a water source for him and his wife to live their dream as successful farmers. As they moved to Magaya village, vaMuzhanje and family were settled near the little stream called Magambuze, Kakokorodzi chaiko.
VaMuzhanje and his wife, did not forget the reason why they migrated to Magaya. Now that they were settled with on land with fertile soils sprouting seeds full of life, and could wave when the bus passed by, their next challenge was water!
Magambuze was a seasonal stream and it ran out of water during the dry season. They could not rely on it for all year farming as they wanted to do. They had opened a garden near Nyadire river next to Ndudzo family garden. This garden by Nyadire river was considered simply as a kitchen garden, feeding the family with sales from sweet bananas and sugar-cane here and there. VaMuzhanje considered it to be his wife’s special project and he never really had the same endearment, although he gave his full support to her project, kusosera and kuchera matsime. She owned it, controlled it and gave it her all.
VaMuzhanje's heart continued searching, searching for water. He wanted a perennial body of water. Over many moons, he talked with his wife about constructing a dam, something bigger than a small tsime, big enough to hold water that can plant many many crops that can fill a lorry to the market. She initially protested that though this was a brilliant idea, how on earth were they to achieve this. Their children were young, Francis, Emmanual and Johaness and their sisters Elizabeth and Gladys were going to school, needed attention and were work unto themselves. She reluctantly agreed to the grand project, after all water is one of the reasons they had migrated to Magaya village.
Indigenous knowledge is scientific and such was with VaMuzhanje and his wife. They surveyed the place they needed to construct the dam. It had to be a water catchment area, with a natural reservoir of water. At the same time, the place they identified was ideal for water harvesting.
The dam wall was craftly constructed to hold the water, and the spill way to ease out the overflow. There was no surveyor or water engineer at the time who came to advise. It was the work of the village genius. In two years time, the dam was glistening with water, the dam was full. The fish found its way, freshwater fish during the rainy season, and maramba were plenty in the muddy waters of the dry season. As children, we grew up hearing the stories of how the dam was constructed. We were simply enjoying the fruits of their dreams and sweat of their labour. The dam provided plenty of water for vegetable farming, now called horticulture. The garden had all the vegetables you could need – sugarcane, carrots, peas, peanut butter, cabbages, covo and pumpkin leaf. We used to chew fresh lettuce mixed with tomatoes before we new the word vegetable salad.
VaMuzhanje and his family had realised their dream. Their children had shiny stomachs, well-fed and bouncing. The local bus would switch off the engine when it picked the various sacks of produce to Mbare or Murewa market. At times they would use a scotchcart to take the produce to Murewa market. The only other serious horticulture competitor around was vaMotomoto in Chitate village, who used to grow seedlings for sale.
The children grew up and the land never tired of producing. In 1978, vaMuzhanje died, and this was the beginning of the dam’s sunset. It was during the war. Mbuya Rozaria now a widow, with children scattered round, did her best to keep the legacy, using the land productively. There was no fence around the land. They had to use thorn trees and shrubs to protect the garden from animals and trespassers, kusosera. It was hard to repair continuously that land, and the dam had started to silt, no longer yielding enough water the whole year round.
In her twilight years, Mbuya Rozaria often encouraged the children and grandchildren to revive nhaka yababa venyu, their father’s legacy. She would recall the sweat and tears that went into the construction of the dam. She kept the story alive of how her late husband would wake up even at 3 am nemwedzi muchena, to go and dig.
“He would then harness the oxen to plough the land nemwedzi muchena, with moon lighting. How he had no time to look for his belt in the darkness, and would tie his knee-tattered trousers with the bark of mupfuti tree, nerwodzi. He expected his family to be up by sunrise and join him. Determined, focused and hardworking he was. After getting paid from the vegetable sales, he treated himself to a good supply of beer, sang his heart out into the night as he found his way home. He felt on top of the world, fulfilled.”
VaRozaria recounted with nostalgia, with love and inner pang in her heart. She yearned to see life rekindled, the dream she held with her husband carried forward for future generations.
In 2006, Mbuya Rozaria died. 19th of January.
Was this to the end of all VaRozaria and VaMuzhanje had sarificed during their lifetime? On her deathbed, she kept praying for the family to remain intact, for the children to till the land and protecting the legacy of the gardens and the dam, kuchengetedza ma garden nedhamu. The future was still held in the land, the water and the garden.
Upon founding Rozaria Memorial Trust in 2007, it took more than 10 years to construct the Educational and Counselling Centre, and for the land left by vaMuzhanje and vaRozaria including the dam to be designated to the Trust.
This was another major decision for the siblings, as it broke the custom of land belonging to a male heir, and enable it to collectively owned by all children and their progeny in perpetuity and for communal benefit. The legacy was legally protected.
Each year, since 2006, I did my personal private pilgrimage Kudhamu, beginning of the year and during the rainy season. I would hold up my skirts and navigate the thick grass and mushy soils. I would wonder around the dam and just touch the pain somewhere inside my heart. Almost always, with each visit, I find a purple water lily in bloom on the middle of the pond where some water was still held. I would hold this deep in my heart and cherish every moment on the spot. I would hold the image somewhere deep throughout the year. Each time, my resolve got deeper, and the fountain of my soul was filled with more hope and courage.
I was reminded each time of the life in abundance that lay beneath the silt, beneath the earth filled dam. I relived the past, as a little girl dancing around the dam, swimming, fishing. I imagined this place giving that laughter from the belly, that joy from the heart to thousands of people who come to visit us at the RMT Centre. Life, laughter, joy and healing.
Each time, I would wake up from this reverie, believing. Believing that this single legacy of my parents, vaMuzhanje and vaRozaria will be restored. Its rebirth will usher a new era for our community, for our people in Murewa and for the family’s understanding of the great grand shoulders that lifted us to who we are today.
When I wrote to my friend, Lila Igram in the United States about my simple Weir rehabilitation dream and the Trust’s sustainability. She believed that we can recreate this miracle. I needed US$5000 before the rainy season, end of 2022. She honoured a promise to support, and I pledged to give it my all. I had this inner fire which could only be quenched by the waters from the water-lily pond. I was determined and somehow knew that this was achievable. In 2021 I was involved in a road traffic accident and am now on a healing journey, with a broken leg and broken hand, walking on crutches. I have this renewed faith in the abundance of life, and living the adage that where there is a will, there is a way.
It became an exciting two week adventure of collectively reclaiming the legacy, retelling the story and building the future with the young people in our community. The labour intensive technique was daunting at first.
Back again to pick, shovel and wheelbarrow for a week of work, for something that could easily be accomplished in a day by use of machinery! The young man from the neighboring villages gathered in no time, ready to roll. They reinforced the wall, removed all the silted mud, deepened the weir, excavated the lost soil, and restored the original boundaries. On the 3rd day it rained. The dam was holding water again!
As I joined the team on the last day, my heart was full of joy, gratitude and a sense of fulfilment. We had done it! I know that vaMuzhanje and VaRozaria will be happy wherever they are.
As we start the new year, 2023, a new life is also born for Rozaria Memorial Trust, the village and the community around. The dam, for this is what it will always be to us, had given birth to a new and refreshing life; and the opportunity to tell the story again and again and again.
Ideas have started flowing on what and how to use the place in the short term and in the long term. The horticulture bit is already being rolled out. The land has been ploughed. Tomatoes and butternuts soon to be planted. We are back to the true legacy. We hope in the coming years, trucks will be packed with fresh produce to the market. Rozaria Memorial Trust will then have the much need income to sustain its community services to children and especially support for its shelter. Fresh food will be plenty.
It's about the community, skill building, employment and improved standards of life. Just like vaMuzhanje and vaRozaria sweated for in the 1950s for their family, it shall be for the community. The Legacy is restored and is lasting.
Nyaradzayi Mugaragumbo-Gumbonzvanda is the Founder and Executive Director of Rozaria Memorial Trust, last born child of VaMuzhanje & vaRozaria. She is a human rights lawyer with experience in women and children’s rights. This essay was condensed and edited slightly.