Statement of Purpose

By Keith Goddard
The Valley Tonga are the third-largest ethnic group in Zimbabwe and the most marginalised in the country. They are largely cut off from the benefits which automatically acrue to other Zimbabweans, especialy those in urban areas. They were removed from their habitat to make way for the building of Kariba dam which brought electricity to the rest of Zimbabwe and huge commercial benefits from tourism. These benefits have all but completely bypassed the Tonga.
Much has been made of the Tonga being thrown onto semi-arid land and abandoned. They have been stigmatised as dangerous, deformed, sub-human, practisers of witchcraft and dope smokers who hated outsiders. During Rhodesian times, the Tonga were looked upon as occupants of some kind of human national park to be preserved like game to be observed by tourists.
But what can be done to change this situation because, until recently, little changed for the Tonga? The soil is terrible and barely supports one annual crop of drought-resistent sorghum and not all of us are agricultural experts who can give advice on improving the soil. And what can be done is being done.

Twenty years after independence, arguments still continue about what is appropriate intervention in the Tonga area and what constitutes interference or corruption of these simple people. Why don't we leave them alone? Why do we wish to take them out of their natural habitat and whisk them off to foreign countries? Why are we spoiling these people by introducing them to our western ways? Why are we giving them false expectations in life that they can never realise and introducing them to unobtainable desires? Why are we displaying them to the world as examples of exotic culture? Why do we waste money on bringing computers and the internet to an area where people are dying of hunger and need the basics of grinding mills and fertiliser?
These are valid questions up to a point but they also smack of patronage and ignore the human quality we all share, whether we be Tonga, Ndebele, Namibian, Shona, Vadema or white.

There is a big danger of thinking about people as either insiders or outsiders. It is a legacy from colonial times aimed at emphasising the racial differences of the colonised who was to be excluded and the racial purity of the colonial who was to be kept from mixing colonial blood with the blood of the colonised. This reinforced the idea of insider and outsider and we continue to suffer from this legacy of separation. When the nationalists came to power in Zimbabwe they were faced with the problem of taking over nations which included three or more ethnic and language groups. They overcame the problem by calling for national unity which brought with it the problems of centralised government serving the interests of a political elite and the invention of a national culture which suited the same. The former colonialist became the outsider and the non-citizen and this was extended to include sexual minorities.

There are Tonga people who are suspicious of outsiders but this attitude is dying fast. The old days of Ndebele invasions have long gone and outsiders are more and more seen as bringers of positive benefit and co-operation. Programmes like Save the Children have brought bore holes and clean toilets to many areas. There are grinding mills and schemes for building fish markets, supporting fishing projects and finding markets for basketwork.

But not every programme needs to be along the lines of setting up a grinding mill or flogging artifacts to the passing visitor. One mill sat broken at Siachilaba for years because there was no money to fix it and no fuel to run it. Today, there are two grinding mills powered by the electricity that a far-sighted business woman, the late Joyce Mangoro payed to have brought to the Siachilaba Business Centre. The fish market at Siachilaba was built by the women themselves even though the money came from elsewhere.

I have visited Siachilaba many times over the past ten yeas: this time I noticed that life was improving and that people were busy. The children looked better fed and people looked generally better clothed. There were far fewer beggars around and I had a sense that people felt generally more self confident and assured in themselves. It was clear that development agencies are busy in the area and that the Tonga are using these initatives as platforms to improve the quality of their lives. There was no sense of airlifting in emergency food aid but a sense of sustained improvement through grim determination and effort on the part of people living in the area. This is a far cry from the hopeless situation I face every day in Harare where AIDS orphans roam the streets directionless, bored and without hope or any sense of belonging anywhere.

It is said that people who are forced to push wheel barrows eight hours a day to keep the wolf from the door have no time to think of political niceties like democracy and the right to equality, freedom of movement and expression. These are luxuries that are irrelevant to their immediate needs of basic survival. The Tonga men and women I know all work very hard but there is time to rest and talk. The Tonga women I have talked to do not see themselves as victims like so many of the women I come across in urban areas. Life is not equal but women speak out forcibly and vocally.

Human beings are more than bodies with stomachs to feed. We are also thinkers with ideas. This is why KUNZWANA Trust, a cultural organisation, has a part to play in development projects. KUNZWANA has worked in the Binga area since 1990 by taking an interest in Tonga musical culture. This simple activity of showing interest and trying to understand has done much to make people around Siachibla more reflective about their culture and their position in the world. The journey of Simonga to Austria did not emphasise the poverty and helplessness of the Tonga but the beauty, distinction and resilience of the Tonga and their musical culture. The nyele horns debunk the myth of simple, backward and straight from the bush: Simonga in Austria would not have sounded out of place in the concert halls of any contemporary music festival.

By maintaining the attitude that the Tonga are to be preserved and left to their own separate development smacks of apartheid and continues to propagate myths of Tonga being two-toed, backward, dangerous and primitive. We are preserving our ideas of the Tonga, not the Tonga themselves.

Prejudice is based on fear and lack of understanding. Even in Harare, people speak of the Tonga as something mysterious and strange and that is because they have never met anyone who is Tonga or realised that they have. I have this insight because, as a member of the gay and lesbian community, I have had to face myths about me being dangerous, a child abuser, a trigger-happy gangster, devil worshiper, mentally ill and someone with deformed sexual organs. Acceptance comes when people start to meet and talk to us and realise we are human after all! Communication and awareness have done much to dispel the hidous distortions that surround us and only when people start to interact with the Tonga as a matter of course will their situation also become normalised and the fear of them dissolve.

In 1997, ARGE-ZIM and KUNZWANA brought the contemporary music of four Austrian and one Zimbabwean composers to the Siachilaba area. It was a controversial project. Questions were asked about the expense, the appropriateness of bringing music which to many western ears is symptomatic of the cultural decay of the west. One person asked angrily why we did not spend the money on a grinding mill.

All of us agree that we should never impose ourselves on another community. That is one of the unfortunate fall outs of globalisation where the weak are overwhelmed by the more powerful. But we need to be careful about censoring what we communicate and share because we believe that it will spoil people who are more delicate and unprepared than ourselves. If we decide what is suitable for the Tonga to consume and to experience, we put ourselves on the same level as those who used to treat all of us in Africa like backward children.

The value of bringing the Six Reflections to Siachilaba may be debatable but the value of the Tonga-Online project cannot be contested. It was right that a full consultation with the intended beneficiaries took place. As a result, the project expanded to one of education and not merely exhibition through the window of a computer sitting in Austria. The consultation put us in contact with others thinking along similar lines. We ended up co-operating and contributing to a larger programme rather than re-inventing the wheel. We even found that Binga Secondary School was in the advanced stages of preparing a computer centre.

As far as KUNZWANA is concerned, feeding the mind is as important as feeding the stomach. On the trip to Siachilaba, it was clear that young people were desperate to do something with their lives. They feel left behind even though they are not sure exactly how. Some people knew what a computer was; others did not. The cynics will simply say that we showed up the ignorance of the Tonga and made them look pitiful and behind; I say that it showed up the negligence of us who have the power and the capacity to promote this wonderful educational tool but have done nothing about it until now.

We need to stop thinking of development as a a progress of evolution. We do not need to go through the paper revolution before reaching the age of the internet. Skip the paper which is becoming more and more expensive for us here and let's get into the electronic era. There are bright young Tonga people hungry for knowledge and experience and it is their right to receive and impart information. Those of us in urban areas do not hold the intellectual property rights to information tools; neither do we have the right to hold back providing tools to people who want them. The computer generation belongs to all of us.

There are many collatoral benefits which the cynic will have to agree are direct benefits. The present project will be bringing electricity to the school and additional phone lines. Young people will be able to access educational material and other information easily and quickly without having to wait for some benefactor to send a few text books down which wear out and become outdated after a few years.

That Austrians can put up an exhibition of Tonga culture in their own country is a wonderful thing; even more exciting is that those in Binga will be able to see it and that the tools they will be using will be used to connect them to neighbourhoods that people did not realise existed before.

Keith Goddard, Director of Kunzwana Trust, Harare
March 2001