A FEW days ago, the world learned that Patrick Chareka, the infamous Canada-based Zimbabwean who last year bludgeoned his wife Otilia to death with a hummer in front of their young children in their home will spend at least thirteen-years of his life sentence in jail.
Meanwhile in Texas, another wife murderer - Amon Dzwairo, also from Zimbabwe - still has his case pending. Again in 2011, the world got yet another rude awakening when another Zimbabwean woman - Mary Mushapaidze - was killed by her boyfriend Mthulisi Ndlovu (also from Zimbabwe) during a row over dirty dishes. The Mushapaidze case happened in Bonney Lake, Washington and Ndlovu was later sentenced to twenty years for his crime.
There are several other cases where Zimbabwean women have been killed in their homes, by their partners in the diaspora. Cases such as the three cited above gain notoriety within the public domain due to the extent of the damage caused.
They bring to the surface what tends to be hidden behind closed doors - abuse and domestic violence towards women - which evils tend to be used in order to control and oppress women. The prevalence of these cases warrants a discussion because, in their aftermath, most people are left wondering how and why these horrors are happening.
After reading about these cases on websites such as NewZimbabwe.com as well as other news sources, this writer was outraged by the misogynistic nature of comments posted by a lot of the other readers.
One commenter posting as Diblo Dibala, for example, had this to say:
Whilst I do not encourage brutal murder of any innocent soul, women's actions sometimes invite these misfortunes. This guy was an inspiration to this woman and it was through him that she found her way into Canada.Now if you spit into my face simply because waita professor haibati. There is more behind this story than what we are reading. Women are demons when they reach levels which they never imagined in their lives. That's why 90% of successiful (sic) women are not married. It's only when the husband is in a better financial position that submission is possible. Maziso echimukadzi icho chinenge changa chotonetsa.Hameno tosangana kudenga. RIP (NewZimbabwe.com 10/8/13).
True, this comment borders on the extreme, but it contains a theme commonly raised in many of the comments on the board - specifically the need for women’s submission to their husbands. There appears to be a commonly held belief particularly among Zimbabwean men, who regularly read and post on these websites that Zimbabwean women in the diaspora readily lose respect for their men.
Two reasons for this phenomenon tend to be cited. First is women’s increased economic independence. Secondly, the liberal Western laws, which grant women more rights and recourse in the event of abuse.
Professor Otilia Chareka in particular, attracted a lot of abuse posthumously from total strangers, who speculated that perhaps because of her high educational achievements she began to belittle the same husband who helped her attain that status. In this event, she would have been partially to blame for her fate, if not outright deserving to be killed.
The argument appears logical especially considering the enormous amount of authority husbands from Zimbabwe are accustomed to exercising over their wives back home, and the “respect,” if not fear, they command in their homes from their wives and children alike.
Here in the diaspora, the argument goes, the Zimbabwean male feels disrespected and emasculated by the newly emancipated woman, whose demands know no bounds. As a result men like Patrick Chareka snap and they lose it, resulting in women losing their lives.
However, this argument raises a lot of questions, which need to be addressed. Exactly what sort of respect does the Zimbabwean male expect from the female, which respect, if missing, would justify the killing of the disrespectful party - in this case the female. The meaning of the word “respect” could be relative, meaning different things to different people.
What exactly does this word respect mean in a universal sense? Without consulting a dictionary, a loose definition of “respect” should include acknowledging and valuing another individual’s humanity as it pertains both to external attributes color of skin, height, physical capabilities, amongst others, and the internal - aspirations, fears, intellect, likes and dislikes, to mention only a few.
Respect allows people with different interests and points of view to agree to disagree, but still be at peace, in love, and in harmony with each other. Also, “respect” should be mutual and not subject to double standards, where one party receives and enjoys its benefits while the other party is considered somehow undeserving of the same treatment.
Thus, by merely understanding the meaning of the word “respect,” and using this understanding to judge Patrick Chareka’s murderous actions, one is left to conclude that he had no respect for his wife otherwise he never would have killed her.
What is respect?
In a relationship between any two people, “respect” does not mean obliging one party to disregard their own freewill and sense of integrity/dignity for the sake of the other. In other words, force or manipulation of any kind, undermine the very principle of “respect.”
Sometimes people are forced to disregard their freewill and sense of dignity for various reasons. Such a scenario is perhaps best defined as a “sacrifice.” In many cases where an individual continually sacrifices their freewill and disregards their sense of integrity within a relationship, a slow, but sure process of erosion of their individuality, and ultimately self-esteem, occurs. Any relationship that erodes anyone’s self-esteem is a bad relationship that should be abandoned.
In order to be truly happy, each and every single human being on this earth regardless of race, gender, social class, sexuality, nationality, age, or other identity markers there are out there is worthy of respect. The human need for respect is the reason why oppressive social systems such as slavery, feudalism, and colonialism could not endure eternally.
Therefore, those people that argue that Zimbabwean women in the diaspora are getting killed by their male partners because these women are becoming “too disrespectful” are completely misguided. Killing someone because one feels disrespected is the ultimate form of disrespect of one human being towards another.
How many of these purportedly “disrespectful” Zimbabwean women in the diaspora have killed their male partners using poison, or hammers, or whatever weapon of choice? The statistical fact that men are doing it regularly shows these men are the ones who are disrespectful to their partners, not that they were disrespected to begin with.
Even if we were to grant that these dead women had disrespected their husbands, this in itself would not be a mitigating circumstance because every civilized human being has the capacity to tolerate and handle disrespect. Hey, we get disrespected every single day, sometimes by total strangers, sometimes by people we encounter on a regular basis on the bus, in the neighborhood, at work, you name it.
What would happen if we each grabbed a hammer and bludgeoned to death every person who dared to “disrespect” us? The bottom-line is that the “respect” issue is not an excuse because it cuts both ways. “Respect” is not a preserve for one gender or group of people. We all - including these dead women - deserve to be “RESPECTED!”
The facts we are now privy to following the Chareka trial also seem to suggest that this murder was more about control and domination of one human being by another. Otilia never attacked Patrick, not on the day in question, or in days prior. If anything, she was killed while sleeping with her daughter on their living room floor on the eve of her planned departure from the family home.
Control and domination
She had not sent the husband packing so she could remain in the home. She did not charge at him wielding an axe or behave in any way that would cause us to question her mental predisposition, or believe that Patrick Chareka acted in self-defense. The woman was in the most harmless state of any living being - sleeping defenselessly, not even on the bed, but on the hard floor. Yes, she had even yielded her right to sleep on the bed to her husband. She was obviously in this position because they were not getting along.
By all indications, the woman had chosen to do the most responsible and respectful thing any civilized human being would do - which is to leave a dysfunctional home and marriage. Yet, Patrick Chareka denied her that right. True, perhaps she was leaving him with a bruised ego, but physically intact nonetheless.
Yet he took away her life as if he owned it. Such behavior should never be tolerated or condoned in any human society, be it in Zimbabwe, Canada, or wherever. Every human being - be they a disrespected husband or disrespectful wife has a right to life.
Patrick Chareka’s monstrous actions are so abhorrent and shocking not only because they deprived Otilia of her right to life, but also instantly turned his children into hapless orphans dependent on the goodwill of strangers. Hence, in a way, his will and desire to be in control prevailed regardless of the cost.
These cases should challenge us to question the nature of the relationship between men and women of Zimbabwean descent. Reading the leading Zimbabwean newspapers, for example, would show that cases of domestic violence in which women wind up dead at the hands of their husbands and male partners are also a common occurrence back home as well.
Yet, in Zimbabwe the argument that women are disrespectful to their partners because of their increased economic and legal rights does not necessarily apply. Remember that wife murderer, a prominent Movement for Democratic Change official - Learnmore Judah Jongwe - who stabbed his wife Rutendo with a knife in 2002? In more recent times we had that businessman - Irvine Mereki - who killed his mistress.
These are only two cases featuring prominent male Zimbabweans, who killed women in their lives. More cases make the headlines daily, concerning ordinary Zimbabwean women killed either because they were suspected of infidelity, the so-called crimes of passion, or because they did something their men disapproved of. Why is this happening? Does our culture bear the answer to why Zimbabwean men are permanently silencing their female companions in this manner?
Also, we must not miss this opportunity to notice the distinctive classes of women exposed to this fatal violence. They represent different educational backgrounds - from Otilia the university professor in Canada, all the way down to the woman selling her tomatoes at Mverechena Township in rural Zimbabwe. This violence is also happening to married and unmarried women alike, in their intimate relationships with Zimbabwean men.
Evidently, Zimbabwean women now need to forge stronger alliances with each other, which transcend social class, educational backgrounds, and regional barriers in order to get to the bottom of their predicament. Otherwise, one by one, they will continue falling off the wall like flies. True, not all Zimbabwean men murder their women, but even one would be too many.
The innocent Zimbabwean male also has a responsibility to ally with women against this social evil because he too has a lot at stake. These murderers tarnish the Zimbabwean man’s image internationally. Not only that, but such anti-social behavior poses a threat to all children of Zimbabwean heritage, whom we all have an obligation to protect.
No parent wants his daughter to grow up to marry a man who will likely kill her. Likewise, no parent wants his son to grow up to be a murderer, whose life and name becomes a dirty stain on society’s conscience. Therefore, any man who fails to take a strong stand against fellow men, who kill and abuse women, is in essence guilty of the same crime by virtue of his silence. It is this culture of silence and tolerance these killers thrive on.
Thus, we all have a responsibility to stand up for the victims and put an end to this anti-social behavior. This is not a “women’s issue.” It is a social issue.