Category Archives: Travel

TANZANIA: Culture v Women’s Rights

I went to Tanzania for 8 weeks on a community development project, and during that time I found myself falling in love with the country, it has become my second home. A place I could always go back to. Everyone around me knows that I want to go back and work in Tanzania one day especially under the UN: Women or any other organisation working towards empowering women.
Society in Tanzania is highly patriarchal, males in that country are deemed as superior while females are seen as inferior &weak. As in many African states, there are gender roles assigned to men and women which perpetuate male dominance and female relegation. Boys and girls throughout their lives from the time they are toddlers are taught to behave in a certain way. Girls are conditioned to believe that marriage is the ultimate goal and that household chores are their responsibility. I recall that during my time there I had gotten ill so I went to the doctor, we engaged in conversation about our countries comparing Tanzania to Botswana, he then proceeded to ask why I was not married, and according to him 19 is the perfect age for marriage and that some girls there get married at 16 so I should also get married so I can have someone to take care of me. I cringed when he said that.
Tanzanian men seem to have supremacy in roles of political leadership as well as socially. Where I come from women are quite outspoken more especially in social setups and we are free to raise our concerns and voice out our opinions and when we did that, Tanzanian men would always be shocked because for them women speaking out and having a stance on any matter somehow unsettled them. They always use culture as a defence when you ask why they are oppressing their women.
For centuries, African women have tolerated the impact of cultural traditions, traditions that limit our advancement and are oppressive. Culture in Africa is something that governs our behaviour, we take it very seriously and we respect our culture, problem now comes when this culture has certain aspects that are dehumanizing, where your human rights are now being infringed upon and you are being oppressed.

Women in Tanzania are oppressed, even I was oppressed. The way I dressed was always a problem as it was deemed “inappropriate” anything knee-length & above the knee is supposedly revealing and once you leave the house like that you have to prepare to be body shamed. Everyone would look at you and make disgusting remarks. I remember an occasion were my friend and I had an altercation with a bus conductor because we were putting on skirts which were slightly above our knees, he was shouting in Swahili and then proceeded to point at my leg.. He shook his head and said “leg”. This is something I was not accustomed to. I didn’t know that my legs could infuriate someone that much.
On another occasion while at the Department of Home Affairs, the security officers told us we were not dressed appropriately because our shoulders and arms were exposed and because we were putting on pants. He said it was not allowed but nonetheless allowed us to go into the premises and said next time we should dress properly. I was beyond shocked! So many tourists come in and out of those offices on a daily basis, people from different countries with different cultures so to force their culture on us was quite unfair. I do understand that sometimes one has to adapt and respect people’s cultures especially because Tanzania’s population is mostly Muslims however they also need to understand where we are coming from and be open-minded. My bodily integrity and autonomy as a woman needs to be respected, this policing of how I need to dress when I go out is so disrespectful, even when one is at the public beach, wearing a swimsuit made you subject to disparaging looks and comments. The only place where I felt free to dress however I want was at Bagamoyo, and I guess that was because it is a tourist town therefore they have become accustomed to foreigners putting on their shorts.
While doing my research on harmful cultural practices I came across two tribes in Tanzania, these are the Maasai and Kuria. These 2 tribes circumcise young girls. Female Genital Mutilation is still a big problem in Africa, it is widely practiced despite the fact that it is inhumane & barbaric cultural as it strips the girl child of her dignity and bodily integrity and also because of the health risks involved.
These are traditions that have been practiced for many years and so it has become a way of life and it is embedded in them. Whether patriarchy will ever be dismantled in Tanzania would be difficult to determine because the Islam religion is also a power player in their way of life. And the majority of the people as I had stated before are Muslims therefore their religious beliefs need to be afforded the respect and tolerance they deserve.
Furthermore, there needs to be promotion of gender equality by changing or enacting laws and policies. Also, culture is not static; it has to be modified with the changing times in order to abolish the practices that are harmful to women. People living in rural areas need to be educated on the dangers and health risks that come with practices such as FGM, We also need to ensure that we get rid of early child marriages to ensure that the girl child gets an education so she can also make a contribution to the country’s political and socio-economic development. This would really help to empower Tanzanian women.

Having lived there doesn’t mean I’m an expert on the culture, in actual fact, I only know a small fragment of it therefore I cannot rebuke it in totality just like I cannot rebuke my Tswana culture because all cultures have certain positive attributes that we also need to appreciate. I will always commend Tanzanians for nurturing and preserving their culture, the young people I met were well informed about their culture, they wore it proudly; it is an integral part of them, and the same goes for their native language, Kiswahili.
In essence, Culture plays a major role in our lives as Africans but would it be right to condone and uplift this culture that continuously strips women of their rights and their integrity? Should culture supersede the rights of women or is it time for Tanzanians to review some of the oppressive practices they do in name of “culture”?

 

LESOTHO: The Kingdom In The Sky

 

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I got a chance to travel to Lesotho for the first time this year in April.  The first thing I thought when I got to the boarder was “this country is freezing cold”. It’s expected right?  After all, it’s a mountainous place. I should have actually invested in the blanket Sotho men put on.Its a necessity. Right next to the border was house were there were a lot of men drinking beer, one of them shouted as he saw a bus written Botswana “Bana ba ga Seretse” with so much excitement in his voice, this meant “Seretse’s children” for those who do not know Sir Seretse Khama was the first president of the Republic of Botswana. This automatically warmed my heart. Something that I found so embarrassing was the fact that I did not even know it was a constitutional monarchy until I got there. Yes I know, that was ignorant of me, but in my defense Lesotho is one of those countries that the media hardly ever talks about, the last newspaper article I read on Lesotho was in January when there was political unrest and SADC had to intervene. I am sure I am not the only one in this boat, do you guys know what their current population is? What about their gross national product?

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On my first night there we went to the Thaba Bosiu cultural village where there was a  music festival and the rain was pouring down on us, for the Basotho this was normal, I am from a country which hardly ever experiences intense rainfall especially during the month of April but I endured the wetness anyway, I  just had to go see my favorite South African acts performing, the line-up was- Cassper Nyovest, Dr Malinga, Emtee,  Fifi Cooper, Zinhle and Trademark, Nokwazi  just to name a few, I also discovered a great artist from Lesotho by the name of Jacob, really enjoyed his song ‘Skipa se nteke’. You can only imagine my excitement that night, the bonus was that even though I bought a standard ticket, me and a friend of mine ( Bame) ended up at the V.I.P. section. In Botswana we believe rain brings goodluck so I guess that was my goodluck.

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I couldn’t hide my excitement. With my friend Bame

During the whole music festival I was going crazy, Dr Malinga was literally wild. Such an amazing performer, then Cassper Nyovest went on stage I couldn’t even keep myself from crying, tears were rolling down my cheeks. Wow! Fifi Cooper and Emtee were the last acts at around 5am. Didn’t even see the sun rise I was just in awe. Overall that was the best music festival I have ever attended, although I would have really liked to see more acts from Lesotho.

During the duration of the week I got a chance to go up Thaba Bosiu (The mountain at night) . The reason it has this name is because back in the 18th Century, the first King of the Basotho, King Moshoeshoe I and his people arrived here in the night. The tour guide said it would take 30 minutes to go up the mountain, it took us a whole hour going up, and going around the mountain took 2 dreadful hours considering the fact that I was so unfit at the time I almost gave up. But it’s a good thing I endured because what I learnt was mind-blowing and it got me so interested in learning about African cultures, Lesotho is rich in culture and  Basotho are so deeply rooted in their culture. It’s a beautiful thing.

While up Thaba Bosiu the tour guide told us to pick stones (which I found odd at first), we did just that and he led us to this big rock with carvings on it, he proceeded to say that we should write our names whilst saying a certain phrase. The phrase was in Sotho so I unfortunately cannot remember. The rationale for doing that was so we seek permission and protection to actually go up. Upon doing just that we proceeded to climb  up the mountain. The tour guide went on to tell us that Basotho believe that if you go up the mountain with bad intentions you will never reach the top. EVER!

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This is a picture of the rock with the many names of the people who went up Thaba Bosiu

After what seemed like a lifetime we arrived at the top. There was a huge rock I proceeded to sit on because I was just too exhausted only to learn that that was the chair of the great King Moshoeshoe I. You could see the whole of Maseru while at the top, and I am not exaggerating, Maseru is a really small city.

Next stop was the homestead of King Moshoshoe, his house was opposite that of his first wife (senior wife),  I also learnt that he had 140 wives. I am still in denial I cannot possible imagine so many wives. How is that even possible?

We continued on the journey and there it was the Qiloane mountain which is honestly the reason I embarked on this journey to climb up Thaba Bosiu, just to get a better view of this iconic Qiloane Mountain. This mountain inspired the design behind the mokorotlo also known as the Basotho hat.

 

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We stopped by a water spring, my goodness. That water was out of this world. I was a bit sceptical about drinking it since I did not know the source of this water but we were told how safe it was plus I was really dehydrated. Till today I have never tasted water so good, I cannot even describe it, it was so pure, very light, had this lingering taste in your mouth and was really cold so it went down really well.

Finally we arrived at our last destination the Royal Cemetery, that’s where I got to learn about the family names of King Moshoeshoe and King Letsie, the hierarchy and the royal family members. While the tour guide was showing us the graves, he told us about an old culture Basotho did when a King died. When he died, they would kill his 6 bodyguards and bury them with the King. The bodyguards had initially consented to this because it was a sign of loyalty to the King.

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Also, when someone died they would put a seed in their palm then put their hands together the same way a foetus’s hands are in their mother’s womb then bury them. This was driven by the belief that there is new life after death.

Afterwards we went horse riding, and then went to 2 of the biggest malls in Maseru, Pioneer Mall & Maseru Mall. Then returned to the small town of Roma were we were staying. Unfortunely I did not get the chance to see the Matsulenyane falls or go to the small tourist town Oxbor. My overall experience in Lesotho was phenomenal as you have all read; it is definitely a place I would recommend to go for relaxation and Sotho culture is beautiful, it really is. Go to Lesotho guys!

 

(A special thank you to Amantle Lefenya for the wonderful pictures she took.)

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