A small garage in Chitungwiza has become a centre of hope and rejuvenation for victims and perpetrators of gender based violence.
Local Councillor Clara Makwara established the Instant Truth and Justice Forum from her home in 2010. At that time she had zero budget – and a big heart. Her aim: to reduce GBV in her community by at least 50% by 2015.
“We could not wait for NGOs to assist us, so we decided to set up the project without funding,” Makwara says, with a smile. “We thought that if we started to do something for ourselves, we would be more likely to get outside support”.
In March, Makwara's work was honoured when she was named runner-up in the first Zimbabwe Gender Justice Local Government awards, run by Gender Links, the Zimbabwe Local Government Association and the Women in Politics Support Unit. The recognition has inspired the group to redouble their efforts.
“We meet every Monday and we hold discussions on how best we can prevent GBV,” says Makwara. “Domestic violence is rife in Chitungwiza, with one severe case reported to us every week”.
Makwara says that women are often trapped in violent marriages because of the combined effects of illiteracy, economic disempowerment and harmful religious and cultural practices.
“It is crucial to understand the concerns of a GBV victim,” explains Makwara. “She stays because she has to. In most cases she is financially unstable.”
The Forum investigates and monitors domestic violence cases, offers temporary food and shelter to victims – and, where possible, brings victims and perpetrators together to seek healing and reconciliation.
It also provides counselling, and connects victims to medical and legal support networks.
Annie * describes how she was evicted from her matrimonial home by her husband, and found refuge in Makwara's garage with the few possessions she could salvage.
The same thing happened to Maria*. “With the help of the project, I managed to secure a temporary home following the traumatic divorce that I went through with my abusive husband,” she says.
Helen* describes how her husband abused her from 1992 until his death in 2003.
“We were happily married, but there was a sudden transformation in his life and he started to become both violent and promiscuous,” she recalls.
Through the Forum, victims of violence like Helen, Maria and Annie have become educators, who offer support and comfort to those who are still trapped in the cycle of violence.
Remarkably, some former perpetrators have become counsellors and role models too.
“As a former war veteran, I thought violence was the way to solve disputes,” explains Makwara's personal assistant, Richard Mbewe. “I used to beat up women until they could not take it anymore, and had to leave. But since I joined this group and received counselling, I treat women with respect”.
“A woman is not an instrument, she is a helper,” Mbewe continues. “She is the most precious person in your life”.
Another member of the Forum, Samuel Sundire, feels that “beating up your wife is a sign of ignorance”. He says that better communication between men and women is the only way to challenge ingrained beliefs.
“Our cultural upbringing teaches that men are more superior to women, so I would beat up my wife just for answering back when I was talking,” Sundire recalls.
In the coming months, the members of the Instant Truth and Justice Forum hope to share their stories with a wider audience – through community-based theatre.
They are busy rehearsing, and look forward to using drama, music and song to bring healing to other men and women whose lives are still blighted by violence.
[NOTE: Some names* have been changed for the sake of confidentiality]