MARY AS A MODEL OF RESILIENCE FOR WOMEN IN AFRICA

By Fr. Peter Chimombe

Fr. Peter Chimombe

The Church teaches us in Mariology that the virgin Mother Mary has a tripartite role to play in the Church as;

  • Mother
  • Mediator, and
  • Model.

This article looks at the third role, in the wake of an increase in gender based violence, divorce and infidelity in Africa.    

The economic down turns in Zimbabwe, beginning in the early 2000 where most married couples lived in separation with one spouse in the diaspora and another here at home has had its fair share of marriage breakdowns and infidelity. Now, the Covid-19 induced lockdowns have become the straw that broke the Carmel’s back as people’s livelihoods have been dealt a severe blow. Under such circumstances, women in Africa can look to Mary as a model of resilience in soldiering on to care for their families while preserving the sanctity of marriage. The 1994 African synod emphasized the importance of the family as the basic aspect for the Church since faith and good values are taught at family level.

On the 15th of August every year, the Church celebrates the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.  We are reminded of her triumph over all the evil shenanigans of this world. Indeed the women in Africa can look up to her as a model of resilience and thus maintain a never-say-die attitude. Here are a few areas for reflection especially for African women as family custodians;

  1. Fidelity:  Mary remained faithful to God from the crib to the cross right up to the time when she was assumed to heaven. Considering the sanctity of marriage, the current economic situation cannot be a reason for divorce or infidelity so as to make ends meet. African women are known for their resilience in entrepreneurship and their resoluteness in maintaining moral values. The Covid-19 era is the time to unleash the tiger in them and to remain steadfast in jealously guarding the marriage institution which is under siege. Ancient Rome and Greece were renowned for their practice of choosing virgins from among the community to serve in the temples which were dedicated to gods such as Apollo, Zeus and Jupiter. In his writings on African Religions and Philosophy, Mbiti (1989) mentions the importance of purity of mind and body for women who were on the fore-front of African Traditional Religion rituals such as the rain-making ceremonies. Young girls or elderly women who were no longer sexually active were on the forefront of these ceremonies. Today among the Zulus of KwaZulu Natal (KZN) and the Swazis of Eswatini; virginity tests are still being conducted every year despite the protests from Women’s rights groups.
  2. Leadership: History reminds us of the capability of African women to lead, not only in families but also in Africa’s geo-political landscape. The Queen of Sheba from Ethiopia in Biblical times, Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and Mbuya Nehanda of Zimbabwe are among the many women leaders who gave direction to their kith and kin. Today’s society needs the wise counsel of women to lead as Mary did to the early Christians during the age of persecution. Even in the Church today women must not be observers, but must gather the courage to lead right from the Small Christian Communities up to the highest echelons of the Diocesan level.
  3. Crisis Management: In the wake of the two-pronged crisis of a high divorce rate and an increase in infidelity due to the bad economic situation and covid-19 induced poverty, African feminism must focus on crisis management and conflict resolution. The European concept of feminism implies a revolutionary, reformist and radical stance by women as a reaction to patriarchy. On the contrary African feminism has always focused on gender equality and peace in society. The role of the elderly African women comes into perspective. In his writing, “Olodumare, God in Yoruba  belief”, Idowu (1969) writes about the conflict resolution role of the elderly woman saying;

“The elderly woman was respected by all, and played a key role in crisis management and conflict resolution. Thus, when a conflict degenerated into armed violence, an appeal would usually be made to a woman who enjoyed the consideration and respect of all who knew her. If war broke out, the oldest women of the clan would go to interpose themselves between the fighters in order to make them see reason. The women would threaten to expose their nakedness or to go down on their knees. In either case, the gesture signified a curse for those who bore the responsibility for such grave acts”.

4. Advisory duties:  In African society, the role of the aunt (“tete” –Shona; “ubabakazi”-Ndebele) in solving family disputes amicably through her mediation and advisory duties is indispensible in the search for peace. In fact all mothers in Africa command a special respect. When a son wronged her mother in the Zimbabwean traditional society, he was supposed to undergo public penance and make reparation through the “Kutanda botso” ritual. This ritual required the son to live like a destitute, wearing rugged clothes and begging for food.

In conclusion as we prepare to celebrate the solemnity of the Assumption, we need to recognize the importance of women in our society. Indeed, as the Zulu people say, “when you strike a woman you hit a rock” (watinti umfazi watinti imbo

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