This is the second in a three part series of interviews hosted by Gavin; in this interview he meets Chief Nkosi Nzamane, chief of the Ngoni people in Mfumbeni, to discuss Child Marriage in his chiefdom and the action he’s taking to help end the practice.
Gavin: Well, I’m very privileged to be here at the Protea Hotel in Dar es Salaam with His Highness Chief Nkosi Nzamane. Mfumbeni is the chiefdom of Senior Chief Nzamane (Nkosi Nzame means king of kings) of the Ngoni people, located on the southern part of the Eastern Province of the Republic of Zambia. Mfumbeni is the largest of all of the ten Ngoni chiefdoms with 325 villages and a total population of approximately 150,000 people. The chiefdom forms part of the Luangeni and Kasenengwa parliamentary constituencies. Agriculture is the main activity in the chiefdom. The population consists mainly of peasant farmers (95%). Poverty levels are generally very high. The area has suffered from poor health care delivery systems and natural calamities such as drought, floods, diseases, (HIV/AIDS, malaria etc.) and under-development. High illiteracy levels and high unemployment levels are especially high among the youths of the region… Is that accurate?
Chief Nkosi: Yes. Indeed.
Gavin: Okay. So, when I met you a few days ago, you were telling me about your work… by the way, I’ve never met a chief before, so I’m really honoured and delighted and very interested in your involvement at this conference and how you have approached the child marriage problem in your area, your chiefdom. So, could you tell me first maybe a little about your upbringing and how things have changed since then, and then how you became involved in the whole transitional process, which, from the workshop, my understanding is that Zambia, as an African nation, is leading the way really.
Chief Nkozi Nzamane in traditional dress (Photo from http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/why-traditional-chiefs-like-me-must-stand-against-child-marriage/)
Chief Nkosi: Thank you, Gavin. I’m equally very pleased that we have been able to meet at this forum. I think this is very interesting. It’s quite overwhelming. I’m overwhelmed by the organisation of this meeting. So, Gavin, you asked me a question on possibly how I ascended to the chiefdom and what I was doing before. I think you can determine my age…
Gavin: About forty? (Laughs)
Chief Nkosi: (Laughs) No, no. I am sixty three! I am getting old!
Gavin: Well, you look good.
Chief Nkosi: Well, just after school, after completing my secondary education, in form five, in Zambia, I was enlisted in the army. I did a stint in the army for a few months and then I decided to leave. It was not for fear but I went for greener pastures. I got employed by another Briton, by the name of Maurice Anderson who was running a clothing factory on the copper belt of Zambia, Kituway. Kituway town. Mr Maurice Anderson had established his clothing factory in Kituway in Zambia and apparently most of the people who went to school didn’t want to go and work in this clothing factory. It wasn’t favoured employment, but I went there and I found my niche, my strength. Exactly. And I think also, Mr Anderson having seen that there were now youngsters that were coming up who had some ‘O’ levels and they were coming up and were interested in his business, he kept me very close and he pushed me into many things. I established my work studies and work methods and systems and that gave a lot of savings to the company, and also there were a lot of benefits to the worker, or to the tailor, and I think that he was happy with that and having known that I had very little experience in the job he had to send me to England. I stayed in Leeds for about three years, at Jacob Cramer College, which is part of Leeds University and I came out with a diploma. I became a Clothing Technologist. So, I am very happy. I have been opened to the world. Now that I’m in this position I have travelled widely and I have…
Gavin: Lots of different experiences…
Chief Nkosi: Exactly. So, I think I’m well placed…in fact when I was ascending to the throne… if it was something I would have said no to…I had to go and help the impoverished from many communities…
Gavin: And put something back?
Chief Nkosi: Exactly. Yes. I’ve done a lot of community work. In the instance of being a chief, you need to look at the well-being of your communities and this is one of the things that brings me here. I’m trying to stop an issue that is not very good; where you’re going to marry off your child at the tender age. And that’s the reason why I had to come here. So that I can share with the delegates here on how we can curb this menace.
Gavin: Indeed. Well, before you go a bit more in depth into what those practices are… what those models are that you’re implementing to prevent child marriage now, I perhaps should tell you that sometimes when I mention my involvement in this campaign to end child marriage, people at home – Ireland as well as in the UK – people will say, ‘Oh, yeah, but it’s their tradition. It’s their culture.’ And that’s an easy way for people at home not to talk about it, not to address it, and I’m wondering…you know, you as a traditional chief, with all that knowledge, I wonder how you respond to that?
Chief Nkosi: Gavin, as you know I come from the Ngoni tribe, which also practiced this marrying off of girls at the tender age, but I went to school and I do understand a bit about the health of someone, and, you see, marrying off the girls at the age of fifteen, ten perhaps in some cases, their bodies are not ready to carry another child. And even at the time they are trying to give birth at that tender age, you know the pelvis is not developed a lot, and so we experience a lot of death during the giving of birth, so I think that is a very bad thing to do, and I want to discourage this practice.
Gavin: Yes. And so, well, I’m very happy to hear you say that because I can now speak to people who use that response…that excuse if you like…of not addressing the issue, in my country, and other countries that I go to, and say that I have heard it from the mouth of a chief who wants it abolished, and I think that’s very important.
Chief Nkosi: Yes. Absolutely.
Gavin: So, you were telling me that you’ve just done a workshop with the Tarime girls (link!) who I interviewed earlier today.
Chief Nkosi: Yes.
Gavin: And how did that go?
Chief Nkosi: Oh, I think that it went very well, though, you know, this is Tanzania, and you know we should be looking at the Tanzanian situation. As you know Tanzania became independent in about 1960 and before 1960 there used to be traditional leaders, you know? Chiefs, who carried the governance of the country, or possibly the governors involved ethnic groups, so after 1960 that system was abolished.
Gavin: So, there are no chiefs, as such, in Tanzania?
Chief Nkosi: Well, I don’t think they call them chiefs. I think they call them traditional leaders. They are supposed to be chiefs, but I think that they have very little authority. They don’t have authority over their communities at all.
Gavin: They don’t have the same kind of influence that you have?
Chief Nkosi: No, no. But what should be understood, Gavin, is that the political leaders that we have are elected and the traditional leaders are inborn, or they inherit it…
Gavin: It’s a lineage…
Chief Nkosi: Exactly. And politicians can’t do anything. You saw the Uganda era when Idi Amin was there, yes?
Chief Nkosi: Idi Amin was a dictator. But one good thing that Uganda had – they had the chiefs. They still had the chiefs. And their communities in Uganda fell back to their chiefs to try and fight the vices that were there -the dictatorial vices which were there. So, I think a chief in an African setting is very important. Politicians will come and go. You see they are elected. They are not perpetual leaders, but with me, I am perpetual until death. So I am very mindful of my community’s needs and my responsibilities.
Gavin: I see. Can we talk a little bit about your ascendancy to the throne?
Chief Nkosi: Oh yes. Apparently my ascendancy to the chiefdom in Mfumbeni is just as good as the one in Britain…
Gavin: Of course.
Chief Nkosi: …Ah, the one with the monarchy…the Queen?
Chief Nkosi: Yes. Take the Ngoni community, the Ngoni ethnic group; the one who ascends to the throne is the first born son. And apparently we don’t give it to our women at all. No woman will lead the clan, because our clan or ethnic group is a warring tribe. We came from South Africa. We were under attack, we had to get away from Shaka, I’m sure you must have read about the history of the Ngoni tribe. And so, only a man ascends to that high office, that of a chief.
Gavin: I see. Which is all the more responsibility, really, on you. Dealing with this issue which is in some ways…well, it’s not only an issue for women because it affects the entire community.
Chief Nkosi: Exactly.
Gavin: That’s fascinating. And I’m very interested in bringing men on board increasingly, so, that’s encouraging. And this conference has been good in this respect. You know, there are a lot of men here…
Chief Nkosi: Indeed.
Gavin: … a lot of men who are very impassioned about the subject. But, you know, the first child marriage conference I went to with FORWARD, in London, after my book was published, there were several men who were supposed to attend to speak, but I was the only man who turned up.
Chief Nkosi: (Laughs)
Gavin: So, when I’m talking to, as I think I said to you yesterday, and I mentioned this in my presentation, when I tell my friends about my book, or when they read about it, they pat me on the shoulder and say, ‘Well done’. But a lot of my male friends don’t want to discuss child marriage. Most of them don’t want to learn about it or acknowledge it really.
Chief Nkosi: Ah!
Gavin: So, can you say a little about how you’re involving your whole community. Obviously you’re the chief and people listen to you. So that’s men and women. But how do you think we can involve more men in communities that are different from your structure?
Chief Nkosi: Well, Gavin, that is a big problem. And I don’t know if there is one answer. And I don’t know if the man is going to subdue easily. You know, women have been a force lately and men are just seeing this. I don’t think they are giving a proper answer to all that our women folk are saying. I don’t think they are giving a true answer. There are very few. So it’s a difficult situation where we are going to say we must try and bring most of the men on board. You know, it’s very difficult. They are so mute. You don’t know what is going on in their heads, so I find that is very difficult. I think we must take on the campaign!
Gavin: Indeed. And I think some men are still intimidated by the empowerment of women, and we have to, just as racism had to be abolished, we have to abolish sexism and inequality at every level – and abuse of children too. And that leads me to my next question, because people such as Desmond Tutu have said that he believes that we can eradicate child marriage in a single generation. And I hope he’s right, but I think that it’s very ambitious. Do you think there’s any possibility of it happening that quickly?
Chief Nkosi: Well, I think it can. It all depends on how aggressively we mount this campaign. It’s the campaign that is so very important. And if the laws set by governments can be firm, you know? Empowered by all those that are bringing up the ideas of abolishing child marriages…then that will happen. You see, you are a man. If in my country you are found with a sixteen year-old girl and it is proved that you have had carnal knowledge of this girl, you are in big trouble. Yes. You’ll get imprisoned actually.
Gavin: Yes. And in my country.
Chief Nkosi: Yes. So, the men are now refraining. They don’t want to see the young girls closer. They are frightened. So I think when we talk about child marriages, I think Tutu is right. Tutu is right, yes.
Chief Nkosi: That’s good. I want to believe it. Some other people at this conference, to whom I’ve asked this question, some of them are less convinced…but all we can do is do everything we can – in the most aggressive way we can. I think you’re right that we have to be really aggressive.
Chief Nkosi: Aggressive. Yes.
Gavin: And that’s why I want to go back to the UK and Ireland and throw the information that I’ve gathered up in the face of the media and say, ‘You must cover this issue. You must fully embrace this global story.’
Chief Nkosi: Yes.
Gavin: I was interviewed just before I came to Tanzania and the story was supposed to be at the front of the newspaper and it was pushed way back.
Chief Nkosi: Of course. Because it didn’t really mean anything to people there. But I hope with the insight of what we have learned here in Dar es Salaam, I hope that whatever you carry out from here, all your conversations etcetera, I hope that this campaign can get onto the front page.
Gavin: I hope so too. It is very important. And I think talking to you and talking to the Tarime girls today has been really useful, insightful, and I thank you very much for giving me your time.
Chief Nkosi: Well, Gavin, I am privileged that I’m coming here to try to transform the traditional leadership. I came here before in 2010, in fact I went to Tarime…
Gavin: Oh yes, where the girls come from…
Chief Nkosi: Yes, which is where the girls come from. And I went to see, to evaluate…for the first visit when I came here in 2010, but it appears there is nothing much happening.
Gavin: Yes, you mentioned that before. And the fact that your government minister…
Chief Nkosi: Professor Luo…
Gavin: …the fact that Professor Luo is here at this conference too…and your country has a whole ministry set aside to combat this scourge…it’s fantastic!
Chief Nkosi: Indeed. Exactly. We are working in this very real way with traditional leaders, and I think Tanzania needs that kind of set up. They had it before, in 1960, before they attained their independence. You’ve seen the girls from Tarime can’t even speak English, and yet this country, Tanzania, was colonised by the British, just as good as Zambia was…
Gavin: Or just as bad, depending on the way one looks at things… (Laughs.)
Chief Nkosi: (Laughs.) No, but we want our girls to communicate with others. They were finding it difficult to follow what is going on.
Chief Nkosi: And they only learn Swahili in the schools, but I think English should have been taught too. This is the medium of communication.
Gavin: So, the other gentleman who accompanied you here is Douglas Chipoya – and he was carrying out a workshop in Swahili about child marriage?
Chief Nkosi: In fact Douglas Chipoya works for an organisation in Zambia, an NGO actually, which is called Women for Change. They’ve been doing a good job actually. Yes.
Gavin: And he’s obviously very well supported by you and the ministry…
Chief Nkosi: Exactly. Exactly.
Gavin: Well, okay. I’m sure that you are tired. If I think of anything else I’ll come and find you again.
Chief Nkosi: Yes, we don’t have very much time left but if there’s anything that you have missed please do come and ask me. You are most welcome.
Gavin: Thank you.
The next interview in the ‘African Voices on Child Marriage’ series will be released next week and will see Gavin meeting the women and girls from the CDF project to explore the issues associated with Child Marriage more deeply.