psalms 91 he who dwells …

psalms 91
he who dwells in the shelter of the most high will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.l will say of the lord “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom l trust”


An Investigation of the Representation of the Cruel Male/Compassionate Male in Neria (Mawuru, 1992)

By Phoebe Sakarombe


Neria is a 1992 Zimbabwean film about a linear process of inheritance, disinheritance and reinheritance. The film was produced by John and Louise Riber of the Media for Development Trust (MFDT). MFDT is a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) established in 1989 as a project of Media for Development International (MFDI), the copyright holder of Neria. MFDI completed its first full year of real activity in 1992, getting about a quarter of a million dollars in support from about 15 different donors.[i] The MFDT project is registered in Zimbabwe as a non-profit Social Welfare Organisation and is listed in the Zimbabwe Aids network (ZAN) directory as providing ‘Advocacy, Training and Information Exchange’ services. Its ‘Thematic Areas’ are listed as ‘Prevention and Mitigation’.[ii] The concept of ‘media for development’ itself is cited in a World Bank ‘Working Paper’ as encompassing ‘education, information, entertainment and edutainment’.[iii] The MFDT thus fits within the broader NGO agenda of bringing in so-called development from outside so as to influence ‘progress’. The MFDI’s Annual report for 1991 records that the organisation received support of $5,500 from Rockefeller’s National Video Resources to cover ‘social message film/video’ projects for Africa.[iv] Neria is one such so-called ‘social message’ or ‘message-oriented’ film.


Neria Publicity Poster

The script for Neria was written by Tsitsi Dangarembga, herself a filmmaker. Dangarembga has directed notable films such as Everyone’s Child. She is also the writer of the acclaimed novel, Nervous Conditions. Godwin Mawuru, the director, is one of Zimbabwean well-known film makers. Mawuru spent a number of years doing theatre work before getting into film. In theatre, he worked in various areas including acting, directing and back stage. Since 1986, Mawuru has worked on several local and international films. In 1987 he produced and directed his first production entitled The Tree is Mine. His second production as a director was on MFD production entitled ‘Facilitation Techniques in Training’. Neria is his third production. Mawuru is also well known in Zimbabwe for producing the popular soap, Studio 263.


The blowing up of Neria to 35mm format was completed in early 1992, in time for the March World Premiere in Harare. MFDT received funding from CIDA and SIDA for this work that covered almost all expenses.  In Zimbabwe, the film became the biggest box-office success ever, beating Terminator II and The Gods Must be Crazy.[v] Also, it was released in theaters in Kenya, Lesotho, and Uganda in 1992. It was entered into a number of festivals, winning several awards. In total, it won a total of about US$15,000 of prize money for its Producer, Director, Best Actress, and Best Musician. In early 1993 it was released in cinema halls in Zambia, Ghana, Australia/Oceania and South Africa. On April 7th 1992 it premiered in the USA. The video was released in Zimbabwe and Uganda in early 1993.


Background to the Making of Neria

Neria was conceived as part of the MFDT’s so-called ‘Women’s Film Project’. According to the MFDT’s Interim Report Overview of June, 1989, the script development for a feature film on issues of women’s rights, focusing specifically on widows, began in early March 1989 with the signing of an agreement with The Canada Fund. A cheque for Zim $ 15,000 was received April 4, 1989. A design team of twelve ‘experts’[vi] (including the producers) from the fields of women’s law, women’s rights, writers and film makers put together.  The purpose of this team was ‘to advise the producers and script writers on legal and cultural issues presented in the script development to ensure they are presented accurately and effectively’.  The experts also provided guidance in identifying case studies and research materials. 


On the completion of initial ‘focus groups discussions’ (FDGs),[vii] key informant interviews for the script of Neria were held between May 26 and June 15.  These consisted of ‘widows, lawyers and social workers who deal with widows’. According to the MFDT’s Interim Report Overview, the interviewees were referred to MFDT by the University of Zimbabwe Law Department, Women’s Action Group, and by interested individuals. Of the widows, five of the interviews were conducted in Shona, and one in English.  Each interview was between one-half hour and one hour in duration.  The lawyers (one of whom was Mr. Eddison Zvobgo) and social workers were interviewed in English, and detailed notes were taken during the interviews. All of the interviews with the widows were recorded on audio cassette and later translated in summary into English.  The tapes are on file at MFD. A total of eight interviews were held.[viii]


A meeting of the 12 Neria ‘experts’ was held on March 3, 1989, during which John Riber gave a brief background to the process of script development, pointing out that experience of previous message-oriented films had taught him that the formation of a design team of experts to advise on the issues, and the holding of focus group discussions and key informant interviews, is the best method of research for such a film.  The discussion that ensured is very crucial to this present research and shall be quoted liberally:

A discussion was held on the suggested objectives and messages for the film (outlined in the more detailed agenda handed out in the meeting).  Joan (May)said that the film can be a bridge between customary law and common law, the point being that customary law is functional in its own context, but things have moved quickly to modern life. People’s thinking has changed, and the laws must change with it.  What is functional in a village becomes non-functional in the city.  This film can help bridge the two.  She added that we must be careful not to ‘hammer’ the men, as there is a tremendous sacrifice among men who accept their customary responsibilities.  Godwin (Mawuru) said that we must be sensitive, but one aim of the film is to make men conscientious and appreciative of the women’s position.  Elizabeth (Rider) added that the custom as it stands should put across a positive message to the men that the system itself also exploits men since the heir has to take responsibility for all.  If men did not have this enormous responsibility, there would be a more equal share of responsibility.  Linda suggested that perhaps the film should highlight the children involved since children are at the base of the triangle.  It would be a way to bring the children in without pointing fingers at either men or women.[ix]


The final version of Neria shows that the suggestions by some of the experts – Joan, Godwin, Elizabeth and Linda – were actually the basis for the movie.  Neria tries, as Joan says, to ‘be a bridge between customary law and common law’.  Its object, however, seems to be to show that ‘things have moved quickly to modern life’.  It seems that, in Neria, modern life is equated to urban life.  Neria also tries not to ‘hammer’ men. However, the cautious warning not to ‘hammer’ men seems to have not been followed. As this dissertation will argue, men are ‘hammered’ in Neria. The hammering is only softened by introducing a type of ‘compassionate male such as Patrick, Jethro and the High Court Judge. African tradition or custom is the one that ends up being blamed, as Elizabeth Rider suggests.


Synopsis of Neria

Neria is the story about the protagonist, Neria, a 35 year old woman living in the Harare suburb of Warren Park. When the movie begins, she is happily married to Patrick and has two children, Mavis, aged 13 and Shingirayi aged 7. Both children are in school and seem to be happily provided for by their parents. The family has just bought (or finished building a new home) and owns a modest car. Neria works at a women’s crocheting co-operative where, in a good month, she earns as much as her husband. Neria and Patrick are painting their new home, a project which Neria contributes to both financially and physically. Patrick and Neria have been living in the city since their marriage, though they go to the village to visit their relatives on occasion. The bottom-line is that Neria’s family is modern, happy and secure. Much of the happiness seems to come from the fact that Neria and her husband understand each other so well.


Silhouette shot of Patrick and Neria at their favourite spot in the rural areas, watching the sunrise. Patrick and Neria are imaged as inseparable and as equal partners. But is this characterisation of the two as a couple which always agrees and does good things together realistic?


While Neria has a shared understanding with her husband Patrick, she has basic differences with her mother-in-law, Ambuya. The bone of contention seems to be that Neria is a modern woman and Ambuya a traditional woman. Ambuya doesn’t understand their urban lifestyle and wonders why Neria insists on working instead of staying home like ‘a good wife’. Ambuya resents Patrick’s closeness to his wife, which she thinks is too much. Neria respects Ambuya’s ideas and does her best to please her. The happiness and security in Neria’s life is however painfully destroyed by fate. As Patrick is returning home one evening he is hit by a car and killed. Neria is devastated. Her brother-in-law, Phineas, steps in to help. Neria and her children go to her husband’s rural home for the funeral. After a month in the village, she realises that she must go back to the city. Not only have the children have missed school, but she has missed work. She needs to go back to the city to continue their life. In the mean time, Phineas is helping himself to Neria and Patrick’s things. He takes possession of cash and their Post Office Servings Bank joint account bank book, the car, virtually all their furniture and eventually takes over her home. It is not clear why Patrick is doing this except out of greed and sheer insensitivity to a widow and her orphans.


Because of widowhood and Patrick’s property-grabbing, Neria struggles to make ends meet. She pleads with Phineas for money from their savings to help her family, but is ignored every time. In time, it is obvious that Phineas is misusing his traditional role as the protector of his brother’s family. Neria’s best friend, Connie, advices her to go to a lawyer. But Neria is reluctant as she does not want to offend her husband’s family. One day Neria comes home from work to find the locks on her house changed and her children gone. She knows that Phineas has taken them and goes after them. She arrives in the village to find her daughter very ill and in need of hospital care. Ambuya is away at her sisters’ village and only Phineas is around to help her. She pleads with him to take them in her late husband’s car to the hospital but he is not willing. In desperation, Neria carries Mavis to the bus stop and manages to get her to the hospital on time.


Patrick’s funeral. Phineas stands respectfully ad sorrowfully on the right of the Priest. However, the movie characterises him as being a hypocrite and as actually being happy that his brother has died since he can now grab assets and money off the widow and orphans

Neria decides that things have reached a point where she must fight back. She decides to take Connie’s advice and seek legal help. After learning the background to the conflict, the lawyer advises Neria of the steps she must follow. With the help of her brother Jethro (Oliver Mtukudzi), Neria goes through the necessary legal channels at the community court level and her eldest child is appointed their heir. Phineas is ordered to return the property. Phineas is outraged by the turn of events as he feels he is naturally entitled to his brothers’ property. He takes the matter to the High Court, claiming that Neria is not fit to maintain the children and that in such circumstances it is best to follow customary law. After an involved court hearing which brings to light Phineas’ exploitative, greedy and insensitive nature, the judgement is that Neria will remain the guardian of the heir. Through this process Ambuya realises that Phineas has all along been twisting tradition to suit himself. Ambuya comes to understand, through witnessing Neria’s victory over patriarchal exploitation, that at times tradition must give way to changing times. 



In Neria there is a type of a male character who is depicted as naturally-born cruel, as if cruelty could be in-born and as if cruelty has a gender. In Neria the gender of cruelty is only limited to males for example the likes of Phineas, who appears to be the main antagonist of the film. The researcher will note that the cruel male type is traditional and backward. He is unable to change unlike the women or the so-called compassionate males. The cruelty of males in Africa is also set up as a direct result of a failure to modernise by Phineas and those who think like him. These cruel characters are out to reap where they did not sow, as Phineas does to Patrick and Neria’s family.


The film begins with an omniscient voice that, thundering alongside a musical score of drums and rattles, describes the hardworking nature of both Patrick and Neria. The camera casts as image of a man riding bicycle with a lunch box behind and some children playing street soccer. The background is dark whilst the people themselves are in the mid ground and beaming sunburn light cast out. The fact that the background is dark draws attention to the mid ground. It looks as though the children are laughing. This is an establishing shot as it sets the atmosphere and mood whilst creating the setting.  The film maker exploits the long shot which gives us visions of the object without much detail. Phineas is shown in full screen the sound track changes so as to create a tense atmosphere, even the volume sounds lower (repeated in the scene when Phineas carries off Patrick and Neria’s wealth). Some tapping sounds quicken the pace of the film as though it’s a little anti-climax, creating the mood for danger or action.


The ‘good’ life that Neria and her family lead early in the movie is depicted in such a way that it should not last. It is too good to be true. As such the filmmaker actually seems to cause Patrick’s death so that the role of cruel villains such as Phineas could start to be seen. Though Phineas is not to blame for Patrick’s death, his behaviour to Neria and the children afterwards seems calculated to transfer the blame to him. The family is suffering primarily because Patrick is no longer there to take care of them, not because of Phineas. Patrick died from an accident, not from Phineas’ greed. However, the filmmaker conveniently creates a one-sided, villainous Phineas so that the audience finds someone to hate. Everything bad becomes synonymous with Phineas. Even Neria who as always gentle to people starts to treat Phineas as a type of social evil.


Because Phineas secretly took all the money in cash that belonged to Neria, their POSB joint account, their car and among other valuables, the camera zooms in on Neria and her facial expressions show that she is unhappy and miserable. In a little conversation with colleagues at the ‘Crocheting co-operative’ she reveals that her children Shingi and Mavis have been suspended from school because their fees have not been paid due to Phineas’ cruelty and cunning  as he holds the bank book in the village when the book is supposed to help Neria and the children in the city. She is given advice by her friends to further the case to the community court and sue Phineas, despite the fact that he is her in-law. Here, it can be seen that tradition has failed Neria and she has to seek protection at the law courts. Dialogue between these women allows the filmmaker to suggest that tradition no longer protects women. Women have to come together for protection, or go to court. However, the High Court judge is also a man.


Neria testifying in Court.

Neria’s gestures and facial expressions are calculated to show that she is agitated and irritated by Phineas’ behavior. She explains in a dialogue how Phineas went to the village and never communicated with her. She says ‘Patrick sacrificed everything they had to make Phineas and the extended family happy … and when Patrick dies, Phineas took everything that belonged to the family …’ The researcher notes that Neria’s tone is that of bitterness and pain as she recounts Patrick’s sacrifice which is matched by her in-laws’ indifference in their indifference in the scene when Neria leaves the village after Patrick’s funeral. 


In Neria Phineas symbolises male violence on the powerless. He is also irresponsible. The researcher notes this through Oliver Mtukudzi’s song ‘Dzikamawo wakura’ in the scene when Phineas and Patrick go to a pub whilst they are in the village. Indeed, Phineas is known for three things: buying beer for prostitutes, his cunning behavior and his insensitivity, especially to his village wife. When Patrick dies, Phineas transfers his cunning and insensitivity to dealing with Patrick’s widow Neria. The tables turn, however, and Phineas turns from being the most popular man in the village and pubs to become the most disliked and detested person. The filmmaker shows how the community’s approving attitude changes when they hear about Phineas’ intentions of making Neria’s life miserable on the basis of ‘tradition’. The researcher notes that after the high court judgement everyone including Ambuya who once supported Phineas’ acts began to notice a cruel heartless man with evil intentions which where a result of his masculine ego and machismo. Phineas’ domination of others is partly blamed on his distortion of tradition, it is also African tradition that is being blamed for creating such men who oppress widows and orphans.


Male cruelty is a result of social situations that encourage male domination over women. Pierre Bourdieu (1976) states that male domination and cruelty is rooted in our collective unconscious that we no longer even see it. Male cruelty is so in tune with our expectations that it becomes hard to challenge it though we see the extent to which it affects the widow and the orphaned children after the death of the husband as highlighted in Neria.  Phineas’ domination is viewed in a gruesome way as he takes away Neria and Patrick’s P.O.S.B joint account, property, car and the cash that was in the wardrobe on Patrick’s death. The cunning brother justifies his acts as a way of helping the family. As he is talking to his wife whilst taking a dry bath in the village, Phineas says ‘it is the responsibility of the elder brother to take care of the family of the smaller brother according to tradition, and as you can see Mukoma Joel is not always around, so I take up the responsibility’. We agree that Phineas is cruel, but it is not made clear why some men should be better than him. If male dominance is part of the collective unconscious, then even ‘compassionate’ males such as Patrick, Jethro and the High Court Judge are also part of the same system that oppresses women.

In Neria male irresponsibility is a form of violence. This violence is imposed on Neria and her two children, Shingirayi and Mavis as Phineas fails to pay school fees or the rentals (electricity is cut off and the children are sent out of school). However, Phineas’ actions do not make sense and do not seems to be motivated by logic. He just seems to be out to ruin the children, as if that was his mission on earth: to oppress orphans. This does not make sense. Such characterisation of Phineas as a naturally cruel man says more about the ideology of the film than about Phineas. It suggests that the message in ‘social message’ films such as Neria is ideologically motivated by NGOs such as MFDI.


Virginia Woolf attempts to analyse what she refers to as the hypnotic power of domination. She uses ethnological analogy and relates women and children’s segregation back to the rituals of the ancient societies. Woolf contends that:

people took upon societies as conspiracies that sink the private brother whom many of us have reason to respect and inflate in his stead monstrous male, loud of voice, hard of fist, childishly intent upon scoring the floor of the earth with chalk marks, within whose mystic boundaries, human beings are penned rigidly, separated artificially, where, daubed red and gold, decorated like a savage with feathers he goes through mystic rites and enjoys his dubious pleasures of power and domination while we, his women are looked down upon[x]


The issue of power and domination is dominant in Mawuru’s Neria as shown through Phineas who is depicted as a static character who cannot change from being cruel to adopting a better role or attitude. For instance, Phineas sits in the shop in the village reading a letter from Neria, without a care in the world. One can note that Phineas enjoys his dubious pleasures of power and domination over Neria’s family. Phineas fails to return the bank book as requested by Neria in the letter to him. He is not bothered at all with the suffering of his dead brother’s family.


In the melodramatic plot of Neria, Phineas is depicted as the sort of a man who likes to torment people just for the fun of it as he reduces Neria to servitude and tries to bribe Neria’s children so that they can turn against her. This is clearly highlighted when Phineas and his wife comes to Warren Park only to find the children at home. Phineas tries his tricks by paying money so that the electricity gets reconnected. After that, he goes to buy new clothes for Shingirayi and Mavis while wife gets Mavis a new hair style which Neria strongly disapproves. Phineas does all these things as a way of making the children turn against their mother, which is one way of fulfilling his cruel wishes. In other words, he is not content with robbing the widow of her money and assets. He also has the cheek to steal her children as well! However, this view of Phineas seems exaggerated to make sentimental audiences hate Phineas more. Mawuru’s characterisation relies on excess, or heaping negativity on Phineas. This strategy is lacking in creativity. In other words, if the filmmaker cannot make his point about Phineas’ cruelty through understatement and metaphor, then the characterisation has failed. It is unfair that even society’s problems such as child labour (Mavis ends up selling tomatoes and green vegetables at the market while Shingirayi washes cars instead of being in school) are blamed on male types such as Phineas instead of relations of the capitalist system.


 Phineas is depicted as taking advantage of patriarchal privilege in order to oppress Neria and the children. He is characterised as believing that he that he has the upper hand and has the final decision because he is a man. He does not consider that women can make decisions for themselves and the entire family as he constantly blames Patrick for always listening to Neria. Phineas argues that a man has the upper hand and authority and must not listen to whatever women say because he paid the bride price. He says to Patrick, ‘Remember I paid the bride price for her and you must not consult her in any sort because you are the man!’ These views are calculated to make Phineas look hopelessly backward and foolish. His character is created in such away that his kind a re shown as having no place in the modern world. However, it is not clear how a foolish and backward character can also be cunning enough to manipulate tradition. After the sudden death of Patrick, Phineas tries to trick Neria to accept the idea of inheritance so that he would get hold of her property and wealth.  When he finds Neria sitting on a rock where she used to sit with her husband, he says ‘Amainini l think it’s time that we two work out something whilst there is time so that the children will not feel that they have lost a father’. The film, in its search for a villain, contradictorily sets up Phineas as being at the same time a cunning trickster and a backward, foolish African man. These contradictions show that the filmmakers may be trying to force Phineas character to fit a contradiction.


Radical feminists appear to support the view of the backward and cruel male in African society. They argue that patriarchal culture imprisons woman and gives room for men to act selfishly. As far as this may be true, it may be noted in Neria through Phineas who exercises his power upon Neria and the family in the name of culture and tradition. Phineas keeps reminding his brother that men have an upper hand upon their women because they paid the so called bride price for them. The radical feminists further state that this social system has managed to survive for so long because its chief psychological weapon is its universality as well as its longevity, (Charvert, 1982). However, if we are also to believe that the African community is, after Kaphagawami (2000, p.77), ‘a collaborative life-world’,[xi] then the views of the radical feminists cannot be objective. If Africans collaborate to make their societies, then even the like of Phineas are part of that complex collaboration. The building of African values cannot be selectively limited to ‘good’ men such as Patrick, as this would mean that African values are one-sided and simple.


The researcher also notes that the cruelty of men in Neria is not only depicted through the protagonist Phineas but also through the male character in the folk tale ‘Jari Mukaranga’. As Patrick and Ambuya tell the folk tale to the audience they both depict the idea that Jari’s husband is a cruel man as he takes away his wife’s money which she sweated for whilst Jari himself was not around. His cruelty is much seen when he takes the wife’s money and marries another wife and shuns the first who is the breadwinner of the family. It is through this story that Ambuya and Patrick are teaching people that indeed men are cruel as they prove to be insensitive to the plight of women. In the courtroom, Phineas is even made to boast that he did what he did to Neria and the children because he was aware that Neria cannot withstand the pressures of being alone and what she needs is a man who can take care of the family.


Chirimuuta (2006) argues that the patriarchal nature of the Shona society has shaped and perpetuated gender inequality and male cruelty to the extent of allowing male domination hence paving way to female subordination. Scholars like Chirimuuta make it seem as if Shona society is patriarchal by nature. They forget that society is a result of socialisation, and can change. By forcing Shona culture to be seen as a part of nature, these thinkers are also condemning it unfairly as unchanging and incapable of changing. The same thing happens with Phineas. He is characterised as cruel by nature, and therefore incapable of changing. Such characterisation is flawed and says more about the filmmakers’ intentions than about Phineas himself.


In Neria, Phineas fails to change at all from being a cruel and arrogant person and adopts a flexible character. The researcher wonders why he remains a static character yet they are other male characters such as Jethro, Joel, Patrick and even the lawyer who are compassionate towards the plight of women. These men, unlike the antagonist Phineas, respect women and give them women their rightful place in society. These men tend to show feelings of sympathy to Neria and her children, despite all the challenges she faces as a result of Phineas’ apparent jealousy and cruelty. But the question is: is Patrick incapable of cruelty as well? Why is he shown as an angel? Is such characterisation believable or is it an exaggeration of positive qualities so as to manipulate audiences into liking the character of Patrick? In the real world, believable characters do both good and bad things. Patrick is used by the filmmakers to portray a one-sided, good man. He is a foil to Phineas, and therefore is suitable for driving their agenda of portraying ‘modern’ new men who fit the MFDI vision of the world.


 Uncle Jethro, Neria’s brother shows emotional capacity of empathy and sympathy to Neria’s misfortunes. He is always there for Neria and the children. Neria goes to Jethro for help and he assists her with money to pay school fees for Mavis and Shingirayi. Jethro, like Patrick, does not support the idea of patriarchy and tradition taking advantage over women.[xii] According to him, men and women are just the same despite the difference in gender roles. He is against Phineas’ own idea of placing women as objects and property in the society. This is the reason for his helping his sister by bringing back Shingirayi from the village. Uncle Jethro appears to understand the issue of gender equality, encouraging his sister to go to the community court as well as to the high court so as to allow the law to settle the differences between her and her in-laws. Thus men like Patrick and Jethro are modern and enlightened, while the likes of Patrick are in darkness and belong to the past. The compassionate and modernised men are used to diminish African values as backward without allowing fro dialogue with the likes of Phineas.



This chapter has argued that Neria makes strong points about the need for society to respect women in general, and widows and orphans in particular. The film tries to be a bridge between customary law and common law and to make men conscientious and appreciative of the women’s position. For this, Neria must be commended. However, the film is weakest in its attempt to characterise society’s problems as being caused by people like Phineas. The film deflects attention from other weightier forces that are destroying family cohesion and social fabric such as capitalist pressures and exploitative economic relations. The film ends up, through bashing Phineas and showing him as incapable of changing, as mere male bashing. Neria loses opportunity for dialogue between genders in society as it divides people into the backward ones who cannot be helped (Phineas) and the good ones who are already modernised and converted (Patrick, Jethro). The likes of Patrick are labeled as the problem, and the likes of Patrick as the solution. The issue is reduced to those simple binaries. There can be no dialogue between the good (because they are good) and the bad (because they are bad). This is the tragedy of Neria, a good movie that is unfortunately distorted and caught up in the agendas of organisations such as Media for Development Trust International.




[i] Media for Development International 1991 Annual Report,

[iv] Media for Development International 1991 Annual Report,

[v] Media for Development International 1992 Annual Report


[vi] These 12 ‘experts’ were:

  1. John Riber is a film producer and camera man who has been concentrating on entertainment films with development themes.  He will be the Producer and Director of Photography on this film.
  2. Louise Riber is a sound technician and editor of films, and has been involved in all of John’s films.  She will be and Associate Producer, Sound Mixer and Editor of this film.
  3. Elizabeth Rider is working with Women’s Action Group, and is the editor of Speak Out Magazine, which gives information to women about changes in the law.
  4. Joan May is a sociologist who has been working in the field of socio-legal studies in customary and common law for many years.
  5. Charles Mungoshi is a fiction writer who has had ten books published.
  6. Thompson Tsodzo is a theatre lecturer, and recently finished a course on film writing in the U.S.A.  He has also written several books.
  7. Godwin Mawuru is a film maker who has concentrated in directing and camera.  He has also been involved in theatre.  He will be an Associate Producer and the Director on this film.
  8. Linda Mvusi is an architect by profession, has done professional acting, and is involved in women’s rights issues.
  9. Daphne Jackson is from the Canadian High Commission and is in charge of the Canada Fund, who has given the grant for this stage of the project.
  10. Bertha Msora is a playwright and is working with Ranche House College.
  11. Julie Stewart is a faculty member at the Faculty of Law at the University of Zimbabwe.  She has been working in the area of women and the law for many years.
  12. Amy Tsanga is working with Legal Project Centre as the lawyer in charge of their paralegal project.



[vii] The FGDs were carried out between March 16 and May 11, 1989, primarily at training centers where participants came from various parts of the country. The discussions ranged in duration from one-half hour to four hours, but most sessions were about 45 minutes in duration. A total of 20 focus group discussions were conducted as follows:

1.  March 16.  Harare.  Twenty-two urban-based women, members of the Association of Women’s Clubs.  Pre-school teacher trainees from urban high density areas ranging from 25-50 years in age.

2.  March 16.  Harare.  Waddilove Training Center.  Fourteen women and one man attending a Self Help Foundation training course on self-reliance.  All rural-based from different parts of the country.  Five were Ndebele and ten Shona.  Average age mid- to late-thirties.

3. March 17.  Harare.  Twenty men.  Mid-level employees (bookkeepers and accountants) of Lever Brothers.  Urban middle-class men in the mid- to late-thirties.

4. March 20.  Harare.  Ten women and four men.  Mid-level employees of Redd Barna (Norwegian Save the Children Foundation).  Urban-based middle class.  Average age late- thirties.

5. April 4.  Seke.  Twelve women members of the para-legal group.  These women advise the public on legal matters.  Average age forty.

6. April 14.  Jamaica Inn Training Center, Bromley.  Mixed group of thirteen rural-based Shona men and women from Goromonzi Communal lands on an adult literacy training course.

7. April 14. Jamaica Inn Training Center, Bromley.  Twelve urban- and rural-based women training in garment making.

8. April 14. Jamaica Inn Training Center, Bromley. Fifteen rural-based women in tie-dye training.

9. April 26.  Harare.  Four University of Zimbabwe law students.  One Asian woman and three African men.  Mid-twenties age group.

10. May 8.  Glen Forest Training Center.  Seventeen men and three women.  Rural-based from all over Zimbabwe.  Blacksmith trainees.

11. May 8.  Glen Forest Training Center.  Six men and three women.  Rural-based blind people in handicapped training.

12. May 8.  Glen Forest Training Center.  Seven rural-based women from different parts of the country.  Pre-school teacher trainees.

13. May 10.  Bulawayo.  Association of Women’s Club.  Fourteen women from various parts of the country; particularly the southern parts.

14. May 10.  Bulawayo.  Mzilikazi Home Craft Center.  Twenty women (mostly younger women), training in crafts production from surrounding high density areas in Bulawayo.

15. May 10.  Bulawayo.  Dairy Board factory.  Six men. Administrators of the Workers Union.

16. May 10.  Bulawayo.  Wives of police officers at the West Commonage.  Twenty young to middle-aged women.

17. May 10.  Bulawayo.  Mabutweni Home Craft Center.  Eight Women trainees in handicraft production from surrounding high density areas.

18. May 11.  Ndabazinduna communal lands.  Ndabazinduna Youth Training Center.  Thirteen men. Trainers and staff of the training center.

19. May 11. Chief Kaisa Women’s Club (Ndabazinduna communal lands).  Sixteen middle-aged women all members of the women’s club.

20. May 11. Kahlu Cooperative, (Ndabazinduna communal lands). Fourteen women and six men.  All cooperative members working in agriculture.


[viii] The 8 interviews were held as follows (names of the widows were not recorded for the sake of anonymity):

1.  May 26.  Harare.  Widow #1 is an employee with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Community Development.

2.  May 30.  Harare.  Widow #2 is a matron at Churchill Boys’ High School.

3.  May 30.  Harare.  Widow #3 is an employee (unspecified) at Churchill Boys’ High School.

4.  June 3.  Harare.  Widow #4 is a domestic worker.

5.  June 3.  Harare.  Widow #5 is a domestic worker.

6.  June 3.  Harare.  Widow #6 is a domestic worker.

7.  June 13.  Harare.  Mrs. Jabangwe, a social worker at Island Hospice who counsels widows and helps them with legal procedures.

8.  June 14.  Harare.  Mr. Eddison Zvobgo, a prosecutor at Mbare Courts.



[ix] MFDT Women’s Film Project Interim Report Overview, June 1989,


[x]  Woolf, Virginia, in Bourdieu’s ‘On Male Domination’ (1976).

[xi] Kaphagawami, D. (2000) ‘Some African conceptions of person: A critique’, in African Philosophy as Cultural Inquiry, eds I. Karp & d. Masolo, Bloomington, IN, Indiana University Press.

[xii] Linda Goffigan (1977) contends that gender roles are evolving and men are becoming more compassionate. In Neria this may be highlighted by Joel who tends to moderate the cruelty of male characters such as Phineas who are insensitive towards widows and orphaned children. At one point in time Joel slows his cunning brother down when he is in a hurry for the inheritance ceremony to take place in a span of two weeks after Patrick’s death. Joel realises that property and wealth belongs to Neria and the children and he even supports the idea that Neria should be given time to decide for herself, and that her decision should be respected.


Gendering Cruelty: An Investigation Of The Depiction Of The ‘Cruel Male’ In Godwin Mawuru’s Neria And Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Everyone’s Child.

Neria Publicity Poster

By Phoebe Sakarombe



The origins of film in Zimbabwe are colonial. But after independence in 1980 there were efforts to decolonise local film. Most films made in Zimbabwe since independence, however, quickly fell under the influence of NGO finance. This dissertation investigates a specific form of character ‘typage’ found within two selected Zimbabwean films that were made with the help of NGO finance. It is my contention that in Neria and Everyone’s Child there is to be observed a type of male character who is represented as if he were naturally cruel and exploitative, and as if cruelty was an in-born male trait. In other words, cruelty and exploitiveness are given a male gender. Or, at least, cruelty and exploitativeness are limited to certain males. The cruel male type does not change; moreover, he is unable to change, unlike the women or the ‘compassionate male’ types. Considering the complexity of social relations in Zimbabwe, this portrayal is both limiting and limited. This dissertation argues that the depiction of certain men in Neria and Everyone’s Child is actually meant to collectively diminish and tarnish, as much as possible, African gender and social structures in favour of a vision of social change sponsored by the Media for Development International (MFDI). This dissertation will critique the representation of the male character in Neria and Everyone’s Child. It will also compare and contrast the cruel, ‘backward’ male with the supposedly compassionate, ‘modern’ male. It will be shown that the pattern of characterising certain males as cruel-by-nature in these movies raises questions about the ideology of these films. In sum, this dissertation is therefore a study of the gender politics of Neria and Everyone’s Child, with the focus on the depiction of males or male traits. It is my contention that the depiction of males in these two films has a bearing on the understanding and perception of being male in Zimbabwean society, on gender relations and perceptions in general and on the types of ideological frames we can expect from Zimbabwean films.

Everyone's Child Poster


Avoiding the Tower of Babel: Why Development Needs Communication for Empowerment to Happen.


By Phoebe Sakarombe


Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As man  moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with  a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and  not to be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan  to do will be impossible for them. Come let us go down and confuse their language so that they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

            (The Bible, Genesis 11: 1-10)

The story of the Tower of Babel is familiar with many Christians and also non-Christians. It is a lesson about development. Development happens when people agree about what they want to do, why they want to do it, and how they want to do it. But when there is no common language to use, development breaks down. The lesson is that communication is very important. Without it, development breaks down and becomes meaningless.


This essay uses the biblical story of the Tower of Babel as a starting point and point of reference to illustrate the importance of communication to development. Using the story of the Tower of Babel, the notion of Development Support Communication (DSC) becomes actually easy to define: to develop, we need to know what we are doing. To know what we are doing, we need to avoid confusion. From this story, we know that efficient communication is what enables us to avoid confusion, and thus to know what we are doing and thus to develop. In other words, development does not just happen by itself. Rather, development needs to be communicated and understood. Without communication, development becomes confusion. Avoiding development confusion is what Development Support Communication (DSC) is all about. DSC, therefore, can be two things: it is a practice, and a process. It is a practice in that it is planned. It is what development planners do to support development objectives. On the other hand, it is a process in that it is ever-evolving and open-ended. Development planners cannot stop planning. This two-sided nature of DSC is the source of its importance. A formal definition of DSC is that it is a multi-sectoral process of information sharing focusing on two things: i) development, and ii) planned action. This process links stakeholders such as planners, beneficiaries and implementers of development action that include, but is not limited to, the donor community. To avoid the confusion of Babel, DSC obligates planners and implementers to provide clear, explicit and intelligible data and information about their goals and roles in development and explicitly provide opportunities for beneficiaries to participate in shaping development outcomes.


Avoiding Babel: The idea behind DSC?

Development Support Communication has changed as the world has changed. From the patronising tradition of the modernisation paradigm, more emphasis is seemingly now on dialogue and empowerment, involving beneficiaries in the communication process and giving them power to shape policies (Quebral 1972). DSC itself came about as a solution to the limitations of Development Communication (DC) where communication barriers emanating from cultural, wealth and power differences between the development agents (benefactor) and the targeted communities (beneficiaries) were not fully questioned. A redirection of development initiatives towards participation of the intended beneficiaries in planning and implementation of development programmes resulted (Agunga 2006).


 The idea of DSC thus equates development with communication. More often than not, development problems seem to emanate from communication problems between the Global North and the Global South and thus, for Sonderling (2006: 547), pertain to the ‘Global North-South dialogue’. Ascroft (1986) argues that very often no appropriate message gets through. Between good intentions and final results lies many unexamined assumptions, inadequate information, cultural misunderstandings, inappropriate strategies and poor communication techniques which must be overcome before a suitable message can be acted upon (Ascroft 1986: 382). According to Rogers (1983), human communication is effective when two parties in the communication process are equal in terms of education, social status, beliefs, and power, among other aspects. Rogers argues that change agents from the Global North, who in the development process are the benefactors, are equal to their audiences in the Global South, who are the beneficiaries.


Beyond Babel: How does DSC propose to empower the marginalised?

DSC calls for grassroots organising and communicative social action on the part of poor women, minorities and others who have been consistently and increasingly marginalised and left out in the process of social change (Kaye 1990; Servaes 1999)). DSC posits the ‘community’ as the unit and level of analysis, and the participation of communities in the design and implementation of development programmes is important. DSC views participation and dialogue as a means for local people and communities to engage with and influence their development (Servaes 1995). Development Support Communication thus becomes understood as a two-way process in which communities participate as main agents in setting development goals and standards. Added to this, the notion of participation is deepened by the emphasis on community access. As a result, interpersonal approaches are now recognised alongside mass media communication as vital to achieving the impact, (Melkote 1991). Johnson (1992) argues that participation is central in the empowerment of the grassroots as participation results in self- reliance. DSC encourages the marginalised to plan for their own development programmes, thus ending dependency. As Rowlands (1997) points out, “disassociation from the central power holders is only the first step in self-reliance”. DSC facilitators ensure this disassociation by breaking the power structures and helping the marginalised to access resources so that they will use them to their advantage. White (2004) stresses that it makes little sense to talk of community empowerment through participatory communication and dialogue in the absence of change in the existing power structures.


DSC and power relations

Lack of access to appropriate opportunities is an issue of power, (Melkote and Steeves, 2001). For Rappaport (1987), effective social change processes mean that researchers and practitioners have to address problems of unequal power relations. According to Wilkins (2001: 1), ‘to reshape the field of development communication we must situate its discourse and practice within the context of power’. Melkote and Steeves (2001: 36) argue that empowerment cannot be understood without first defining power, since real change may not be possible unless we address power inequalities between marginalised individuals and groups at the grassroots and those who make policy decisions. Craig and Mayo contend that political power in capitalist societies cannot be separated from economic power. Further to this, White (2004: 14) points out that “the effect of the poor communities to pull themselves up would encompass a redefinition not only of the political system but also economic, social and cultural practices that might engender a democratic ordering for society as a whole”. Community empowerment can therefore lead to social movements that may challenge existing political power structures.


 Avoiding Babel? Heifer Project South Africa as a DSC agent

The Heifer Project South Africa (HPSA), affiliated to the Heifer Project International (HPI), is a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that attempts to promote community self-sufficiency in food and agriculture. Projects consist of giving farm animals to help produce income and provide community relief. Intensive training in animal husbandry, farming techniques and community development also form part of the programme. According to the HPSA, receiving a farm animal as well as training in its care is an important step toward ending a family’s poverty. According to Steyn and Nunes (2001), the HPSA is primarily concerned with human resources development, empowerment, affirmation of identity, environmental protection and, above all, sustainability. HPSA is involved in DSC related activities such as interpersonal communication, capacity building and advocacy in empowering the community at large. The Heifer Projects’ gift animals, for instance, are an attempt to offer families affected by hunger a way of feeding themselves and becoming self-reliant. But for Heifer projects to work, they have to first find ways of avoiding a Babel-like situation where donors and beneficiaries misunderstand each other due to developmental ‘noise’.


The avoidance of Babel must begin, at the very least, with a change agent’s stated mission, values and philosophy. In this regard, the HPSA’s mission is stated as being to alleviate hunger, poverty and environmental degradation through education and training in sustainable animal production, raising public awareness. First, are these values enough? Some might raise the valid criticism that these values sound like clichés. However, it is the communities themselves that ought to decide. In line with Heifer’s mission, the host community is given space to decide and determine their need and develop a concrete plan for achieving their goals. But how big is this space? It seems that communities are asked, as families, to join together to define needs, set goals and participate in managing their projects as far as is possible. It is critical that, at the very beginning, a project such as HPSA develops a strategic, clear plan of action. Time is certainly important during this development of such a plan – so for up to three years staff, board and community members are all obliged to participate in this planning. This may define partnership. In this regard, Heifer works in productive partnership with civic groups, churches and individual donors.


HPSA has developed a set of core principles through which interested communities or families are screened, monitored and evaluated (Steyn and Nunes 2001). Some of the principles are:


  •  Accountability. Groups define their own needs, set goals and plan appropriate strategies to achieve them.
  •  Sustainability and self-reliance. Projects groups must plan to support themselves, eventually because HPSA funds a project for a limited time.
  •  Full participation. PHPSA works with grassroots groups or intermediary organisations representing grassroots groups.

Identification of the community’s needs has to take place within the parameters of the Heifer Cornerstone Model, which regards the poor as the head cornerstone of development. After the situation has been defined, the action group elected and training provided for a specific project, the planning phase begins. The purpose is to see that all resources are optimally used to obtain desired results. In this regard, HPSA believes that planning can be done by one person, but that involvement of all members of the action group is essential in goal setting and strategy design. Heifer staff, similar to DSC facilitators, helps the community to think realistically about the long term effects of any proposed activities and a dialogue about sustainability is initiated.


In terms of management, the Heifer Cornerstone Model emphasises a number of ‘key’ principles such as good leadership, partnership, collaboration, training and participatory monitoring. These, it is assumed, are not achieved through top-down management or within an autocratic and domineering style of leadership. Rather, it is the responsibility of the action community to keep participation and motivation higher. As part of the project, the donor group who provide the funding for the ‘gift’, visits the community and interacts with them in their own environment. The community shows the donors the fruits of their labour, and discusses their progress and problems with them. In this way the donors are kept up-to-date on how ‘their’ money is being spent. Finally, monitoring is used to check the progress of the project, while evaluation scrutinises the effectiveness of the project. On-going self-evaluation is a participatory learning process continuing throughout the life of the project. Special emphasis is placed on collaboration between the development agency and the action community, obtaining outsider assistance as needed. Having done all that, still, the Heifer project is not immune to Babel type situations. For instance, though the Heifer Project claims that it is agency based, it still seems that management determines the development agenda before extension workers take decisions in the field. Steyn and Nunes (2001), however, do not consider this to be a problem since, in their opinion, development and communication approaches used by HPSA fall under the DSC paradigm of development,. The two scholars argue that a holistic communication approach (Malon and Grossberg 1998) is used.



DSC would not work if it were not sensitised to beneficiaries’ real needs. As a way for connecting local people and communities with donor agencies in a two-way flow of information, DSC must treat beneficiaries as equal partners, helping them to set their own agendas for development. Cultural, economic and power differences are some the issues that stand between the development agents and the targeted community. For DSC to be effective, there should be DSC facilitators who should empower the marginalised through constantly engaging them in activities to identify relevant community needs and issues. A style-sheet like that of the Heifer Project is worth emulating, though it should not be followed blindly as it has its own potential flaws. For instance, it still carries traces of top-down decision-making. At the same time, while it is not possible to find all the characteristics of DSC in a single change agency because processes are often context specific, I still find Heifer Project South Africa to be an interesting DSC case study because its planning, implementation and monitoring and evaluation not only show that they regard DSC as a practice and a process, but that they are proactive in dealing with ‘noise’ and confusion. Popular participation should imply continuous sensitising of local people to become more active (and not just receptive) to development programs since participatory development means the peoples’ full participation in, and approval and clear understanding of, what is proposed. In fact, as illustrated by the work of the Heifer Project, the people must do the proposing themselves. They know their own needs better than any NGO. Where the grassroots community are refused the space to initiate the projects but are told what was already decided for them and must be receptive and responsive and grateful for what the benefactors have in store for them, this would indicate the persistence of the top-down communication model with its disproportionate emphasis on the all-powerful, all-seeing sender. The old emphasis not only serves to make the sender more influential and powerful at the expense of the receivers but is certain to lead to the confusion of Babel-like proportions.


Agunga,R. 2006. The Heterophily Gap: In Gumucio-Dragon, A. and Tufte, J. eds. Communication for Social Change Consortium: 381-388.

Ascoft, J.1976. “A Man Who plays No Instrument: Toward a Guide for Intergrating Rural Development.” Paper presented at the ECA/PAID Sub-regional workshop. Addis Ababa, Ethopia.

Craig, G. and Mayo, M. 1995. Community Participation and Empowerment: The Human Face of Structural adjustment. London, Zed books.

Johnson, H. 1992. Women’s Empowerment and Public Action: Experiences from Latin America. In: Wuyts, M. et al. eds. Development policy and public action. Oxford, Open University.

Kaye, G. 1990. “ A Community Organisation’s Perspective on Citizen Participation research and the Researcher- Practioner Partnerships.” American Journal of Communication Psychology. 18(1): 151-157.

Melkote, S. and Steeves, H.C. 2001. Communication for development in the third world: theory and practice for empowerment. New Delhi, Sage Publications.

Melkote, S.R. 1991. Communication for Development in the Third world: Theory and Practice. New Delhi, Sage.

Rogers, E. 1983. Communication and Development: The Passing of the Dominant Paradigm. Except for Communication Research. In: Gumucio-Dagron, A. and Tufte, T. eds. Communication for social change anthology: historical and contemporary readings. South Orange New Jersey, Communication for social change consortium, 110-125.

Rappaport, J. 1987. Studies in Empowerment. New York, Holmes and Meier publishers.

Rowlands, J.1997.  Questioning empowerment: Working with women in Honduras. Oxford, Oxfam Publishers.

Servaes, J. 1999. Communication for Development: One World, Multiple Cultures. Cresskill, New Jersey, Hampton Press.

Sonderling, S. 2006. Development support communication: A change agent in support of popular participation in a double agent of Deception. Cresskill, Sage.

The Holy Bible (New International Version) 1978.

White, R.A. 2004. Is empowerment the answer? Current theory and research on development communication. New Delhi: Sage Publishers



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