By Grace Kwinjeh
Eyes full of lust, Marange Apostle Sect’s Madzibaba salivates over young, beautiful and intelligent Monica Kunzekweguta. Never mind her tender age he already sees in her a potential wife, hoping for the chance to pounce on her and satisfy his uninhabited desire for sex and multiply the fruit of his loins. He already has 11 wives and scores of children.
Mercy said no.
God had another script for Monica’s life. Today decades later she is a bestselling published author with one solo book and four compilations and has participated in four other anthologies.
Monica a graduate in Sociology has together with other authors just published Life’s Chrystal, using her own story, including years of experience as a life coach, she speaks to the wounded, rejected and broken. Her words and life story give healing and life.
“Girls were expected to marry young, I was already 16. Men from that church who were in their 40s used to turn up at my boarding school asking me for a date. This was emotionally unbearable and embarrassing. I was too embarrassed to tell the school officials or anyone,” writes Monica in one her first books Silent Strength.
She could have been a child bride, instead she fled.
With her father’s full consent Monica is almost forced to marry a church elder, old enough to be her grandfather, a leader of a religious sect that allows child marriages. Monica’s story brings to the fore a vile and evil practice the Apostolic sect has been condemned for of early marriages with many of them classified as statutory rape.
“After the service, two men followed me to our tent, and told me that, their leader got a prophecy that I should marry him. I knew what this meant, but I was not one to be intimidated. I told them that I was not interested,” Monica recalls.
Concerned the women’s rights movement has been raising awareness against child marriage, sadly it remains rampant with recent statistics revealing that 32 percent girls are married before the age of 18 and four percent before the age of 15.
Instinct and a deep sense of survival forced the young teenage girl to run for dear life from Makoni district in Manicaland to Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city.
She makes a journey into the unknown following a virgin path none had walked on before, leaving behind imprints of her feet others years later are surely and steadily stepping on to find themselves. From Harare she moves to the United Kingdom then later to Canada where she is based now.
Every aspect of Monica’s being and life has been shaken, abandoned to the whims of patriarchy after her mother left her a toddler just three years old after her parents divorced.
Life has not been very fair to author and life coach Monica but that has not defined the woman she is today. What lessons do we learn from life’s hard times? How does one come to terms with the trauma of rejection, abuse and even worse betrayal?
The International Woman (TIW) talks to Monica Kunzekweguta (MK) below is her story.
TIW – How did Monica become the woman she is today, life coach and celebrated author?
MK - It has been a long journey filled with challenges, stress, self-doubt, and soul searching. What got me here is the drive to achieve my dreams and the desire to see all of us win. I worked in Mental Health and the Care sector for many years. I was tired of following the same routine day-in-day out. Most of my clients had moved from high support to medium support. I felt redundant and I began to yearn for more. I quit my job as a Supported living Manager and joined an agency to do live-in care. Most people thought I had lost my mind, I wanted something which was less stressful, flexible and still paid my bills. I wanted change. I used the opportunity to do my Life Coaching course. I wanted to continue working with individuals, I did not want to be stuck in an office setting. In coaching school, I met Anita Sechesky who was compiling her second anthology at the time. She gave me the opportunity to share my story. Living Without Limitations: 30 Stories to Heal Your World. I always say 1500-words (about 3 A4 pages) changed my life, because they did change the direction of my ship.
TIW – Let’s start with the challenges growing up. You were a victim of forced child marriage, tell us more which church was this? Child marriage is still rampant in some religious sects and it seems not even the law is able to protect the little ones, made worse by the desperation of poverty. What more can be done to protect the human rights, dignity and standing of the girl child?
MK – I grew up in the Marange apostolic sect, from a very young age men used to visit me at boarding school Hartzell High, looking for a date. It was both stressful and frustrating. I pretended they were my relatives because I did not want that to trigger some bullying. I had a tough time each time I went back to school with a shaved head. I was determined to finish school and live life on my own terms. Most girls were kidnapped at conferences, I was fortunate to escape. After my “O” levels, I was told that what I had done was enough. I knew that this meant I would need to attend every conference and without a doubt get married. After my narrow escape two years prior to that, I decided to run away from home to pursue my education.
-Child marriages are still rampant, and that really upsets me. It’s difficult to convince the girls and their mothers that this is just perpetuating a life of poverty and abuse.
Some of my younger sisters still go and get married despite knowing that they can go to college or university, I was the trend setter. Exposure alone is not enough.
-We need to find a way to get through to the mothers, they are so afraid of ending up with an unmarried daughter. They believe that if a girl is over a certain age and is still not married, she will become a prostitute, and no one wants to be called that.
- I am working on creating rescue homes, places where girls can be supported to go to school and learn life skills and get some education. Just advising them no to marry young without providing education and support is not enough.
TIW- You have as the adage goes turned the lemons life threw at you into lemonade. How did you break out to find your self to the woman you are today?
MK - When I want to achieve something, I will work on it until I achieve it. It might take me a while to get there, but I will get there. I am determined, focused and believe that there is enough for all of us. I pursue my dreams and if I run into some tough challenges, I am okay with starting all over again. I am not afraid to travel or to be alone. I think this gives me a lot of time to think and plan and grow.
TIW – In your books you open up your heart and soul to inspire others. Tell us more about your book writing journey.
MK - If you had told me in 2013 that, “in 5 years’ time you will be a bestselling published author with one solo book and 4 compilations and would have participated in 4 other anthologies,” I would have laughed at you and told you to stop dreaming. That year I hit rock bottom, I almost lost two properties in one calendar year. Firstly, I had to go back to Zimbabwe from the UK to fight a close relative who was refusing to vacate my property, I thought it would take only two weeks, but 7 months later I was still in Zimbabwe with no income. I almost failed to go back. When I finally managed to go back to the UK, I had defaulted on my mortgage and my apartment was in the process of being reprocessed. I remember thinking that writing my story will change my life. I joined an anthology and shared the story about avoiding the kidnapping at Mount Jenya where a man with 11 wives wanted me to be his 12th wife. That is when I discovered the power of writing and decided that I would share with others and help them to heal, as it was something that helped me heal the relationship with myself and my relationship with my father.
TIW – When you write do you identify or target a certain group of people as main beneficiaries of your story?
MK- I feel that as a nation we have gone through so much, socially, economically and politically. Individually we probably feel that we will never get over our life’s challenges. At the core, we all have the same basic needs. The need to feel safe, have food, shelter and warmth. For some of the things we have control over, and for those we must use our power to improve our circumstances and the quality of our life. I have gone through relationship challenges and I speak to men and women who need to realize that you do not have to put up with any form of abuse.
TIW – Silent strength was your first book, tell us more?
MK - Silent Strength: Gaining Resilience and Triumph through Life’s Challenges is my first solo book; it is a book in which I have shared about my life candidly. I decided to draw lessons from all my experiences, the good the bad and the ugly.
I have overcome, but there might be someone out there who feels like their whole world has just curved in because of their situation right now. Silent Strength demonstrates that no situation is permanent. Stay on track, it will all come to pass.
TIW – You have also published several other books. What are the titles and perhaps what was the inspiration behind them?
MK – I have published 4 anthologies, my focus is to encourage authors, mainly new authors to discover the healing power of writing and all the other benefits of sharing your story.
A) The Depth of her soul: Beautiful stories of faith and Empowerment
->this book celebrates women because they play a significant role in building families, communities and nations.
B) Untold Stories of Resilience: Courage, Strength and the Unyielding Spirit.
-> This book is about resilience and how we need it in every aspect of our lives
C) Unbridled Strength! 38 Stories of Resilience and Growth.
->This has a section which explains more about resilience, some people
Wanted to understand what resilience is and how we use it.
D) Life’s Chrysalis: Stories of Transformation and the Power of Change.
-> Like the other 3 books, authors share their true-life stories in order to heal and help
others to do the same.
TIW – Tell us more about your life in the Diaspora. Do you find it easier than say if you were in Zimbabwe?
MK – I have lived in the Diaspora since 1994, for twenty-one years I lived in the UK. I moved to Canada in 2015. The hardest part for me is missing out on family events, experiencing nephews and nieces growing up and getting to know them, attending their special events etc. The worst part is losing a loved one and not managing to go for the funeral or take a long holiday to go and use my care skills to look after a parent or grandparent when they are not well.
It’s as if the whole landscape has changed, I walk in Harare and I do not recognize a single person, that makes me sad…where is everybody? It feels like I am in a foreign country sometimes.
Diaspora has taught me so much, and I love to share with my fellow Zimbabweans. I am thankful to social media especially Facebook, I have managed to form some meaningful friendships and work relationships with people from different parts of the world. It has also help me reconnect with people back home.
TIW- What are your thoughts on the situation back home in Zimbabwe? Given a chance would you return any time soon?
MK - The situation back home is heart breaking, I fail to understand this “dog eat dog” attitude. I am more of a “if you learn, teach and if you get, give.” In 2007 I went back to Zimbabwe, but I realized that I was not ready and prepared enough for that terrain. I salute men and women who are still standing. I know that Zimbabweans have been described as a resilient nation, but I don’t think this should be used to perpetuate abuse and oppression.
Once I put things in place, yes, I would like to go back and continue to use my skills to support the youth, the girl-child and women.
My mind is on Africa…my friend and I created a platform called YABO (Young African Break Out). We realized that our young Africans need to break out and develop skills which will help them benefit from technology and use the opportunities available to create wealth. The platform uses WhatApp to deliver lessons and coaching. It costs $60 U.S for each young person per year. We hope to get some sponsors, to help our youth grow and find other opportunities to earn income online. The world is changing fast we need to create our own jobs.
TIW- Any few words for The Woman International readers?
MK - If you run a business, I would advise you to write a book. Writing gives you more credibility. Publishing a book, can create a new career path for you. This has the potential of open doors which you never knew existed. Someone is waiting to hear about your experiences and the lessons you learned. We can all get there faster if we support each other, there is enough for all of us. We can grow together, remember we have different abilities, strength and exposure, competing is a myth don’t let it destroy you.
I have book two launches and networking event in Calgary Alberta, Canada on the 17th of August. Money raised will support Cyclone Idai victims, focusing on education and healing the mind.