The Bazezuru community of Tonota is a troubled lot.
Known for their high moral standards based on strict Christian values, Bazezuru have of late been facing what could easily pass to be the most challenging time in their long history.
Disintegrating moral standards and a general decline in a value system that was not so long ago the envy of many has not gone unnoticed. While the conservative old guard clings to their ancient strong regimen of traditional beliefs as learnt from their forebears, it has not been so easy for the younger generation.
While it is generally accepted that Bazezuru are an ethnic community, insiders point out that the opposite is true.
According to Samuel Mooketsi, the headman of arbitrary, Bazezuru of Tonota Village arrived in Shashe in 1958, as a group of “believers” travelling from Zimbabwe.
“The denomination was led by a priest called Jale Mareberwa. We are Christians, not an ethnic group, and we are guided by a particular lifestyle central to Christian values”, said Mooketsi.
The Bazezuru follow a robust and ambitious program that has hard work, honesty, fear of God and caring for one’s children as the central pillars. Men traditionally shave their heads bald and keep long beards. The women put on long white dresses and take care of the household chores.
The men have the prerogative of marrying as many wives as the heart desires. An ability to provide is the determining factor.
Polygamy, according to Headman Mooketsi, is not enforced by the church, but they as the church are not against it. The Man, as head of the family, is the decision maker and is ultimately the one in control of financial transactions. The man could have more than one of his wives coming from the same family and if he so wishes could give away his daughters as a hand of marriage when they are still young as part of the religion’s practised culture of arranged marriages.
According to the Zezuru religion drinking of alcohol, smoking and engaging in illicit behaviours are all explicit taboos.
“The church has a strict program that needs to be followed”, said Mooketsi. “We go to church on particular times and days, and from Friday at three in the afternoon till Saturday at six in the afternoon it is ‘Sabbath’ and we are not to do anything, including taking a bath,” said the traditional leader.
Perhaps as a result of mixing with other people from different backgrounds, the Zezuru youth are now finding it difficult to adhere to the strong code expected by their parents and demanded by the church.
Alcohol consumption and, of late, its abuse have become rife.
General thuggery and decadence are on the rise.
Even more worrying are increasing incidents of crime, a new phenomenon that was until very recently totally unheard of among this close knit community.
Bazezuru used to marry exclusively among their own community, chiefly through arranged marriages. That is a tradition that, like many others, is fast disappearing.
While until not so long ago it was an unwritten law of faith for the young Zezuru boys to have sex with outsiders, it is now commonplace to find a young Zezuru boy with an out of wedlock child with other non-Zezuru girls in the village.
The frugal life that was so much a culture of their forefathers has been replaced by extravagance and explicit consumerism and materialism.
Growing up in Tonota in the 1980s, I knew it as a fast rule that young Zezuru boys learnt such crafts as passed to them by their fathers like welding, carpentry and iron making as was the case in the past. Bazezuru were no doubt some of the most industrious and most trustworthy people around when I grew up.
Women went around the village selling artifacts like baskets and other necessities like vegetables. In the most of the scorching heat they would straddle the village making whatever little they could muster from their meager sales.
Some little money was made, but then it was spent only on necessities.
For those of us well versed in the ways of living of this community, it is exceedingly clear that the community has been totally unprepared for the strong wave of changes that are today sweeping through it.
The moral fibre that used to hold the community together is going through trying times.
Alongside the collapse of values is , and along it decimating some of the good virtues that have allowed for stability, continuity and high moral standards that have over the years become the envy of outsiders.
Rre Mooketsi and other elders in the villages concede that the youth are out of control. Something akin to culture shock is sweeping across the entire Shashe Valley in Mandunyane where the Bazezuru are most concentrated.
“We are known as a God-fearing community. But it is disappointing and heartbreaking to see our children behaving like wild animals”, said an elderly who did not want to be identified.
He is unable to hide his stress when talking about the good old days and how things have so badly changed for his people.
Without a second thought, he says the only way out of the many problems eating at the core of his people is a return to the old ways which he says primarily means obeying God and respecting elders.
“The youth are out of control, and have abandoned their traditions”, contends Rre Mooketsi.
Sunday standard, has uncovered bigger social ills that are much more than just the unruly youth.
There are many divisions even among the elderly.
There is a silent fight for power and control.
Residents, however, are cagey when talking about this issue for fear of being victimised.
Those who shared their concerns would not want their names revealed, lest they be accused of opening up to outsiders which could very easily lead to victimisation.
“Originally, the Bazezuru, are from The Gospel of God Church founded by Johane Masowe. We have since broken into a number of churches as people want control and power,” said a source who revealed his name to the Sunday Standard. “Now there is Majambase, also known as Bakomane. There are other groups such as Madzibaba, Johane Marange and Matongo. They all now worship in different locations. Some fathers have now reverted to the traditional Shona way of running the families and not entirely guided by the principles of the church,” the source added.
The source also reveals that some are not happy with the fact that the headman of arbitrary, Rre Mooketsi, is a Motswana-born priest. According to the source, Rre Mooketsi was handed the leadership position by the late Kaphius Charuka. It seems some of the elderly were not pleased with the decision. Headman Mooketsi confirmed that he was born in Tonota in 1932, and married to a mongwaketse from Kanye. Rre Mooketsi contends that Bazezuru have no problem with him being their leader as the Zezuru religion is not founded on ethnic background.
A youthful tertiary going student informs the Sunday Standard that life to them is not easy as opposed to the traditional tswana family.
“A tswana child does not necessarily worship at his or her parents church.”
The youth argue that calling everyone within the community a-Zezuru is misleading.
“There are some of us who are referred to as Bazezuru simply because our parents are traditionally of Zezuru religion. Those who go to church are called ba-apostol, and we are neither church goers no belong to the Zezuru religion,” argues the young man.
He says together with others of his age, they have generally found the strict sub-cultural requirements that go with the religious sect as dictated by the church very difficult to follow.
“We are living different lifestyles. You do not expect us to stay for two days without taking a bath, we would stink at the bars and is not healthy for us,” said the dejected youth. He makes no pint to hide the fact that he frequents drinking spots. Even as he has in a way gone astray he still retains faith in the powers of the religion that is practised by his fathers.
According to him the “prophets”, who are elders in the church are very powerful people with strong spiritual powers that enable them to tell if one drank alcohol or slept with a girl the previous night, and this, he says, hampers the youth who want to enjoy drink but would otherwise also have no problem going to church.
“We, as the youth, are troubled by arranged marriages. A wife was chosen for you at a tender age. Tell me if twenty-years later when you are to marry her she would still be pretty as she was when she was young. Recession could have taken a negative toll on her, and she will not look as beautiful as she was once long ago,” said the young man.
In the end, it is not easy to discern that the winds of change are definitely blowing over the Bazezuru community.
One other thing that is unmistakable is that change has come unexpectedly and the community is struggling to deal with its complexities, let alone the diversities that come with what is by any account a weird kind of assimilation into the greater Batswana community of the greater Tonota.