Latest News Editor's Choice

Opinion / Columnist

Janet Banana was publicly shamed and not her gay husband Canaan

30 Jul 2021 at 16:40hrs | Views
The public knowledge that the former President was gay was suffered by Janet Banana his wife more than Canaan Banana. She was shamed, she was whispered by those patriarchal voices of our women in our societies: they never cease to amaze me. Shaming in Zimbabwe begins in women groups first and then extends to men later. There is a reason for this: our societies are gay in as much as societies in the western world, but in Zimbabwe homosexuality is heavily concealed to feed the narrative that homosexuality is a societal ill of the developed world: it is Caucasian practices and not found in African societies. Shaming is a powerful tool knowledgeably and consciously use to crush specific targets women especially.

Janet Banana was whispered as the one who pushed her husband to homosexuality: She was not adequate in the bedroom politics: her performances were found wanting. This is the shame Janet carried all her life and was not able to openly and publicly challenge insults heaped on her person. She was not only a wife to the first President of Zimbabwe but had children: she made it her duty to protect them: she did: Janet was a single parent by all account. She was married to Reverend Canaan Sodindo Banana, a jailbird who always was in and out of jail during the liberation years: Reverend Banana was deep into liberation politics. The struggle and his constant incarceration became synonymous to Banana.

The former First Lady was known for her intellect and eloquent storytelling. Janet was a writer that never wrote, her situation did not allow her to share the challenges as first First Lady in independent Zimbabwe and how she coped with a husband who was conspicuously gay. She protected the husband and children and opted to lived double lives becoming almost impossible to scream her pain of living in the shadow of a cheating husband. Women were not helpful: instead giggles about her gay husband were the open secret discussed at weddings, women's parties, and those famous gatherings of women gossips we know so well.

Janet never realized her potential. She could have been an enabler to younger generation of women because of her vast experience as an educator. Her death leaves us with questions about her secret life she lived in the shadow of her gay husband. We know nothing about the challenges she faced in her challenging marriage. She never shared with us about her life as a single parent with a politically active husband ever since she married Banana. We can say with equal truth that her death leaves us poor of valid information she is taking with her to her grave. We talk about the culture of silence in our societies that has devastating effects on women generally: Janet Mbuyazwe Banana's life is a classic example of it.

I met Michael Banana in London; we had a leadership workshop together sponsored by the Common Purpose. I remember vividly how he introduced himself in the group; he brought an artifact with him that symbolized the strength of his mother. "My mother was the rock, the pillar and the strength in the family", he said emotionally. Almost everyone in the group was able to guess what he meant by those emotional overtones. Michael was communicating the chronic pain of his mother with the artifact. Somehow there was no need to say more than what he did because we all felt the pain he had to go through as a growing up child with a absent father at home.

Michael Banana, a son, to identify himself with his mother more than his father is very rare in our societies. Usually boys are obsessed in identifying themselves with their fathers: these are the dictates of patriarchal societies hence the productions of generations of patriarchal systems of gender oppression, misogyny, curiously nurtured by our women for generations.

His death two years ago and the challenges regarding the repatriation of his remains back to Zimbabwe must have caused untold trauma in her mother, Janet. Those of us with children do not even want to imagine losing an offspring: how we wish we pass on first and it is our children who should take the trouble to bury us. However, it happened that nature reduced Janet Banana that much to lose her son Michael, a child she loved. Like all mothers, losing an offspring exposes the mother: guilt. She heaps blame to herself. Was my motherhood inadequate? Where did I get it wrong in bringing him up alone without a husband: why me?

I know Mrs Janet Banana through my mother, Mrs Louisa Sihwa: she spoke often about her, what an intelligent woman she was. The powerhouse in her remained in the shadow of her husband who was globally known for his political struggle. However, this is not specific to Janet Banana, most women especially in this region of Matabeleland find it challenging to stand out and find her voice that is one's own not packaged with the identity of the husband. Sure, yes, we have luminaries of the moulds of Dr. Mildred Mkandla, an exception who has raised her political and academic identity independent from her husband. Her husband Dr. Strike Mkandla in return embraces her achievements. These are rare exemplary situations of good functional marriages especially in Matabeleland.

Janet Banana wanted to tell her story that was not embraced by the society she lived in: had it been, it was going to set precedence to younger women that silence is lethal in marriages. Janet was let down by women near her who wrongly judged her more than they could assist her. Janet Banana was amazing when it came to upholding sense of justice and women empowerment albeit on a limited scale. Unlike other African First Ladies, Janet Banana had no platform in a newly independent Zimbabwe where she could have used her inborn talent to attend to women's issues in the way Sally Mugabe did.   
Reverend Canaan Banana died in shame, was shamed by the society that had disdain for his sexual orientation. Homosexuality in Zimbabwe, even today is punishable and looked down upon by all societies although it is practiced secretly. Considering the contributions Banana did in the liberation struggle, to be treated by Mugabe like a fugitive was typical of Zanu PF. Rev. Banana did not deserve to be treated like a criminal because of his sexual orientation. Homosexuality is a right and a personal choice and certainly not a crime, that choice should be respected by civilized nations and societies.

We write this article in the hope that we should do better as a nation. We celebrate Janet Mbuyazwe Banana's life at the same time we should realize that we let her down. She had not peace on this earth: Her death; departing and entering another consciousness will give her peace she never had. Many lessons and questions remain open about her life. Culture is dynamic and as a nation we must change the way we view life: homosexuality: gay men and lesbians are present in our culture to deny it is disingenuous.

Source - Nomazulu Thata
All articles and letters published on Bulawayo24 have been independently written by members of Bulawayo24's community. The views of users published on Bulawayo24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Bulawayo24. Bulawayo24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.