As usual, the glitz and glamour of entertainment and fashion has taken up the imaginations of the world, and has given much adoration and aplomb to Jah Prayzah’s winning of an MTV Africa Music Award (MAMA). In as much as I was happy for his achievement in the entertainment business, I was saddened by the fact that another Zimbabwean, attended the MAMA in South Africa, and walked away with an award for her work in ending child marriages in Zimbabwe, yet her work was not celebrated.
Mary Taedzerwa wins Reimagine Africa Award
By looking at the little or no media attention she received, her story seems uninteresting but Mary has a story much like Jah Prayzah’s. She has a story of thrive, of hard work, and of impacting people’s lives. Mary began working with Plan International to end child marriages after she managed to escape child marriage herself. The Reimagine Africa award for Public Advocacy awarded to her, together with another Kenyan youth activist, Vivian Onano, on evening of 22 October, was a recognition of this noble cause. Yet, the silence from home was deafening.
A thousand questions
Where was the celebration for Mary’s achievements? Is she also not Zimbabwean? Is her hard work and story not relevant? Is the entertainment sector much more relevant than development work? In Zimbabwe child marriage has been on the agenda for quite a while now. A 2014 survey by Zimbabwe’s National Statistics Agency states that, one in three women ages 20 to 49 surveyed reported that they married before age 18; an estimated 4 percent marry before age 15. Mashonaland Province records the highest percentage of child marriages at 50%, and Bulawayo Province with the lowest of 10%. The survey shows that the whole is afflicted with this tradition. Is this issue then not a cause of concern? The issue here is, we had two Zimbabweans, receiving awards, at the same platform, on the same night. Why did we celebrate only one’s achievement and not the other?
Answers to my own questions
In my opinion, there seems to be the one answer to all these questions. It’s that, the entertainment sector is more visible compared to any other sector, particularly the development sector. I suspect it is a case of media framing and agenda setting. Maybe, it’s not that Mary’s work is irrelevant, but what gets covered in the media a lot is what gets the public’s attention. Development work is usually covered at a minimal, in most cases it’s covered only on designated international days or months like Women’s day or AIDS day. Outside of these, the public never get to know of their social champions.
The media plays an important role in our society. It generates information and knowledge. It creates, guides and shapes public opinion. Therefore, it is important for our media to cover more stories on social issues that affects our communities. When development work, activism, or campaigns are supported and covered by the media with such efficiency as is afforded to entertainment, society becomes aware of problems in their community (including regressive traditions). This in turn motivates people to take action and influence policy making. Activism and change is strong with numbers, but numbers cannot be mobilized if people are not aware of the issues on the ground or to the very least, who is tackling what issue.
The reality, however, is that the public enjoys reading and watching coverage on the entertainment and sports sectors. It may be difficult to award social issues and social champions the same attention as artistes and athletes. To address this, media, celebrities and activists should continue partnering. Most international organization like the United Nations are doing this through Goodwill ambassadors.
It is also important that entertainment and arts in Zimbabwe consider social issues and support activists. As Behind the Spin highlights, celebrity endorsements in development work is more likely to attract credibility and the attention, ‘and this is the most vital ingredient of success in a world saturated with so much noise generated by media messages.’ Examples of when such partnerships were successful are, Aleck Macheso celebrity brand ambassador for the Red Cross Zimbabwe; and Albert Nyathi, Jah Prayzah and Napoleon Nyani as personalities for the Pinda MuSmart/ Ngena kuSmart campaign on circumcision.
Social problems like child marriages, affect everyone directly or indirectly, including celebrities, so they should be everyone’s concern. Socioeconomics has proven a reciprocal relationship between the social and the economy. Big and wealthy entertainment sectors in the world, like Hollywood, are found in countries deemed economically stable with more progressive policies and less social issues. Celebrities should know that when society is down, so is every structure that is constituted by the public. Tackling social issues together develops our community including the entertainment sector. Imagine how powerful it could have been for Jah Prayzah himself to publicly congratulate Mary and acknowledge her work. We could be one big step ahead to ending child marriages.
Now can we celebrate Mary?
I would like to congratulate Mary Taedzerwa for receiving the MTV Reimagine Africa award for Public Advocacy. I would like to acknowledge her work in ending child marriages and making Zimbabwe a better place. May she continue to find strength in knowing that her work will and has already begun to change the future of the Zimbabwean girl. I call on all Zimbabwe to recognise her work and celebrate her achievements. Let’s do this as a first step to bringing media attention to social issues that require everyone’s concerted efforts. Social issues such as child marriages are not an afterthought, and should not be treated as such.
Written by Samantha Tatenda Majoni, a media and communication professional who enjoys analysing society through the mediated lens.
Main image, Activists Vivian Onano and Mary Taedzerwa receiving their award during the MAMA 2016. Image taken from www.static.thenet.ng