I am a pre-independence baby – 7 years old when Zimbabwe supposedly became independent. Yes, by that time my family, like thousands before and after had already left the country to roam as forever immigrants. And I haven’t spent more than four weeks at a time in my homeland on my trips over the years. But I’m not writing about life as an immigrant today…well not that aspect of immigrant life anyway.
This morning, I’m feeling pre-independence anxiety – PIA. Maybe it’s a kind of PTSD. My medically-trained mind wants to classify it, to make sense of it. I honestly haven’t felt it for close to 40 years. Just that way back then, in the olden days as my child tells me, I couldn’t describe it – not in my native Shona, nor the little English I knew back then.
But I felt it then and I feel it now.
Let me try and describe it. Be my own therapist, because this $#yte in Zimbabwe looks like it’s about to get real. My cousin, my daughter in our Shona culture, now a grown and intuitive and super-smart woman – just told me to trust the body memory – so I will.
It’s a little lump in the chest and a subtle, low-grade churning in the tummy, masked, because on the outside life is pretty good.
I felt it then and I feel it now.
Then, it was a feeling that came with the carefree life of a 5-year-old in rural Zimbabwe that was punctuated with random invasions by unpredictable red-faced Rhodesian soldiers with big guns. A day of continuous play could randomly end with a night where guns were pointed at the heads and chests of those that were assigned to protect and care for me – the Mbuya and Sekuru who treasured their children’s children more than their own children; the maininis who stepped in for our mothers; the sekurus who entertained all of us wazukuru, in a way that no money could pay for today – until would one day, they disappeared in the woods to fight ku hondo.
I feel this PIA, I suppose a kind of PTSD, as I follow the news feed coming out of our Zimbabwe.
I want to say beloved Zimbabwe but struggle to because a bunch of the worst kind of sociopaths have so disfigured the land, our hearts and our minds. Disfigured to the point where at times we hate our own country and perhaps ourselves so much that we have been known to declare ourselves as South African – when the South Africans themselves don’t even like us.
I tried it once, to be South African. I won’t lie. But it didn’t feel good. It was easy to pull it off though – my surname is classic Sotho as is my round face, fair complexion and solid butt. As I said ‘South…’ I immediately felt bad, really bad, like a traitor. Never did it again after that. Three years ago, I was reminded of how ridiculous my pathetic attempt at defection was when the security office at Oliver Thambo Airport in Jo’burg spoke to me in Sotho or Tswana – not sure which – for a good minute. I gave him a blank look, then he laughed, then I laughed as I proudly said I was Zimbabwean, after which he laughed even louder…with a twinkle in his eye though.
We have been so psychologically disfigured that we are locked in some sort of variant of Stockholm Syndrome. It’s a destructive variant too, because just over a year ago, many of us (not me though) celebrated the emergence of the masterminds behind 38 years of misery and misogyny who were supposedly freeing us from the dictator that was Robert Mugabe and his power-hungry wife. It’s twisted and warped and oh so messed up, but I digress.
Back to the newsfeed. Those of you following developments on ‘shosho’ media or Whatsapp or Al Jazeera will know what that feed looks like. The bitter icing on the cake is the now seventy-two-hour internet shutdown. Those of you who haven’t seen the newsfeed, go to Google and type in Zimbabwe.
I think the PIA stirred a day ago when I watched a video of state police, well let’s call them what they are: thugs, breaking into people’s homes, terrorising them and marching them out at gunpoint. A scene I remember so well. The only difference was back then, the thugs were big and white and very well fed instead of the skinny, black and very underfed brainwashed muppets of the military chiefs in that video. There’s another video circulating on Twitter, that of a boy, age unknown but probably about 9 or 10 years old:
I say age unknown as children in Zimbabwe, even from well-off homes, are small for their age because of malnutrition, plain and simple, after 38 years of misery and misogyny and let me add in ‘plunderation’ – just made that up – by the devils’ aides. Anyway, this boy vividly describes people he probably knows being humiliated and beaten by men with guns. The way he describes the beatings tells you that it’s vicious. I thought of how my young son was traumatised the other day when he saw our cat with its prey, and here you have a boy seeing another human being savaged…what does that do to him? Nothing good of course.
The stirred PIA then became anger and culminated in an overwhelming exhaustion. Later that day, at the office, I told my colleague how ‘mashed up’ I was. She replied, ‘In fact you do look really tired, a funny kind of tired, not like you at all.’ She didn’t know what was going on with the PIA, and quite frankly, neither did I, but it wasn’t right, so I was not like me at all. Or was I? Perhaps I was. Just the 7-year-old me in a 45-year old body.
This morning, PIA is in full swing. I am trying to get on with my day, in my comfortable, warm space tying up the straggly bits on my to do list and the emails that need some sort of closure before they spill into a new week. But the lump is clogging my throat and my tummy is doing backflips. There’s news of men and boys in rural areas being forced out of their homes to camp with soldiers. We can infer plenty when men and boys are taken from their homes; history clearly spells out what that means. The President is out of the country transported by multi-million-dollar jet, paid for with money meant to feed malnourished boys seeing their role models being violated. He’s consorting with Russia and China tweeting about this and that when the internet in his country has been shut down. Just before the 2017 coup that was not a coup the ‘leadership’ was also out and about consorting with other leaders of disrepute and look where we are now. Today, running the country in his absence is a military general who can barely string a sentence together because the only words he knows come out of the barrel of a gun. Then there comes word that these are all the ingredients for a heady cocktail…of war. And meanwhile, our Whatsapp groups, the preferred method of communication with family back home, remain silent.
No good for the PIA.
I wonder, if I feel like this, if we diasporeans feel like this, far away from the maddening crowd, how must those living it feel.
Let me just say it. Cry my beloved Zimbabwe.