Zimbabwe: A Past and Present Future

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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.

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Zimbabwe at 37: Independent We Are Not

On April 18th 1980 Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, marking the end of a brutally racist white regime and the return of African rule. All that was wrong with our country supposedly became right.

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Image from: http://independenceday2017images.com/happy-independence-day-2017-zimbabwe-images-wallpapers-photos-pictures.html

 

Today Zimbabwe celebrates 37 years of independent rule. This year more than any other, the proclamation rings hollow, because independent we are not and the only thing to celebrate is the bravery and boldness of those who sacrificed much in the run up to, and since 1980.

I remember independence year like it was yesteryear. My family was living in Jamaica at the time, alongside a whole load of other Zimbabwean expatriates, who had been flung to all corners of the earth by the oppressive and racist white regime of Ian Smith. We attended a ceremony to celebrate the occasion, and even as a 7-year-old, the significance of the moment was not lost on me. The adults were really serious, more serious than funeral serious as up until then, for me, funeral serious was the most serious anyone or anything could be. So this was big. When they sang the new national anthem, the pride in their voices was audible, and the emotion in their souls was palpable.

In my adult years, I came to know that many of the adults that day including my father, had left Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some had left part-way through a higher education that their uneducated parents had sacrificed much for them to gain. Others had left families, dead and alive. But none, including both my parents, had left without the hope that one day they could return home, free, to resume their interrupted lives, and rebuild the nation they had fought for.

The Pre-independence Years

In my adult years I think back to my childhood, my pre-independence childhood, in rural Rhodesia. In my little world, with my extended family, it was a happy and safe world. But, intriguingly, all the images and memories of that time are always covered in a grey cloud, literally. There is no colour. I figured out that this cloud represented the soldiers that lurked everywhere whenever we went into town. Big white soldiers, with red faces, dirty blond hair, mean mouths and big guns held up against their green army fatigues. They watched our every move and made sure we didn’t go into the stores we weren’t supposed to shop in or the restaurants we weren’t supposed to eat in. To this day I feel nauseous at the sight of anything, absolutely anything, with the pattern of those fatigues whether green, grey or blue.

In my adult years I think back to my uncle, my youngest maternal uncle, a true ‘army vet(eran).’ He ran away at 14-years old or so to join the freedom fighters. I now imagine how heartbroken my grandparents who raised me and numerous other cousins must have felt, not knowing the whereabouts of their youngest child. They never showed us that heartbreak, or even fear for that matter, not even on the night that the white soldiers burst into our kitchen, pointing their big guns at my grandmother, probably demanding that she tell them where her son was.

In my adult years, when you hear of the brutality of civil wars across the globe, I now know that we survived that time purely by grace, My uncle did come home. I have yet to hear the story of how he turned up, but though he must have seen some very ugly things he came back with more joie de vivre than I remember him disappearing with. I saw him every time I went back on vacation; every time until 1996. That was the last time I saw him alive. He had survived a brutal war only to die, one day before Zimbabwe turned 17, at the hands of a regime equally inhumane, an African-led government that failed to respond to the AIDS epidemic, waging war, this time against its own.

Modern-day Warfare

Today that war rages on with different rules of engagement, but a war nonetheless. The shops and restaurants may now be open to all, but far from all can pay for anything therein. The country has run out of money for the 2nd time in 10 years and this time round the government issues a worthless currency, saving the real money for themselves of course. No one who holds a decent job gets paid at the end of the month, any month in fact. To get paid you need to run a hustle or be connected to someone in power. And the icing on the cake, those same people in power say it’s okay to use goats – as in livestock goats – to pay for school fees, while they use the country’s money to fund their children’s education at elite schools around the world.

There is no infrastructure: if you have water and electricity at the same, by default you must be living in the presidential residence. The best roads are at the airport to impress visitors or in the president’s constituency. The capital city is a shadow of its former self. The offspring of the wealthy elite boast that they have never set foot in Harare – way below their worth to do so.

In 2017, any voice of dissent is shut down, imprisoned or disappears. Worse still, the masses are so broken that they have no faith in anyone who stands up to the regime. Where are the leaders in waiting? Not allowed and nowhere to be seen. When they do manage to rise, they somehow falter as there is no fertile ground for their growth.

Today, a Facebook friend posted a video of part of the Independence Day proceedings in Zimbabwe. A procession of middle-aged men, surrounding one very old man, shuffles along to the beat of a brass band playing what I call afro-imperialist music – dreary, overbearing, repetitive, with bars reminiscent of the old colonial days, trumpets on the verge of screeching and drums too loud. These are the ruling elite, Zimbabwe’s new oppressors. Fatigues have been replaced by suits and the weapon of choice is now the dollar. Their mouths remain mean but now their faces are black and their heads bald. There isn’t a woman or young person in sight. Everyone is serious, funeral serious, because this time round there is everything to mourn and nothing to be proud of.

Zimbabwe at 37 – independent she is not.

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Image from: http://www.heraldonline.com/news/business/article145176029.html