By Bill Saidi
EVERY culture in the world, since time immemorial, has had folktales. Invariably, they are morality tales, featuring a villain and a victim — tsuro nagudo (The hare and the baboon) among the Shona, or the wolf and the lamb, Cinderella and the crue
Generations hence, when most of us have, as they used to say, handed in our dinner pail, our children’s children’s children will have their own folktales.
Is there any chance, on the evidence to hand, of any other institution emerging as the monster, other than Zanu PF?
Zanu PF virtually created Zimbabwe out of the ruins of Rhodesia, which had destroyed Southern Rhodesia, to replace it with the white supremacist monster that was led by Ian Smith.
It’s difficult to imagine any other monster in a future Zimbabwean folktale than Zanu PF, if we are to accept that today Zimbabwe is not what we had all hoped it would be when Zanu PF created it in 1980.
Unless I am under a delusion induced by too many half-meals and no drugs for a chronic condition, we all hoped for a Zimbabwe of equals, of citizens enjoying the absolute freedom to succeed to the best of their talents and ability regardless of their political affiliation.
We did not dream of a classless society, as Karl Marx propounded. There would be classes, but these would be determined only by a citizen’s determination to rise or fall in accordance with their application of their abilities.
There would be no free lunches for anybody. Yet there would be no action by the government to create poverty or a voiceless society by implementing policies which deprived one entire sector of the population of opportunities to better themselves, while piling up wealth on another on the basis that they agreed with one party’s policies.
In future, descendants of the small middle class of this country will bemoan the persecution of their forebears, how they were hounded out of their positions, how they were denied the opportunity to better themselves through legitimate means because they would not kneel and pray at the totems created by Zanu PF.
There is a middle class in Zimbabwe today, but with 70% of the population living below the poverty datum line, it is so insignificant that its impact remains wafer-thin.
Study the attendances at Zanu PF meetings anywhere in the country — urban or rural. The only people looking as if they had taken care with their wardrobes before coming to the meetings are the main speakers — the leaders.
The rest look as if they were either unemployed or employed as the most menial workers.
In the communal areas, the majority look so crestfallen and so bedraggled in appearance you wonder if they actually belong to the same planet as the speakers.
The gap between the poor and the rich in Zimbabwe can be measured by a scrutiny of the attire and demeanor of the people attending Zanu PF meetings anywhere in the country.
In the mid-90s, while editing an independent newspaper in Harare, we sought to establish why the middle class was not actively involved in politics. It turned out most felt the major political party — then Zanu PF — did not really tolerate members who were vocal in their criticism of the party.
This was not surprising: Zanu PF was born out of a Marxist-Leninist ideology: neither Marx nor Lenin preached the ideology of pluralism.
All who campaigned for the party to discard this ideology of praise-worship of the party and its leaders were either kicked out or so pilloried and despised they felt alien and decided they were better off elsewhere.
Some felt so scared, one of them compared the party to Mack The Knife:
Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear
And he shows them a pearly white…
When the shark bites, with his teeth, dear
Scarlet billows start to spread…
On the sidewalk, Sunday morning
Lies a body oozing life
Someone sneaking around the corner
Could that someone be Mack The Knife…?
Two people interviewed in the survey referred to earlier included the late Lupi Mushayakarara and Sam Gozo, an entrepreneur of notable success. They said they were both so disenchanted with Zanu PF and felt alienated.
I have never myself belonged to a party, voluntarily. In Zambia, because the newspaper I worked for nominally belonged to the government, I was forced to join Unip, Kenneth Kaunda’s ruling party, until it was toppled in 1991.
In Zimbabwe, transferred in 1981 to Bulawayo as editor of the Sunday News, I was advised by a senior staff member to join Zanu PF if I hoped to survive. This was because I was so Shona-speaking in an area where, at the time, there was tension between Zanu PF and PF-Zapu.
My life became complicated when I was elected an official of my branch, whose membership was almost exclusively of domestic workers.
At a meeting with other branches, I was publicly denounced by someone who recognised me as the editor of a newspaper known to be critical of the party.
I was transferred back to Harare, not specifically because of that incident.
The last meeting I attended was addressed by the late Bernard Chidzero, who became our MP. I lived then in Belvedere and had known Chidzero since he had returned to the country from Canada in the 1960s.
Nobody asked me why I was no longer a member, which I found comforting.
My enforced membership did not in any way alter my attitude towards political parties. As a journalist I owed it to my readers not to belong to any party. There is absolutely no way you can be objective as a journalist if your allegiance is to a particular party.
In 1993, on a visit to the New York Times offices in The Big Apple, I saw a notice on their board: reporters were told they should not belong to any activist groups.
We were told that a reporter who belonged to a pro-abortion group had interviewed a pro-life leader for the paper. The interview ended prematurely, with the two engaging in a finger-pointing, four-letter word exchange.
Which brings me to the events of May 3 last week.
I would have preferred for the entire journalism fraternity not to mark the World Press Freedom Day in Zimbabwe.
But we know the government media exists and is active in promoting, with maniacal keenness, the myth that Zimbabwe has a free press.
To have expected them to boycott the celebrations would have been like asking all Christians to ignore Christmas.
It is difficult to predict how posterity will judge us as journalists when the time comes for us to be assessed for our activism against the mandarins of exclusivity and totalitarianism. There cannot be the faintest hope that there will be sympathy for us, that we could get away with responding that “we were only following orders”.
After World War II, most of the people on trial at Nuremberg who made this excuse were still given short shrift. Journalists who, even remotely, promoted the idea that Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda deserved to be executed were treated as having taken part in the genocide in that country in 1994.
Any folktales involving the media, for generations to come, will most obviously feature Zanu PF as the monster stalking the land, eating alive all journalists as they sit at their computers, trying to put together a story of how Zimbabweans have allowed themselves to be hounded into poverty and speechlessness by a cruel, uncaring party.
Cynics might conclude that Zimbabweans were their own worst monsters. Today defenders of the party’s record of infamy and perfidy have become even more strident, insisting that the country is under siege because it took back from the white people the land which their ancestors had forcibly taken from them.
Historically, there is little to fault this assessment. Politically, there will always be serious questions. Was the violence necessary? Was the plunder of the farms, which continues to this day, unavoidable?
Are the consequences of that act of lunacy justified? The food shortages and the anemic state of the Zimdollar?
Today, in every high-density suburb you care to visit, people have makeshift stalls outside their houses to sell tomatoes, onions, cabbages, mufushwa, madora, cigarettes and sweets.
At Chikwanha shopping centre in Chitungwiza, hundreds gather every Saturday morning to sell everything from roasted maize to second-hand clothes. The place is so crowded it resembles a “Born-Again” church rally.
Operation Murambatsvina? They scoff at that bloody campaign of May 2005.
“There are still no jobs for us and the prices are even higher than they were at that time,” the vendors say.
Inflation is running at nearly 1 000%. The monster may have to eat more people before it can pacify them all.
* Bill Saidi is editor of the banned Daily News On Sunday.