It has to be the devouring psychology of pain. The queer, little-understood pleasure of self-torture.
In The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad explores so deeply and offers us a telling demonstration of just how the human soul, driven to its dark limits . . . once it is lost in a consuming wilderness of fear, squalor, pain, deceit and depravation first attempts to reject, but soon succumbs and then embraces, but eventually holds on, no, clings jealously to its own perilous conditions.
There is a weird way in which poverty to the poor “is” beautiful and way more attractive than the pursuit of wealth and good living. You can almost feel in his very footstep, the tormented African’s ingrained, perfect disdain and mistrust of anything good and pure, anything edifying, rich with promise and anything pure, clean. You can never mistake the gutted undertone of accusation and anger even, as they “congratulate” you for that brand new car or idea or house or success or some ground-breaking innovation!
Conversely, all our great successes and innovations must thus be presented wrapped with embarrassing doses of caution, apology and muted pride. Our blood veins seem to flow against any form of enterprise, winning, salvation, true happiness, love, real good and wealth… “yikuphonguzama bakithi, tinongo kiya-kiya, siyancengisa, ahh okwangaphi, lathi kuphonguwela kithi ngenhlanhla yamaswazi!”
It’s like our life portion has an upper limit of 50%. We are therefore, happy with 45%, but dare not insult and place us in the category of 80-100%. Who are we to deserve excellence? Have we so familiarised our collective selves with so much mediocrity and degeneration that both the memory and appetite for good things is deleted?
Yet the place we have all been landed in by our invariably ruinous regimes of economic plunder has made all our lives so pitifully vulnerable, so short and brutish, we are always two meals away from collective abject destitution! You would expect that, at the first opportunity that presents itself, Zimbabweans would want to throw away their chains and leave their mass prison cell en masse, running as far away from it as possible, bathi mpthuuu! Never again. You would expect our voter-registration queues to be longer and more resilient than our four decades of pain. But alas! No!
Our real horror is how much our collective heart of darkness has taught us to embrace our poverty and fear, and to prefer painful lives, willingly to defend and protect our own destitution and feel upset and potentially robbed of our indignity by anyone who proposes an end to our lifetime of suffering.
He must have mastered the African psychology to know that even half a century later, all dozen million of us, like the typical African woman aka mbokodo, who lives through a marriage of torture and trauma and infidelity and indignity, but still embraces self-death and willingly submits to her infected, wife-bashing husband, defending the bastard with her all and willing to take the blame for her own pain and abuse. So too, it is with us, we too will nurse our 12 million bleeding sores and only ask for more — sihlalele abantwana!
It is the heart of darkness. The chicken’s memory retains the horror of its caged immobility, its legs tied up and squatting in one position from Tshelanyemba to Queens Park East. When you untie its legs, long resigned to its chained journey, that horrified chicken may as well remain in that squatting posture for another three hours — embracing its imprisoned horror. Even knowing its freedom, it is utterly incapable of using it.
It is the heart of darkness, for it cannot be our conscious choice that makes us accept and amplify the power and omnipotence of the devils in our lives. It is familiarity with vice and evil that so blinds us to the possibility of virtue and good.
It is the heart of darkness, not our conscious mind, that chooses the path of vain glory, wanton greed, corruption and flagrant abuse of public office . . . and it can only be our own self-hate that continues to promote celebrated infidels, unapologetic looters and the most divisive, immoral and scandalous among us, to take charge of our lives. Why else would we limit ourselves to failed mediocre options if we didn’t believe we are worth less?
A happier sinner, must be that who never met and knew the Word. But what excuse have we, the wise and literate, who choose self-abuse and sinful lives, with whole Bibles in our hands? It is unforgivable self-hate, for a nation in the availability and abundance of sound options of good, solid leadership, of proven competence, of unifying vision and passion, of self-denying and servant leadership, to look the other way and prefer and defend proven sloth and perpetuity of its own abuse.
For indeed Conrad observes, rather painfully, that in the fullness of time, the tentacles of the dark wilderness, embrace and crush your soul and you feel only disgust and revulsion at any sighting of good and pure!