Mathabelazitha/The Anvil BY ZIFISO MASIYE
“In my eyes, the eyes of the Scandinavian foreigner, no country in Africa quite compares to Zimbabwe. My travels have taken me around parts of your beautiful continent, but nowhere did I feel so safe, so calm, so welcome and so at peace with myself. You will remember how, back in the day, you and I would retreat into the pristine wilderness and pitch camp in those cave galleries of Lumene, Diana’s pool, Zhilo , Matshatshatsha and Matobo hills every other weekend. I kept coming back for more because I absolutely loved the climate, sheer freshness of the air. I adored the wildlife, balancing rocks, the awesome splendour of your natural tourist jaunts, but nothing quite stole me and captured my heart as the human spirit of Zimbabwean people. Nothing. Indefatigable! I insist, the priceless smile and effortless hospitality of a Zimbabwean is a greater selling point of your national pride than your mighty Victoria Falls!
Clearly, something was always fundamentally wrong in the politics and social architecture, and in all their radiant beauty, people seemed acutely aware of the obscene stranglehold of Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship in every facet of their lives. A quite undercurrent of political discourse and mounting discontent with Zanu PF misrule was unmistakable. What was supremely humbling and numbing was the Zimbabwean’s seamless capacity for humility, grace and patience in the throes of indignity and pain…the people’s collective calm–in-the-storm! Your people’s awareness of injustice , abuse and bad governance did not seem to me to ignite any urgent sense of disquiet, and at every nook and corner, you were greeted by the same assured ,sincere , beaming Zimbabwean smile and that life-goes–on attitude. Always you couldn’t help but feel embarrassed at just how much, as a Swedish citizen you took for granted in your own life. You felt super-spoilt and privileged to imagine what small governance infringements cause a European citizen to show government the middle finger, throw an advocacy tantrum and every toy out of their cot.
A million miles away, some 25 years later, still my heart longs the House of Stone. I hear of sad stories, still-born change and fears of decline and wonder, what in three decades could have become of those happy radiant people and the quiet storm I left brewing. Give me an update of the people and the political conversation back in Zimbabwe for I consider those my brothers and that place my second home.”
Without doubt, Swedish people are some of the world’s most wonderful citizens and I am lucky to have shared great pieces of my life with a couple of Swedes I can call friends. I always considered them ‘’white people graced with a black soul’’. The above message greeted my inbox last night, reminiscing rendition of our glorious past and a painful closing enquiry on the Zim political microwave, virtually stuck on de-frost for decades!
Like many, I keep trying to put my head around Zimbabwe’s political tsaba-tsaba with very little success . It is a complicated story of multiple undercurrents and criss-crossing themes with poisoned mandates, glorified personal agendae and no identifiable visionary anchor or real political constant from whence to expect any meaningful change. Nothing here is what it seems to be. Just this morning, the iconic author of Zanu PF and, for a life time ,the architect — in-chief of his cherished monumental Heroes Shrine , literally resurrected from his esteemed grave, spat at the Heroes Acre he so-worshipped and sped-off with his dry bones to rural Zvimba! If you woke up Nehanda and whispered to her that Mugabe has spurned his place at the Heroes Acre , she would puke with disbelief.
But in his discerning tongue-in-cheek venom, my barber sums it up thus: “ In the fullness of time ,the spirit of the Heroes Acre shall itself select its bona-fide residents and reject pretenders to the crown .Why do you think Mugabe’s bones deserve tenancy at Heroes Acre?”
And so I tried to respond to my Swedish buddy’s email.
“Despite seemingly intense political conversations going on in Zimbabwe, your analysis that its misleading and superficial is dead correct. The level of sincere political awareness is low. There’s millions of people engaged, rather incidentally, in a political conversation that they are not invested in, if you know what I mean. Their political attention span is short and limited to motivations of immediate consumption and personal survival. Inside and outside political institutions, there is a bankruptcy of strategy and political ideas in a long-term thinking sense. The rotting economic infrastructure is a fair mirror of the infrastructure of political thought in the country. It is very easy today in Zimbabwe to trap a significant population in a cyclical, fruitless political dance.
Some groups are permanently sold to directly trading their political allegiance for season-specific food hand-outs. Impoverishment of large sections of society, reducing opportunities for independent enterprise and instead creating party-specific bottlenecks of livelihood has significantly compromised the capacity of the country to generate freedom of thought, desire for effective advocacy and that appetite for knowledge and wherewithal to anchor meaningful political alternatives. Others are heavily invested in an excitable, yet endless conversation of change. It has become an end in itself .It generates careers, global sympathies, significant tranches and programmes of livelihood for many, and a whole new battle front for vicious entitlement dog-fights. So called democratic opposition is willing to kill to retain privileged sole access to queer “democratic dividend”, the cookie jar that comes with permanent opposition politics. They have neither the commitment to the end-game, nor any real perception of the finishing line. Pitted against arguably the most corrupt government system of our times, the democratic opposition can hardly pronounce with many real conviction against the pandemic scourge. Except they simply want to replace the monsters in the office, the monsters outside have hardly packaged and sold any distinguishable new political alternative to right-thinking Zimbabweans and really seem happy to run an endless race. The horror of your average thinking Zimbabwean today therefore, is not so much how to rid themselves of 40 years of decidedly failed governance, as it is the prospect of another great political void in the offing.
The rest of your Zimbabweans, hop and skip routinely, depending on their personal situation , their access and proximity to power and money from one camp to the other from those wielding the levers of power to those pretending a desire to dislodge them. You met some firebrand think-tanks and strong change animators in your time here and probably expect their fire to have scaled up and consumed society. No. Those Zimbabweans you purport would emerge as strategic ideologues and political change-makers are routinely sucked into a poisoned political tsunami where they rather envy what they “hate” , and soon desire to join in and champion the very cause against which they earned their fame.
A good lot of would-be solid brains to backstop sincere change are ensconced in foreign lands. They howl their frustrated angst from the safety of world capitals and remit family allowances that sustain the status quo they so detest. The exodus of brains has occasioned a gaping political vacuum that’s been filled by deal-chasing thugs, pombiyadonhas and excitable, but very experienced young turks — all sitting ducks and political fodder for Zanu PF.
Government and NGOs have connived to rob citizens systematically, of their inherent desire for self–agency, personal drive, industry and the passion for productivity. Instead they expanded pockets of charity, party benevolence and patronage. The priority to prostitute oneself to party charity is high where independent citizen enterprise is dead. There are neither real political visionaries nor value propositions, tangible contesting political philosophies on offer to push or pull a thinking electorate this or that way. All pretend to be knowledgeable, but non ever reads. There’s neither the culture nor the appetite for research, political enquiry and informed policy thinking, yet the queue for deep doctorates is a national anaconda. Meanwhile, the miserable media is happy to play along with what is really a glorified rat-race!”
*Zii Masiye (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes elsewhere on social media as Balancing Rocks.