The Zimbabwean Story
It was in 1997, I had just started grade two. My father worked at a factory in Harare as a driver. Things back then were not bad. With his salary, he afforded to get us a glass of milk every night when we went to sleep. My mom used to work as a cross border trader; she helped my dad to make ends meet. We would be happy whenever she came back with goodies from other countries. Things were not bad at all then. We went to local schools and the education offered was quite fair. Learning at a ghetto school, I managed to start speaking fluent English at the age of 8. After school, we used to rush home for the 2 o clock cartoons; it was only when Spartacus was playing on ZBC that we didn’t rush home in a hurry. We would go to the playgrounds and play soccer or whatever sport that was topping the charts in that season. I was really bad at soccer then so sometimes when I get left out off the team I would just resort to going and watch cartoons at home on the good old black-and-white TV. Sometimes during summer, we would go locust hunting and girl!! Was it exciting! Sometimes we would have clay wars using our DIY clay throwers (coupled with a long mulberry stick and a small lump of wet clay at the end) or sometimes we would use lumps of dry soil (mavhinga) left in the open space that was being used as subsistence farming fields by our parents. After a long day of extensive play, we would go home and given a good cold bath. If I had torn my clothes I would know that would be worth a few strikes by a cooking stick or a slope or whatever was near my mom, after which I would be given a heartily prepared meal. After the meal our mother would make us gather around her sofa and she would tell us a bible story. She read us a lot of stories but my favourite or maybe the only one I still vividly remember was that of Noah building the Ark. I swear if she was given a chance she would have been a good writer. Just at the beginning of the maize farming season, we would go to the small fields to help with the land tilling. Of course it was not voluntary work, we had to finish the task we would have been given by our mother before we could go and play with our friends or watch cartoons. We always envied the big families because they always finished first. Going to play before you had finished was not an option. My dad was our father, always thought of his family first and brought us everything that we needed to go from day to day. Everything he could do in his power, he did for us.
The social climate was quite magnificent. The environment was conducive for us develop into well respected figures in the community. Then, ‘political correctness’ was not a thing, there was either right or wrong, perception didn’t matter, everything revolved around right or wrong. Every child that walked the streets of the neighbourhood was the community’s child. Disrespecting our elders was taboo. We were taught to respect our elders all the time, respect your parents in the Lord our mother would always tell us. We wouldn’t speak ill of the elders neither when we were alone nor when we were with other people. Social issues and politics were okay to talk about. In a short time, the climate started to change; you would seldom hear people talking about politics. Little by little the freedom to talk to talk about politics was exiting the scene, until it came to a point when you would never hear anyone saying or shouting the revered name in so much as a shred of disrespect in the streets or indoors. Even when indoors people would whisper their discussions about politics, no one would dare to mention the name ‘Robert Mugabe’ aloud. Possession of cartoons or writings that disrespected the president could get you landed in jail or worse. The main talk of the day was how the economy was deteriorating, how the dollar was depreciating against other currencies, how the commodity market was going down, hoe things were increasing prices and how industries were closing. Many people were not content, our teachers at schools were always complaining about how their salaries had been reduced by the ever increasing prices. The price of bread had gone up; people were resorting to National Bakers bread, the once shunned bread. What was the cause of all this, I could but listen in on conversations of the elders, I couldn’t understand then, I could just see the results of whatever was happening. When I was lucky enough to catch a bit of some words when the elders were speaking, all I could hear were whispers about how irresponsibly the government was spending towards the war in DRC. How the state was just doing things without any due diligence. Our military spending was weighing us down. How things were starting to toughen up and how our local currency was starting to lose its value. Some were optimistic that the state would get diamonds from the Congo and the revenue thereof would be used to repair the damages caused by the dent of the war.
Later on that year, my father got retrenched and he came home and told my mother. I couldn’t understand what it really meant then but I knew it wasn’t something good by the look on my parents’ faces. Though not thoroughly educated, my father was an industrious man. He struggled to make ends meet, he started doing tailoring. He would sew some uniform in the evening and in the morning go out and about selling what he had produced during the night. I could see it was hard for him, but I did not understand how hard it really was for him. Sometimes he would go out and come back home with nothing in his hand, sometimes he would go out and come back as he left, just with a lot of sweat and a gloomy face. None the less, we never spent a day without eating the main meals of the day, we were always full. My mother would go to the Diaspora and supplement where my dad couldn’t, after a couple of days worth of toil in the neighbouring countries. They were my heroes, something I didn’t understand then, and something I fully comprehend now.
The county’s situation was worsening by the day. Soon enough prices started going up, people started complaining. January of 1998 saw the intensifying of the crisis, there were food and fuel shortages and riots everywhere, transport became a problem from those who lived far from work. People would walk more than 20km just to get to work. People began to protest and they started destroying government and private property. The military was deployed on the riots and protesters; it managed to beat everyone into subjection, curfews were imposed. Riots later on stopped but the basic goods were nowhere. The basic commodities needed for the day to day functioning of society were scarce, bread, cooking oil, flour, sugar, mealie meal and many other things were scarce. If the government would manage to get some of these commodities they would send trucks into the residential areas which would go round and round as a form of awareness campaign, then in the end stop for distribution. People would follow the truck not even knowing what it actually carried. I remember one time when such a truck stopped near where I stayed, I overheard people saying they had followed it from a place that was just about 10km from where it had stopped. The situation had deteriorated so bad it started to become the order of life. You couldn’t complain you couldn’t do anything about it; all you could do was just suck it up and live on with whatever meagre resources you had at your disposal. In June 98’ university students started protesting and rioting, they likewise were beaten into subjection and Universities were closed indefinitely. The main reason why Zimbabweans today don’t engage in much violent protests, the cost of losing your life as the bread winner of a family to only leave your family to suffer outweighs the cost of protesting against something that has little potential of change. In our case, the cost of war outweighs the benefits of freedom.
We were back to the former state of things. The ‘sacred’ name could not be said in any conversation. No one would dare mention it. As young and reckless as I was, I wouldn’t dare to say it at school or at the playgrounds. Everyone feared for their lives. Our only option, ‘suck it up and move on with your life with whatever meagre resources you have at your disposal’, we embraced and clinged on to like we would for dear life. Anyone who would in as much feel liberal enough to say the name disrespectfully would disappear only to reappear dead or beaten and close to death. This exercise by the ruling machinery was not segregatory, lawyers, judges, teachers, policeman, soldiers, etc. I mean anyone who was found wanting in this regard would be met with extrajudicial punishment. Most of them never saw the light of day ever again. Many who managed to see the light of day were granted asylums in other countries as victims of political violence. Many people started seeking asylums on this basis from the UK and other countries even though it were not true, well I really don’t blame them, if it wasn’t externally physical it was definitely internal physical and emotional abuse. People were starving and industries were closing for good, there were no jobs and there were no real alternate sources of income. Families were destroyed and separated, people were all trying to live to see the next day. Those who couldn’t afford to buy tickets to go to the Diaspora would fight for whatever they could get, as little as it was. It was a sickening era, our beloved nation was being bled by the same people who were supposed to protect it. There arose a creed that did not care about their neighbour, there was no brother or sister in their eyes. The once unified community was now just a group of people who are just living in proximity to each other. The ruling party succeeded in creating a divide amongst the people. Too young to understand much, I could see effects of whatever cloud of injustice had swept over our country.
Soon enough in 99’, glimmers of hope were starting to be heard, whispers in the streets, in the houses, in schools, at workplaces, everywhere everyone was beginning to smile and pay attention. There was a sheep which had broken free from the wolves; he had slipped through the fingers of the well lubricated tyrannical machinery. He had managed to form a political party against the ruling Zanu PF. The ruling class had thought that he was just another one of those protesters whose cause would die a natural death. Little did they know they had just allowed the beginning of their demise, the beginning of their end had just begun.
There was new name in the air. A name which had brought hope on the Zimbabwean people, Tsvangirai had formed a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Something that had been regarded suicidal, a taboo, the unthinkable, the unmentionable had been done. The dragon had finally got a contender, as a knight in shining armour everyone saw him. People were so pleased to hear the news, a worthy opponent had risen. Many parties had been formed prior to the MDC but none had had the strength to ‘really’ stand against the ruling party. Promises were made, everyone had hope in the new party. Tsvangirai held rallies all over Zimbabwe, he received overwhelming responses all over the country. It looked like he was going to win the elections. Dreamers began to dream of the new Zimbabwe, where there would be jobs, where there would be no food shortages a Zimbabwe of Democracy and a land of fresh opportunities. The slumbering giant was about to rise. Zimbabwe was about to shine and smile again. Tsvangirai was now the emblem of hope in all corners of the country, people from all walks of life felt the breeze of relief at the thought of a new government which favoured democracy above all else. Even at school my colleagues were engaging in the conversation of hope, I joined in the sweet melody of a new Zimbabwe even if I still did not understand what it really was, all I knew was that I could talk and criticise freely, without fear of punishment or of dear life. Cartoonists started to draw cartoons of hope. Many people especially the urban population was just happy.
People started to loosen up in commuter buses, they started to talk about politics how it was affecting them, how it had affected them. People started to talk about their social problems (which would have been seen by the ruling machinery as act of terrorism due the fact that they had been caused by the deteriorating economy, any and every action or word that would directly or indirectly suggest the mismanagement of the economy by the current government was viewed as a cancer that needed to be removed). The elections were around the corner, the MDC was definitely going to win. In the rural areas, people were being hushed and forced to vote for Zanu PF. They were being told that on the voting day there were going to be helicopters above each and every polling station looking at how everyone was going to vote. Some were beaten into subjection for supporting the MDC publicly. The Zanu PF youths were merciless towards anyone who didn’t believe in their ideologies. Where I lived they would go from street to street house to house taking every man or woman in the house to follow them in their endeavour to protest against the MDC, no one would dare say no. Everyone just sucked it up and went into the line marching for the Zanu PF. ‘Toi Toi!’ the leaders would shout, ‘hai’ the followers would respond, shouting their chants and slogans they would fill the streets of the land. All those who had escaped being taken to the streets just stayed in their homes peeping through the windows with the hope that the day was coming, when everything will be alright, when the MDC would win the elections.
Chamatama, Savè, Tsvangson, and Morgiza many names were given to him. The future looked bright under the wings of this man. The elections came, everyone I knew was confident that the MDC would win the elections. Little did they know, only sorrow was coming their way. Their hope was just but a wish written in the sand of the sea shores only to be washed away by the angry tide as it threatened to disrupt the land. The disappointment was great, in everyone’s hearts as reported by the looks on everyone’s faces; it looked like the devastating war crime that was committed to the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The hopeful were given a blow to remember, a scar that would never heal. Zanu PF was ruling, and it was going to be so for a long time to come.
The MDC did not lose courage; they continued the war against terror. With meagre resources all they could do was hold rallies sometimes. In the mean time, things worsened. The period leading to 2008 is a horror to every Zimbabwean who was old enough to understand. People were severally beaten into subjection by the army, police, CIO and Zanu PF youths and supporters. Some were killed during this time. There was hunger and poverty everywhere, basic foodstuffs were like gold. People were starving and there was no food on the shelves of the supermarkets. Social evils sky rocketed faster than a volcano. People were just trying to make a living. People were now looking forward to the 2008 elections, Tsvangirai might have lost in 2002 but this time he was going to win. He was our only hope for a better future; I was now doing my form 4. In 2007, he was taken by the ruthless state agents together with his colleagues, beaten down, disfigured. The lord knows what they did to them in those cells. He was then released to the world with a puffed face, swollen from the beatings and tortures of the CIO. It was a sorry sight. How did we come be like this, a nation where brothers and sisters turn against each other to the death because of difference in opinions, a perfect game of chess, where the general populace was treated as pawns who could be disposed so easily. ‘I am all right’ he said as came out just after he had been given a beating. The 2008 elections were bloody in every sense. Brothers and sisters were killing each other, selling each other out. In 2009 the MDC then managed to get into a coalition government with Zanu PF, Tsvangirai became the prime minister.
The first war had finally been won. Our freedom of speech was given to us. People could now believe that they can stand against the Zanu PF, against the President of the republic of Zimbabwe and escape unscathed. Many alleged deaths by the Zanu PF on its own brigadiers and generals officials who had dared to say a word against the revered leader had been recorded. Many people had died for this right to be heard. The leader of the movement was still alive and well, Morgan Tsvangirai had won on behalf of the average Zimbabwean. Up to today, we are seeing uprings against the once feared leader. Joyce Mujuru, Emmerson Munangagwa only to mention the two owe their voice to Tsvangirai, who had the guts to question Robert Mugabe, who along the unnamed soldier, dared to stand against the system of injustice that was prevailing in the country. Yes he is not perfect as a human being, he falls short on many subjects, but he did what many cowards couldn’t do, he stood up for every Zimbabwean. Whether Zanu PF or MDC T or whatever political affiliation someone has, he stood up for them all, the media has him to thank. We have not fully yet won all the wars but he has taken us forward by a huge step. Today we have the freedom to write, express and talk our minds out without as much fear as we used to have before. Today we have activists who talk freely, the likes of Prosper Mukwananzi, Evan Mawarire, the #tajamuka crew, we have independent members of parliament, the likes of Themba Mliswa, we have facebook activists, comedians can now joke about political issues happening in the country e.g. the PO Box, We have keyboard warriors, the likes of Hacha Duke of Enkeldoorn, King, s¡r cool, hahahaha and Ras Kebra.
Tsvangirai may be criticised today for his decisions, he may be looked down upon by many because of his decisions, the people may have lost hope in Him, but today he stands as the Icon of Change in our country. His name will go down in the annals of history as the man who began a revolution that saw the freeing of the Zimbabwean voice. We owe our voices to this man. Today I can write freely as; The Anonymous.