I am more Zimbabwean than you because…
I am more African than you because…
I am more woman than you because…
People always want to claim an identity and to some extent prove their claim to that identity by discrediting others’ claim to the same identity-human folly and selfishness I guess. And that trait has not escaped Zimbabweans amongst ourselves.
In many discussions, the question of who is more Zimbabwean than the next person arises with regard to the question of who has a legitimate standing to give commentary on issues arising in Zimbabwean society on a daily basis. Most Zimbabweans living in the Diaspora lose legitimacy and standing in the eyes of those who are still living in Zimbabwe should they have any views on things happening in Zimbabwe.
So for instance, a Zimbabwean living in the diaspora is not supposed to comment on the issue of whether lesbian women in Zimbabwe should be allowed to marry because it is presumed their views have been influenced by their “Western” orientation and is therefore bound to be skewed towards a certain perception of things at odds with the “Zimbabwean culture and values.”
If a Zimbabwean living in the diaspora criticises ZESA (the power supply authority) for incessant power cuts, Zimbabweans living in Zimbabwe will tell them to stop making noise from abroad but come home first and experience the power cuts before they can say anything. Despite the fact that those living in Zimbabwe are upset with ZESA and do criticise it for its poor service; Zimbabwean living abroad are precluded from talking about it.
After the 2008 election, any Zimbabwean living abroad would come under fire for criticising the election result and processes. Many people felt that they should have been here and borne the brunt of the scourge of violence as well as have voted in order to have a right to say anything about what happened then. Yes, every person who wants to vote and can vote should be able to vote. However, for the diaspora to vote there needs to be an enabling legislation allowing for a diaspora vote. Who are we kidding, that was not going to happen in 2008. And surely- those living abroad and desperately trying to make a living for their families back home at a time when the economy was a mess and the situation was dire for all can not be crucified for failing to come back home to vote.
Should a Zimbabwean in the diaspora remark that an Egypt style revolution will never take place in Zimbabwe because of the nature of our society, they are dismissed and told to come home and try to start the revolution themselves. Yes it is true; a Revolution is about sacrifice-because some people will lose life and limb for the revolution to succeed. We all know that we in Zimbabwe live in a repressive environment where political freedoms are bargained for and never guaranteed. However, who also does not know that Zimbabweans generally do not have a culture of protest? I have heard people making fun of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise group who march for social justice and calling them “professional demonstrators” because people do not believe what they do will make any difference. So why do Zimbabweans take great offense when that sort of remark comes from a Zimbabwean living abroad than from a European political commentator?
Yes, there is credit to some of this anger and resentment by Zimbabweans living in Zimbabwe towards Zimbabweans living in the diaspora. Truth be told, these harsh experiences such as the economic meltdown from 2000- 2008, the violent election in 2008, the food shortages in 2008 and the incessant power cuts we experience daily are harsher on those of us who have lived through it than those who shudder at the prospect of being subjected to the same.
However it remains relevant that those living in the diaspora were equally affected and still are affected by these hardships. Some lost relatives to the violence. Others had to pay for hospital bills for their loved ones who got injured because of the violence. Many have sent home money to purchase solar panels, generators and gas stoves as alternative power sources in response to the power cuts. Huge amounts of remittances from the Diaspora were recorded in 2008 in response to the harsh economic conditions as friends and relatives sent money home to assist those who needed help.
Apart from helping those at home to address the challenges happening here, those living in the diaspora experience their own set of unique challenges. They face a lot of racism and xenophobia. They work very hard to raise enough money to take care of themselves and to take care of those they left behind. Some of them struggle with legalising their stay in foreign nations. Others struggle to find jobs. Most of them are underpaid because they are considered cheap labour and usually have no bargaining chips when negotiating their contracts.
Bottom line, people do not cease to be Zimbabweans simply because they are living in or have lived in another country for a long time. They remain full citizens, with rights to input into the affairs of their country. Yes they have a right to critique the things happening here and we who are living in Zimbabwe should be able to stomach it or take it with a pinch of salt. Open hostility is just a sign of cowardice and a failure to take criticism for what it is.
For things to change in our country there is need for unity of purpose. Every Zimbabwean must own the process of transformation and play a positive role in enabling change. However, one fact must never be lost in the whole discussion; those living abroad who may not be present to input into the transformation daily are still Zimbabweans. Should they have anything to say, they have a right to say it-despite their reasons for leaving and not coming back.