The greatest enemy for any people is apathy for it breeds a sense of comfort that prevents further interrogation of issues that affect communities. But I guess it would be inaccurate to label Zimbabwean society as apathetic as some citizens do engage issues in many different ways, satire being one of them. My last article spoke to this as I looked through the meaning of the #zvirikumbofambasei skits.
Over the past few months Zimbabweans have watched in horror as shocking events have unfolded, the majority of them involving the “mother of the nation.” First the First Lady got a miracle PHD. Her fast-tracked academic qualification from the University of Zimbabwe, where her husband is the Chancellor, was procured in a record 2 months whereas scholars of repute globally have spent an average of 3-7 years to achieve the same feat. Second; she bumped her way up the political ladder jumping from being the mere spouse of the first secretary of the party to the head of the women’s league, a powerful position within the party and the nation’s politic. Next, she was touted as the possible successor to her husband; a process that saw her crossing the country to conduct rallies with members of her party; calling out supposed faction leaders and threatening to “baby dump” them; embarrassing other party officials vana Kakukonde vakamakwa bigtime!, and insulting Zimbabweans at large especially “Ndebele men who just drink beer, impregnate women then skip the border to engage in criminality”.
Meanwhile Zimbabweans responded to all three incidents; particularly through the Twitter-sphere, with ridicule; writing tweets that dripped with sarcasm. A special hashtag #tweetlikedramai, emerged, and another #dramai was created for the sole purpose of making a caricature of the First Lady. Twimbos, as Zimbabweans on Twitter are known questioned her conduct with tweets such as;
“Hello UZ, what other degrees are you guys selling”
“Worry not Zimbos. If the economy collapses, I will adopt everyone and you will all live at my orphanage in Mazoe.”
“Our police are working hard to bring electricity to your homes”
Ultimately, these tweets were a form of protest as young people flocked to social media to register their discontent, shock and outrage at the events as they unfolded. However, that’s as far as it went. Today we complain about the government’s neglect of the medical sector. Doctors are on strike; there isn’t enough medical equipment in the hospitals; people are dying in circumstances where they should not have to; senior officials in the ministry keep getting new cars while our dearly beloved leader flies to Singapore for eye-check-ups. Youths spend their days loitering, jobless, hopeless. Diseases we never dreamt we would face, ravage our population, cholera, dysentery, typhoid-the result of a negligent government that expends its budget on luxury cars instead of providing its people with clean water and proper sanitation. We are all in agreement; this is not the Zimbabwe we want. Yet only a handful of Zimbabweans, led by Itai Dzamara have taken this to protest launching the #occupyafricaunitysquare campaign, a non-violent movement aimed at demanding an end to Zimbabwe’s cycle of national failure and suffering.
In other parts of the continent we saw the people of Burkina Faso take to the streets. The actions of the Burkinabe represented the rising up of a downtrodden population that had reached the limits of its resilience, a population that was prepared to die for anything different from their status quo. 27 years of selfish leadership and an attempt to amend the constitution to continue this legacy was met with emphatic protests that signalled the Burkinabe had had enough. 27 years in which there was no evidence that the lives of the ordinary people had improved for the better; 27 years in which the leader enriched his inner circle and one could not tell the difference between corruption and official governance machinery; 27 years of oppression and suppression of dissenting voices; 27 years of cronyism characterised by immense privilege among the elite, touting their opulence to the poor hungry on the street; 27 years of unemployment, increased poverty and want among the majority.
How different this is from the Zimbabwe, 34 years on? So then, what are we missing? What shall drive us to be as incensed as the Burkinabe? Is the might of those in power really that indestructible? If it is the army we fear, is the wrath of the army mightier than that of the masses?
History has shown the power of mass movements from the French Revolution, the Egyptian #Jan25 Revolution to the Burkinabe Protests. Those in power might resist, throw teargas at, shoot at, declare states of emergencies against, the masses but eventually the strength of a united mass cannot be thwarted by the resources of a few bullies. As the t-shirt of one of the Burkinabe protestors read, “Notre Nombre est notre force” (Our number is our strength.”
One of my favourite bloggers writes,
“… revolution is not like an apocalypse. It is a dedicated process carried out through mass political education, destruction of the structural pillars of the old regime to build a new foundation from rock bottom. Revolution is abandoning the old and embracing the new. It is process you cannot go through without tears, blood and pain along the way. It is the rebirth of the new man and woman, in mind and spirit, resulting in the emergence of the envisioned self.”
At the centre of it all is the fact that the community, our community is a social organism that needs nourishment in political, economic and social ways. It needs to breed and sustain intellectual capital but beyond intellectualism it needs self-organisation by the communities themselves without depending on, or fearing the government to liberate it. We are our own saviour and if we are waiting to be liberated then we shall be waiting for another 1000 years. We have successfuly developed a culture of resilience but we need to grow fearlessness. Our leaders have used fear as a tool to cripple any social movements. I once said, regarding the arrest and harassment of Beatrice Mtetwa that to silence dissent, the state targets the few vocal and visible individuals to serve as an example and unleash a silent indirect threat to the rest of the faint and weak-hearted.
With the sowing of the seeds of fear they have taken away the power away from us; away from the people. The violence that we have witnessed persistently against WOZA women and more recently against Itai Dzamara and his colleagues is a reminder, watering the seeds of fear and letting it grow exponentially in our hearts and minds. But until when shall we continue to let our fear of death or injury overpower our quest for dignity and freedom? When shall we recognise that there is unity in strength?
We must recognise that beyond the different political party affiliation or non-affiliation as the case may be, we have greater humane interests that bind us together- interests that even those within the privileged circle will need protected the day they fall into disfavour among their peers.
Above all we must remember the words of Frederick Douglass for they speak truth to our situation and until we internalise them and act on them, we shall remain where we are, desperate but not driven to action, angry but fearful and incensed but too scared to chart our own path.
“Power concedes nothing and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of the injustice or the wrong which will be imposed upon them and these will continue until they are resisted. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
– Frederick Douglass 1818–1895