Satire: “The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices.”
Protest: “A statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something.”
People often ask why Zimbabweans speak of a repressive government when freedom ‘of’ expression is guaranteed in the Constitution and articles such as mine can be published. However, they often overlook that freedom ‘of’ expression does not guarantee freedom ‘after’ expression. Citizens only get clarity on whether their thoughts and words fit within the political establishment’s definition of freedom ‘of’ expression when they get a response befitting the acceptability of their words. Such a ‘response’ often consists of ‘visits’ to police cells; in other words unlawful detention; and often extends to bruises and broken bones for those who dare go onto the street to protest.
So, since we can’t go on the streets and hold placards or march and get our voices heard; we (Zimbabweans) have taken to our creative juices; letting our grievances out in the flow of our words; words often spoken so eloquently; with so much hidden meaning that those who block our protests on the streets become ignorant participants in spreading the word of our protest. In satire we have found expression, saying things we would dare not say openly; and Richard Matimba popularly known as “Uncle Richie”’s skit has widened the doors to our freedom of expression and opinion.
Mbiri yavo ndeyei? What is Uncle Richie’s fame?
Uncle Richie is the brains behind the “unotoshaya kuti zviri kumbofamba sei” craze that has hit Zimbabwe. In polite terms his message is “what exactly is going on” but in liberated speech what he means is: what the f*** is going on?!!!” Nowadays, every statement and joke among Zimbabweans is punctuated with this statement. The message began as an audio recording circulating on WhatsApp (a cross-platform mobile messaging App which allows people to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS.)
When one first listens to it, the audio sounds like the incomprehensible rantings of a drunkard. The words are mumbled in a slur; the thoughts sound disjointed and discordant, unrelated even, what one would call mumbo jumbo.
But upon listening carefully, one gets Uncle Richie’s crazy wisdom. In Uncle Richie’s words is a fascinating exercise of agency in which he strings together narratives of the economy, society and politics. He talks of people getting haircuts in butcheries (Unotoona vamwe vachitogerwa zuda mumabutcher-You see people getting haircuts in butcheries) [who does that?!]. He hints at the dearth in leadership and true representation of constituencies in Parliament (Wotoona kuti ah vanhu vese pa.. vanotoshaya mumiriri anotovamiririra…And then you see that all the people at… cannot find leaders to represent them). He talks of the lack of transparency and accountability in Parliament as a representative body as citizens are left wondering what exactly Parliament’s business is (Pavanozodiscusser muParliament vanenge vachitodiscusser nenyaya dzei-In Parliament, you really wonder what they will be discussing).
He goes further to explore issues of social justice. He addresses the rampant lack of decent housing (unotoshaya kuti vamwe vari kutoshaya dzimba-and then you can’t get how some people do not have houses). He speaks to the issue of hunger and unavailability of food to eat for some, dashing the assumption that everyone has all meals on the table each day; (vamwe vanenge vadya makuseni-some would have had food in the morning). He throws in the common practice of self-medication, given that a visit to the doctor for something as “silly” as flu is out of the question in Zimbabwe though it should be if we had proper health care (vamwe vanoto.. vanotoshandisa Vicks kana vachida kuti flu yavo iite kakudzikira- some use Vicks if they want their flu to get better). Lastly he addresses the lack of access to clean and safe water; alluding to how, instead of simply opening the taps in their homes and getting clean and safe water, citizens have created their own alternatives; failed by local government (Vanotochera mvura mumigodhi- they fetch water from wells).
Added to all the obvious confusion caused by the governance deficit at a local and national level, Uncle Richie expresses his confusion at the unusual events that have baffled mankind; Zimbabweans included making us all wonder what our world has come to. First the inexplicable and mysterious disappearance of the Indian man in Mt Nyanga, in Zimbabwe (vamwe hanzi akwira mugomo ashaikwa-some are said to have climbed up a mountain and disappeared) and the strange disappearance of Malaysian Flight MH370 (hanzi yatoshaikwa ndege yacho-they say that the plane can’t be found). Both incidences have led to so many conspiracy theories. In Nyanga some people speculate that maybe mystical powers of the hills made the man disappear, or the man was simply attacked by wild-life or thieves and the state doesn’t want to raise security concerns or this was a direct attack on a targeted individual for other reasons that we will all never know. With MH370, the speculations range from; “the pilot was a terrorist” to “there was a man on the plane with evidence of how the Americans created Ebola” and “the victims were trafficked to get their internal organs.”
Through his satirical skit, Uncle Richie paints a clear picture of the acute discord that characterises our economic, social and political landscape, both nationally and globally. As millions of Zimbabweans share the audio, and laugh at Uncle Richie’s words his message continues to build a shared consensus that something is wrong with our society. Through his words, he builds confidence for agency and legitimises the idea that it is only right to talk about all these injustices and unusual events.
And so when the police chief, Commissioner Chihuri collapsed and claimed he fainted because he wore the wrong shoe on the wrong foot, Zimbabweans asked “Zviri kumbofamba sei?” How does a whole general mistake left from right? Kupfeka banana here shuwa?
When we all heard that members of the Apostolic Faith Johane Masowe Sect had beaten up police officers, we asked-Zviri kumbofamba sei? Many felt the police had it coming given their history of brutality against unarmed civilians. Others wondered if we were progressing into a state of lawlessness.
Each day, pedestrians and motorists alike, grit their teeth as vehicles that take them from point A to B, plod through potholes and ask; Zviri kumbofamba sei? How come our roads [with the exception of a few] are not getting fixed when money is being collected for that? Isn’t that why police have waged a war against combis, to ensure that they comply with all road regulations including paying for operating licenses? Or do our police just get a kick out of smashing private vehicles’ windscreens for no reason?
And when it emerged that a man had been arrested for setting his dogs on wild animals in the President’s backyard, we asked- Zviri kumbofamba sei? The President has deer in his backyard? Wow! When I grow up I also want to be President so I can have deer in my backyard!
And when we had half-naked Brazilian dancers paraded during the Carnival; we asked -Zviri kumbofamba sei? How do we as a society still have people who cat-call and wolf-whistle at women wearing short skirts or dresses yet we have naked women paraded on our streets as part of a “cultural event?” and have no problems with it? How come people will castigate the organisers of the #miniskirt march for speaking out against sexual harassment of women yet they cheered the Minister of tourism for bringing half-naked Brazilian women onto our streets?
When we heard that popular Sungura music artist, Alick Macheso ejaculated in his daughter’s mouth, in an unorthodox traditional method of curing his daughter’s fontanelle (nhova) called kutara we asked; Zviri kumbofamba sei? Was there no other way of curing her? Should a daughter ever suffer the misfortune of seeing her father’s privates? Kuoneswa nhengo yesikarudzi yababa here shuwa!! What is wrong with the man! Two wives in the house and he chose his daughter’s mouth as the destination to empty his sperms!
We also heard of miracle money, miracle gold, miracle weight loss and miracle babies in this era of prophets or “profiteers” as some would call them and ask; Zviri kumbofamba sei? Are these men of God or men of gold? Let us not even talk of ‘Pastor’ Robert Martin Gumbura and his insatiable sexual appetite.
Again when we heard about the internal fights within both the major political parties and we asked; Zviri kumbofamba sei? In MDC-T we heard that Tsvangirai fired Biti or Biti fired Tsvangirai; with Mangoma featuring somewhere in that equation. In ZANU PF it was, Mnangagwa is going to take over from Mugabe or is it going to be Mujuru; then we heard Mujuru never shot down a helicopter during the liberation struggle and suddenly ‘Gamatox’ and ‘Mazoe Crush’ were political slogans. We are still wondering- whose narrative should we believe? What narrative of history was and is true? What is the future of our country with such messy politics?
To top it all, we have followed over the past few weeks, the emergence of a new strand of STD (Sexually Transmitted Dictatorship). A political party constitution has been flouted; dictates of seniority, merit and experience thrown away to hungry dogs as the first lady has risen dramatically through the power ranks, blazing at a comet’s speed from the shadows of her powerful husband’s kitchen to the highest seat in the Women’s league and maybe even HIS seat. Is it any wonder that we ask, Zviri kumbofamba sei?
One thing remains constant; using the Zviri kumbofamba sei? phrase, as Zimbabweans we have developed a voice in calling out the political discord that surrounds us. We are naming and shaming the rot and those responsible for it in our politics, economy and society. I am inclined to agree with Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s who both argue (in their book called Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Non-Violent Conflict) that, the assumption that the most effective and forceful way of waging political struggle is through violence or the threat of it, is not true. It takes the stirrings of dissent among a few, then adopted through high levels of participation by members of the population to grow a movement. The quiet protest Zimbabweans have grown through satire has enhanced the population’s resilience, invoked public loyalty and is grounded in local mobilisation. We have created a home-grown movement with high levels of participation by ordinary citizens in which we are saying “this is ridiculous” to things that are ridiculous or “get your act together” to those who need to do so. We might not be toyi-toying/picketing on the streets but in our numbers as we pass the messages from phone to phone, one WhatsApp message to the next we are certainly getting heard. The icing on the cake, even those who would ordinarily arrest us for saying these things are passing along the messages; Unotonzwa maMinister achiti, Zviri kumbofamba sei? Either they have caught onto the dominant spirit or they are just too dense to get its import.
Whether using satire as our protest in itself is enough to change our fortunes is the subject of my next blog.
Below is a full transcript of Uncle Richie’s First Zviri kumbofamba sei skit
Unotoona vamwe vachitogerwa zuda mumabutcher (You see people getting haircuts in butcheries)
Vamwe vachitoseka (While others are laughing)
Wotonzwa vamwe…vamwe…vachitochema (Then you hear others crying)
Uchitoona…unotoona kuti pamwe vanhu vacho vanenge vakatosiyana siyana (Then you see that maybe the people are different)
Unotonzwa vanhu vachitoita ruzha (You hear some people making noise)
Vamwe vachitoita zvinhu zvekuti unotoshaya kuti vanhu vari kutombozvi…zvifambisa sei (And others will be doing things that make you wonder what exactly is going on)
Unototadza kutozvinzwisisa kutoti (You fail to understand that…)
Uno…unotoona vanhu vachitomhanya (You see people running)
Vamwe vachitongoramba vakamira (While others remain standing)
Wotoshaya kuti..kuti zvese vanenge vachida kuti zvizoitwe sei (Then you wonder that..ah…how do they they want things to work out)
Vana makanika unotoona vachitosangana pamwechete (You see the mechanics coming together in one place)
Vana hwindi kana wotonzwa vakutoti yeee uyeee (Then you hear the touts shouting yay oh yay)
Uchitoshaya kuti Ah zvinhu zvacho zviri kutombofamba sei (And you wonder what exactly is going on)
Wotoona kuti ah vanhu vese pa..vanotoshaya mumiriri anotovamiririra kuitira kuti (And then you see that all the people at… cannot find leaders to represent them so that…)
Pavanozodiscusser muParliament vanenge vachitodiscusser nenyaya dzei (In Parliament, you really wonder what they will be discussing)
Ndopaunotoshamisika kuti nyaya yacho yakatomira sei (And then you wonder, what exactly is this story)
Zvinhu zvacho hazvi hazvi hazvina..hazvitombonzwisisiki (You can’t understand these things)
Vanotoshaya kuti vamwe vari kutoshaya dzimba (And then you can’t understand how some people do not have houses)
Ah vari kuto ah vari kuto to ah vari kutoshaya ah kuti zvakatombomira sei (Ah they are..they are..they are wondering how things are)
Vamwe vanenge vadya makuseni (Some would have had food in the morning)
Vamwe vanoto..vanotoshandisa Vicks kana vachida kuti flu yavo iite kakudzikira (Others use Vicks if they want their flu to get better)
Vanotomboshaya kuti ah vamwe vanotoshaya… (They wonder what..ah some wonder)
Vanotochera mi..mvura ne..mumigodhi (They fetch water from wells)
Ah utotototi zvinhu zvacho ah zviri kumbofamba sei (Then you wonder what exactly is going on)
Vamwe hanzi akwira mugomo ashaikwa (Some say someone climbed up a mountain and disappeared)
Ah zvinhu zvacho utototi anhu ah handitombonzwisisi kutoti ah (Ah,,,these things,,,you say people,,,ah,, I can’t understand what,,,)
Hanzi yatoshaikwa ndege yacho(It is said, that the plane has disappeared)
Ah ah woto…kuda kuzvibatanidza zvinhu zvacho soo wotoona kuti ah (Ah then you…trying to piece these things together, then you see that…)
Zvotonetsa zvinhu zvacho (These things are difficult to understand)
Ah hamheno kuti to.. to.. tinganyatsozvibatanidza sei kuti zvinhu zvacho (I don’t know if we should…should…how do we bring these things together)
Tinyatso..nyatso…nyatsonzwisisa kuti zvinhu zvinenge zvakatonyatsofamba sei (So we fully…fully understand how things happened)
Unoti ah mupfungwa macho munenge ndimo makutonzvenga (You then think to yourself, maybe my brains are playing tricks on me)