Is protest through satire enough? #zvirikumbofambasei Part 2

Activism, Governance, Human Rights, Zimbabwe

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.

Burkina 1 Burkina 4 Burkina 5In 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.

He said;
“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

Is Satire Our Protest? #Zvirikumbofambasei

Activism, Civil Resistance, Gender, Governance, Human Rights, Politics, Zimbabwe

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.)

Picture Credit-imgflip.com

Picture Credit-imgflip.com

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 dzeiIn 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 dzimbaand 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 makusenisome 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 kakudzikirasome  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 mumigodhithey 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.

Picture Credit-www.dailynews.co.zw

Picture Credit-www.dailynews.co.zw

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.

Source-Unknown

Source-Unknown

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)