Tahrir Square, Cairo
jacked from Sultan Al Qaseemi
The conversations below are from three Zimbabweans that I spoke to recently trying to get some idea of how Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe see the current events in Egypt. All of these people are not politically inclined so they in no way represent the political perspective in Zimbabwe. While many Zimbabweans have been inspired by what they've seen in Egypt and Tunisia - they've blogged, talked and tweeted about it, but it's largely an impassioned hand-wringing affair, as usual. Some people want freedom but they don't know how to or are too scared to fight for it. Then there's a certain sector of the middle class, the ones who are comfortable in Zimbabwe right now, they are not on the frontlines of any political party and have largely made their money the legal way. These are the people I spoke to. At the time I didn't intend to record our conversations on this blog, I just wanted to know how people felt about Egypt in relation to Zimbabwe. All of these people are personally known to me and are of different ages as indicated by one of the names and the language used. Parts of the conversations have been re-created or paraphrased. While I don't intend to suggest that this is representative of the whole of the non-political middle class, I think this gives some insight into political indifference that has been produced by and has sustained Zanu majority rule.
Me: So Mama have you been watching the news and seeing what's happening in Egypt.
Mama: 'Ahh K' she says in a piteous voice, 'African will always be Africans hai wa wa wa [a lamentation] everywhere in Africa we will always fight one another.'
Me: But Mama, they're not fighting, they're protesting for what they believe in and they're being killed.
Mama: Was Egypt not peaceful before? Why can't they do it peacefully?
Me: How can they be peaceful when they are being attacked? Don't you remember we have been through the same thing in Zimbabwe?
Mama: Yes I know. I have watched the news about Egypt, but why is the government being so violent? Now Tsvangirai wants to scare people saying Zimbabwe will be the next Egypt.
Me: [laughing] Maybe Tsvangirai's right.
Mama: [laughing] Tsvangirai is a man of threats and fear, when it was Kenya he was saying the same thing, when it was Sudan's separation he said the same thing. Now we will be Egypt.
Me: We all know Tsvangirai has his problems, he talks but doesn't seem to understand the situations in Kenya, Sudan and Egypt are all very different.
Mama: Yes but they have violence in common, we Zimbabweans don't want violence. We just want to wake up on voting day, drive to cast our votes and come back to our homes and have our food. All these other things about Mugabe and Zanu, let them talk amongst themselves.
Me: But we have violence in Zimbabwe. Every election kune violence, it's even started now.
Mama: Yes, but it's not the same as the war. People really died.
Me: Even now, people are really dying.
Mama: But most of us are not. Zimbabwe's okay now.
Me: Hamuna magetsi [you have no electricity]
Mama: Ehe, that's British talk now.
Me: [laugh] We'll see what happens, change will come.
Mama: Isusu [Us] we are happy, shops are full and the rains were good.
Me: But life is not cheap. Not everyone is happy.
Mama: This is our country, as long as it's peaceful we are happy.
jacked from google y'know how we do
Online Friend: I struggle to see an uprising in Zimbabwe similar to the one seen in Egypt recently. People just want to get on with their lives
Me: Do you really think so? Maybe it's possible.
Friend: Sitting where I'm sitting right now, in Zim, I doubt it. People just want to improve their lives, save and plan for Easter and all that.
Me: True. But what happens when election violence starts again. Are we going to be eternally intimidated by war vets and Zanu youth?
Friend: Mind you, the violence is not country wide and people have been through their darkest hour and have realised that they want to move forward.
Me: Just because its not everywhere that doesn't mean we should accept to live in a society where that happens. In the last three months I've come to the realisation that I really cannot be worried about a decent salary in Zim, and ignore the abuses in Chiadzwa. [diamond fields]
Friend: It's interesting, but what I've realised since moving home is its important for reporters and such to talk to 'common people' to see what they want.
Me: I don't care about reporters, I care about problems we have in Zim. People don't want violence but doesn't mean people don't want change.
Friend: You misunderstood what I'm saying.The 'real story' isn't told.The majority of regular normal people aren't interested in rebellion. What I'm simply saying, is the news will focus on what happened in Mbare whereas that incident is only limited to that one area.
Me: Ok that 's fine I agree with you 100% but I still say this isn't about reporters, its about us Zimbos, is there a will to change things? I don't mean the Tunisian way but I'd just love to see a mass number of people protesting government to improve health, education and jobs. I think our government wld be forced to do something about it but we don't even have the right to protest or make such demands peacefully. : (
Friend: Now that I'm home I see things differently, I will have to express in more detail what I see and experience here.
Me: Ok I look forward to hearing from you.
Me: Have you been watching the news? Have you seen Egypt?
Friend: What the Egyptian crisis?
Me: Yea, what you think?
Friend: I don't know, it's heavy, yo.
Me: Yo, Sis it's like revolution!
Friend: [line crackling] Like what?
Me: Like revolution, like people power.
Friend: Oh yea, power to the people!
Me: You think it's gonna happen in Zim?
Friend: [laughs] We comfortable here.
Me: But so many things wrong wit' Zim.
Friend: Yea but we aint taking to the streets, we good here.
Me: Yea but somebody's gonna have to fight the government one day.
Friend: Yea one day, someone will.
*Kanye Moment *
Granted that some of the comments above may have been made as flippant remarks, but they're indicative of how deeply entrenched apathy is in Zimbabwean society particularly among the educated middle class. The abuses of power and failures of our public services don't really seem to bother many because they are comfortable, yet this is the group of people who, with their well-placed contacts and economic influence, could collectively lobby the government to do better for it's people. Indifference to our own condition of oppression and that of our fellow Zimbabweans is, partly what has emboldened the perpetrators of violence. If the affluent classes were to rise up against some of the injustices in Zimbabwe, would the youth militia and war vets be so quick to invade places of business in the name of Chimurenga and indigenization? Would the police be so pathetic in their response to these perpetrations and other crimes? If this sector of the middle class were to throw its weight behind civil society groups, could they be a more effective rights lobbying group? On a different note, our selective indifference is also very telling of the kind of the disgraceful (read: subliminal self-hate) attitude we sometimes have towards our own people. How is it that our righteous outrage towards the bombings of Gaza, war in Somalia or Blush and Blair's Iraq war is maintained at an all-time high, but we become defensive or blind to the aggression of our own state in periods when the election violence ( 2000, 2005 & 2008) has died down? Just as the people of Gaza, Somalia and Iraq will always deserve their freedom and dignity, so do our neighbours, villagers and activists. They always deserve a high place in our memories because they are our people. They must be remembered if not for the sheer tragedy of human suffering in our nation then for the selfish, but logical reason that those atrocities may one day become our very own experiences if things should ever escalate into full-scale war. And while one could rightly argue that right now the majority of Zimbabweans' lived experiences are not centred around brutality, it cannot be denied that all of us feel the effects of sub-standard education, transport, energy and health systems, screwed up economic policies and rampant corruption and for as long as we put up and shut up, we will continue to have a sub-standard and screwed up country.