Friday, 4 February 2011

'Africans Will Always Be Africans'

Tahrir Square, Cairo
copyright Marc
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. 


Kiri said...

I think part of the problem is that enough people are getting by, dare I say thriving. For every person I know who is struggling to make ends meet, I know of someone making a small fortune in diamonds or something. As a Malawian, I have wondered for years why Zimbabweans don't rise up and topple Mugabe et al (and yes, it's not just one man, it's the cronies too) as we did with Banda. To me, Zim has so much more than we ever did. An infrastructure for starters! And so many resources, so much wealth in her people and her soil....compared to Malawi for instance. But I think that's the problem. There is so much, perhaps too much, and too many people who are inconvenienced by the current state of affairs but with enough wealth and influence for it not to hit too hard. But perhaps too, the memories of the 80s are too raw for the older generation? It seems like there is too much to lose, perhaps. But it's a shame. A lot is being lost now, as it is.

KonWomyn said...


Thanks for the comment. Perhaps as a Malawian you might find parallels between Mugabe and Banda - he ruled Malawi for +30 years and it took an election to finally get rid of him. But there were reasons why he managed to crush dissent in Malawi as he had the support of the police, the army and secret police - same as Mugabe in Zim.

I don't know how apathetic Malawians were but I can imagine that not having been as developed as other nations the poor may have felt this is as good as it gets because Banda could bribe them or guilt them into voting for him. Same thing Mugabe does with the rural population and that's the majority.

If anything could have happened in the past it would've been led by the people in the towns but even then all opposition has been crushed with such ruthlessness that people think twice about rebelling.

Also Mugabe has ensured that he'll never lose an election and the people can't or won't protest because the older generation (rural and urban) believe Zanu(& Zapu) gave them freedom so just as Mubarak is going hard on nostalgia and sympathy, Mugabe does well on anti-colonial liberation rhetoric.

But also this post also shows apathy's a big part of it and for those that are doing well, legally or illegally will never give up what they have. People don't stand up for themselves because we're scared of chaos, nobody wants the violence as some of the speakers say in the post above. And if no violence means Mugabe's in charge then most are happy to go along with that.

This comparison between Zim and Egypt might also be worth reading. I agree with some of Trevor Ncube's views but for my own reasons I think he underestimates the potential power of the internet and the Diaspora. And also he thinks jobs and investment will give people more freedom, but I really don't think freedom can wait that long.

Sabine said...

Portrait Of The 1985 Handsworth Riots - Pogus Caesar - BBC1 TV . Inside Out.

Broadcast 25 Oct 2010.

Birmingham film maker and photographer Pogus Caesar knows Handsworth well. He found himself in the centre of the 1985 riots and spent two days capturing a series of startling images. Caesar kept them hidden for 20 years. Why? And how does he see Handsworth now?. The stark black and white photographs featured provide a rare, valuable and historical record of the raw emotion, heartbreak and violence that unfolded during those dark and fateful days in September 1985.

Saratu said...

It's important to remember that Egyptians were often referred to as politically apathetic. Also remember that the protests that we all witnessed on @AJEnglish et al were without precedent in the country's history. Political opposition was so oppressed in Egypt, in fact, that so much talent that would otherwise have gone into public service either fled the country for Europe/America/Elsewhere or went private sector, so they're having to dig deep to replace the established order.

Ditto for Tunisia -- before the self-immolations, there was very little stirring of political opposition. Like you probably saw in the news, Ghannouchi who took over after Ben Ali has now stepped down, because the people don't see him as a change enough. They also have to dig deep, and hopefully among the protesters can emerge a political class that cares a damn about its people.

I'm telling you not to give up hope on a revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa, a conclusion that I myself am dubious. Nigeria, where I'm from, could use a nice overthrow of the old guard, a calling of names and demanding that some former military actors no longer play a part in our politics. Alas, I don't see that as happening.

It's important to know what can rouse people from the slumber of political apathy. But things have to change. I just have no idea how.

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