As I reflect on how the Zimbabwean story has been told – mostly by non-Africans through a largely negative lens riddled with bias – I wonder whether we would view our history and ourselves differently if they were told by our own.
And so I thought:
Imagine a tale of hunting told by a lion… then by the hunted gazelle… then by the zebra that looked on… then by the trampled grass… and last by a gun-toting, thrill-seeking photojournalist.
For a moment, just imagine.
One story, different angles.
The reality is our stories have been told largely through a colonial gaze. We are thus viewed as a continent divided, of different peoples and desires. Yes, our society is variegated. Yes, we are different peoples. Yet, we are one people. United in ways not clearly enunciated in history books, but that can be seen in our culture(s), our traditions, our beliefs, our looks…
Today, a Kalanga from Zimbabwe will argue (with the greatest conviction) that his are only slightly linked or related to the Kalanga of Botswana. That they are too different to be the same. How unfortunate.
Some amaNdebele say that they are more closely related to amaZulu of South Africa than they could ever be to the neighbouring vaKaranga. Intriguing. Again unfortunate.
Today we forget that many of our present societies were carved out for us – constructed on DIFFERENCES, on seeking to isolate rather than unite, to “divide and conquer.” So we tend to focus on that which divides us, not the many that unites. We have become ‘they.’ The colonial experiment that sought to divide us continues to succeed.
Our tales have been told through the eyes of “explorers” who write of “discovering” Victoria Falls, as if Mosi oa Tunya did not thunder and splash millennia before David Livingstone heard then saw it.
Our stories are told by journeying financiers who speak of “civilisation” based on the price of commodities they place value on. What we once shared, we now buy, borrow, beg or steal from our neighbours.
Our tales are told by warmongers who see our children through the barrel of an AK-47. Faces reflecting on the blades of machetes. Who view victory through conquests, not (necessarily) as peace.
Yet we know bits and pieces of our stories, we know what there is something that lies beneath the facade of misinformation. A truth not yet exposed. We could begin to seek out these stories and share them.
On the route to self-discovery and carving our identity, we must first know our story. Our history. Only then can we begin to understand our present & what our future demands.
I call myself Zimbabwean. But what does ‘Zimbabwean’ mean? It means different things to different people at different times. Even our languages have been defined for us… Ours are now “dialects” that form part of a language created for us. After all, a Dutchman & an Englishman wrote the original Shona dictionary (duramazwi). Until the 2013 Constitution, many of our languages weren’t officially recognized as such. Subsumed into “Shona” was chiZezuru, chiNdau, chiManyika, chiKorekore, chiKaranga, Kalanga … even xiTsonga,
So when “Are you Shona or Ndebele?” comes immediately after I say I am from Zimbabwe, “I am neither,” I always reply. For I am a combination of many cultures, but owing to patrilineage I identify as muKaranga. But beyond my father’s language, I am more. I have only just begun to scratch the surface of my identity. I am not a caricature created by some to simplify the intricacies of my people… Yet, I am one with the other peoples of my country & continent. I am, as from the day I was ushered into this world, until the day the earth will swallow me: a Zimbabwean. An African.
For those who do not know, Zimbabwe is a beautiful place filled with amazing people with intriguing and complex tales. Explore it (through literature, travel, engagement). The country and her people are far more than a quickly hashed up articles on the BBC “Africa” website. Begin a journey of learning…
Once you know your Zimbabwe, you will begin to know yourself.
[This is a reworked piece, previously written by the author about Africa on her blog]