Save for my sour grapes, I do still believe that there is hope for our beloved homeland. We are not chronically poor. The best part about life is that there is always someone worse off *evil laugh. We do still have “roads” – our highways are mostly really great, we do still have electricity – South Africa, welcome to Africa, Eishkom. In fact, while going through the pictures at the Historical Library, I couldn’t help but notice the pretty photographs of jacarandas in bloom. The pictures of Salisbury made me finally understand why Harare is referred to as the Sunshine City. And as much as I get super frustrated with people harking on about the “good old days”, I look at those pictures and think, that was my grandfather cleaning those streets.
The Zimbabwe version of Apartheid was horrid and despicable, sure, however it was the blood, sweat and tears of the majority black people that maintained that litter-free road you see in the picture. I wish we could remember that; beyond ideas of inferiority and superiority, if we are organised, we are capable of amazing things. Turning a painful memory into a lesson in one’s own inner abilities and strengths is worth something. I feel closer to pictures of my grandmother ballroom dancing in the townships, than I do to pictures of the Pyramids of Giza… also so much swanking in the 60’s!
In the interests of moving past the chit-chat to actual progress, these are some suggestions:
1. Personal accountability:
I cannot put it better than Pride’s piece two weeks ago. He hit the nail on the head: accountability begins with each and every one of us. This is an individual commitment to improving one’s life, through improving one’s surroundings. The internal acknowledgement that no-one else is going to fix Zimbabwe for us. Some sober stuff.
2. Socio-political engagement:
I think as a whole, there needs to be a clear separation of issues between what is practical and what is in the realm of theory. The state of the nation is as is, due to a plethora of issues, primarily political ones; and accountability and responsibility need to be taken up at the top of the food chain. As a nation we need healing, and it is true that “there can be no peace without justice”, however I feel we can also separate justice from solutions. Both must be had, no doubt, however just waiting for one, at the expense of the other, is killing us. We are all waiting in limbo for a select few to get their acts together while we languish. We can either choose to talk endless politics or talk local solutions.
Therefore, when I talk of socio-political engagement I speak of active participation by Zimbabweans in the immediate communities in which we live. This is everything and anything from neighbourhood watches to engagement with councillors and lobbying the mayor. A grassroots practical approach; raising issues such as refuse collection, the maintenance of roads, water, electricity supply, and security in our neighbourhoods. This would include giving up our time and services to assist in the provision of such services, even a Saturday spent filling potholes on your section of the road, although granted some roads look like missiles landed on them. If Zimbabweans cared collectively, instead of watching Big Brother (pun intended), we could make changes in our own lives separate from the nonsense that goes on at the top.
It is time we stopped thinking someone else will do it. If you see a burst water pipe, use that Econet line to report it. Vaccinate your dogs, repair your fences, and stop throwing your litter out of the window! If Jehovah’s Witnesses can spend entire days walking in the sun to spread their Good News, then we can afford to be more active in our immediate communities.
Let us rid ourselves of this all-consuming apathy; it is as heinous as the industrial sludge seeping into Khami river. Let us engage actively in something that benefits more than our immediate selves. Industry, stop dumping toxic waste into our water ways; fishermen, say something, find your Environmental Health Technician and complain – feed him the fish if need be. Unemployed youths, a group of you can form neighbourhood teams that do voluntary community projects according to your particular needs. Underpaid workers (police), rather than revenge-slacking at work (dreaming up fines for bribes), turn that side hustle into something you can do as a team with your workmates – the Stanbic Bank Chicken Cooperative. Granted my efforts with TelOne were largely unsuccessful, and that is discouraging, I am well aware how hopeless it can feel, as well as how depressing unemployment is; however if the TelOne official had the spirit of wanting to do better, maybe we could get somewhere. We are very hard workers when it suits us. So let us do the do.
3. Active public participation:
For this, I will jump back onto my “race horse”, and start off by touching on the colourful issues. The one thing many black Zimbabweans are still afraid to do is to stand up to “authority”. Why can white Zimbabweans stand up to government officials in places like the Passport Office, and therefore receive preferential treatment; while we all cower in ridiculously long queues being harassed by one security guard? We succumb to bullying so easily, and we need to do some soul-searching to address this inferiority complex. Public service providers are known for being rude and yet we do not complain. We just join the queue silently like sheep to the slaughter. The same applies with bad service in retail outlets. Let us stop abusing our little powers. Cashiers and security guards, I am talking to you.
To the other colours, as much as we would like to pretend it does not happen, this historically based social awkwardness is your problem too. We are all citizens of this country, and even though I might live in the same neighbourhood from whence your domestic worker came, we both still pay our water bills at the City Council offices. Therefore there is no need to disregard the many black people waiting (im)patiently in line, jump the queue, and make a fuss like you are too sexy to be bored. Let us talk to each other as equals, we share so much after all. It is my mother who is left in your house taking care of your children. Let that sink in for a moment. When you go out for lunch, “nanny” and kids in tow, let her dress up for the occasion, having her in uniform at Food Lovers, sitting silently at the periphery of your vision is uncomfortable to say the least. Let us find new names for “boy’s khayas”.
I am tempted to go deeper into issues surrounding white privilege in Africa; but that is for another day, my focus here is on solutions and moving forward as a people, together. Race issues are always sensitive, and as much as there are many who wish we could just fast forward to a colourless utopia, the fact that Facebook has a page called Rhodesians Worldwide, with 48 044 followers says otherwise. The point of my rant is not to distribute guilt as freely as Malema, but to emphasise that contribution from everyone is key. We must either actively engage with the realities in Zimbabwe, and be honest about it, or leave it.
Black Zimbabweans, middle class privilege is also real, and this is what I refer to when I say that we can afford to build back home because we do so well abroad. We have better English, better education, better “culture” – we gel so well with the “first world”. Zimbabweans are renowned for their hard work ethic, yet we don’t want to use that to our national advantage. I understand extended family is a heavy parasitic burden; however this means culturally we are able to think in terms of community, in terms of ubuntu. Let us harness that generosity.
In the same vein, those great minds abroad have the brain power to come up with long term solutions. We need to combat the brain drain by using that outside knowledge to invest in Zimbabwe. Being a genius for Airbus is great; now spare us a bit of that mojo to help your home. This means more than love letters and wish lists from your ivory tower. Discussions, like therapy… are good; but talk followed by action is even better. It is great that you are changing the perspective of how the world sees Africa through your achievements. We are proud of you. Now take a moment to reach out to your bother at home too. Pull him up so we can all shine.
You made it out, good for you, it is not easy out there, we know this – but we need you back home; if not in person, then in your contributions. Zimbabwe is so highly dependent on donors, we spend all our time berating and begging the “all-evil West”. Save us from our schizophrenia by contributing to charity at home.
- Pool your church donations (Zimbabweans in the UK and US we all know you are crazy about church) and help to renovate a school. Buy uniforms for the children, buy food, buy pens, support a local NGO and hold it accountable.
- Young, childless Diaspora, I was one of you. I know your struggle, come home with your youthful energy for the few years before you settle down and start thinking about family. One or two years is enough. You don’t have to derail your career or lose your networks. Even short visits for projects at home are something – better than nothing. If young Norwegian volunteers can come to feed lions at Antelope Park, young Zimbabweans can come clothe orphans with all the stuff they give to Oxfam.
- Instead of growing your beard for Movember, contribute to the public hospitals that fight cervical cancer in Harare and Bulawayo. Here I am challenging you rich kids in particular – the ones with the “connections”, the children of the “liberators” – your level of connectedness is not threatened in any way when you spend time at home, unlike others who have to fight for citizenship or scholarships. Stop playing at patriotism and tweeting your disgust at The Fall memes from your comfy apartment lofts. Come home and be true “sons and daughters of the soil”. I can’t take your propaganda seriously if you’re tweeting me from New York. -Spouse VISAs exist for those who are already married. Let us not look for reasons why we can’t engage, but rather let us look for opportunities for participation in whatever small way we can. Every little bit counts.
5. Role Models:
As a nation we are suffering from a crisis in leadership. Therefore we need to grow the next generation into the characters that will be able to get us out of this funk. In this instance, I am appealing to all Zimbabweans within and abroad, it is time we became role models for our youth. We spend our time on social media, debating nonsense about mini-skirts, and witchcraft instead of showing our children what responsibility is – being a father that is present, not chasing after cleavage and hemlines. We buy Manchester United regalia and watch it from our DSTV, instead of filling up White City Stadium for Highlanders vs. CAPS United.
Young Zimbabweans, who made it, go back to your schools and talk to the kids there about how you made it. Stop holding on to your success secrets as if by sharing you’ll somehow lose your piece of the pie. Business owners, employ university graduates as apprentices and stop with the nepotism. Your sekuru doesn’t know how to do that job, and he will steal from you. University graduates, be prepared to work for free to build your CV, volunteering is career building too. Church people stop buying your pastors BMWs and spend that money on the patients at Ingutsheni Hospital. BaPostori, this thing of marrying child brides is illegal; also you are causing soil erosion. Pastors stop telling lies, God is watching you!
I grew up in Zimbabwe, studied abroad, and came back. I now live and work here, and like many of my kinsmen, I have no idea what the future holds. That future might be bright, or it might entail crocodile-dodging across the Limpopo, I really don’t know. However what I would like to emphasise is that a good life here is possible, if we go back to basics and build. I have liberally used the word “lazy” because as Zimbabweans, we are very active about being inactive. Our apathy is not passive, it is not innocent. Words like docile or oppressed/down trodden have no agency and that is why I cannot use them, or buy into the helplessness they describe. We have proved over and over again how able we are. Therefore, when one bribes a police man, or employs their sekuru, as much as it is often a survival instinct, it is also being an active participant in the problem. There is nothing docile about it, let us not be lazy to do what is right. Rather, let us, privileged ones in particular, set aside our image and our egos and start to really engage with what it means to build from the ground up. And to the everyday ninjas who are doing all the thankless jobs out there, the nurses earning $ 250 a month, the teachers, the doctors, the refuse collectors. Thank you. You are our hope.
Glossary of Terms:
Everyday Ninja – the ordinary citizen with superpowers of patience, resilience and hope in the face of a desperate situation.
Gangster Churches – places of alleged Christian worship, mostly found in abandoned factory warehouses, where money is stolen from the masses in broad daylight.
Ingutsheni Hospital – largest mental health institution in Zimbabwe
Sekuru – uncle.
Wifi-free – those without connections in high places.