Friday 24th November is the day Zimbabwe saw the swearing in of a new president, after what has been called a ‘bloodless coup’. It also marks the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the ruling party – one without Robert Mugabe. While the mood in Zimbabwe and amongst Zimbabwean communities the world over has been jubilant, what I have felt this week is a mixture of euphoria and anxiety, as I think deeply about the future of a people that have lost so much. This is my personal reflection on a system we desperately need to do away with to truly free ourselves of different forms of oppression.
My father had the kind of singing voice that could only be classified as atrocious. It was deep and lacked any sort of real tone or direction, and the only song I ever remember him sing from beginning to end, in three different languages, was our national anthem – a memory that still makes me cry with laughter whenever it crosses my mind. “Tone deaf and proud,” I would often call him.
In many ways, his tone deafness and pride in mediocrity extended beyond his attempts at singing, into his political life. He was a Zanu official for as long as I knew him, in different capacities. And it was his tone deafness – a characteristic shared by his former colleagues and our former president (that feels really good to say) that inevitably resulted in decades of state and police brutality, plundering of government resources, corruption, negligence and mismanagement at eye-watering levels. And so in essence, the same guttural voice that made me cry with laughter, made me seethe with anger at the horrid sate of affairs Zimbabweans were subjected to. Herein lies the complexity of where we find ourselves.
For years, Zimbabweans have been speaking and writing about the shocking state of the country’s decline. We were ruled by a government that had no interest in listening to anything other than the voices that were powerful enough to silence others. Mugabe was an awful leader. So when he was forced to resign (please stop saying it was by choice; it wasn’t), I danced and cried for the end of his political power that had been used to bully, oppress and marginalise his own people. For many, his demise symbolised the beginnings of a long road to recovery. Zimbabweans, I believe, should celebrate each victory we win as deeply as we have mourned our losses over the years.
Hello, Emmerson – we need to talk
But as I write this today, Emmerson Mnangagwa has taken over as the head of state. He was a close ally of the president who was part of government throughout some of its most violent periods and actions: Gukurahundi, Operation Murambatsvina, the political violence in various election years and so on. He was and is part of a system that none of us can say has ever truly served all Zimbabweans. Our country is in a mess, and it will take more than just a change in leadership to fix it, which most people are very aware of.
Now, this is the situation we find ourselves in. But this is not the situation we have to stay in forever. As a young Zimbabwean, I was swimming in apathy and despair for longer than I’d like to admit, and that is a sentiment that is shared across socio-economic statuses and geographical locations. The removal of Robert was one small step in a series of many large steps that need to be taken for us to truly be free. And it seems naïve to celebrate his removal, considering who has replaced him. But it is possible to be anti-Mugabe without being pro-Mnangagwa. It is possible, that after years of oppression, silencing and being mocked by Robert’s leadership, his removal is the push that some young people need to start thinking about how to build our country. Anything that chips away at the feelings of apathy about my country, I welcome with open arms.
It may be too early to tell where everything is going, but what is clear is that the entrenched system of violence and intolerance for opposing poitical views needs to be dismantled. We as citizens need to think and act in ways that emphasise our desire for a country where everyone is afforded the same opportunities. We need to keep fighting for a country that we can be proud of, and where political leaders are not deified, but recognise that they are to serve our interests alone.
My father lost his life because of the very system and people whose power he helped to consolidate, and so violence begets violence. The system and the people in it are not going to willingly change for us. I think we need to keep speaking and collectively cure the ‘tone deafness’ of our political leadership as we move forward. And I think we need to give each other the space to celebrate small victories, while we work out how to achieve bigger ones.