Waiting for God(ot)?

Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot?”
Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

I remember waking up one day on a Saturday around 11AM. My headache woke me. I crawled out of bed, glanced at the club stamp on my left arm and silently apologized to white Jesus for drinking so much the night before. Half asleep still, I went to find something to eat in order to send my horrible bhabharasi back to Lucifer.

I went through the fridge. Nothing. Then I came across an ice cream container – the good, Kefalos kind. I vowed that after my KFC run, I’d come back and treat myself to some. When I returned and opened the container, I found a heap of frozen meat. Nyama yembudzi to be precise, which I hate. I stood there for a few seconds, utterly disappointed. The container looked brand new and the label hadn’t started disappearing from all the washing. I had seen this same container a week ago, and it was full of ice cream.

I suppose one could use this incident as an indicator of what my life here often feels like; expectation, followed by disappointment. Now, the fact that I could even ‘do a KFC run’ in the first place says that I am privileged. I recognise this privilege, but it does not mask the deep dissatisfaction that comes from being young, driven, female and living in a state that is seemingly self-destructing. I live in a country that largely frustrates me, and that gives out false hope narratives (nyama yembudzi) wrapped in optimism and flowery language (the Kefalos ice cream container).

I also live in a country of great contradictions. A country that hopes in the face of despair, that trusts in the face of uncertainty, and that largely remains silent about the everyday injustices and violences that erode our joy. Yet, we wait. We are expectant. We wait endlessly for God(ot) or some kind of leader or higher being that will fix all our problems. We allow the narrative of “So far so good” to wash away our doubts and keep us going. We let this narrative control our past, our present and our future. The rough edges of our crisis are smoothed over by the sweet narrative of constant victory in the face of colonialism, constant gratitude to our liberators and incessant praises to white Jesus.

Recently, Afrobarometer released a report that everyone is having a say about. According to the report, 63% of participants trust President Robert Mugabe – 70% in rural areas and 45% in urban areas. A whole 54% trust the ruling party. Only 34% trusts the opposition parties, showing just how well they’ve done in letting citizens down. What is puzzling however, is that 63% of the participants do not trust the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) that is responsible for conducting national elections. Strange that we trust a leader we elected but not the institution that facilitates that election. Surely that would mean that we don’t trust the outcome of an election because of our mistrust of ZEC? Hameno.

bob

50% of the participants trust the police, and 64% trust the army. 67% of the former however, were urban dwellers and did not trust the police, most likely because of their generally poor services and insatiable desire for bribes from motorists.

What shocked me most however, was that leading in trustworthiness at 75% were church leaders. (I really shouldn’t be surprised. I have plenty of relatives that would give their left arm as an offering if persuaded) The church, especially the rise of the Pentecostal miracle hubs, has attracted the support of tens of thousands of Zimbabweans. I mean, would you rather trust a man who says he’ll grow your economy and empower you at some point in the future, or a man who makes money magically appear in your pocket? Tough choice.

Now, to understand the condition our country is in, let me add some more stats. The FinScope 2014 report showed that 66% of participants did not have piped water in their households. 67% use firewood as main energy source for cooking. 36% had gone a day without a meal because they could not afford one. Another 36% had not been able to send their children to school that term. 40% are excluded from financial institutions because they cannot afford bank charges, while 45% of the people that do have some savings, spend them on living expenses only.

Like I said – contradictions. On the one hand, the huge amount of people without access to basic services like water supply, electricity and sanitation services  should tell us that support for the ruling party should have diminished. The stagnation in our economic growth is worrying. Our growing government expenditures on the back of no production and very little FDI is a recipe for disaster. Our informal economy is creating wonderfully talented and driven entrepreneurs and alternative job opportunities, but is also hurting formal business, the environment, and the tax base.

But we have expectations even in the midst of despair. We seem to always be waiting for something or someone to change things. For a miracle from Papa Angel to fix the mess we’re in and usher in a season of blessings and favour for all. We wait on white Jesus to see and hear us, and remember that we’re just as ‘chosen’ as the Jews, and to rid us of our problems. We hope that the ruling party will stop its bickering, look down on us and keep fighting for the empowerment it fought for 35 years ago.

We wait, we hope. Endlessly, for better days.

Being an ‘other’: Identity and belonging in Zimbabwe

*This piece was first published on Her Zimbabwe*

I went to a workshop recently. It was the kind of workshop where youths are encouraged to speak about the problems they face in society and how to fix them. Usually, these kinds of workshops bore me to death. We talk about the same issues we’ve been talking about for years, the government is informed of our pleas, they do nothing, and we come back, have a go again and convince ourselves we’re making progress. It’s exhausting, really.

But this time was different.

I walked into the building, signed a register, and was greeted by a young man who, every time he finished a sentence, flicked back his locks and mentioned something about liking my outfit. He showed me to his table and complained about the heat, laughing in intervals and barely letting me get a word in. He was delightful.

The discussions started.

It became evident that there was a sizeable group of members from the queer community taking part. Queer meaning either gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, trans-gendered. I felt slightly taken aback because this is not the kind of thing you see often in this country. What was even more striking was how nuanced the discussions were. Health matters didn’t just refer to the stigmas of teenage pregnancy and the usual PowerPoint on HIV and AIDS. Instead, they included the added victimisation many members of the queer community face when speaking to medical practitioners about methods of safe sex, STIs and their treatment.

I listened to them speak about the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia coming up on May 17th and the worldwide movement to have voices of the LGBTiQ community heard in matters of policy-making. Most importantly, I heard stories of grappling with identities, being ostracised, assaulted and excluded from society because of their identities.  At that point, my heterosexual and its attendant privilege stared at me in the face. I understood for the first time just how much we can ‘other’ and silence those in our society whose stories we seldom hear or even seek out.

An ‘other’ is a person on the outside – someone who doesn’t fit into our ‘normal’ understanding of what it means to be human.

An ‘other’ stands on the edges of society, barred from belonging in the community, chastised and ridiculed for being ‘different’. By virtue of your identity, you are either more or less of a human being in the eyes of society. This made me think more about which identities in our societies are seen to be the norm, and which ones are side-lined and victimised.

Belonging

Recently, our President made a comment about the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. He said Kalangas in this country are known for being uneducated people who cross over to South Africa in droves and once there, they engage in petty crime, hence the backlash against so many Zimbabweans in South Africa. The irony of this statement is that in addressing xenophobic attitudes and violence in South Africa, he in turn discriminated against an ethnic group in Zimbabwe. Whether the president was only referring to the stereotype or was indeed making xenophobic comments has been debated in the media. But the point is that the stereotype exists; and it is damaging as these are believed to be true by more people than I am comfortable with.

And this begs the question of how our identities and perceived identities ‘other’ us in our very own societies.

During the xenophobic attacks, President Zuma asked one of the most telling questions that touches on the issue of belonging in the African context. “Why are their [surrounding countries’] citizens not in their countries and in South Africa?” Now, there are many answers to his question which highlight some of the failures of other African states to cater for the basic needs of their own people, including our own.

But what Zuma is really saying is “You do not belong here”.

You may be just as human as us, you may be here legally, you may even be contributing to the economic growth of South Africa, but as someone who does not have citizenship, you do not belong. You are an ‘other’.  Your identity is incongruent with the requirements of belonging in South Africa. Your identity is the fundamental barrier between you being an ‘other’ and you being included.

Belonging means you have a sense of security about your acceptance in a group or society. It means that you feel like your life, concerns, goals, passions matter to the group and that you do not have to prove your humanity to anyone there.

It is, in our context, the spirit of Ubuntu – ‘I am because we are’.

Is it more important to ‘belong’ in Zimbabwe as a Zimbabwean even though you have no source of income, or is it more important to be financially stable, even if they say you do not belong in South Africa? How much value do we place on belonging? Who decides for us who belongs?

The queer community could argue that they may be Zimbabweans by citizenship, but that many do not believe they really belong. To be an ‘othered other’ therefore means to experience layers of discrimination based on your identity. To be Zimbabwean and foreign in South Africa, to be Kalanga and female, to be young and gay, or white and gay, to be Zimbabwean, female and foreign. And so while many of us are said to ‘belong’ here because we are Zimbabwean, or because we are African, many of us are ‘othered’ for one reason or another – standing on the edge of humanity, looking in.