My Rightful Discomfort of privilege

“Manje munhu wenyu akanga achikuchengetai aenda. Tione kuti muchaita seyi.”

(Translation: “The person who used to look out for you is gone now. Let’s see how you’ll cope.”)

– A Zanu youth to another Zanu youth who had been suspended from the party. This was said the day they heard Cde Amos Midzi had passed on. 

This piece will be hard to write and possibly a little all over the place, but yesterday I hit breaking point and I had to write. I sat in a class on resource politics and development, primarily in African countries. In the spotlight, to my horror, was Zimbabwe’s small scale miners and their everyday battles to stay afloat in this economy. My lecturer did his research in illegal gold mines across the country, and he showed pictures of desperate, hungry and hard working miners. People who, after a week of work, only made enough so they could eat once a day. I squirmed in my seat, avoiding eye contact, praying that he move on to another African country, hoping no one would ask me questions during the discussion time. Such is the discomfort of glaring privilege in a society riddled with inequalities.

The rightful discomfort of privilege in a society riddled with inequalities.

I was born into a privileged family. There has never been a day I went to bed hungry or worried about where my school fees would come from. Even now, I am writing this in a res room at The University of Edinburgh where I received a scholarship to do my Masters degree. I would have never been here had it not been for the good schools, loving and peaceful home environment, and parents and siblings who cheered me on. For that, I am forever grateful.

I just finished reading a blog post by Buhlebenkosi Tshabangu-Moyo, a wonderful woman whose tweets warm my heart and challenge me to be better. She wrote an open letter to the President, speaking about the discomfort that comes from being a Zimbabwean in a foreign country, the shame we often feel, and the pain of “enduring” life in the country, as opposed to “enjoying” it. She’s spot on. I still turn my passport over when I stand in a bank queue so people in the line can’t see which African country I’m from. I sometimes walk away when people start a conversation about Zimbabwe, just so I don’t get caught up in the how-could-you-possibly-have-voted-for-Mugabe conversation.

The rightful discomfort of privilege in a society riddled with inequalities.

My father was the Chairperson of Harare Province for ZANU-PF, a Cabinet Minister, and later, Member of Parliament. (Moment of silence for those of you who would like to stop reading now). He joined Zanu as a young man with a dream about freedom and everything else you’ve seen on ZBC documentaries. He grew up to be one of the most influential people in his party and in our government, and for years he helped create policies, debated laws, and helped make decisions that affected us all. He had the kind of power many of us only dream of.

The rightful discomfort of privilege in a society riddled with inequalities.

Cde Midzi was also part of a political party that was responsible for the constitutive violence that is the very fabric of our lives. The politicisation of the defence forces, the militarisation of political party support and access to resources, the binary of us (good, upright, patriotic Zanu supporters) and them (disruptive, dissident, misguided opposition supporters. Or worse, Gamatox). I believe my father was a good man, and I’ve written enough about that. But what I needed to do was stare my privilege (and culpability?) in the face. To sit in my dicomfort and my proximity to violence, and understand what that means for the rest of my life. To question the choices my father made and the system he took part in and benefitted from, and to acknowledge the pain it caused. The quote at the beginning of this piece is simply a reaction to those whose power seemed to be unlimited. It was insensitive and a shitty thing to say at that time, but I know why he said it, and it speaks to the kind of society we live in.

The rightful discomfort of privilege in a society riddled with inequalities.

This year has been a tough one for many Zimbabweans. Debilitating really. Scores of us have lost jobs, and return to homes with hungry children and sky-high water and electricity bills. Many have left to look for a better life. And many of us are home, wondering when we’ll get our shit toegther. There is so much pain and so much despair, and I refuse to ignore or gloss over it. I don’t know where I fit in in the narrative of a Zimbabwe that is looking to recover. I know that my experiences are valid, but I also know that they are soaked in privilege and exclusivity.

A protest on 4th Street in Harare about the raise in examination fees. Angry parents whose pockets had been stretched to capacity marched to the Ministry of Education with their children.

A protest on 4th Street in Harare about the raise in examination fees. Angry parents whose pockets had been stretched to capacity marched to the Ministry of Education with their children.

Until we are uncomfortable enough to speak about our privilege and proximity to violence, there will always be an ‘us and them’, and we will continue to make policies that benefit the ‘us’ and not the ‘them’. We will continue to carry the fabric of violence that has destroyed confidence in our leaders. We will continue to make laws that oppress instead of liberate, we will silence voices that we need to hear, we will chase after blood soaked, evil money that separates the rich and the poor. We will be the laughing stock of the world. A failed revolution, an incomplete vision. We will continue to marginalise those that need our support the most, and we will watch our children hate us for it.

Today I sit in the rightful discomfort of my privilege in my society riddled with inequalities. I commit to turning my discomfort into action.