[Read Part I here]
Nothing annoyed me more growing up than “kuoneka“. This is basically when you have to announce to your hosts/parents/elders that you are leaving their presence and may not see them for while (a while could be anything from a few hours to years, and the length of your announcement will depend on how long you’re leaving for). Now while this is by no means confined to my culture, I’ll speak from my own experience. My parents always took kuoneka very seriously when I was growing up. I couldn’t simply yell “Bye! See you soon!” and walk out (which is what I would have liked to do, honestly). I had to sit still with my legs together (or kneel, depending on who it was or where we were) and hands cupped, calmly announce how enjoyable that person’s company has been, smile as they jokingly coax me into staying by offering me food, nod my head several times to show attentiveness, wait for any words of unsolicited advice they might have, rise to my feet slowly, rapidly sit down when I realise they have started a new conversation with my parents, and then eventually walk out gracefully, and shout another quick “mosara zvakanaka” (stay well) as I leave. I was always terribly annoyed at how long it took to say a simple goodbye. Even if we had somewhere else to be, we had to oneka in the same, long-winded way.
There is a sense of urgency in my generation that I think made the formalities of my culture so annoying for me. We move quickly (sometimes too quickly), often have to make immediate decisions, rely on instant gratification and we expect results yesterday. We are constantly on the move, constantly evolving and running to catch the next trend before the last one is fully over. We have our eyes fixed on the future and where we’re headed, but still look over our shoulder to the past and the history that has made us who we are. We leapfrog into new technologies and ways of life, we charge full speed ahead often without fully knowing what awaits us.
Because of the nature of our daily activities/services – social media, instant meals, rapid transport systems, mobile banking and so on – nothing is more utterly annoying than the sluggish responses we often receive from those who lead us. It reminds me of kuoneka in a way, when you’re at your grandmother’s rural home and you need to get back to Harare before it gets too dark, but she won’t stop talking. It’s that feeling that you cannot possibly interrupt her because she is obviously always right and wise and to be respected, versus your fear of not getting home safely. In many ways my grandmother represents the state here – elderly, a little slow, full of stories about past victories and struggles, always to be respected and always to have the last word, no matter how unhelpful it may be. And here we are, the impatient young grandchildren, checking our phones for the time, planning tomorrow’s activities in our heads, grateful for our grandmother, but starting to feel a little annoyed at her lack of urgency.
We want a future that’s better than the lives our parents lived. But we’re constantly faced with the painful and cringe-worthy old gospel music video mediocrity that leaves a bad taste in our mouths and a lingering and growing disillusionment.
Youth: our opportunity/advantage
Our relative obscurity means that we’re hyper-visible when needed by the state (youths rallied up for political gatherings, to carry out violence in different spaces or be the guinea pigs for another shallow ’empowerment’ scheme), but simultaneously invisible (no committed inclusion of voices and utilisation of youth talent to address development issues of the future). So often our visibility is dependent on the needs of the state machine, while the state continuously ignores us when we’re not needed. Our emancipation, while rooted in the principles our leaders continue to speak about, will not come from the state. They’re far too busy worrying about who stole panties in the war, which faction is leading in a succession race they continue to deny exists, and acts of “treason” against privately owned companies.
There’s a politics of ‘hope’ that dictates that we be forever hopeful for better days; waiting in anticipation for all to be well in our chaotic country. But as Oprah once said, ‘success is when preparation meets opportunity’, and the concept of ‘luck’ doesn’t exist. We cannot hope and be compelled to pray for our country by the very same leaders who have played a part in it needing prayer to begin with. We must hope and act. The amount of political work we have to do is immense (Political work is a broad term, not only meaning political party involvement). The amount of investment needed is colossal, but I wonder – if we won’t invest in ourselves, who should? If we don’t take the time to critically rethink our “mission” and goals as the future adult citizens of Zimbabwe, will we ever recover? If we don’t take the development of this country into our own hands, will we ever rebuild what’s crumbled over the years? There are so many of us in so many different sectors with such a diverse skills set. Young health practitioners, tell us what needs to be fixed in our health sector. Tell us how we can help. Young people in education, what are the key issues we should be focusing on? How can we help? Young engineers and town planners, how do we tackle more sustainable ways of living, especially for those excluded from state services? Our emancipation won’t only come from the state.
Now this is not to say that we should stop holding the state accountable – we must. But doing the same things and expecting the same results, upenzi (that’s madness). Relying on the systems that govern us now to suddenly fix everything is naive. Our advantage is our skills, our amazing standards of education, our passion for our country, and our sense of urgency. We have something to offer. Every single one of us. But we need to think outside of our relative obscurity and practically make moves to ‘be the change we want to see in the world’. We need to think generationally and break out of the rut that makes us think as far as tomorrow. We need to invest in ourselves, we need to help each other, we need to rise as a collective, we can’t keep leaving people behind. We are young, relatively obscure, and audaciously hopeful. The question remains, how do we harness these qualities for good and, as Queen B says, “Get in formation“?
*Part III will follow, with some practical questions, obstacles and solutions I’d like to explore with all of you 🙂 Please do let me know your thoughts in the meantime*