My father had a terrible singing voice. Cringeworthy, deep and without melody, the only song I remember him singing was the national anthem. Yes, the national anthem. He used to belt it out on the days he decided to burden us with his singing, creating strange harmonies and misplaced crescendos. This morning I thought of him as I heard the anthem over the radio, just before the 6AM news. I smiled and cringed – I haven’t forgotten what his voice sounded like. Yet.
Perhaps the feelings towards my country came from the way his singing made me feel. I hated it when he was actually singing, but I somehow found myself humming the anthem, smiling to myself as I went about my daily tasks. Sometimes I’d join him, mostly to improve the quality of the performance. I was much younger when he sang the anthem, and Zimbabwe wasn’t perfect, but it was a much easier country to live in.
Fast forward to this morning. “Kushandira mari kwacho, kunorwadza. Kutora mari yacho, kunorwadza. Nyika yacho yese yaakutorwadza,” says the man in the bank queue in front of me. He has spent the last week queuing for no more than $200, at ungodly hours. According to him, we were headed back to 2008 times, when shop shelves and fuel pumps were empty, our money worthless, our political freedoms stifled, our hearts heavy and our sense of hope wavering. A time when dreams were dashed on the rocks of a callous government and a desperate and trigger happy ruling party. A time of all night prayers, of shady deals, ill-equipped hospitals and dying patients, unpaid workers and late school fees payments. A time much like the present. Pessimism is our ideology, political polarity our bread and butter. Politicians politick and people hurt and hustle. Life is not normal. It hasn’t been for a very long time. Mega deals come and go, corruption makes overweight, potbellied men richer than they can articulate. Morals don’t exist. Every person fends for themselves, just to keep their heads above water. Street children return, begging bowls deeper. Vendors return, fighting for their right for a decent life. Debt collectors take furniture and cars, evict tenants and dare them to take it up with a legal system that bleeds your already empty pockets dry.
The line gets longer and longer, those last in line hoping they’ll make the cut. I keep humming the national anthem, thinking of how we got here. Thinking of the hundreds of doors of opportunity that have since closed for so many citizens. I glance over at the elderly woman a few steps away from me and think of the pensions that were lost and the grandchildren whose parents toil away in foreign lands.
An argument breaks out about a man who tries to jump the queue. Two soldiers join the argument and it ends promptly.
I wonder what it will really take for things to change; for our leaders to care again. For our lives to not be an endless pit of pain.
I’ve stopped humming.