‘Voting against my father’ – Tearing the fabric of violence.

Two days ago, the MDC-T youth held a demonstration in Harare to demand that ZEC put in place electoral reforms ahead of next year’s elections. The demonstration, as I read, began peacefully, but as usual the police violently cracked down on protesters. Those unfortunate enough to be in bank queues nearby were hit by the canon spray as well, while they experienced another violence of not being able to access the very money they have earned.

I remember thinking of how common this all is – police brutality in the face of a fight for basic rights and freedoms and answers that citizens deserve. Our country has been smothered by a fabric of violence that permeates every aspect of our lives, and it is in our best interests to tear that fabric and start building the country we all really want. This piece is deeply personal, and speaks to my encounters with this state violence and how it’s shaped my view of politics. It’s been particularly difficult to write because of my proximity to perpetrators of this violence. I want nothing more than a fresh start for this country and for our people, and I believe it’s possible. But we have to take a hard look at the ways this fabric of violence was woven and how we’re continuing that violence, if we’re ever going to tear it.

*************************************

2005 was the last time I listened intently and uncritically to my father’s take on politics. I  had just begun the teenage phase where I was perpetually annoyed with my parents. But what I felt that day was deeper than mild annoyance, and I knew that. His convictions had stopped moving me; if anything, they began to cause confusion and discomfort, which eventually, years later, turned to something close to disappointment. He’s dead now, and I’m older; and thankfully I ask more questions than I did back then.

2005 was the year of Murambatsvina, the government’s operation to demolish informal housing and business structures in urban areas across the country. It had a profound impact on my relationship with politics and my understanding of state violence, even at that age. Zimbabwe was going through a painful economic slump which was only to worsen over the years, reaching the tipping point in 2008. The currency was weak and jobs were scarce. The informal economy served as a source of much-needed income for urban residents who couldn’t access the formal sector or who simply couldn’t survive on salaries paid in a currency that was worth less and less every day. It was also the first time I had ever even considered my father to be a perpetrator of violence.

That’s important. A perpetrator of violence.

It wouldn’t be the last time, and it began a complex period of both loving him dearly and making wonderful memories, but gradually despising what he represented politically.

murambatsvina-1
Murambatsvina’s destructive effects that plague our country to this day. Source: http://www.herzimbabwe.co.zw

Operation Murambatsvina was swift and brutal; carried out in the height of the winter cold, rendering hundreds of thousands homeless and desperate. You see, my father was pictured in one of our newspapers in a white dust-coat, holding a broom and sweeping away the remains of people’s make-shift structures. “We’re cleaning up the city,” he said, after I asked if this didn’t seem harsh to him. “I mean, we’ve issued warning after warning…we’ve been clear about this from the start.” He tried to make some comparison with an example I might understand, but by now I had stopped hearing him. I remember staring at the picture of him sweeping away the livelihoods of the people him and his colleagues implied were “filth”.

I try not to think of my father very often anymore. But when I do, it’s with a feeling of both deep fondness and deep disappointment. Some days the latter outweighs the former. To me, he symbolised a party that rose on the backs of passionate black people’s painful sacrifices, steadfast resolve and a leadership that could see the Zimbabwe that many couldn’t even dream of. But there was an underlying violence in their actions that I saw and understood to an extent, but couldn’t fully articulate, and that I desperately want us to rid ourselves of now.

Tearing the fabric

I grew up thinking the state had everyone’s best interests at heart. More often than not I’d hear the words “sovereignty”, “freedom”, and “independence”, as did everyone else really. Except I listened to them twice – both from the mouthpieces of the party and one specific mouthpiece, my dad. I was taught to associate Zanu-PF with freedom and black empowerment, but more importantly as the only source of political and economic freedom and empowerment. It was this portrayal of a single ‘saviour’ – the ‘pasi nemhandu-ness’ that labelled anything outside of the ruling party as enemy and ‘other’ – that threaded together the fabric of violence we’ve wrapped ourselves in.

For years we’ve been taught to see difference in political opinion as being an inherent threat or something to be shunned and destroyed immediately and without question. It’s infused in the slogans we chant at rallies, the Facebook comments on political party pages, the high school history books, the newspapers and news sites, the arguments during dinner and the WhatsApp groups we rant to. The violence is everywhere. It’s in the way MDC supporters feel entitled to our votes, and the way Zanu supporters are willing to do anything to win. It’s the reason why, when independent candidates or new parties come about, we’re quick to tear them down. We’ve done things the same way, over and over. We’ve covered ourselves completely with the fabric, tearing it occasionally, but never enough.

This is where we are. But it doesn’t have to be where we stay.

2016 was the first time I felt my heart awaken with the possibility of taking back what our leaders had stripped from us. It was a long, hard stare at the fabric and how long and thick it had become. It was an attempt to tear the fabric of violence and sew a different kind of fabric – one woven together with democracy and tolerance and the ability to oppose one another without feeling threatened and insecure. We’ve already started weaving a new fabric. We may have to undo a few knots or close a few gaps, but we should never stop trying. Our efforts are in every refusal to accept poor governance, every protest, every counter argument on vote-splitting, and every demand to have our dignity recognised by our leaders. It’s in every bit of encouragement we give to those who speak truth to power and fight for our rights, that the fabric starts to tear.

2017 was the first time my grief didn’t fully consume me. And it was the first time I felt a deep sense of longing for a better country, and that I actually thought a better country was within our reach. And I realised that even more than I loved my father, I love myself. I love myself and my country enough to help work towards a future I can be proud of, and enough to be part of tearing the fabric of violence alongside everyone who’s fighting for a new country too.

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Published by

justmidzi

Carefree black girl in the making, trying to adult. I write on anything that tickles my fancy, but mostly womanism, the political as the personal, and African narratives. I'm also learning to love my melanin more and more.

19 thoughts on “‘Voting against my father’ – Tearing the fabric of violence.”

  1. Wonderful piece. And yes, we will take back what these(I refuse to call them ‘our’) leaders have stripped from us.

  2. Well written! How I wish other children of living perpetrators of violence in our government and police/army would also get this awakening and speak to their parents and ask these hard questions. Maybe they will have a change of heart if it comes from their own children. Alas, a wish in the wind! 😦

    1. Thank you for reading. I will point out however, that these are grown men and women who will act in the way they see fit/what they think is right. To expect them to change their ways simply because their children say so, is a little unfair. It places the onus on their children to change their minds, and takes away responsibility from the ‘perpetrators of violence’.

  3. Sho, this one shook me to the core. The notion of a single ‘savior’ is Africa’s recurring demise…and you are spot on when you say “we have clothed ourselves” in this fabric…whether it out of fear of the state (and all its “underlying” and “overlying” violence!), or fear of change, or fear of the past, whatever it is, we have played a major part in weaving this fabric. Tearing it almost seems insurmountable at this stage, but it does have to start somewhere, with someone, and it won’t be easy…not when everyone is wearing the damn thing!
    So insightful Vimbai,and so deeply honest, thanks for this. Have you heard of the “Rwanda model”? Your post reminds me of this one: https://mg.co.za/article/2017-07-07-00-like-it-or-not-rwanda-is-africas-future
    I was shaken by other things here and i think you may be too…

  4. I think you are good writer.An exceptionally talented one at that. You have an ability to express emotion and feeling in way that hits home.You are in tune with your inner soul and you translate that mind – soul connection well on paper.

    Having said that,i find myself disappointed in this post.I was enjoying the piece until the section where it says ‘tearing the fabric’. Your piece becomes political at this stage. It moves away from the heartrending emotional appeal that it begins on.Subconsciously the article stops appealing to my heart and tries to capture my intellect. This is where the problem is. My brain was not stimulated in the same way my heart was in the first part of the essay. In the second part of the essay,there is no epiphany,social insight nor intellectual political rallying point. It’s more of the same ordinary and boring ‘Zimbabwe is bad,lets change it’ narrative.

    You writing is good and you are almost there. Don’t drown your clearly abundant intelligence in emotional rants.You just have to focus a bit more, have clearly defined standpoints,tone down on the rhetoric and be less glib.I look forward to your next piece.

    1. Thank you for reading. And I’m sorry it didn’t reach your expectations, but as I said at the beginning, this WAS a deeply personal, and therefore emotional piece. It came directly from my heart. I wrote this for myself and I’m so very glad I did. So saying I’m “almost” there is incongruous here. You didn’t set my benchmark – I did. Thanks again for reading.

      1. There we go. There it is. I was waiting for it.Mild annoyance ,unflinching insistence sprinkled with an inability to accept constructive criticism. Authorial privilege invoked . All the while refusing to respond to the demerits of the piece. How then do you grow and improve as a writer if you don’t take into account the opinions of your most loyal follower?

        Like i said before,and it seems i have to repeat myself,the emotional aspects of the piece where noted. Nothing wrong there.The emotions come out clearly. BUT, the article moves from emotion to intellect in the second half. The political part of the essay is devoid of meaningful ideas,filled with used up cliches and it’s bare as a baby’s bottom.This is where the problem is. It is not enough to say you wrote this for yourself. By posting on this blog you have clearly thrust it to the readers.The emotional part is fine but by pretending to attempt to address political issues in the same article,you have opened a pandora’s box.It is because of this that we as your readers deserve meaningful intellectual conversations.You cannot possibly pretend to engage in political banter(or lack thereof as i have stated) without expecting a critical response.

        There is simple fix to this really.Next time shower us with emotions.Like girls do and leave the political banter and affairs of state to men.

  5. Your writing style is wonderful. Poetic. It’s a sore subject to delve in, and the way you write just mesmerized me.

  6. Thank you for this wonderful piece mainini. I think it took a lot of courage to write that, thank you for going ahead. And yes, we need to tear the fabric of violence completely. We owe it to ourselves and the next generation.

  7. I am a fan of your pieces and I am so happy you are writing again.

    I am specifically happy that you are still and have healed.

    Please condinyo with these beautiful pieces. ❤

  8. yes well said,we will continue the struggle till it breaks…thanks for the post,its been a while since you posted

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