The Zimbabwean way.

*Trigger Warning: This article contains information about rape and sexual assault, and may be triggering for some readers.*

“The response so far is just a foretaste of things to come.”  – George Charamba, spokesman for President Emmerson Mnangagwa (referring to the initial armed forces’ violent crackdown on protesters in Zimbabwe)

January has been a particularly painful month for Zimbabweans. Protests broke out during the #ZimbabweShutdown on the 14th, after a hike in fuel and food prices, chronic cash shortages and a doctor’s strike. Police officers and army soldiers were sent to ‘restore calm’. As usual, they did so with a disproportionate use of force. This resulted in over 600 arrests, 12 deaths, over 70 cases of gunshot wounds, mass beatings, and cases of rape.

While this was happening, President Emmerson Mnangagwa (nicknamed ED) was cozying up to government officials in Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. The President’s trip was cut short before he went to Davos, after Zimbabweans demanded he return to fix the mess he’d made. (Although one could argue that he would have wanted to avoid being grilled on his poor economic policies and his government’s rampant corruption and incompetence.) ED’s response to state sanctioned violence has been less than satisfactory, with no real effort made to stop the army and police’s actions. Other state officials aren’t helping either. Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba shocked no one when she said that “rogue elements” in the police force had stolen official uniforms, guns and cars and were responsible for the violence, not real officers and soldiers of course. The irony here is, if we assume she’s telling the truth (which I obviously do not), that we’re expected to trust a police and army force that can’t even prevent the theft of official uniforms, equipment and vehicles from being stolen. (A uniform? Maybe. An army truck? Come on, now.)

“The Zimbabwean Way”

ED had chosen to feign ignorance about police and military brutality, until SkyNews reported on the extent of police and army brutality. It’s important to note that even though Zimbabweans at home and abroad have been protesting, writing petitions, conducting campaigns on social media and mobilising donations for support for victims of violence, it was a foreign media channel that triggered ED’s empathy:

But what is the “Zimbabwean Way”?

What I think ED is alluding to is that in Zimbabwe, armed forces and police do not use disproportionate force against civilians; that any member of the army or police that abuses their power will be prosecuted; that the rule of law prevails and that Zimbabweans are always treated with dignity and respect throughout the legal process. None of this is true, and the president knows this. George Charamba’s comments on the military intervention before ED’s tweet were a glimpse into the President’s true feelings. The army’s brutal reaction was but a “foretaste of things to come” for our people. Now that, unfortunately, is the ‘Zimbabwean way’ that I’m familiar with.

For decades, the Zanu-PF led government has openly approved of using state police and army officials to enact violence against civilians. The most shocking and shameful example is Gukurahundi, where soldiers, under the 5th Brigade, attacked, killed, raped and destroyed property of Ndebele civilians. We have seen state sanctioned violence over and over again during election season, to rid urban areas of street vendors, to ‘teach’ peaceful protesters a ‘lesson’, and to prevent the opposition from gaining support. The ruling party has been unable to separate itself from the state, using state apparatus to maintain Zanu dominance. Zanu-PF is truly the thing that goes ‘bump’ in (both) the night (and day). You’re either with them or against them, and the latter could get you killed, jailed, maimed and even raped. The real ‘Zimbabwean way’ is therefore the Zanu way, and the Zanu way is littered with a trail of dead and violated bodies.

Women’s bodies: a battlefield for political violence

Rape crimes in Zimbabwe often go unreported, particularly when they’re committed by soldiers and police. The ones that are reported are often the last to come to light, mostly because victims are afraid of being targeted after they make a report. National statistics in the first quarter of 2018 showed that over 7000 women and girls were raped in 2017 and less than 50% of those cases were satisfactorily dealt with through the courts. More than 60% of rape cases involve minors, an important statistic when considering how many minors have been arrested and assaulted in the past two weeks. Worryingly, cases of rape in Zimbabwe increased by 81% between 2010 and 2016.

Politically motivated rape in particular has been a part of the fabric of the ruling party’s violent ways for years. Women’s rights activists and feminist groups have been conducting research and speaking out on it for decades now. The highest number of rape cases linked to political violence occur during elections and periods of public protest/unrest, where women and girls are often raped and sexually assaulted as a ‘punishment’ for their (or their spouse’s/family’s) support for the opposition. It is designed to destroy women’s dignity and harm them into silence and obedience.

ITV did a report on 11 women that said they were raped by soldiers during door to door raids after the protests. One soldier allegedly admitted to the crime, with no remorse. He was just following orders. His statement suggests that if those giving the order to ‘punish’ civilians for their dissidence are not directly telling their subordinates to rape women, they’re definitely not actively warning them not to either. This kind of punishment leaves lifelong scars and trauma, cultivates a culture of impunity for rapists, and entrenches the power of a ruling party that will do anything, including using brutal force against its own people, to stay in control.

As long as the “Zimbabwean way” is the “Zanu way”, Zimbabwean citizens will continue to be victims of state sanctioned violence, and we will have to continue fighting a system that exists to exploit and harm us.

(PS: Zanu Haichinji.)

Of presidential birthdays & praise and worship teams.

 

“The 21st February Movement was established in 1986 to encourage Zimbabweans, the youths in particular, to emulate Robert Mugabe’s revolutionary ideas, charismatic leadership and selfless policies.” – Pindula

Believe it or not, I was once part of a church praise and worship team (*cues snarky comments*). I used to be able to sing and play the guitar boldly and with fervor and holy (sort of) precision. The thing about praise and worship teams is that they’re often filled with young, vibrant, talented and passionate people. Young people who are willing to give all they have to a church that they believe is integral to their growth as Christians, and a god who is all-knowing and loves them despite their faults. One of the things I often heard in church rhetoric was that praising and worshipping was a “lifestyle” and that it didn’t start or end with singing on a stage/pulpit. The idea was that you would “praise Him” no matter how you feel, what you were going through, how broken or in despair or angry you were, or how much you felt your life wasn’t going according to plan.

Your praise wasn’t determined by your circumstances, basically. You were to be in continuous praise and awe of this deity that obviously only wanted the best for you.

Now fast-forward to the first time I asked my dad why the President held such a lavish birthday party in the midst of so many structural problems that needed attention. He said, “So should we not celebrate our leaders’ lives simply because we have a few problems?” I thought that was a cop out of a response, but I didn’t argue immediately. This year, Gushungo turned 92. Last year, my post was on the logistics of the party and what that amount of money could do for the youth, but today I’ll focus on the spirit in which the party is held, and its effect on how I view politics in Zimbabwe. Now firstly I don’t actually know anyone close to me who has reached 92, so kudos to him. The celebrations are being held in Masvingo, the home of Great Zimbabwe. (I sincerely hope the 50 cows that were slaughtered were bought from Masvingo farmers whose cattle have been dying at alarming rates due to drought).  I think it’s remarkable that the man can even walk straight, let alone sit/partially sleep through government events, chair the African Union and mediate between petty factional wars. I am not of the persuasion that he hasn’t done anything good for my country – that would simply be untrue. I am also aware and grateful for his stance against the marginalisation and belittling of African narratives and agendas in a Eurocentric world more broadly. His story isn’t one-dimensional, and that’s important for me to acknowledge and emphasise.

But while I am no longer a member of a praise and worship church team, somehow I reluctantly found myself and other youths as members of a national praise and worship team that serves the political kingdom of Zanu. It’s headed by a man who is, according to his wife and many of his supporters, ordained by God to lead the country. By extension, his leadership has become sacred, divine and therefore criticising it becomes borderline taboo. It’s a hard kingdom to praise, especially when you’re the child of one of its officials.

Perpetual praise

Your praise isn’t determined by your circumstances, basically. You are to be in continuous praise and awe of this deity that obviously only wants the best for you.

I’m always fascinated by the idea of memory-making, remembering and history. Part of the reason the 21st movement is such a big deal is that it is continuously reproducing the image of a resilient, passionate and selfless leader who cares for nothing more than the well-being of every Zimbabwean. It creates an image of a near perfect African leader who has championed human rights and has been a stellar example of how political work should be done. And this is where, as a young indoctrinated praise and worshipper, I struggled. The Zimbabwe that I remember is not the Zimbabwe my parents remembered. By extension, the leadership I have experienced is not necessarily the leadership my parents experienced. How we remember things is determined by what we recall and what has been represented to us as truths. My earliest contact with critiques of political work was in 2005 during Murambatsvina. It was one of the first moments I stopped singing in the choir, looked around and problematised the kingdom I was a part of. I stopped strumming the chords, I opened my eyes, and I listened to the alternative voices outside of the ‘church’.

Perpetual praise had blinded me from political violence, exclusionary tactics, politicised food aid, corruption, blatant disregard for human rights, and a waning emancipatory politics mantra that used to form the basis of every politician’s vision. Perpetual praise meant that the majority of any problems we were facing as a nation had to do with outside (satanic) influences; that the only way to defeat the devil (read West) and his minions was to praise and worship in the political kingdom that saved you from yourselves. Perpetual praise meant trusting that your tithe (taxes) were being used for the furthering of the kingdom, and that you would be rewarded 100 fold for your ‘seed’. Perpetual praise meant being in the world but not ‘of’ the rest of the critical world that picked apart the kingdom’s value systems and foundations. Perpetual  praise meant even if you didn’t know all the words, you would hum and close your eyes passionately, going with the flow and allowing the spirit (propaganda machine) to guide you. It meant being forever grateful for your country even when it was becoming increasingly difficult to live in. Above all it meant trusting that the “Man of God” was in constant conversation with God and would lead the flock in the right direction.

Gushungo’s celebrations aren’t confined to the 21st February movement and the actual day of  merry-making, long speeches, police bands and so on. The day is one of the many moments we are called to praise and worship to perform all the songs we’ve been practicing over the years. The party is a reminder of the history that has been constructed to place Gushungo in the perpetual, divine light, never tainted by the dark, alternative stories of violence and ‘madness’ that have been a part of his legacy too. It is a time when we’re called once again, despite our circumstances, to sing repetitive choruses at the top of our voices.

I am no longer a member of the praise and worship team so I’ll save myself from all the pomp and passionate singing this year. Happy birthday, RGM.

Yours,

An ever critical daughter of a deceased ordinary card-carrying member.

gushungo

Keeping it together outside my comfort zone.

“Keep it together.”

 

It’s 4.21am and I’m knee deep in development studies reading, Bryson Tiller in the background, the sound of the occasional truck passing in the main road, a few birds chirpin’ the shit out of their morning songs. I tend to work in the early morning, because my mind is less cluttered. During the day I have classes and seminars, books to read, ideas to critique, conversations to have. I like the quiet, calm ambience at this time of the day. I feel somewhat ‘put together’.

As a person living in the diaspora, I am constantly battling with my desire to be home with my grieving mother and being here – seemingly doing something constructive with my life and following my passions. Everyday I think of my country. I think of all of the wonderful, idealistic things I would love to do there. I think of my father’s death and the sluggish (or non-existent?) investigations around it. I think of how much I love the vibe, the people and the potential in Harare. I think of home A LOT. I have no idea where my life will take me after this degree. Most of my days are honestly spent updating my CV and website, applying for jobs, sending countless emails, thinking of where I would like to work versus where I can find work, whether I have what it takes to start a business of my own and so on.

It’s a strange feeling, being here. In some ways I’m seen as privileged (and I really am, don’t get me wrong) for being in the diaspora surrounded by so much promise and opportunity and stability (to an extent of course). In other ways I look around and see a space that has everything it needs to succeed so my contributions here would inconsequential. I feel so very ‘UN-put-together’ in a space that is so very orderly and efficient and where everything seemingly ‘works’. I feel scattered – neither here nor there, and neither succeeding nor completely failing.

There are things I find particularly difficult about having different “locals” as a young(ish) person in the globalised “shrinking” world we live in today:

  1. The pressure to succeed- This is obviously something most people feel, no matter where they’re from or where they are. But there’s a lingering voice in the back of my head that says “You’ve crossed oceans and seas to get to another continent. There’s no room for mediocrity here. Especially here.” My life is different now. I have pending financial obligations I don’t know how to meet, a family to think of, a career I want to build, and many structural problems I have to face to get where I want to. Because I am where I am, I feel the pressure even more. I have to fight the feeling that I constantly need to prove myself and never ever drop the ball(s). Because the ball(s) will drop. Eventually.
  2. L.O.V.E – I haven’t been in a relationship for a few months now, and being single has been both painful in the beginning, but liberating for the most part. I’m not actively looking for love, but if it comes my way, then I have a score of questions I need to ask. Where is he based? (*insert my mother’s tone*) If he’s here, do I stay? (Highly unlikely) If he’s home, do I go home? With what job? If I stay, does he do long distance? If not, is it even worth exploring options? Do I want to be married one day? Would he move for me? Am I asking for too much for someone to love me in my absence? I can barely figure out where I’m going to be in the next few months, let alone figure out who my life partner should be. There’s a constant tension between wanting to be home, building a life with someone, and wanting a salary that can give me the life I want and the capacity to build something at home.
  3. Making a difference – I’m an ‘over-thinker’. Anyone who knows me well knows that I tend to pick apart and analyse almost everything. I’m intentional. If I care, I’ll show you. If I don’t, I’ll also show you. I don’t take things for granted and I don’t like the idea of half-baked initiatives that don’t address real, deeply rooted problems. This has been my downfall, I suppose. When I think of making a difference in my country I think of a few questions: who do I want to help and why? Am I helping out of the guilt of my privilege? Am I concerned more with results than the people I want to help? Did they ask for help? Who am I to think I can help? Can they help themselves? Is this patronising? Are they really benefiting? Do I think I’m better than them because I’ve been abroad? How do I ‘make a difference’ as humbly as possible, cognisant of my privilege, aware of the pain the very mention of my surname may cause in some spaces, and a difference that addresses the heart of the issues that are faced by those I want to help?

 

Adulting without one of the main adults in my life to guide me has been an absolute roller coaster, but it’s the very questions I’ve outlined above that are shaping me into who I am. Being away from home sometimes can be just as difficult (albeit in different ways) as being home with all of the daily stresses one faces in Zimbabwe. In some ways I feel as though my life is a microcosm of my country – still a real state but just surviving day to day, juggling opposing forces internally and externally, semi-efficient and semi-focused. I still feel very ‘scattered’ and very ‘un-put-together’, but I’m hopeful that my constant mental battle will lead me somewhere meaningful.