I’ve never felt so insignificant. Writing this feel-good, self-gratifying article with a poignant mask, on the eve of a critical roll call at home while I search for Boston apartments on craigslist. The irony of home; usually the place one does not currently reside, idealized in candy-coated memories just to be consistent with home sweet home. Zimbabwe goes into a crucial election after an entire month of campaign – who needs a year or two, or in the case of America four years of campaign?
For the first time in a while, I am not afraid of our elections. Not that I am safe, far and sound, but pre-election violence, according to my family, has been insignificant to non-existent. The mood is light, even 300k people like Baba Jukwa on Facebook. The rhetoric is the old same, only toned down because both major parties are apparently confident of a landslide. Sovereignty, peace, prosperity, indigenization, if anyone knew what these overused terms really meant. Who cares about education, healthcare, employment and the like? The lies and half-truths are in overload, both leading parties claim to have introduced the multi-currency system and stabilized the economy, shamelessly so. The country is using the US dollar for crying out loud.
At 89, there is a rejuvenated sense of pride about Mugabe, believe it or not. In a place where life expectancy hovers around 50 – God bless my mom who turns 50 this year – a 90 year old soul is worth celebrating. It’s been long and hard, 33 years in power or 25 whichever way you look at it. Mugabe had his fair share of appraisal and condemnation, the timing most likely convenient to Western interests. On the other hand, Tsvangirai hobbles on, ever more in doubt of rekindling impassioned affairs with hopeful Zimbabweans. Its quite a predicament, this image he carved for himself. The negative entity of Mugabe, the future, the young and rebellious. Rather vague what fills the other half beyond his anti-Mugabe capacity. Peace, prosperity, change, vague promises that additionally suffer at poor delivery. At the same time, shared custody over the last 4 years now means shared blame. Tsvangirai now has a record to run on, the bob-and-weave that he did not have full control could only make it worse. Meanwhile, his stint of shared power was annotated by ridiculous scandals and comical affairs, never mind the backdrop of a country ridden with HIV/AIDS of the life-expectancy at 50 accolade. At 90, how does Mugabe look now? While Tsvangirai’s scandals were not on the magnitude of Anthony Weiner or Bill Clinton for that matter, they do create a lingering sound bite that accompany moral-conservative voters to the booth. Meanwhile, such petty issues hog the airtime that Tsvangirai should have used to articulate his policies – not in the vague sense of rebuild or remove dictatorship, or the favorite – CHANGE. We don’t need the case of red is the new blue, change for the sake, what difference does it make?
Unfortunately, the norm is to view Zimbabwe in absolutes. Bread basket turned basket case, all destroyed by Mugabe. “Zimbabwe was such a beautiful country!” A few Americans remark to me, as they go ahead to mention they once lived in Zimbabwe for one week in the 80s. (For the record, Victoria Falls is still gorgeous! and Mugabe did not temper with Masvingo ruins) Any praise for Mugabe, rational or otherwise, is rendered blasphemy especially on establishment media platforms. Once a while you get romantic documentaries that propose Mugabe is not all that bad, a cheap effort to stir some controversy and boost ratings. I don’t want to argue the good or the bad of Mugabe, or of Tsvangirai, I just want to argue for the better future of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe is no doubt one of the most complex politicians in history, and Zimbabwe arguably boasts the most interesting economic history in Africa. But to reduce him to a narrow minded delusional dictator is to undermine all he represents. I just have a problem with single stories. Living in Zimbabwe, I suffocated from the propaganda. Living out of Zimbabwe, I’ve had to defend Mugabe and Zimbabwe more often than I imagined I could. To the Americans and the British, defending the devil is unthinkable. I thought they would understand given the global adventures of Bush and Cheney est. 2000 Florida, or worse, the imperialist adventures of the British empire. None of which may ever be held accountable.
That is where I have a problem. It is arguable that the main reason the West would want Mugabe out is so that he can be tried before some war-crimes court and human rights and so forth. For Britain, I am sure it’s about tarnishing his entire image if there’s anything left to Moogabi-once-hero. Who cares if the Queen once knighted Mugabe and called him a ‘white man in black skin.’ Get me right, I am not that invested in justice against Mugabe’s crimes. That is just not priority to me. I mean, I had uncles and friends who were beaten or died of hunger and cholera since 2000. I also had uncles and grandparents who died fighting Ian Smith, and my mother who served time in prison during the war in 1979. The same Mugabe settled for reconciliation after the liberation war, will he earn a pardon when he leaves office? My point is, I am ready to move on, especially because that is the only purpose I could control on my own. It’s hard to imagine how Zimbabwe, with so much pain and turmoil did not descend into civil war in the last decade or so. Why with a peak of 80 BILLION PERCENT INFLATION and 90% unemployment would anyone crack jokes and move on? One of my favorite stories is of a Zimbo man who was so hungry and defeated by his troubles such that he decided to end his life. He went by the railway line, laid down and waited for the train to come iron his brains out. Since there was no electricity, and no trains running, the man waited for hours before he got really hungry… “Eh eh, zvandingatofa nenzara, I could die of this hunger!” He said, as he picked himself up and went back home to look for food. Just to clarify, Americans would eat each other at 10% inflation and 20% unemployment.
For Zimbabweans, there is always a sense that we have seen worse, and the knowing that it could still get worse. Personally I would argue otherwise, especially that we don’t have to deserve worse, but there’s only so much in my control. Even Tsvangirai knows better not urge a civil war or coup for that matter, not that he’s scared. But there is hope that there are better options. Besides, it’s quite confusing for Zimbabweans to fight the war veterans who fought the British in the 70s and invaded farms in the 2000s, these also happen to be our uncles and neighbors – not that I condone all they did. To characterize Mugabe as a demon, a dictator or a terrorist is not new, after all he will never serve any more decade in prison than he already did before independence. His history will remain intact and shall be argued for years to come.
What do I want? I want Mugabe out. Not for the reasons that you think are obvious or endorsed by the British and the US, but because I want to move on. Not because I want Tsvangirai in power, or Ncube or Dabengwa or Mukwazhi (first name Kisnot #funfact), but I want the people of Zimbabwe in power. To live without fear, independent of control both from institutions within and out of Zimbabwe. In fact, I want both Tsvangirai and Mugabe out of power. I want a new generation of power, one that is based on debate and accountability. One that cherishes history and endeavors for a better future. One that keeps up with technology and knows how to live beyond surviving. One that competes on the world stage because Zimbabwe with the brightest of education in Africa and most peaceful people in the entire world, it can only get better. More importantly, I want Britain and America and China! out of control in Zimbabwe, it should be that simple. We carry our burden and squabbles, and fair share of political lies and oppression, but we also carry potential to resolve these and come out better on our own terms. Some issues are complicated, given our history and the Western stake in it. Regardless, USA must understand since it’s that complicated for Obama to close Guantanamo, resolve gun control, fix gay rights and racism issues. (I forgot the economy). We are not that afraid of Mugabe, only that our choices are limited and the absolute lens the West views Mugabe is not that straightforward to us.
If I could meet VaMugabe, I would shake his hands and clap in the traditional manner, bu bu bu, “Gushungo, zvaonekwa. Inga makatirera wani tikayaruka. Kana mukatirumura mangwana mati tingatengese nyika kuvavengi? Zviri kubva muhana medu, hatina kutumwa nemabhunu. Tinoshuwa kuti muzorore nemhuri, tipembere ushingi neugamba hwenyu nemazvo. Tinokuchengetai, hapana anouya kuzokutorai. Hapana anopfudza zvose zvamakatirwira.”
Of course I would speak to him in a language he and I would understand. That this comes from our heart, ‘we cherish everything you have done for us, and we are moving on especially to celebrate your legacy.’ Even if it means relinquishing reins to a junior in Zanu PF. Personally, I would back Mai Mujuru.
As for the elections, I can’t call who will win. I don’t even know what I want. I wish I could vote, I urge all to vote. Hopefully it will be a satisfactory process. I am only afraid that neither of the two leading parties will concede defeat. It’s imperative that I keep the feeling that we are in for a surprise, a wonderful surprise of peace and tranquility and conclusive democracy – whichever outcome. As for my apartment search on craigslist, anywhere but South Boston.
The article was first published on African In American which consolidates blogs, journals and commentaries by Africans visiting or studying in the US. The Africans eavesdrop on America, discuss and offer unsolicited perspectives on issues socially trending or inconveniently lagging in nationwide discourse.