Questioning, querying, probing and poking….

I have been writing a column for the Southern Eye for a while now. The title of the column is ‘Agreeing to Disagree’.

I kind of use it as a platform to ask, probe, query and poke viciously at sleeping dogs. Here are just a few of the things I’ve been mulling over:

The elections are over, what else is left other than closing a chapter on Zimbabwe bearing in mind that:

What remains open is the next blank page after this chapter. What remains alive to possibility and what our hopes can latch onto and our dreams can hinge on, is the undeniable fact that five years from now there exists an opportunity to rewrite the narrative. It is an opportunity that can only be realised by the choices we make today and the resolutions that we commit to here and now.

…as long as we choose to care, hope is not lost

I think our commitment to the future of our country will be determined by the extent to which we are willing to care. When we get to that point where we want to throw our hands up in despair, it might be worth considering the possibility that caring is the only patriotic thing left to do because:

Indifference is the easiest thing in life. It is the most convenient cope-out of all. Just decide you don’t care. Decide you’re not going to lose any sleep over anything that doesn’t appear to remotely affect your bread-and-butter
issues. But the problem is that if you stop caring, you give power to those who would run the country aground and surrender your agency as a person to determine the course of your own life (to whatever extent it is within your means to influence political actors).
Five years is a long time not to care.

And then there was a week in which ZANU PF (in usual consultation with itself) conferred national hero status to three people…. it made me think about the selection criteria and wonder how much of the history I think I know is actually accurate. I think there’s a real possibility that we will remember historical lies for as long as ZANU PF maintains its hegemonic and monologic stranglehold on the nation’s liberation struggle narrative. In my musings I wrote:

It has been said that without memory we become less than ourselves and it matters what our real historical narrative is all about rather than having one party using history to claim political legitimacy. Where are the people who remember differently? Where are the people who were there when it happened and who can refute what the public media has constantly churned out, what the history books have claimed and what Zanu PF has insisted on propagating?
What really happened? Is it true that Zanu PF single-handedly liberated the country as they have claimed non-stop?

More recently, I wondered about the love and the hate that Mugabe attracts. I was thinking of my own ambivalent feelings towards the man. I agree with so much of what he stands for (it appeals to my pan-African sensibilities) but then I find myself vehemently opposed to the manner in which it is implemented (e.g the need for land reform was noble in principle but the land grabs were unconscionable). I do wonder at the way in which he is adored on the continent and I wonder what sacrifices I made to facilitate it because who’s footing the bill for Mugabe’s glory, if not ordinary citizens like me. While they may praise him, there’s another side to the story:

How do I tell these people who gaze at my Zimbabweanness through rosetinted lenses, of nights in which neighbors tossed stones on the roof to help me wake up and collect water from the taps because it had returned just for a few minutes? How do I explain standing in queues at borders hoping to go and buy basics from neighboring countries, queueing at banks trying to withdraw a set daily amount of money whose worth was devaluing while I queued, queueing at supermarkets where I joined stampedes for a packet of salt, and getting whipped one day by an overzealous city council security officer who was manning the queues at a taxi rank after I was pushed out of the line and he thought I was trying to jump the queue? There’s a part of me that feels like Mugabe wanted to make a point. If the adulation of the Africans I have met is anything to go by, he succinctly made his point, but he made it at my expense.

Suffice to say,I’ve got a lot more questioning, querying, probing and poking to do because somehow; the answers matter to me now more than ever before. It must be a mid-life crisis of sorts. But these things do haunt me and keep me up at night. Writing the column is becoming therapeutic – somehow.

“Sorry” would have been nice

Our bitterness does not come from the fact that we’ve been hurt.

Our bitterness comes from the fact that those who have hurt us remain perpetually unrepentant.

Our bitterness comes from the fact that those who have hurt us go unpunished, make no penance and show no contrition.

And so our wounds remain gaping, our sense of violation festers like a sore and the injustices we have suffered silently, become loud screams in our heads.

We have heard our national leaders shift blame for the country’s demise. They have rationalized….but they have never once apologised for messing up our country

We have been powerless to retaliate because at first we were young (born frees) and later we were ignorant of the power of our vote (pushed to the margins by the older generation who insisted that they knew what was best for us).

Then in time, we were rendered powerless by our lack of capacity occasioned by the worst economic meltdown that had those whose skills we relied on scurrying out of the country like rats deserting a sinking ship.

We lost the skilled teachers, nurses, doctors and other vital citizens owing to a massive brain drain.

But that’s not all we lost – we lost our big sisters and our big brothers; siblings whose protection and mentorship we were deprived of – learning to fill the gapping hole caused by their absence with lists of things we wanted them to send from abroad when all we really wanted was for them to come home and help us understand the chaos and turmoil that Zimbabwe had become.

We lost our mothers and fathers who needed to eke out a living on faraway shores while we were left under the guardianship of extended family members – some good and some not-so-good.

We lost our path and found it all by ourselves again.

We have suffered and no one said “sorry”.

Not even once.

No one apologized because no one noticed that we bore the brunt of it.

Well, we remember.

We are not powerless anymore, we are not ignorant anymore and more importantly – we are not incapacitated any more.

We are first time voters.

And from now on; we will make every election a living nightmare for those who’ve lorded it over us for years.

Even if you rig these elections; we will prevail eventually.

We will appeal to our peers – the youth of this country who make up about 60% of the entire population – and we will get them to swell our numbers at polling stations. The wool you pulled over our eyes is gone now.

You liberated yourselves and not us – so don’t speak the language of liberation to those whose lives have been shattered by your political tyranny.

These elections won’t just “leave us alone”

The shadow being cast by the forthcoming harmonized elections is so vast that hardly any of us can afford the luxury of shrugging a nonchalant shoulder, wrapping ourselves in swathes of indifference and hoping that these elections will ‘just leave us alone’.

If you don’t want to vote FOR anyone in the upcoming elections… then decide who you will vote AGAINST but for goodness sake – vote!

There is too much at stake for the eligible voter to merely decide that their pink finger is not worth staining or to make the ignoble choice of sitting at home, flipping through DSTV channels and pretending that elections are none of their business.

The elections are everyone’s business… no, in fact they are everyone’s battle.

Elections are not a business they are battles.

They are a battle to elect the people we want and the people we want to vote for are those whom we think will protect and advance our interests.

You see elections are as much about self-interest as they are about any other more ‘noble’ human quality.

The self-interests of the voting public reigns supreme in the ballot box – not the will of politicians but the will of individuals, expressed through one ‘X’ after another until cumulatively thousands upon thousands of individuals collectively morph into millions saying the same thing.

Millions of individuals, like you, determining whom they will entrust their wards, districts, towns, cities, as well as provinces and ultimately whom they will entrust their country to.

So do the selfish thing – go and vote! Elections are all about you.

FYI…they [elections] won’t just leave us alone!

Debate or Debacle – Homophobia in Zimbabwe

Just a year ago, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai shocked the universe (my choice of the word “universe” is deliberate for purposes of dramatic effect) when he uttered those famous words – "I totally agree with the President" – words that no doubt, most Zimbabweans never thought they’d live to hear.

It is clearly an event the ordinary Zimbabwean could not easily forget because it was a spectacle as rare as witnessing a solar eclipse.

Since then it is hard to mention even one policy matter on which the pair wholeheartedly, categorically, unequivocally and unrepentantly agreed on – never mind that it hardly has anything to do with turning around the country’s fortunes.

But the Prime Minister appears to have had a change of heart and now the issue of gay rights has become just one more thing that the pair can happily disagree on following the PM’s latest stance on homosexuality: – "To me, it's a human right,"

For the record, my thoughts on the matter are neatly summed up in an article I wrote last year in which I posed the question – they are gay so what?. I am yet to get a satisfactory answer to that and am very open to persuasion regarding how homophobia could possibly enrich my life. But I digress.

Tsvangirai’s latest remarks come at a time when Britain has threatened to withhold UK aid from governments that do not reform legislation banning homosexuality. This is a matter close to David Cameron’s heart and he has asserted that the Commonwealth must have strong values and those values apparently include ensuring that homosexuality thrives nicely in Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Those who care to speculate about such things now postulate that the issue of gay rights is likely to gain prominence on the election trail whenever the elections will be held.

What I am certain of though, is that the issue will no longer be regarded as a discreet and taboo conversation but is now very much a part of the public domain. It will not simply go away.

With a significant portion of the population having studied, worked or even permanently domiciled in South Africa and the Diaspora where homosexuality is tolerated – there are enough liberal-minded Zimbabweans who might not care enough to get their panties in a knot over the matter.

Add to this diaspora-based or diaspora-exposed populace; the Zimbabweans who consume South African media products via satellite in the comfort of their Zimbabwean homes – passively or actively – engaging with questions around homosexuality. They watch shows that depict gay or lesbian couples and get drawn into the struggles and passions of these characters – it may not be so easy after all to make monsters out of other human beings on the basis of sexual orientation.

Keeping in mind that election campaigns tend to seek out the youth as a means of garnering votes; I doubt that homophobia will find enthusiastic takers among young people – who have been fed a consistent diet of gay and lesbian soapies and films via satellite. Never mind the fact that they are so susceptible to experimenting and might not even find homosexuality to be such a strange thing.

Unlike some of us; they (younger people) are growing up in a world where the issue of gay rights has become prevalent in various discourses. And against the background of the constitution-making process – the issue of gay rights has found an opportune springboard from which it can catapult into our nation’s discourse around human rights.

I recently came across what I considered to be one of the most sober and commonsensical articles interrogating the homophobic sentiment prevalent in Zimbabwe, discussing how hard keeping society out of our bedrooms seems to be.

And just a couple of weeks ago; there was a minor spat on my Facebook wall after I posted an article by a dear friend of mine – Natasha Msonza – in which she critiqued a newspaper article that carried extreme homophobic undercurrents. She argued that the article was A hallmark of bad journalism. I did not have the chance to read the article she was making reference to; but I agreed and still agree that media should ideally be facilitating a debate and not seemingly spearheading a hate campaign against any social group.

It is little wonder, that having endured so much scorn, ridicule and insults, gay people are now reportedly considering exposing talkative gay politicians in the country.

In an interview with one South African publication I pointed out that:

Homophobic sentiment in Zimbabwe is very much a knee-jerk reaction; those who find it abhorrent often premise their revulsion on how it is un-African and how it is un-Christian.

Religion and culture.

But I dare say not many Zimbabweans would care enough to abandon the cocoons of their nonchalance in order to actively devote themselves to sustaining an attitude of hostility because frankly, in a country as bedeviled with troubles as ours; the debate about homosexuality is almost a luxurious diversion many would not care to take part in.

That being said – I would say Tsvangirai played his hand well because whatever people may think – it is money not collectivized morality that wins elections.

The homophobic sentiment swirling so fiercely in Zimbabwe at the moment only serves to make Tsvangirai seem like a progressive leader who is possibly ahead of his time in advancing the cause of human rights but that is just appearance and sometimes appearance is enough especially at a time when Britain has declared that it will cut aid to countries that persecute gay people.

Unwittingly or intentionally, Tsvangirai’s remarks have set him up as potential beneficiary of British monetary munificence especially since he now appears as someone who put his political career on the line to advance human rights of gay people.

From this side of the shore, Tsvangirai now represents a persecuted progressive leader who’s prepared to be politically martyred in order to protect the rights of sexual minorities in a continent that is hostile, homophobic and largely resisting attempts of being shown “the way”.

The irony of it cannot be escaped – the same nation that brought us bible-thumping missionaries now brings the gospel of homosexuality – and of course it is expected that people “see the light” regarding the rights of gay people.

Come election time; if Tsvangirai’s gamble pays off and he receives the kind of money that gay rights now attracts – it is possible that Zimbabweans will have to demonstrate at the polls what their price will be.

Anything can be bought, especially votes and if Tsvangirai has the money; there might not be enough Zimbabweans willing to turn up their noses at money just to demonstrate how much they resent his anti-gay sentiments; quite frankly, I don’t think enough Zimbabweans give a damn!

You’re looking at a populace that has endured everything, every kind of suffering, torment, lack, struggle and fear over the last decade – why would they have enough resources (moral, cultural, emotional or otherwise) left to fight a battle so far removed from their urgent and pressing every day needs?

Tsvangirai needs money because elections require money.

If he gets it; whatever damage his sentiments may have wrought; there is a very real possibility that he will tide this homophobic storm quite nicely because elections are about money and not necessarily morals.

"Women make up 52% of the population... There are more women than men, so why should men be proposing to men?"