We Don’t Need Another Hero.

it’s been a phenomenal two weeks in the country of my birth, Zimbabwe. The events of the last fourteen days across the country have caught everyone unawares. From the initial demonstrations at Beitbridge border post on June 20th when SI 64 was first implemented to the burning of the customs warehouse and closure of the Zimbabwe and South Africa border for the first time in over a century, media and government were at a loss to explain what had changed in the mood of the country. Little did they know more was to come.

Hardly two days after relative order was restored at Beitbridge, Monday saw running battles between police and Kombi drivers across parts of Harare as the latter went on strike in protest against traffic police corruption. Police deployed their standard tactics only to be met by an emboldened resistance that saw reports of them being beaten back by enraged protestors. As the day went on pictures emerged of excessive police force along with increasingly violent resistance.

In response to the burning of the Beitbridge customs warehouse, Minister of State Security Kembo Mohadi, who is from Beitbridge, exclaimed:

“We are very much disturbed. Why should the South African businesspeople try to influence our policy formulation? They have their own laws and we don’t meddle. It is sad that they chose to mobilise our people against the Government. The burning of tyres during demonstrations is foreign to us and we suspect a third hand is involved in the chaos that rocked Beitbridge town on Friday,” 

Mohadi also blamed the police for being unprepared leading to the army having to be called in. The police, for their part, have been consistent in  cracking down viciously at any sign of protest but have at times appeared at a loss when confronted by protestors who are not scared of them anymore. Instead, they have now started to look for the ringleaders of these protests, another old policing tactic.

Now whilst the police and government try to get control of the situation the media have been excitedly keeping the world informed and as is their nature, trying to find that unique angle to differentiate their coverage from that of the competition. The irony is, many are as confused about this new wave of resistance as the state, and like the state, have resorted to classic theories to explain what is going on. In this effort, they have identified an ideal leader who fits the desired profile in a Harare pastor, Evan Mawarire.

Mawarire has risen to prominence over the last few months after a series of Facebook videos of him venting his frustration at the state of the country resonated with fellow Zimbabweans inspiring others to share their stories of frustration. His use of social media to galvanise people has been nothing short of phenomenal and he has attracted other equally talented and frustrated Zimbabweans to his cause under what has come to be known as the #ThisFlag citizens movement. Collectively they called for a stay-away on Wednesday 06 July which saw the country come to a virtual standstill and protestors in running battles with the police in Harare and Bulawayo. Following on this they have published a list of demands and are threatening a second stay-away next week.

#ThisFlag is now the ideal one-stop-shop for publishers looking for a ready-made media package for anyone wanting to know what’s going on in Zimbabwe today and its all here on social media, or so some local and international media would have us believe. It is at this point that I become wary. The last week has seen all sorts of people claiming credit or being assigned blame for what has in reality been a collective effort who’s time has come. The MDC-T’s Obert Gutu was quick off the mark after Wednesday’s stay-away to claim that this was only possible because of them, an act that was roundly condemned across social, digital and print media.

Now that the dust has settled, the state and media alike, are looking for ringleaders of the protests, albeit for different reasons. The state so they can put an end to the protests, the media so they can find new heroes and villains to replace the tired characters of the seemingly eternal Zimbabwean political soap opera. Why shouldn’t they? This formula has worked marvellously for both of them in the past. Only problem is, this time around what’s happening in Zimbabwe does not fit this mould. This is popular resistance against a political system that has failed Zimbabweans for too long and now seeks to starve them. I don’t know where started but it certainly was not on social media and it certainly was not on July 01, Zimbabweans have been frustrated a damn long time and have been using various means to just get by in spite of a state that has continued to make life harder for them.

Recent moves by the state, notably the introduction of bond notes and S I 64 have been the most brazen of a number of unpopular moves going back as far as 2000 or even 1980, depending on who you speak to. All these own goals have seen Zimbabweans from all walks of life saying they have had enough, from advocates to vendors to taxi-drivers to pastors to journalists to students. Every Zimbabwean who is not benefiting directly from the patronage system that is our government today has had enough and are finding means of expression, no matter where they are. In Bulawayo youths who I saw growing up were arrested for demanding Mugabe must go on Wednesday, they are out on $40 bail each. A few weeks ago a woman wrote of how she lost her child to an inept health care system. Two people who have been creating platforms for Zimbabweans to communicate with and develop each other tweeted about how they were interviewed by the police about their activities in the same week. People are sharing their dissatisfaction with the state and they all need to be heard, to position some as heroes this early in the night is to set us all up for failure. We are all important and we all deserve support.

The world wants to tell us social media has become a new frontier in the battle for a normal life in Zimbabwe and in response the state has threatened to control social media, even allegedly disrupting the internet during Wednesday’s stay-away. Barring social media or the internet entirely will not put food in peoples’ bellies or bring back lost children. It won’t restore the tens of thousands of jobs lost annually, let alone the millions ZANU promised during the 2013 elections. Employees are only as loyal as their last paycheque and in Zimbabwe regular paycheques have become increasingly rare. As the state & media look for heroes and villains a country demands a return to normalcy so they don’t have to ever again read in a WhatsApp message about a relative dying in a hospital because there was no water.

We don’t need another hero in Zimbabwe, our history is riddled with them and since 1980 their legacies have been used to control and cajole us. We need all our stories to be told and a responsible government that values the life of every citizen.

Of Carts And Donkeys: Why it is wrong to think exports will restore and sustain Zimbabwe’s economy.

Unlike the chicken and egg riddle, in economics, there is no question that a strong domestic economy is always the basis from which strong exports are built. This is why it remains a wonder to me that every other day there is talk of how Zimbabwe’s exporters need to ramp up production and take advantage of international markets. At the same time the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mike Bimha, is telling any foreigner who will listen that Zimbabwe is open for business with a vibrant domestic market. A few weeks ago Minister Bimha reportedly went as far as to invite a South African business delegation to take advantage of the current jobs bloodbath and set up shop in Zimbabwe because local industry is practically stalled. So local producers must export whilst the domestic market is serviced by foreign firms who come in and produce? How does this work? This is the same thinking with the Look East policy that has seen Chinese firms benefiting from generous investment initiatives going back at least a decade with no reciprocation. It is now clear there was never any incentive for the Chinese to do so to begin with because Zimbabwe did not negotiate a trade deal, they simply gave the family jewels away.

What Zimbabwe needs to do is focus on deepening the local economy, a Marshall Plan, if you will. The first step is to restore trust in the government, nobody puts in a country where those who run it cannot be trusted to honour their commitments unless they themselves are not trustworthy. Next would be to restore local industrial capacity to supply the domestic market by investing in base infrastructure such as roads, rail, electricity, education, telecommunications, health and housing. This can only be done once Zimbabwe becomes a viable investment destination, a factor largely determined by the level of government’s trustworthiness. For too long Zimbabwe has tried to sell itself as primarily a source of raw materials and a conduit to the continent with the domestic economy treated as ancillary to that. The central location of Zimbabwe previously made it ideal for channeling southern and central Africa’s produce to the ports of South Africa and Mozambique and imports up north. Any benefit falling to the local economy was more of mere consequence rather than actual intent. This is Zimbabwe’s colonial legacy, it is still strong and highly evident in the trade language of today’s government. But there is hope.

It is notable that barely days after President Mugabe gave his surprisingly brief State Of The Nation Address parliament is seized with passing a raft of laws aimed at creating a more investment friendly environment. Needless to say, last week’s visit by Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote and the announcement of his intent to invest in Zimbabwe could not be coincidental. This has been borne out in various news stories of the behind the scenes negotiations culminating in last Monday’s whirlwind visit. The local broadcaster had hardly scrambled together their usual analysts and Dangote had already left Harare. Since then cabinet has approved all of Dangote’s projects, though I am not sure what that means as no plans have yet been presented to them, let alone drawn up. Meanwhile the Zimbabwe Investment Authority’s Nigel Chanakira has said they will not be found wanting when the time for issuing all necessary investment permits comes.

Whist I have many questions about what this deal means for how Zimbabwe conducts business I am cautiously optimistic. I am hoping government may just have finally painted themselves into a corner such that they have no room to mess this up as they have done countless times before. Another reason to like this deal is that it is totally about local capacity building to cater for Zimbabweans. The coal will be mined locally for domestic power generation to feed a cement plant that will primarily supply the local market. It is now to wait and see how local businesses are going to compliment these developments and thus deepen the economic multiplier effect.

This is what it means to put the domestic economy first. It is not prone to the whims of export markets and fancies of international commodity brokers. The more integrated the domestic economy, the better it will carry a country through any international crises. It is the donkey that will pull the proverbial cart and it must be fed. If such efforts can be replicated across other industrial sectors over the next ten years there is hope yet to see a Zimbabwe restored to it’s rightful economic status in our lifetime.

Not All Who Wonder Through Their Twenties Are Lost.

They say if you can remember your twenties then they were not that much fun. Well, I remember some. Earlier tonight on twitter I saw so many twenty-somethings are going through that first heavy self-doubt phase. I used to live there. Let me tell you a story.

Though it may not feel like it, it’s perfectly normal to look at more successful people your age & wonder what you’re doing wrong.

You will wonder where & when your breakthrough’s coming from. You will torment yourself & likely go a little mad. I did, it’s allowed.

I cannot tell you what it feels like when that big break does happen because it never happened for me. Instead, I’ve had many small breaks.

At the time, each break did not seem like a big deal but one day I looked back and wondered, “how the hell did this happen?’ Then I lost it all

One of my mentors told me “it takes about five attempts before you are wealthy” by then he’d lost everything six times but made it seven times, more with each attempt.

He died one of the richest men I have ever known. I have made & lost it all four times in twenty years, yes, I started young & had a few lucky breaks.

Money is not important, it is merely a means to a certain type of life. I used to be a liker of things till I learned to live without them.

From times when I had more money than I knew what to do with to days I would wake up to two slices of bread & an egg in the fridge. I have been that guy.

What I learned is after it is all gone, only life remains. Only life is important. I have much less money and trinkets now than I did in my twenties but I am happier.

The gist of my story is, there are no single big breaks. Life is full of incremental breaks and how you handle each one sets you further on a path.

The path is challenging, confusing, exhilarating & incredibly rewarding. Thing is, whatever decision you make, you are never off the path.

Whatever choices you make now or at any other time, are YOUR choices, embrace them as such but don’t be beholden to them. It’s ok to change your mind.

i may not have found my purpose in life yet but I am ok with that. There was a time I obsessed about that but if I survived me, so can you survive yourself.

After the last time I lost it all I learned this:
Don’t ever think you’ve arrived. Because once you do, that’s when the music stops.

I hope my two cents worth helps some of you make sense of life. This is not advice, just a bit of my story so far.

Later.

A Centenary Of Childhood Memories (Part 1)

Over the last four weeks I have travelled to various parts of Zimbabwe and South Africa on  what started out as a trip to Kimberley to see family but has evolved into quite an adventure. One of these adventures was a visit I made yesterday to Centenary Park in Bulawayo Zimbabwe.

The last time I went to the park must have been over twenty years ago despite driving past it numerous times over the years. Growing up in Bulawayo in the eighties Centenary Park was an integral part of our life with many a happy Sunday family outing spent there enjoying the numerous attractions for all ages. I could write to no end about the mini train that took you on a ride around the park or the mini-golf course I never got a chance to play because I was too young to be interested. There was a sailing pool for model boats where I remember watching those who had them sail them as I wondered to myself why I didn’t have one. I remember the skating rink which I never got to try because I never owned roller-skates. I remember the life-size chess board and pieces in the gardens that we would imagine were real and came alive at night to do battle before becoming statues again just before dawn. I remember the wishing well and the many people I saw cast coins into it making silent wishes, meanwhile my brother and I would scheme on how we could fish out all those coins and be rich, rich, rich. I remember the zoo with impala and zebra, the aviary with all kinds of wonderful birds and the amphitheatre though I can’t tell you of a single event that happened there.

I remember all these things but what I remember most of all was the place where I spent most of my time, the playground. The sound of the swings and merry-go-rounds as they swung and spun. The thud of hundreds of feet running in all directions, the joyous sounds of youth unleashed. The inevitable tears when somebody got hurt that were quickly forgotten when the next game began or your turn on the slide was up. I remember the tank we used to play in, yes a military tank, I even remember the smell inside it when we would pretend we were at war blasting away at an invisible enemy.

That was many years ago now and although I knew the park was now run down nothing could have prepared me for the state I found the playground in.

There used to be two train engines here but now there is only one. The paintwork is fresh though.
There used to be two train engines here but now there is only one. The paintwork is fresh though.

The train doesn’t run here anymore but the station and the track are still there from what I could see.

The railway line is still there but I have no idea when last it was used.
The railway line is still there but I have no idea when last it was used.
I remember this tunnel being a lot more imposing, but then, I was nine.
I remember this tunnel being a lot more imposing, but then, I was nine.

Bulawayo is known for it’s tree-lined streets, most famous are the jacarandas that bloom in late October. The park was always home to many different trees and thankfully they are still there for the most part.

Dawn breaks behind a dying tree that has probably stood here longer than anyone in Bulawayo today has been alive.
Dawn breaks behind a dying tree that has probably stood here longer than anyone in Bulawayo today has been alive.

In the playground you could be a King, a general or the lord of the jungle, your only limit was your imagination.

The castle fort where many a battle were fought in an effort to be King.
The castle fort where many a battle were fought in an effort to be King.
The highest of highs upon the tallest slide ever built, or so we thought.
The highest of highs upon the tallest slide ever built, or so we thought.
One moment you're on top of the world the next you're picking yourself up off the ground, dusting yourself off and getting ready to go again. Just mind the jagged rusty edges.
One moment you’re on top of the world the next you’re picking yourself up off the ground, dusting yourself off and getting ready to go again. Just mind the jagged rusty edges.
what games did you play when you were growing up?
what games did you play when you were growing up?

In the years since I became an adult I have often wondered about the intention behind putting a military vehicle that had literally killed people in a children’s playground. Was it some effort at mental manipulation, some plots to desensitise us to violence? I don’t know but i think for the most part we turned out alright.

There used to be a tank here. I remember the cannon and the caterpillar tread. Also, this vehicle is sealed so you can't get in, unlike our tank in the eighties.
There used to be a tank here. I remember the cannon and the caterpillar tread. Also, this vehicle is sealed so you can’t get in, unlike our tank in the eighties.
It all looks so innocent and playful, the children are none the wiser.
It all looks so innocent and playful, the children are none the wiser.
All broken dreams once gave someone hope, meaning. Some broken dreams can be restored and realised.
All broken dreams once gave someone hope, meaning. Some broken dreams can be restored and realised.

This playground is in fact a microcosm of what has happened across Bulawayo, a city that is today barely a ghost of it’s past. It pains me to see the playground of my youth reduced to a dusty field of broken children’s toys, their dreams broken on the rusty iron of military surplus junk, but I live in hope that the glory that once was Centenary Park can be restored. It honestly wouldn’t take that much but for now I fear the imagination of children is lacking in the City Fathers.

 

An inconvenient Prayer

It is generally agreed that Zimbabwe is a deeply Christian country although I’ve never been convinced of the veracity of this. These days the lines between Christianity and traditional beliefs have become increasingly blurred, just go to a Catholic mass if you don’t believe me. My wife who grew up going to churches that adhere to strict Catholic doctrine was surprised at the unfamiliar songs language and drums at last Easter Sunday mass at Christ The King in Bulawayo.

As the political and economic troubles of the country have continued two places have seen a dramatic rise in patrons, churches and drinking places, though serving diametrically opposed communities both attempt to offer their patrons a chance to forget their problems and a moment of solace. I will not debate who does a better job of it but am reminded of a certain communist and his views on the masses and their opiates of choice.

In recent times I have come to question the religious fervour that has swept up so many Zimbabweans regardless of where they are in the world. This is evident on social networks which allow a window into how we relate as Zimbabweans across the globe, I doubt you can go through five “Twimbo” profiles without seeing some religious reference. An often heard and read refrain when people discuss issues Zimbabwean is “Mwari pindirai”, meaning “God intercede”. When your team loses a game you see it. When a politician says or does what politicians say or do, you hear it. When a taxi/combi driver does what taxi/combi drivers do, you hear it. A banker, lawyer, butcher or priest steals from ordinary people, you hear it. A major corruption ring is exposed, you hear it.

You hear it in just about every situation, sometimes sincerely, sometimes comically. It is the equivalent of “I give up” and I have come to believe that’s exactly how people mean it, especially when it comes to our seemingly never-ending crises. The recent exposés about ridiculous executive pay at parastatals and urban councils has seen “Mwari pindirai” take on even greater prominence in everyday language, both spoken and written. I’ve even read it in reference to the new white pressure group Zimbabweans Against Sanctions who have been met with much suspicion online.

I am tired of hearing this refrain because it is a symptomatic of a new culture of giving up, it is a copout. People abdicate their responsibilities with a well-timed but inconvenient prayer and will insist that “now it is in God’s hands there is nothing else that we can do”. It is symptomatic of a people who increasingly convince themselves that there is nothing they as individuals can do to change their lot. It is tempting to forgive Zimbabweans for being this way after so many years of all kinds of crises, or plagues if you prefer, but I am not about to do that. People continue to utter “Mwari pindirayi” as they go about their daily lives as if waiting for someone from somewhere to come and solve all their ills. This expectation of an unknown saviour has opened a space that has been quickly occupied by charismatic pastors promising any miracle you can think of, as long as you believe, and tithe of course.

A people who defined themselves by their work ethic and go anywhere attitude are now at the heart of Southern Africa’s pastorprenuer culture. Is this really what we want to be about? Are we so intent on ignoring our problems that we will take any way out that presents itself? One day we will wake up from this collective stupor and realising just how much we have given up will collectively call out “Mwari pindirai” only for a voice to answer back “but what did you do for yourself?”.

The Fifth Beatle (Syndrome)

I am no music aficionado but I am sure many around the world have heard of the Fifth Beatle. Various versions of this legend exist, however, I want to use one as an analogy for the quandary that many Zimbabweans find themselves in.

The Fifth Beatle is a title used to describe the member of a group who drops out just before that group hits the big time. You know the story, wife/husband leaves spouse for greener pastures because things are tough only to find the grass is not greener and the abandoned spouse finally finds success. It’s like that other guy from Boys 2 Men or the other girl from Destiny’s Child that nobody remembers. Sound familiar now?

The just concluded elections, like any since 1980, was billed as the precursor to a new era in Zimbabwe. All candidates took on the role of messiah promising political and economic emancipation to the electorate, yet, here we are again, back to a life where the abnormal has become normal. The realisation that things are not any better than on July 30th has been cause for many, who are able, to reconsider whether they should stay in Zimbabwe or they should go on to greener pastures.

I have been one of those who has struggled with this for years and events since July 31 have been cause for much review, despite that I have long been apprehensive about the election process that brought us here anyway. That said, what do I do now?

Do I continue to stick it out and hope for the best or do I pick up sticks, sell what I can and emigrate? In the last decade I’ve had my share of feast and famine, however, I am no longer the youth I was then. Because of that I pay a lot more attention to political rhetoric and it’s impact on my decisions, economic and social.

I know now how the decisions by those in authority affect me and those immediately around me. I’m smart enough to know what my bank managers means when he or she says their interest rate is high because it includes a political risk component. I’ve heard so many acronyms for mostly failed business funding initiatives that my head spins at the thought. I understand what the Reserve Bank Governor means when he says the country is in the midst of a crippling liquidity crisis. I can see the holes in the government’s indiginisation policy and the dangers inherent in it’s implementation. I know what it means to foreign investors when the industrial index loses 10% in one day and 14% in a week and the government makes statements contrary to economic development.

Besides commitment to family and this being the country of my birth, what else keeps me here? I must acknowledge there is an element of fear of missing out on Zimbabwe’s recovery when it eventually begins. Paradoxically, the longer this recovery takes to come, the greater this fear becomes and the greater the lost opportunity becomes in one’s mind. The fear of the unknown and regret over the journeys not taken can be paralysing. Am I the only one who is going through this? I don’t think so. To those in the same situation I wish you well, your decision is your own, as for me, it’s time I risked being the Fifth Beatle.

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Don’t Call Me Mfana!

At 37 years of age I am still confused by the need older people seem to have to refer to me as mukomana or mfana, both meaning boy. Do they think it’s a term of endearment or do they feel some subliminal obligation to put me in my place, that being below them in the patriarchal hierarchy that is, for lack of a better term, African society. This happens in just about every kind of interaction imaginable and I can’t think of any situation where such a reference would be anything but derogatory.

I consciously don’t do it to men younger than I am because I know how much it pisses them off too. Where it is most irritating is when it happens in professional situations, there you are trying to get through a meeting, taking or giving instruction and it gets thrown in like some random slap in the face to wake you up from any illusion that you were being taken seriously. At what age does one graduate from being called mfana, does it ever happen? I grudgingly take it from my father and older relatives but beyond this family circle should I have to  tolerate it?

Time for real change

President Mugabe is on record referring to his cabinet and party executive as boys girls numerous times in both Shona and English. There are many stories of these same men and women literally grovelling at his feet, one minister has proudly acknowledged going as far as to sign his letters to the President, “Your ever obedient son Obert Mpofu”. Good for him if that works for him but is this really what or who we are? Recently Prime Minister Tsvangirai publicly castigated the MDC T youth leader Solomon Madzore for allegedly inciting violence, in warning him and the youth league, the PM said ” manje vapfana vangu . . ” (now my boys . . ). Now besides the fact that Madzore, in my opinion did no such thing, where does the man who claims to represent change get off referring to a senior party member as a boy, at a rally no less? Madzore has been in and out of jail for his party numerous times in the last two years and still has cases pending linked to party activities and this is the man you name and rebuke in public whilst calling him “mfana”?

With this kind of prevailing attitude from our political leaders its then no surprise that they may have limited appeal for many between the ages of 18 and 40. On January 28 this year Minister of Youth Development, Indiginisation and Empowerment Saviour Kasukuwere was in Bulawayo to meet the youth and talk to them about government initiatives to empower them. He did not have an easy time of it as they expressed their displeasure at government intransigence on these same initiatives very clearly. Is this lack of commitment to the youth symptomatic of the practices I alluded to earlier? I believe it is and with these practices so entrenched in our society what hope really is there for true youth development in Zimbabwe? Are the over 60s who run this country willing to change their ways or genuinely hand over power to a more vibrant  and attuned generation?

How to treat the youth (vote) right

Now I know this is an oft trotted out comparison but I believe it is incredibly relevant to this discussion. Barrack Obama’s 2008 presidential run is often cited as having changed the way political campaigns are done around the world. Countless analysts have identified the community organisation strategy as the secret weapon that won him the election. His campaign team composed of the greatest number of such youth volunteers ever assembled and they delivered. Recently whilst in South Africa President Obama held a town hall meeting at Johannesburg University’s Soweto  campus with youth from South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, at no time during that meeting did I hear him refer to them as anything but young men and women or ladies and gentlemen. I am a keen Obama watcher and at no time since 2007 when he announced his bid for his party’s nomination have I ever heard him refer to his campaign team as boys and girls.

The mutual respect evident in that first campaign saw the youth volunteers come out swinging for President Obama the second time around ensuring a comfortable win and second term in office. This is non-existent in Zimbabwean politics and society at large, the youth are simply expected to do their duty. They are not seen by the politicians as a voting block who must be wooed despite making up the majority of the population.

Beware the ghosts of March

Whilst I don’t have the statistics, I would wager that those under 40 make up the bulk of Zimbabwe’s voters yet the messages coming out of the campaigns do not seem to be particularly relevant to them. For how long can politicians expect to continue with the same strategies every election and keep a dynamic electorate interested? During the Constitutional Referendum in March this year much was made about the poor voter turnout and many asked if Zimbabweans had not become disinterested in politics. I have not seen these questions being asked now that the elections are here despite the chaos of the voter registration exercise and the disastrous special voting for civil servant earlier this week. At the time of the referendum there was talk that the youth had not come out in their numbers and this voter apathy was a worry for the coming elections. Jump to two weeks before harmonised elections and what has been done to bring the youth to the ballot box? Very little from what I can see. Instead we have candidates continuing to treat them as their children and in some cases, private militia, moving through areas coercing people to attend rallies or to keep other politicians out of “their leaders'” constituency or ward. Youth voter apathy has not been properly dealt with and politicians might be in for a rude surprise come July 31, then again, I could be wrong.

In my ideal Zimbabwe no-one will manipulate the youth or anyone else for that matter in this way and mutual respect will reign supreme in all our dealings with each other. So Mr, Ms or Mrs Candidate, if you want my vote, don’t call me mfana!