By Tony Namate
I RECENTLY caught a cockroach red-handed in my kitchen.
While this might sound a trivial non-event to many, I found it extr
emely alarming to see this pest in my home after several years of having outlawed cockroaches from my house. It is a hobby of mine to hunt down these bugs in their dark corners and eliminate them one by one, methodically cleaning out their breeding places with military detachment (no pun).
As the aforementioned cockroach groggily crawled across my kitchen table, it paused to look mockingly at me, mildly mopping its brow, daring me to do something. A cold, involuntary shudder crept up my spine as I quickly drew back in genuine horror.
Every cockroach to me seems to have Zanu PF written all over it. There seems to be a parallel between me and cockroaches on one hand, and Zanu PF and the people on the other.
For some time now Zanu PF has ruthlessly crushed any opposition or demonstrations the way we crush our cockroaches. Everytime they think they have managed to keep all cockroaches (opponents) out of the way, there is always that solitary one that comes out when they are just about to settle down, and spoils their appetite.
Zimbabweans are now living like cockroaches, only daring to criticise the president in the dark, scurrying away like cockroaches when the light is turned on. We’ve become a nation living in the dark (Zesa) and fed daily on filth (state media) like mushrooms.
We have lost the will to complain. We prefer to get angry and complain in the privacy of our homes. In public, we complain respectfully or apologetically.
We lack the faith to agree on a common complaint. There is a belief among us that if our complaints continuously fall on deaf ears, then there’s no need to pursue a complaint to its logical conclusion.
We are too afraid to complain about the speeding maniacs who drive commuter omnibuses and prefer to cling on to our seats in respectful silence. We are even afraid to complain about poor service or poor products or to ask for the correct change.
Fear has completely taken over our national psyche. We are prisoners of fear, willingly surrendering our rights like lambs to the slaughter. To misquote George Orwell’s 1984, we think that servitude is peace and ignorance is strength. We have lost the presence of mind to even think or discuss what is wrong with us, and are even prepared to shout down anyone who dares to complain about our situation.
I once boarded a kombi with a woman passenger who kept insisting to the conductor that her change was short by $1 000 (old currency). The moron kept ignoring her.
Another woman passenger, raising her voice to no-one in particular, said: “Vakadzi takaitwa sei nhai? Ungapopoterawo one thousand here?” (“What is wrong with us women? Complaining about a mere thousand dollars?”)
The shortchanged woman was exercising her right to correct change, yet a fellow woman saw it fit to support the conductor’s silence by shouting down the complainant, a clear case of self-hate that is deeply entrenched in the African mindset. This self-hate is even evident in the way we label people we don’t like by using tribal connotations.
We live in a one-man-for-himself world of make-believe, where “my neighbour’s problems” are his alone and must be avoided at all costs. So long as I get forex from my relative working abroad, there’s no to need to rock the boat; so long as my black market deals are doing well; so long as I have a place at the feeding trough . . .
The joke doing the rounds is that Zimbabweans are such an educated nation, every citizen holds a PhD (Pull Him/Her Down) degree.
If we are to get out of the politically fatal rut we find ourselves in, we must learn the culture of complaining about the things that are wrong around us, and very loudly.
Complaining is a legitimate element of democratic expression. It frees us from oppression.
It was Ronald Reagan, the 40th US president, who reminded us: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Mugabe’s generation fought for, and got black majority rule. Our generation must fight for accountability, morality and democracy. The next generation must fight for something else.
While our government has been at pains to point out that they hold elections without fail every five years, they forget that “it’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting” (Tom Stoppard, Jumpers, Act 1).
In my daily interaction with Zimbabwean commuters, the picture I get is that of a people who believe that “democracy” and “independence” are commodities that are dished out by a government, and these can be withdrawn any time. As a result, we believe that we shouldn’t abuse the little democracy that we get, lest it be taken away!
It is common to hear political commentators telling us “government has broken its own laws”, as if laws are the property of the government!
In Africa, it is the norm for people to sit back and relax once they have won their “independence”. It is then up to the new government to decide how much independence to give us. Thus the rich, powerful and connected find themselves able to afford a bigger share of this commodity.
Zimbabweans have also psyched themselves into thinking that it is only the government which provides us with seeds, food, clothing, accommodation — in fact, everything — besides our rights (just watch the Talking Farming TV programme where black farmers always start their interviews with “dai hurumende“).
We expect government to free us from its own oppression!
The process of oppression does not start with government, but with the people. Most Zimbabweans seem to “agree” that the police can do whatever they want with them.
Ruling parties have no business in democracy. Democracy belongs to the people, and ruling parties should not hold it in trust on our behalf. Democracy must be fought for — renewed, reviewed, and revisited — everyday. It must be taken to the workshop for regular repairs.
So where do we go from here? The way forward is to realise that our power lies in consumer power and not voter power. We must start by fighting for our consumer rights before we tackle the bigger political problem. Ruling parties can rig votes but they cannot rig poor service delivery or poor products.
The fight for democracy must start small, within the mind, wherever we are — in the homes, in the shops, at the tuck shops, at the hair saloons, in the bus queues. Let’s refuse to pay for poor service and poor products. Let’s withdraw our labour when we get paid low wages.
We must complain about wrong change at the till, complain about speeding drivers, corrupt traffic cops, slow service delivery, about black men who urinate without shame everywhere in the townships, about Zesa incompetence, about the wrong things we take for granted that have taken over our daily lives.
We must boycott fake Chinese goods, boycott expensive shops, withdraw all our money from the banks and keep it at home, boycott commuter buses with rude crews. We must resist the power to just slink away. We must teach ourselves to stand our ground. We have more power than we will ever realise — and it is right there in our pockets.
That way, we will garner enough outrage to fight bigger battles. We need to fight the small battles in order to win the big war, not to fight the war in order to win the battles, because it is like putting the cart before the horse.
We must think small but act big. Our small victories will be the bricks of the big wall of resistance. Power to the people, and none to the opposition!
* Tony Namate is an award-winning cartoonist.