By Magari Mandebvu
IT is nice to be invited to a meeting where you don’t have to do much. Nowadays, I can leave the activity and organising to younger people while I sit back and en
joy comfortable surroundings. It makes me feel good that they seem to be encouraged by having an old codger present to back them up by his presence.
A different kind of lunch is nice too, but I had a really nice lunch at one of those meetings recently.
It was in a hotel, not one of the very smartest, but we had hit the day when they provide a traditional African meal. Sadza rezviyo, muriwo wemhodzi cooked in a sauce of dovi and other real delicacies, but the meat set me thinking.
We had a choice of maguru, mazondo or chicken wings.
Some of the people there tucked into these traditional foods with delight, but there I beg to differ from them. Many people make a big thing of these traditional dishes, but don’t they realise that they are not only Shona traditional food? They are the “traditional” food of the poor everywhere in the world.
The English working class boil their maguru with milk and onions, but they are still maguru. It takes more than milk and onions to disguise the taste for me and, tell me I am betraying tradition if you want, but I don’t like maguru.
But there is more to it than not liking the taste. When we eat maguru telling ourselves how traditional we are, don’t we ever ask who is eating the rest of the beast? It must have had four legs and a bit of good meat on its ribs, but where did they go?
Personally, I never have liked maguru, even when I was small and my mother (may she rest in peace) told me they were good for me. What else could she say? That was all she could get, and it was better than nothing.
I only once enjoyed guru renguruve finely sliced and fried with lots of mhiripiri. That was in China many years ago, but the Chinese are known for their readiness to eat anything on four legs except the table and, to be honest, they are experts at making the most unpromising kinds of meat taste good, whether it is flesh of snake, rat or any of the other weird things they eat. So I enjoyed the way they cook guru renguruve, but there are many things that are better.
The best traditional meat, to my way of thinking, is rich meat from the hunt stewed with dovi. It can be meat of a hare or an elephant or of many things in between, it is still a real treat.
What are we saying about ourselves when we claim we are happy to always get less than the best? We can’t have the best all the time, maybe not very often, but we are entitled to it sometimes. Are we saying we are worthless?
I suspected as much when I heard a butcher in Botswana refuse to sell liver to a white man “because makgoa don’t eat that kind of thing”. This lekgoa had been brought up to believe “the customer is always right” and here was a shopkeeper telling him he didn’t really want what he clearly liked. But the butcher believed liver, like chicken feet, is only for the poor, miserable blacks.
That is really the same attitude as the colonialists showed when they ate the T-bone steak and the chicken breasts but gave a pile of old bones with a few scraps of meat on them to their servants. Some of them fed their dogs better than that.
Well, the colonialists have gone, so why do we still pretend to enjoy eating as if we were still colonised?
I don’t hear those people who shout so loudly that “Zimbabwe will never be a colony again” telling us that we are now free people, entitled to an occasional T-bone steak, chicken breast or, for a really mouth-watering treat, elephant biltong stewed slowly and lovingly in a sauce of dovi and tomatoes. They may eat that stuff, but they are subtly telling us to be content with matumbu and chicken feet. Or less.
The message is clear: they are telling us that Zimbabwe is their colony now. I am surprised now that we didn’t see this and protest the first time we were made to pay for Independence celebrations and found we had only bought tickets to watch the chefs eat — and they weren’t eating matumbu. They got the delicacies the colonialists used to keep for themselves: T-bone steak, chicken breasts and rice.
Colonialism lasted so long because it taught us we were inferior. The new rulers seem to want to keep us feeling inferior. Some of us accept happily, telling ourselves we are being traditional. Some are still discontented, but if they are not too intelligent, it is easy to persuade them to blame Tony Blair or someone else they cannot hit back at.
So the chefs keep shouting about Blair to prevent the hungry masses from thinking. If they did that, they might ask why they don’t hit at the chef, giving his little boy iced cake on a platform in front of a hungry crowd and TV cameras.
Now we have seen another of those celebrations, of 26 years of Independence and something else that isn’t very clear to me. How much will we be paying this time for the privilege of watching them eat?
But we aren’t fooled any longer. We know now what they are saying by all this show, and we don’t accept it. We are not dogs, to be fed on scraps or made to wait hungry while the master tucks into his juicy leg of chicken or T-bone steak.
We are not prepared to wait another 25 years for democracy, and it is democracy we are waiting for, not just a leg of chicken or even a T-bone steak, though those would be nice too. Chefs, we know that, after the mess you made of our beautiful and rich country, we may have to wait a while before we see T-bone steak, or even enough dovi to make a decent rabbit stew.
Still, once we have the power to put our elected representatives in parliament, not just “one man, one vote — one time”, we will make sure they move towards restoring the simple things that made life so pleasant. It may be a slow progress, but we will be watching and making them explain the problems that will surely make progress slow and explain what they are doing about it — perhaps even what we can all do together.
* Magari Mandebvu is a Harare-based contributor.