While the many derisory and manifestly xenophobic descriptions that saddle Zimbabweans include “cowardly”, “itinerant”, “corrupt” and “criminal”, they will be galled to know that almost half of the population is insane.

The other descriptions were not based on empirical data, but the latest designation comes from no less an authority than the World Health Organisation (WHO) itself.

WHO consultant Dickson Chibanda claims that 40% of Zimbabweans are suffering from mental disorders.

“In Zimbabwe, the latest data on common mental disorders indicated prevalence close to 40%. Operation Murambatsvina caused a lot of mental disorders to those who were forced out of their homes,” said Chibanda.

Caribbean intellectual Frantz Fanon would be perplexed. He wrote that “colonialism in its essence was already taking on the aspect of a fertile purveyor for psychiatric hospitals”.

In the preface to his work The Wretched of the Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that the condition of the native is a nervous condition.

The question is: How can so many “crazy” people be found in a free, post-colonial Zimbabwe?

In Algeria, for example, Fanon found that many people suffered from a range of disorders, including psychosis, neurosis, agitation and rage.

What has gone wrong with Zimbabwe, which should be a classic case of a “decolonised” state?

Fanon wrote that colonisation alienated the native from himself and inculcated feelings of inferiority. The average Zimbabwean is not comfortable with being identified as a Zimbabwean. There is a sense of embarrassment and shame. Some dare not answer calls in taxis in South Africa.

An uncle with whom I discussed this asked why Zimbabweans retain a government that has impoverished almost all its people. More surprising is the fact that Robert Mugabe’s government is probably going to win the elections next year.

However, Zimbabwean MPs were not too pleased with Chibanda’s claims.

“This wacky claim is not only a typical example of the common and always nauseating feature of exaggerated commentary on the situation in Zimbabwe from certain desperate quarters with malicious interests, but it also scales a new ludicrous height in that regard,” former regime defender and independent MP Jonathan Moyo said.

“What is clear and can therefore be readily confirmed is that the astonishing claim is pure madness. If, as it appears, the authors of the nonsensical claim and those peddling it are mad Zimbabweans, they should not think that other Zimbabweans in the country are mad like them,” he fumed.

“Otherwise you don’t need a rocket scientist to realise that the intended subtext of the bizarre claim is that there will be no reform led by Zimbabweans, ostensibly because nearly half of them have left the country and 40% of those remaining have gone mad while their country is steadily becoming a total mental asylum.

“Surely this kind of rubbish must stop because it is incapable of yielding any good. It is most regrettable that there are gullible Zimbabwean professionals who have become merchants of rubbish when they should know and do better.”

“While it is true we experienced negative consequences from Operation Murambatsvina and other crazy government projects, it is an exaggeration that we have gone mad as a nation,” MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa told the United Kingdom-based NewZimbabwe.com .

He noted that “maybe madness is being redefined. One would think that most of the craziness would be among Zanu-PF officials who have made us all victims of their madness”.

Perhaps Sartre’s argument has too many holes: the condition of a native, whether in a colony or a post colony, is always the same nervous condition.


  • Percy Zvomuya is a reporter at the Mail & Guardian. His interests are Africa, books and football, with his favourite teams being Arsenal, AC Milan and Orlando Pirates.


Percy Zvomuya

Percy Zvomuya is a reporter at the Mail & Guardian. His interests are Africa, books and football, with his favourite teams being Arsenal, AC Milan and Orlando Pirates.

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