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The mystery that is Zimbabwe

Since my childhood days, Zimbabwe has always been of great interest to me. You see, growing up, I gathered from news and traditional, mainstream media that Zimbabwe was bad. Before I even knew what a “banana republic” was, I already knew that Zimbabwe was one. Apart from this, I’d also listened to long conversations about how Zimbabweans were flocking to South Africa instead of fixing their own country.

Having been raised in Mahikeng, I hardly knew or got to meet anyone from other countries — apart from church — which wasn’t an ideal environment for long discussions. So I could never have my curiosity satisfied.

What perplexed me most was that I had never heard of authors, poets, dancers or anything good coming from Zimbabwe and this baffled me greatly. Surely it was impossible that not a single soul in Zimbabwe did anything good or had any extraordinary talent in anything? Surely those residing in Zimbabwe had something good to say about their country and their lives? It just couldn’t be possible that nothing good ever come from an entire country.

It was only when I moved to Johannesburg in 2006 that I got to meet, know and spend a lot of time with Zimbabweans living in South Africa. Something that really caught my attention though, was that all the Zimbabweans I had met were not only able to read and write but also had some form of formal education. The Zimbabwean man selling cigarettes was a teacher by profession and his wife a nurse. Despite their living conditions and the abuse I saw them suffer, they maintained an air of dignity about them, which subsequently led me to spending a lot of time with them.

They would tell me about things back home, ordinary things about their childhood and growing up. I wondered why I never got to hear of this Zimbabwe they spoke of anywhere else. They also told me about the political instability in the country and why they left, also how staying in South Africa allowed them to care for their parents and family back home. That’s when I realised that contrary to what I often heard, many Zimbabweans weren’t running away from their responsibilities but merely trying to ensure their families survived. This can be seen at Bosman Station in Pretoria every Friday, when many Zimbabweans are gathered at the bus station with endless loads of groceries.

But this of course is only one part of the story, because apart from the above I have also met (both online and off) many Zimbabweans out of their country by choice, be it to study further or merely to see the world. I know many others still in Zimbabwe doing fantastic things, stories that some may never get to hear. I know or have heard of people like NoViolet Bulwayo and Barbara Mhangami, both published authors shaking up the literacy scene. I know of Fungai Machirori, who has made quite a name for herself in the new media scene among many others.

There is no doubt that like many other countries, something has gone terribly wrong in Zimbabwe. Taking stolen land back from whites should not make us overlook this fact, which is expressed very beautifully by NoViolet Bulwayo who writes about her experience of going home to Zimbabwe after being away for over a decade saying: “Now, they are not fazed; even the children are not fazed, no. They do not complain about the water and power cuts, the day-to-day challenges; their generation was born into it, this is their normal. What would be abnormal is the Zimbabwe of my childhood, of running water and spraying ourselves with hosepipes and flicking lights and blaring radios all the time and … no, they wouldn’t understand; that Zimbabwe is terribly gone.” So while we should be wary of the propaganda telling us that things in Zimbabwe are only bad, we should also be wary of the propaganda that tells us to overlook the wrongs being committed there, merely because stolen land was taken back.

It’s my dream to someday go to that mystery of a country and get to experience it first-hand. Taking in a country that some Zimbabweans feel has changed for the worst and yet also get to celebrate the much-hidden good that it still holds — as evidenced by its people, my fellow Africans.