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WANTED: Zenga Zenga in Zimbabwe

When Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai recently announced Zimbabwe’s parliamentary elections scheduled for 2011 would be postponed to 2012 or even 2013, many Zimbabweans must have breathed a deep sigh of relief. Relieved because the bloodshed which accompanies every election would be put off for a bit longer. And the rapidly mounting number of political activists and ordinary civilians arrested, tortured or denied medical treatment while in custody, as part of the state’s crackdown on dissent, might gradually slow down. Treason has become the charge de jour for any hint of dissent in the banana republic. Offences range from the benign to the absurd like posting a comment on Facebook or, as veteran activist Munyaradzi Gwisai did, for organising a screening of the Egyptian Revolution. Even, Sabbath prayers for peace are gassed into thin air.

While for outsiders from more liberal countries, Zimbabwe might sound like human rights hell on earth, it isn’t. Honest. Look, it doesn’t even make a “top ten hells on earth” list.

And for the average Zimbabwean, the spectre of treason is part of the everyday. It rumbles in the background while the business of living from hand to mouth takes precedence. Decades of censorship, the lack of strong civil society institutions and political apathy has been key in creating the huge gulf between the discourse of human rights and the discourses of the everyday and economic survival.

In this world, to speak of human rights, is sometimes a luxury and sometimes rights are a dirty word. Years of one-party rule have created the apt conditions for rights and freedoms to be traded off for the stability and security of the many, while some of the outspoken few, are booked and charged.

Stories of villagers being terrorised by soldiers patrolling the diamond fields of Marange in eastern Zimbabwe are enough to scare off any revolutionaries dreaming of a Chimurenga-style uprising. But it’s not only the very real obstacles of violent repression that could prevent Zimbabweans from fully catching the protest fever currently doing the rounds on the continent and the Middle East. The nation suffers from a grave illness: apathy.

It’s difficult to cite books or social scientists diagnosing this to be the Zimbabwean condition but personal lived experience suggests this is the case. To an extent, academics like Brian Kagoro and Glen Mpani, who have explored the reasons for Zimbabwean passivity and indifference, confirm this. In their respective works, both researchers argue that the post-colonial condition of political apathy has its roots in decades of living under a one-party state. The multiple interlocking burdens of living under an increasingly authoritarian, economically regressive regime have resulted in a population which “normalises the abnormal” as a coping strategy. In other words, it’s become so normal to hear of opposition members being beaten and jailed that it’s hard to be concerned. Indifference makes it easier to be dismissive and say “it doesn’t happen everywhere”. Because of this standard response, its sometimes difficult for the “law-abiding” rich and poor to connect their economic woes to the absurd imprisonment and torture of someone or the shortage of medicines and medical expertise in hospitals.

This nationwide disorder combined with the terminal impotence of an ever fractious and frenzied opposition, which co-habits in a coalition government with Zanu, creates the perfect setting for pantomime-style elections to be held in 2012/3. Or, when time or health gets the better of soon-to-be ninety Mugabe. Then our Comrade President shall declare the dates when violence and impotence take to the stage and battle it out in winner-takes-all parliamentary elections.

When Mugabe declared “we will not brook any dictation from any source. We are a sovereign country. Even our neighbours cannot dictate to us. We will resist that” in response to SADC’s calls for an end to state-sanctioned aggression, he was right. Only that “We” is the sovereign people of Zimbabwe, not “We” the sovereign party of dictation, Zanu, which is sometimes mistaken as a synonym for Zimbabwe. So the correct statement should be: “We, the people will not brook any dictation from any source. We are a sovereign nation. Even our leaders cannot dictate to us. We will resist that.”

If any lessons are to be learnt from the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions by Zimbabweans, it is that dictators can be overthrown by the people; security and stability be damned. But before any fantasies of popular uprising or ousting Zanu by the ballot can be organised by serious activists and non one-hit wonder online revolutionaries or used as campaign rhetoric by a formidable opposition party (yet to be seen) Zimbabwe needs a zenga zenga revolution, to remix Gaddafi’s words.

A revolution of conscience in every city, every street, every house, every village and every hut. Zenga zenga; every nook and cranny must be cleansed of the viral strains of apathy that allow evil to flourish and culminate in an inability to equate human rights with the right to pursue prosperity and live in a relatively stable country. If Zimbabweans truly want a change in the status quo or “no other but Zanu, but without the violence” as some desire, then it begins with this critical mass realisation. Legitimate desires for stability and prosperity can never justify indifference towards the unjust persecution of another Zimbabwean. Just as the apolitical urban middle and working classes deserve to live in peace, so too do the villagers of Marange. As do praying parishioners. And White Zimbabwean, Zimbabwean Indian and Nigerian traders and business owners harassed in the name of indigenisation. As Zimbabwe continues to discover the highs and lows of 31 years of independence, may the spirits of past liberators bless her with the realisation that indifference to the suffering of others can be cured at the church of born-again humanitarians by St Conscience, the Empathic One.


  • Tendai Marima is a blogger and doctoral scholar at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research interests include African literature, global feminist theory and issues concerning contemporary Black presence in Europe. Follow her on twitter @KonWomyn


  1. Sizwe Ngwane Sizwe Ngwane 28 May 2011

    Both Mugabe and Thswankilayi and the Shona people are to blame period.

  2. Sizwe Ngwane Sizwe Ngwane 28 May 2011

    Now that Mugabe is killing his own people is becoming a big issue when he killed the Ndebele people you named him a revolutionalist. Thats absurd.

  3. Peter Joffe Peter Joffe 28 May 2011

    As one Black Brother politician will never criticise another Black Politician. Brother Mugabe will carry on until the devil calls him to pay for his crimes. Our Mbeki supported Mugabe, Our Zuma still keeps the findings of the 2008 Zimbabwe “Free and Fair’ Elections secret despite having been ordered by the courts to do so. We all know that Mugabe brutalised his citizens and rigged the vote. “Quite Diplomacy is alive and well and there is no hope for Zimbabweans as the killers that control the country will remain. Mugabe is an inspiration to the ANC and they worship him as Africa’s greatest son. Malema is hell bent on implementing Mugabe’s insanity in and effort to keep votes and to change South Africa into another failed African State? The ANC credo is that it is better to be in control of a pile of rubbish than it is not to be in power at all. As long as foolish voters’ continue to vote for yesterday’s revolution, the ANC will remain a revolutionary party and not a political party for the people by the people. SAmbawe here we come and already South African Whites are being branded ‘criminals’ because they purchased ‘black’ land or took over land that was lying unused. If the Cradle of Human Kind is genuinely where humanity started, then all people have as much right to Africa as do blacks. Whites, Indians and Chinese are all really ex patriots?

  4. John John 28 May 2011

    Nice work; a great piece to read. Zenga zenga comes with the realization of a common identity and/or so much loss of personal liberty that a people cannot find a way out other than to fight. Cornered bull. We, Zimbabweans, have always found a poetic way to justify our situation. Just a curious question, has there ever been a people, as many as seen in Zimbabwe, who left their homes (instead of staying and fight)because of bad leadership/dicatorship?

  5. Themba Khumalo Themba Khumalo 30 May 2011

    Sizwe Ngwane @ Your comments are unhelpful and only cause to inflame festering sores and to re-open healed wounds. You might as well say that ALL Ndebeles were guilty by virtue of being Ndebele when so-called dissidents committed atrocities and other crimes against the community.

    It is like saying ALL Germans were as evil as Hitler, or ALL Zulus agreed with uShaka and his leadership style. Your comments retard whatever progress this continent is trying to make to eradicate tribalism, and thank God we live in a progressive country where tribalism lives in the dustbin of history with apartheid’s rusting relics.

  6. Tendai Marima Tendai Marima Post author | 30 May 2011


    Thanks for the compliment. About your question, South Africa and Ghana are two example that spring to mind, though they are very different situations. S.A is a nation where Whites (mostly), Blacks and Asians jumped ship when things got tough instead of ‘staying on to fight’ government corruption, crime and bad leadership. Ghana in the 1970s and 1980s experienced mass emigration because of the economic crisis, but bad governance and frustration with the leadership were also big push factors.

  7. LeviK LeviK 30 May 2011

    Nice one Tendai. But one would feel that you also needed to look at the extent to which the opposition movement in Zimbabwe has contributed to such apathy. You have a population that at some point fixed its hope on the opposition but the opposition just could not deliver. I’ve argued previously that Zimbabwe was ripe for a revolution in 2008 but that revolution was betrayed by the opposition – ( So it may not be really fair to suggest that Zimbabweans are reluctant to take to the streets without also critiquing the lack of an avenue to marshal that particular interest to show up in the streets, in this case the opposition movement.

  8. Simba Simba 30 May 2011


    Your ‘Zenga Zenga’ piece was an interesting take on the reasons for ‘apathy’ in Zimbabwe’s current political hotpot.

    I agree with you with regards the one party state’s psychological effect. I would qualify that and say it affects a section of the current voters who enjoyed the fruits of independence first hand before ESAP came and failed.

    Most of those same people lived through a 14 year 2nd Chimurenga which I believe is an expectation today of both the military junta (JOC) as a worst case scenario of rebellion and also to ordinary people as a fresh reminder of what a protracted fight against the authorities would mean, death and destruction. The fear is the same undesirable outcome and no poetic justice for the sacrifices people make with their lives.

    The organisation of Zanu before it became PF was impressive. Many MPs from the 1980 elections were silenced by CIO when they opposed communist ideology ZANU implicity enforced. Zanu had 20 years to prepare for this impass and it shows through fear and apathy.

    Do not forget that the same ‘apathetic’ people willingly left school and home from 1966 to 1979 to fight. There is more to this than meets the eye as the learned fellows tried to explain in the books you referred to in your ZZ article.

    A civil war might be inevitable if any uprising occurs

  9. Darll M Darll M 2 June 2011

    Tendai, you suggest “A revolution of conscience in every city, every street, every house, every village and every hut….” and forgetting that in the March 2008 harmonised elections, ZANU-PF actually garnered more votes (but less parliamentary seats) than MDC-T. What then makes you believe that “every Zimbabwean” hurts ZANU-PF. The message from the March 2008 elections was that more than 50% of Zimbabweans still wanted ZANU-PF rule, but without Mugabe. The MDC-T that the media wants the world to believe is the most popoular party in Zimbabwe could do a lot of good for themselves by giving themselves a “nationalistic” outlook that they presently are. Unless you know something that most of us don’t, the only MDC-T ideology that Zimbabweans know is that “Mugabe must go”. The do lace it us with nice words like media freedom, human rights, etc. but without express and unambiguous, tangible alternative policies or plans for people to make informed comparisons with what ZANU-PF has been preaching all along. Love them or hurt them, ZANU-PF DO HAVE an expressed and workable ideology, although most of that remains on paper and, where they implement them, they use inappropriate/wrong/unacceptable strategies. Like the majority of Zimbabweans as expressed in the March 2008 elections, I have absolutely no problem with ZANU-PF, but it’s time for the “old man” retires. As for MDC-T, well I would never waste my vote on them.

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