The best thing I did was to be there
LONDON - I thought I would write a quick
follow-up regarding the great Zimbabwean demo, which took place in central
London on Saturday April 30. I went along, not expecting great crowds, and I was
not disappointed - perhaps a hundred people attended, tops.
But what people!
The woman who keeps the
vigil going was there and, I am glad to say, among other helpers were a young
couple from Harare who arrived in the UK a few years ago and have put themselves
to work - knowing you can emigrate from Zimbabwe but you can never
Washington Ali, the MDC man, was there. I heard him say the MDC
has never lost an election and it made me sorry in some ways for all the
cynicism and scorn I occasionally heap on that organisation.
grassroots supporters in rural Matebeleland and the high density areas of Harare
and other cities are freedom fighters as worthy of dignity and praise as the
Chinese kids who jumped on tanks in Tianamen Square or the South African
children who ran at apartheid's guns on June 16, 1976.
In Zimbabwe, not
for the first time, ordinary people are fighting for their freedom and a
terrible beauty has been born. At the vigil you will see some of those ordinary
extraordinary heroes who have paid a terrible price for their
The activist who was forced into exile several years ago was
there - as she is always there. In the past I have felt her sadness like a veil.
She is still very serious, but this time I noticed that sometimes when she
smiled the smile reached her eyes. She said she remembered a song I had taught
her. It was quite a rude song, I think, about a certain elderly
The woman who was a witness to some horrible incidents during
a high profile farm invasion was also there. She has been treated in the UK for
post-traumatic stress disorder.
She is still very anxious and troubled
but she is a very brave person and she loves laughing and she loves chatting,
and clearly the opportunity to spend time among compatriots is very important to
The man who leads the demo and who makes me come and dance my funny
white man's version of Ndebele dancing pulled me into the circle of dancers this
time again and I tried to stamp and toyi-toyi, whistling and joining in where I
could follow the words of a song.
People in the singing, dancing circle
remember my exhibitions from the past and they smile. Most speak Shona, although
they like to hear me say my few words of SiNdebele.
I copy a move I saw
during the anti-apartheid struggle of township youth in South Africa, where you
stick out your forefingers, holding your arms rigid from your torso, as if you
are carrying a gun. The leader grins and does the same and later he thumps a
drum and makes it sound like the crump of light artillery.
son from Mashonaland was there, a tall genial man working for a charity that
sends thousands of pounds back to Zimbabwe each year in support of grassroots
He says in five years democracy will be entrenched in
Zimbabwe. I tell him, "from your mouth to God's ear". He talks of the
long-suffering masses of our people with such respect and compassion.
It's palpably decent and compassionate men like him who make me feel
sorry that to so many people a white Zimbabwean farmer is still somehow a mythic
figure like Simon Legree. If people like him had to pay a price to be recognized
as Zimbabweans then they have paid, full measure, and cup brimming
The woman who is heavily involved with campaigning work for
refugees was there. We talked of the problems ordinary Zimbabwean people in the
UK are facing, sometimes caused by people themselves.
But often their
problems are compounded by officialdom in the UK which bullies and lies and
treats people as problems and deals with them according to quotas. She mentioned
a case of a Zimbabwean man sent to another country in Africa by the UK. They put
him on a plane promising his documents were in his luggage.
She has to fight officialdom in a slow glacial war, inch-by-inch, case by case,
and when officialdom wins then she has to field the phone calls from distant
places from people in despair and she does it for love, not money.
many people were there. The Kalanga guy. Wilf Mbanga's look alike. The ZNA
soldier. The Bulawayo Jehovah's Witness who knows it is up to each of us to do
the right thing, to make a difference.
And a fat, balding man with a
hangover stands in the centre of London listening to drums and realising how
much he misses his home and feeling lost - but somehow also feeling
Another fat, balding fellow, an English man, decides to pick on me
and wanders up to tell me how good things used to be in Rhodesia. I told him a
lot of people at the vigil were the children of the people who fought to end
He told me I should have - if you will pardon his language -
my arse kicked.
I told him - if you will pardon my language - to f***
I don't want to remember Rhodesia. I am a Zimbabwean.
joined an organisation and paid ten quid.
I bought a vigil T Shirt for
I bought some "Free Zimbabwe" buttons for a quid.
bought some copies of The Zimbabwean for a couple of quid and took away
subscription forms and back issues to spread the word. It is an excellent
newspaper and the proprietors are people who deserve support from the
But the best thing I did was to be there.
I went along
for a couple of hours to show support, to show the demonstrators that they are
But I came away feeling supported, feeling I was the one who
was no longer alone.
Until freedom comes the vigil continues. Go.