I was ten years old when my two best friends were murdered. I can describe in forensic detail exactly what happened on the day I got the news.
I was playing outside on an adult sized bicycle, propelling myself dangerously forward over homemade ramps constructed from breeze bocks and bits of plank while a cross-breed bull-terrier manically yapped and tried to shred my tyres with her teeth. My mother called me and my siblings into the house and asked us to sit down. We were expectant; the seriousness of the occasion was highly unusual and, in fact, has never been repeated in the rest of my life. My father walked in and with a focussed calmness I will never ever forget said, “I have bad news. There is a possibility that [names withheld] are dead”. I remember his hands were shaking and that he lifted one of them to touch his forehead as he spoke. And I remember that just as he said the words he looked away from us over our heads and into the yard outside.
I, the eldest, immediately leapt on the word “possibility”; maybe this was not true. My father dispelled that hope quickly: we had not been officially advised of this news, but reliable sources had seen the bodies of my two best friends – one a year younger than me and the other a year older – and their family members. They were all definitely dead, and they’d all been shot. We were then asked to go outside and play while my parents readied themselves to support the surviving members of the family through their horrendous ordeal.
I remember standing and walking out the room. We had steps that led down to our small yard. The verandah floor was polished red concrete shining bluntly through a layer of dust because the sun was starting to set, and at that time of the day light streamed over the floor and into our main living room. I was looking down at my feet, which were bare and covered in dust up to my knees. There was a drought at that time, and dryness and dust everywhere.
My ten year old self had nowhere to go and no idea what to do. I did not know it immediately then, but my life had just been changed forever. The black messenger bicycle with a carrier basket attached to the front was at the foot of the stairs where I had dropped it. I remember standing contemplating it, but knew that to get back on and ride would be wrong. I walked past it. There was a tree in our yard where I had hammered myself a seat from two bits of wood at the very top of its branches. That’s where I took myself.
I can distinctly remember sitting, crouched over these planks high above the ground, with my knees to my forehead, my ten year old mind completely ill-equipped to process the profundity of what I had just been told. Up until a year previously I had played with these children several times a week. I wish I could tell you that I cried with a terrible grief, but I did not: at ten, although I knew I should cry, the news was so horrific that I was completely incapable of assimilating the experience into my life experience. As an adult now, I fully understand why when we see these terrible shootings at a school, or a child abduction somewhere, the news is almost always accompanied by information that child psychologists are working with the children to help them cope. I didn’t have that. In fact, most of Zimbabwe’s children who experience hell and hardship are not supported by experts even today.
So what did I do? With the intensity of a confused and frightened ten year old I made my murdered best friends a promise: I promised that I would never ever forget them. But I also knew, as a ten year old, that I had made many promises and pledges that I almost instantly forget and I was fearful that I would betray them and forget to remember them. That seemed to me to be a terrible terrible thing if I did that.
So what did I do to avoid that terrible possibility? The very next day I formally remembered them: I deliberately re-called to my mind their faces and things we had done together. I ran my mind over the details of our times shared together. I did this again the day after that, and I have done it for every single day after that for thirty years. My ritual of remembering has taken on a form of compulsion. Decades later this memory is as fresh and as much a part of me as my own heart beating in my chest. I remember them, every single day.
The memory became more and more important. I did not know it at the time but my two best friends were the first people I would know who would be murdered. Two seats in my class over the course of the year emptied as two classmates were killed. One of those classmates died along with her entire family and other people in her community as well, in a massacre. I added their names to my memory.
I am slightly uncomfortable about my daily ritual: I know that anyone reading this probably thinks I need some form of psychological help, so I don’t talk of it. I find it painful to write about now. But I feel that these are the only important words left in me that I can share in the wake of the elections we have just had.
We all carry scars deep in us: no one in Zimbabwe has emerged emotionally or psychologically intact under Zanu PF rule.
The long struggle for freedom, justice and democracy
I am an ‘activist’ – whatever that means – because I carry a memory of two smiling children who knew nothing but safety and joy in their lives until the terrible day they were murdered. My promise made the direction of my life inevitable.
I am telling you this to make it clear that all the reasons Zimbabweans have been given for why people fight against Mugabe and Zanu PF are lies.
I am not an activist because I am an enemy of the state. I am not an activist because I have a hero-complex. My head is not filled with Western propaganda and my desire is not to see our nation turned into a colonialist’s playground. Contrary to The Herald’s proclamations that Sokwanele is part of the MDC-T, this is not true: I am not a member of any political party and I would not be a part of Sokwanele unless it was strictly non-partisan. I have criticisms of decisions the MDCs have made, because I always measure what they do against the profundity of my memory, and the crass day to day of political negotiations never measures up.
When I remember my friends I am frequently struck by the peculiar fact that I lived and they didn’t. The only difference between their deaths and my life is that I happened to not be in the wrong place at the wrong time – specifically – I was not in an area where Mugabe’s fifth brigade were operating on a given day in the early 1980s, murdering and torturing thousands of civilians, including children.
I will never be rich and I will never be famous but I am blessed, because, given my life experiences in Zimbabwe, I am lucky. We were poor when I was a child, but my father’s drive to work hard – and the good fortune his business succeeded – has meant he and my mother ensured that I received a good secondary and tertiary education. My country does not educate its children to even a fraction of what my father gifted me. I am healthy because he was able to find the means to heal me when I was sick: my country fails its citizens on this accord to. My father has done for his family what my country should be striving to do for its citizens. But that has not happened: priorities under Zanu PF, like power for the sake of power, gross corruption and incompetence and patronage, have stripped any hope of a full rich future away from most of Zimbabwe’s youth.
In all respects I am an unremarkable and completely ordinary Zimbabwean. The only thing that divides me from those that have suffered through famine, torture and murder is luck and chance that easily translate into privilege. It is a privilege that sits uncomfortably with me because my luck is always counterbalanced in my mind by the awful fate of my two friends. I cannot revel in good-fortune without always being aware of loss and absence and pain.
‘Luck and chance’ are not a strong foundation for our future. It is not acceptable that some have a privileged existence while others do not. I believe with every fibre of my being that we need a bedrock of fundamental good principles that provide guarantees of security for everyone: we need laws that are upheld, human rights that are respected, freedoms that are protected. And we need a government that makes basic needs a priority: education, health, employment.
Every single person I have engaged with in the fourteen years I have been doing this work has a similar motivation. Yes, there will always be ‘big-heads’ in any political struggle, but most have strived to build a better future for Zimbabwe. Most are driven by a desire for justice and freedom for Zimbabwean people. To do good.
And I believe that the majority of Zimbabweans know this and, because they share my history in this country, they also understand why so many people have struggled in a way no person living outside Zimbabwe can even begin to understand. They will also understand the devastating sense of anger these same people will be feeling today when they are force-fed a fraudulent result that mocks everything good and decent they have strived for.
If these elections were won by Zanu PF freely and fairly in a clean democratic contest then I would respect them. If you believe in democracy as powerfully as I do then you are honour-bound to ‘take the rough with the smooth’. A Zanu PF victory would sit uneasy with me given my personal life and their track record, but I would respect and accept the result.
But this result is sour and unacceptable. I believe that even the most ardent Zanu PF supporter knows that this election was stolen through fraud and cheating, and not secured by the will of the people. An Al Jazeera reporter commented that he had driven all around Harare after the results were announced looking for signs of celebration from Zanu PF supporters and there were none. He tweeted: “Are people waiting for Mugabe to issue a decree: celebrate!” There were none, because no one voted for Zanu PF or Mugabe in the numbers ZEC claims are true. It made me aware of what a bizarre situation we are in: a manufactured political context where the vast majority of the people in our country are forced to accept control and authority from those they do not want.
And the grief and fear of an uncertain future – which recent history tells us is going to be unpleasant – is palpable among all of us. People who freely talk about politics to me are silent. They don’t want to discuss the results because the obvious question ‘What now?’ is one that only raises fear and uncertainty. We are all so damn tired of feeling fearful and unsure of our futures. One person, blessed to have his exams in the last five years said on Twitter in a message directed to David Coltart – former Minister of Education: “I wrote my O level and A level in a perfect way, no hassle, results came in time, THANK YOU….now I am worried of the future”. We worry about the future because our past lives, under Zanu PF rule, were so terrible.
A short five years ago every Zimbabwean was trapped in a daily struggle just to survive. The list of what we endured is simply incredible – no one can begin to understand how awful it was unless they had lived here. We collectively experienced one of the world’s worst examples of hyper-inflation; businesses dying on a daily basis; completely empty supermarket shelves and consequently wide-spread starvation; one of the worst cholera epidemics the world has seen as a result of collapsing infrastructure; roads strewn with potholes; divided families as a result of a forced exodus to neighbouring countries; the total collapse of our education and health systems; thousands of businesses and homes deliberately destroyed by ZANU PF government through Murambatsvina; unemployment that is close to 95%; and, on top of all that, grotesque unimaginable violence and torture.
Surely any sane reasonable person can see that it is illogical and inconceivable that a nation that has endured all that would voluntarily elect the party, a amer five years later, the same party that brought us all to our knees and made our lives a living hell? Or does everyone really think Zimbabweans are that stupid?
What is more incredible is the result that Robert Mugabe awarded himself: five years ago the presidential results were delayed for weeks in the wake of a national revolt against his rule. We all knew why – the ‘books were being cooked’ behind the scenes. The subsequent manufactured results of 31 March resulted in a Presidential run-off, the only chance Mugabe had of still clinging onto power. And the grotesque violence that preceded the run-off was a desperate attempt to literally bludgeon an already brutalised nation into allowing him to stay on.
It is simply absurd and farcical that that same nation would now peacefully and legitimately award him a massive 61% victory, and his party a landslide 2/3 majority in parliament – enough, you note, to allow Zanu PF to reverse all the legal gains that we voted for as a nation in 2008.
Zanu PF would like the world to believe that those legal gains, including our brand new constitution, are things the people have suddenly decided they do not want.
Zanu PF would like the world to believe that the liberation message combined with hate and loathing of western nations has suddenly became appealing in 2013, when exactly those same messages were massively rejected in 2008.
They would like the world to accept that a very very elderly man who makes very long rambling speeches and seldom refers to concrete policies, is suddenly seen as a viable solution to our country’s substantial woes, when just five years ago we demanded someone else be given a chance. Zanu PF would like us to believe this improbability when it is a biological fact that Mugabe is only going to get older and more frail, and at a much faster rate given his advanced years.
Zanu PF want the world to believe that even though things become palpably better for Zimbabweans in the last five years – not all of us, but enough to give real hope – that the vast incredible majority of us would suddenly wilfully choose to give Zanu PF the benefit of the doubt again, and that we would all chance a return to what was pure unadulterated hell.
A landslide victory is simply not plausible. To endorse it as credible or fair would be an outrage against a whole population, and a total disregard for the meaning of democracy.
Zimbabweans are not stupid. This election has been stolen. It is an abomination of democracy and a violation of everything sacrosanct to people who believe in the right for people to determine their own futures. In Muzarabani North – a hot-spot area for violence in 2008 – the result speaks for itself: in 2008 nearly 4,000 people voted for MDC-T, but in 2013 only 600 people did. Zanu PF would like us to believe that 85% of the people there suddenly saw the light and saw their party as the future solution. This is ridiculous.
We received an email in the wake of the results from one Zimbabwean who said: “The burden I have on my shoulders and the pain I feel in my heart are so heavy I was forced to kneel down and pray because I could not think of anything else better to do.”
The words “could not think of anything better to do” will resonate with all Zimbabweans. A despairing sense of helplessness that I know the majority of Zimbabweans are feeling today.
Our immediate future now seems to lie in the hands of carefully selected teams of election observers – ones that Zanu PF trusts to turn a blind eye to their crimes against democracy and our people. They arrived with a small handful of observers who, as one activist said, ‘didn’t seem to stray too far from tar-roads’. In the rural areas, where we know people were being forced to vote with assistance (i.e. someone making sure they voted the right way), where we know peoples’ names were checked off by headmen as they entered the stations, where outsiders were bussed in to swell the vote and others refused the right to vote on spurious reasons – there was no one from SADC or the AU present to see this.
Those who did see and hear are our own local community: the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), for example, deployed 7000 observers around Zimbabwe and they and other civic organisations are horrified by the degree of fraud that took place. But Zanu PF, a party that rails against colonialism and outside influences on Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, a party that demands ‘Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans’, will insist that the myopic view of SADC and the AU observer groups is given priority over the words of local Zimbabweans who were there to see and hear clearly.
“Provide evidence”, these people will demand. But that heaps yet another level of injustice on us: there is evidence, but who cares? Our courts had another two Zanu PF loyal judges packed into them – coincidentally before the new constitution was signed to avoid the rigour that the new law would have imposed on selection. In the weeks leading up to these ridiculously rushed polls, the court has shown that the rule of law is something to be regarded or disregarded based on political objectives. Someone quipped: ‘they use it as a ‘rough guide’. Evidence means nothing in this context.
So where does that leave Zimbabweans?
It leaves us in torment.
We need every international body there is to listen to us and hear our plea. We need them to demand that the will of the people is upheld and that these elections are looked at critically in the full context of the months leading up to the polls as well as the full details of injustices all around Zimbabwe.
The voters’ roll needs to be forensically examined, and Zanu PF’s association with the murky Israeli organisation Nikuv – operating secretly through the Ministry of Defence – needs to be questioned at the highest level by governments that care about democracy and the future of Zimbabwe. How the hell can any business set itself up to earn money by depriving an entire nation of a future?
Zimbabweans need to do what they can, even if it is small, to make an impact now. We need the world to hear our voices. We need to make sure that those who can do something, hear us and believe that we in turn want to be heard. Someone on twitter posted a tweet that made me smile for the first time in days: something to the effect of, ‘If you stand with your back too close to the fire, then you will have sit with blisters on your bum’.
Those of us who do nothing, who are usually apathetic about politics and devolve accountability to politicians and civics need to now do what they can. Turning your back on the fire of injustice raging around us will not prevent you from suffering pain.
There is a website set up where civics are asking people to submit everything they know about fraud and irregularities that took place in this election. This is important information. Please visit the website. Please provide as much detail as you can about the things you know. Do not keep this information for disgruntled chatter in the supermarket queue.
If you do not want to visit the site, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will collate and forward the information on. Tell us exactly where it happened, what happened, which constituency, and the names of people involved if you know them. Detail is important.
Please speak to the people you work with or who work for you, and get their experiences as well. Note them down as well. Get the detail and add it to the website.
I am asking Zanu PF supporters to do this too. I believe that many of you will feel ashamed of the way this ‘victory’ has been secured, and uncomfortable living among the majority who you know wanted a different government. I believe that you may have a philosophical view that ties you to Zanu PF – I respect that – but that you wish this view to prevail democratically and freely, and you wish to win the conviction of the majority. That has not happened, and the imposition of injustice will only drive people further away.
An activist’s job is to bolster spirits, to prevent people from falling into a deep depression, and to chivvy them on with a positive message that calls them to engage. I cannot do that today: like you I am deeply worried and fearful and I am angry.
I am most afraid that apathy and a lack of faith in the international community – understandable given the years of white-washing the region has done over our previously rigged polls – will allow this farce of an election to fizzle into the accepted status quo without so much as a whimper.
I am imploring you, please, do not read this mailing and then do nothing. I am imploring the governments around the world as well to please, do what you can.
Zimbabwe’s future right now is almost too awful to contemplate. But this morning, when my mind once again automatically turned to tread its familiar path to my murdered friends, I couldn’t help but think everyone who has suffered so much in the past deacdes, and of those who will suffer more under Zanu PF rule. I felt I needed to write this: I felt I needed to try, and I want to encourage all of you to try as well.