It started in Tunisia and then Egypt – decades of dictatorship ending at the hands and will of a people disgruntled and disillusioned. Aside from Nelson Mandela being released from prison in 1994 and Barack Obama legitimising black leadership in 2009, watching Hosni Mubarak concede defeat to his own people was one of the most emotional political moments to date. The jubilation of a people come together for a common goal and persevering until they came to a desired end was contagious. And the question lingers on our minds: What about Zimbabwe?
As it has to happen, the world is starting to look down south with expectation to the home of the most notorious dictator this decade has seen. Social networks and newspaper headlines are screaming, “Mugabe, you are next”. The pressure is mounting and many are waiting expectantly for the people of Zimbabwe to take the baton from Egypt and run to rise up and re-claim what was once a beautiful country. Sadly, I wouldn’t hold my breath: Egypt-like protests are not going to happen in Zimbabwe anytime soon.
Zimbabweans lack unity. The last time the people of Zimbabwe were united was when they fought the war of independence in the 1970s against the Smith regime. The years after that saw different factions of society spin the fabric of the country in many opposing directions. The Shona, the Ndebele, the rich, the poor, those who left and those who stayed behind. Pro-MDC and pro-Zanu PF. This lack of unity was evident in the 90s when boycotts and stay-aways against corruption had minimal support and voting apathy was rife. While the world thinks we should all have one common enemy in Robert Mugabe, the goings-on on the ground tell us otherwise. More people than imagined support the Mugabe regime after having benefitted from it and they will fight to maintain the status quo.
And unlike Egypt, where the majority of Egyptians can still be found in Egypt, millions of Zimbabweans no longer consider Zimbabwe home. They have settled and, contrary to common belief, are comfortable in their places of refuge (not every Zimbabwean is living at Johannesburg’s Central Methodist Church). The high standard of education may have been good for Zimbabwean people but, in a cruellest of twists of fate, it has turned out to be a curse for the country. When it all hit the fan, Zimbabweans were educated enough to know they had options and the know-how to survive anywhere in any environment. This led to a mass exodus from the country. In foreign countries, careers have been established, homes built and children have been born and raised who have no links with their home country. And while the dream of fighting for one’s country is very noble, the chances of these millions of people sacrificing their families and all their hard work to face almost certain death for a country they no longer relate to, aside from some fond memories of days gone by, is as likely as Don Quixote defeating the windmill.
There is a quotation that holds: “The key to change is to let go of fear”. Nothing will change in Zimbabwe as long as people are afraid. But Zimbabweans are afraid and have every right to be. History, Roy Bennett and a multitude of white farmers can bear testamony to the brutality and stubbornness of Robert Mugabe. Should an uprising happen, ordinary citizens would have to deal with violent clashes against the factions who support him: the army, misguided youth and the seemingly immortal war veterans will make it their mission to make this the bloodiest protest to date just to prove a point. The people also have a huge fear of the aftermath – should Mugabe step down will the brutally pro-Zanu PF military or the toothless MDC take over? Fear is never an excuse for inaction, but bad experience leads to caution.
Not all Zimbabweans are a pathetic lot who allowed themselves to be controlled by one man for nearly 30 years; many are on the streets fighting for the country – just not enough of them. And while it may seem we are not taking responsibility for the situation, remember when one is faced with a dire situation, it comes down to what and who you show responsibility to; family or country. Overwhelming majority of the displaced Zimbabweans did not leave for sake of change of scenery. They took responsibility for a situation and left so that they may be able to fend for their families.
It takes a certain level of emotional strength and responsibility for a qualified high school teacher to leave her family and take a job as a domestic worker in a foreign land just to be able to put food on the table and put her children through school. This may not be the fight the world is looking for and the country may not have been saved by these sacrifices, but a multitude of families were. The hope and dream is that one day these families will build on that and save the country.
Maybe being displaced without a support system and the accountability that comes with being in close proximity with family did it, but over the years Zimbabweans both local and abroad had to become self-absorbed. This survival mechanism manifests in a lack of compassion and sense of responsibility enough to mobilize ourselves on behalf of fellow men and it allows us to sleep peacefully while the poor suffer and the country deteriorates to an extent where no infrastructure is working. An attitude of “as long as my family is alright, not much else matters” permeates through the whole land and has led to each man only looking out for himself. Not a good space in which to start a revolution.
For these reasons borne out of circumstance, when the world’s eyes eventually rest on Zimbabwe with expectancy and hope, chances are Zimbabweans will look away… and do what they do best – carry on regardless.
Give us time. Much more time.
Brendah works for a management consultancy during the day, you know, one of those companies that no-one really knows what they do. Before she defected and went uber-corporate she worked for UpperCase Media and the Mail & Guardian and now does her writing on a freelance basis. She has dreams of being the change Zimbabwe needs. And did we mention she is female? Black female?