“Who switched off the Christmas lights?”
By Professor Welshman Ncube
Granted, we all know that Christmas is a tradition and practice alien to African culture, introduced to our continent several centuries ago by the Europeans. In any case, it is a period of pomp and fun fare heavily entrenched in Western folklore, mainly preying on beings generally gullible to fantasy, mysticism and make believe.
Honestly who, except impressionable young children, really believes Santa Claus manoeuvres through the treacherous stratospheric elements all the way from the North Pole in a reindeer-drawn chariot full of presents?
What is even more absurd for us Africans is having to make do with a celebration largely reliant on wintery snow. Our continent rarely experiences snow falls, perhaps on the highlands of Lesotho and also mainly for residents of the Kilimanjaro region in Tanzania who regularly see it several kilometers up Africa’s towering peak, albeit from a distance.
However, doomsday economists are convinced the nexus between Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ was a conspiracy by mercantile wizards and subsequent generations of capitalist gormandisers. The idea was to angle for a final go at pockets of citizens lulled into a false sense of prosperity by thirteen cheques!
Whatever the reason, the whole world, including us poor Zimbabweans, have been sucked into this frenzy of festive expenditure, now almost as far back as we can remember. In Zimbabwe, Christmas was once meant to be a season teeming with culinary passion, matrimonial bliss, music, companionship, travel, affection and occasionally, the avoidable motor vehicular death.
In most developed or economically stable countries, store fronts and related mercantile atmosphere begin to transform as early as October, with most shops stocking up, decorating and playing Christmas carols as bait for excitable shoppers.
I was in Cape Town and Johannesburg last month and it was evident how South Africa was already in the ‘panic mood’ of celebration. Why not, when they are a country enjoying a well-managed economy and a functional democracy. On returning home, one could feel the palpable anxiety, uncertainty, tension and outright anger.
In my mind, I was convinced that when a nation is at war with itself, not even superficial Christmas messages from partisan radio and television stations can trigger excitement. The misery reflected on faces in long winding bank queues; government ministers habitually threatening citizens as others make false promises about bonus payments – is hard to miss. This is definitely no way of welcoming a festive season.
And yet it was not like that before. When I grew up in the seventies and early eighties, Christmas holidays were simply explosive. I now see the point of the eccentric doomsday economists that the degree to which we celebrate Christmas is directly linked with our national income status.
During those piquant years, we may have been colonised; or even just emerging from a bruising civil war, but the money was flowing because almost all employable adults had jobs. Factories were running twenty-four-seven while infrastructure was at its functional best. By this time mid-December, city centers were a haven of bright colorful lights while during the day, departmental stores were bustling with shoppers in search of goods to take to their rural homes. Young men would sit outside their homes playing loud music as nights were filled with parties.
Rural areas were not spared the fun because brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers would huddle in buses on epic journeys to celebrate with loved ones in the villages. Young men and ladies in brand new clothes would hang-out at ‘emagrosa’ townships to show off their dancing skills and hopefully catch a date.
In the homesteads, chatty women would sweat around big black pots overflowing with rice, chicken and tea. For a few fleeting days, villagers would trade ploughs, hoes, fertiliser and cow dung manure for blissful celebration. One could even claim that the pervasive effect of coloured lights would be felt from the cities – because Christmas literally brought the city to the rural areas.
The last thirty years – thanks to Robert Mugabe – our Christmases have been nothing but miserable, coming amidst pain, poverty, political abuse and oppression. With three quarters of adults out of employment and most factories shut, Christmas celebration is but a faint memory of what it was in the 1970s and early 80s.
Our people are so poor they can no longer afford even to travel home, let alone shop around for goodies to surprise their loved ones. The municipal authorities put up brave faces to try and decorate parks as retailers struggle to lure customers with miserable looking glitter paper.
What one only sees in abundance are market stalls, vendors and jaywalkers wandering from one street to another in search of elusive bargains. Even bus companies that used to struggle to cope with large passenger crowds at Mbare Musika, eRenkini and other numerous bus termini spend the day hooting as touts shout their voices hoarse.
Apart from occasional ‘GP’ cars passing by, the villages are paralysed with deathly silence. Expectations they have year after year that each inevitable Christmas will be better than the previous are dashed against the jugged corals of hopelessness.
Today is testimony to that President Robert Mugabe’s thirty something years of wretched rein have put a final nail in our economic coffin. Not even boisterous promotions of bond notes and command agriculture have managed to put a spark into our holiday lives.
The proverbial Santa Claus might as well slaughter his reindeer and distribute the meat to the starving villagers. You do not need to be a politician like me to know that decades of bad governance, corruption, greed, intimidation, plundering and looting have finally driven the country onto its knees.
Citizens have nothing more to celebrate, because the little money they carry can only get them by – just. Today, as we contemplate the inevitability of 2017 and beyond, I am more than convinced that the only way to restore our Christmas cheer is to rid our country of the despicable ZANU PF government. Perhaps like you, I now know that it is Robert Mugabe and his unrepentant cronies who have switched off the Christmas lights.