By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
I know that many who read this will agree with my grandmother, such is the irony of life that people like to see the worst in those they disagree with while missing the nuances that life brings. But, who am l to interrupt people when they are busy going on a tangent?
You see, when l was young, I recall that my grandmother told me that I was lazy. English speakers will say she wasn’t my grandmother, as she didn’t really give birth to my father, (her young sister did), but we are not English. So she is my grandmother. Was, anyway, as she recently decided to deprive us of her company and went to join her son, my father who she didn’t really give birth to, but her son nonetheless.
But, I digress. Back to my laziness.
We were in the fields, each one nendima yake, kushakura (note: some things really can’t translate to English, it’s such a poor language this). My sister, another that also decided to leave early (weep, weep), called out that she had found ipwa (a reed like seasonal plant that’s best described as sugarcane-lite) and wanted to offer me a piece. I shouted back ‘yakamenyewa?’ (has it been peeled already?)
This was when grandma decided to tell me that l was lazy. Of course she don’t just stand there and say, ‘Tinomuda, you are lazy’, no, she took off her shoe and threw it in my general direction while saying ‘simbe yo munhu!’ Luckily, this was long before processed foods had found their way into my path, so by the time the shoe arrived where l had been, l was yards away, making a fast retreat. As l was running, I heard grandma telling my sister not to give me that ipwa, because I didn’t deserve it. My sister happily complied.
Much later, I understood what she meant. You get given something, you say thank you. That is what normal people do. You don’t ask that the person should have gone an extra mile to make it easier for you to receive their generosity.
But, I also learnt that it was ingratitude to react the way I had. This, was the reason why grandma said my sister shouldn’t give me the ipwa after all. Because it is an insult to the giver. Because when one makes an effort to bring you something for your enjoyment, and you start nitpicking for fault or imperfections, you are just downright ungrateful.
I recalled this long forgotten episode while reading about the Warriors qualifying for AFCON 2019. Top of the group, only one narrow loss away from home, miles ahead of teams that used to scare us for fun, and what’s the dominant reaction? We have no midfield. The team is terrible. We won’t go past the first round in Egypt.
Hello!!! Earth calling! It is not a generation since we had to deal with the curse of that Ghanaian coach who said we would never qualify for these things even if we got a coach from the moon. We didn’t concede a goal in a match that our opponents had to win, a match in which they threw attack after attack at us to get a result. And we were rock solid. And instead of being proud of the lads who stood like pillars to soak it in and emerge victorious what do we do? We criticize.
Then it hit me. We have become a nation of mourners. No, not the mourning that comes with losing loved ones or the end of long term family relationships. Whingers. Mourners that whinge and whinge at everything because it has become our defining quality.
We needed to whinge, apparently. The cyclone devastated the country, and while the President was in the UAE, we could whinge about his absence. Then he came back, and we whinged about some sofas that not one person saw him sitting on. Then we whinged about a fake report about the cost of private jets between Harare and Bulawayo.
We didn’t whinge about the miserly donation of $100,000 from the USA, despite the fact that their sanctions make mobilization of relief money difficult. Instead, we whinged about the Chinese giving, and giving, then giving again until we no longer knew how much they gave. They want to colonize us, we whinged.
Then the shocker: out of the UAE came a plane with aid. The connection between that and the President’s trips suddenly seemed hard to deny. A good whinge had been taken away. An attempt to say this was a Red Crescent donation and nothing to do with the President failed to gain traction because, well, this wasn’t Iraqi Red Crescent but UAE Red Crescent. And the President has been to the UAE.
Then the Warriors went and stole a good whinge by qualifying. Why, knives were ready to excoriate Mnangagwa for their failure to qualify, and they went and spoiled the fun.
So, faced with these two calamities: aid coming from the countries that haven’t imposed sanctions and which were visited by the President plus the Warriors qualifying, a good whinge was needed, fast.
Then some fundis, schooled in soccer from watching el classico twice a year on TV, with no idea that back when we said ‘Never on a Sunday’, we were talking about Dynamos’s rock-solid defence led by Sunday Marimo, decided that there was something wrong with our win without conceding a goal. We had no midfield. Yes, and the whingeing started.
Clearly, whether it is something mundane like football or serious like natural disasters, we are just a people that whinge. There is no pleasing Zimbabweans, apparently. You are tempted to think that if a father called their son to say they had found a wife for him he will reply: ‘ane pamuviri here otherwise ngazvigare’.
There is a cure though. Ignore!
In as much as Sunday Marimo (Chidzambwa) should ignore these whingers, so too should the President. Yes, he said he wants to be a listening president, but there are limits to how patiently one should listen to noise. Yes, it helps to hear what people have to say, but if all they do is whinge about everything and anything then there comes a point when that much negativity starts to blunt one’s strength.
This country was rescued from the brink in 2017. The rescuers were given a fresh mandate in July 2018 on the basis of clear manifesto pledges based on specific deliverables. Instead of listening to noise, they should just plough ahead and deliver. Instead of getting sidetracked in ‘dialogue’ or ‘listening’ or other such pursuits, they should just push their agenda.
Not because dialogue or listening are bad per se. in fact they are not. But because there is so much ill-will and ingratitude that it’s not the right time. The dialogue they want is to have a conversation about elections they lost. The listening they want the President to do is to listen to just how shrilly they can whinge.
Too much is at stake to waste time on ingrates. Roads need building and tarring. Hospitals need to be staffed and stocked. Schools need to be supplied. Money needs to be in the banks, so that we can walk in and withdraw our money like other people do everywhere in the world. These things need attention.
The tragedy would be that in the process of listening, government pays attention to the myriads of jet-hire receipts we keep seeing and stops paying for useful trips. That would be wrong. My view is this: if there is wheat to be found in Belarus and the President needs to go shake some hands in Minsk, by all means he should. If there is oil to be had in Kazakhstan and the President needs to speak to Mr Nazarbayev, by all means he should cancel his event in Chivi and get to Kazakhstan.
The tragedy would be in Sunday Marimo changing his tactics because people might whinge. They always will. He can win the AFCON itself playing his ‘never-on-a-Sunday’ way and they will say ‘playing like this, we will never win the World Cup.’
Similarly, the tragedy would be to have the government change its agenda because people might whinge if the President travelled more. Or if he didn’t go to Chimanimani the moment the first drop of rain fell. Or if he don’t declare Tuku a hero the second he passed. Or if he coughed caving East and not West. Or if he continues to live. We can tar all the roads in the country and I bet our people will say ‘futi these are not spaghetti roads.’ We can get cash freely available and they will say ‘yaimbovepi?’ If the government today announced that every family that lost a home In Chimanimani will get a house built for them by the government, the dominant narrative will be that ‘Mnangagwa arranged for the cyclone to avoid Matabeleland because he does not like people from there.’
In my view, listening to this noise and attempting to reason with the ungrateful is pointless. The listening has been tried, it has clearly been wasted on ingrates. Government just needs to get on with it. The people will whinge, but that’s just par for the course. With only one saving fact: ‘the people’ who whinge are the vocal minority that stays on Social Media. My advise to the President is this: I would paraphrase what the Prophet Elisha said to his servant when the Syrians surrounded them: do not worry or be deterred by the noises, those who are with you are more than the ones making the noises. The elections in 2018 proved this, the elections in 2023 will again prove this.
Just soldier on and deliver, the lazy and the ungrateful will follow. We may be facing some challenges, but we shall conquer without a doubt.
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a Harare based lawyer and member of the ruling Zanu PF party