By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
When I started my social work training at the UZ of Sheffield, the lecturers decided that in our first week, we would be put into groups and assigned two novels per group, to read and then discuss.
In my group, we were assigned Lionel Shriver’s ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ and, as luck would have it, our very own No’Violet Bulawayo’s ‘We Need New Names’. (Spoiler Alert: there are no spoilers in this article, please buy the books and read.)
UZ of Sheffield. That is Zimbabwe speak at its eponymous best. Not sure ‘eponymous’ fits but that’s just the point: we are the country where you can walk into a shop, point at a stack of ‘Close-up’ toothpaste and say: ko nhaimwi, Colgate iyo imarii? Or, this being Christmas, you can be sent kumagirosa to buy ‘Coke’ and you must ask ‘which ones’, and be prepared to get an answer like ‘Fanta and Cream Soda’.
So, university is UZ, much like it wasn’t odd in 1986 or thereabouts when Samora Machel died and one person asked my friend Sikhumbuzo Ncube (RIP) and I: ‘ndianizve wavuraya Mugabe weMozambique?’
Not that we invented this thing: must have started with Cecil John Rhodes’s thieves: (the Meikle brothers stole hundreds of thousands of Lobengula’s cattle and their family remains one of the richest in Zimbabwe today as a result) when they came all those many years ago.
Though to be fair, unlike us, their gymnastics with names had a touch of laziness and a whole lot of indifferent racism involved. Take for example a place they and their Portuguese cousins called ‘Espungabeira’. What was so wrong with just saying ‘Chipungabere’? And why take a nice place called ‘Bere-ingwe’ and call it ‘Belingwe’? Who does that?
But, we have carried on the same tradition. It is partly due to a desire to look and sound learned I guess, an affliction that thankfully passed many of us by, the kind of nonsense that makes certain politicians I shall not name (because they aren’t Chamisa, and after him, there really isn’t anyone in his side worth the effort to make fun of by name or arrest for treason) speak funny. Funny like a lizard is wriggling in their mouths and they are trying to make sure it doesn’t escape as they talk.
One certain Sheffield based old people’s home care-assistant turned ‘Presidential Spokesperson’ even manages to talk like the words are coming out of his nose, and you have to strain to hear him say ‘POLAD is a talk show, it is a grouping of nonentities’.
I don’t know about you, but any meeting that includes a President of a whole country and someone who holds a ‘supper first class’ law degree and PhD from Cambridge cannot be called that. Certainly not by someone that earned their bread polishing the behinds of some foreigners before their friend from student politics plucked them from near the UZ of Sheffield to deploy their nose on our ears. Anyway, we digress.
As this year draws to a close, we remain true to our hue. People will take to social media to vent out their frustrations at being not powerful enough to pull a ‘Constantine’ (apparently that means putting your own father in law in jail: now, that, is power!) and confine themselves to calling anyone who doesn’t agree with them an ‘enabler’. It has caught fire, this term.
So, if I dare call a petulant short little bishop ‘Mukomana wema jiggies’, I am an ‘enabler’. If I dare call out Jonathan Moyo’s nonsense manuscript ‘a tissue of lies’ then I am an ‘enabler’. If I call out a short, fat little hedgehog like troll who goes around rigging elections for a fee and boasting that he went to Harvard (him and several thousands of dollars stolen from a certain NGO owned by someone who got rich by ruining a country’s economy through speculation) then I am, you guessed it, an ‘enabler’. It is never started what one enables, of course.
There was an attempt at the beginning of the year to call certain people ‘pfeerorists’ but that word simple failed to grow legs. Calling the same people ‘varakashi’ has also stalled, some say likely because it does sound complimentary to a point.
So I guess ‘enabler’ is taking its turn, and will be tossed away in 2020 for something new. Me? I think ‘varakashi’ stalled because those that are meant to deploy it found that it didn’t quite flow from their noses as they tried to keep the lizard in their mouths from escaping.
So, as 2019 draws to a close, and we welcome a new year (and Elisheva Chipochashe Xikhongelo, of course!), we look forward to more ‘2030 ndinenge ndichipo’ moments and less of ‘we are the party of change, we are the change that delivers’.
Because, you see, there is one thing my brother forgets to remember: we Zimbabweans have set meanings for certain words. Just as ‘UZ’ doesn’t mean an institution in Harare but any university, just as ‘Coke’ means any soda, and just as ‘Colgate’ means any toothpaste, in Zimbabwe ‘Change’ means, well, change. As in, chenji.
When you go to the shops to buy the Colgate that is not quite Colgate, or the Coke that is Fanta or Spar Letta, you are always asked if you got any ‘chenji’. I suspect that the majority of all registered voters once had their ‘chenji’ written at the top right hand corner of a bus ticket. Don’t know what I mean? That’s precisely why ‘the change that delivers’ doesn’t quite fly: there is more people that associate change with the one on that top right hand corner of a ticket than the eloquent pastor intends.
Do we need new words, new names? No’Violet Bulawayo suggested that we do. Do we need to talk about Kevin? Perhaps not. But we do need to talk about Zimbabwe. The politicians are doing at POLAD. It may or may not be ‘the only game in town’ as Obert Gutu claims, but it is not a gathering of nonentities either.
Me? With a once a year bowl of maFat-Cook and chingwa chine ‘Sun Jam’ (which may or may not in fact be that brand), I just think we all need a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Chete. 2020 tinenge tichipo.
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a qualified lawyer and social worker, living in Harare where he practices as an Advocate. He is a member of the ruling Zanu PF. Follow him on @TinoChinyoka