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Tafi Mhaka: Letter from Joburg: Zanu-PF must leave me alone

By Tafi Mhaka

After all the sacrifices I have endured to create a decent life for my family and after all the shame, humiliation and fear I have experienced over the years, largely because of Zanu-PF and mostly because I am a Zimbabwean who lives in Johannesburg, I would be crazy to join the ruling party or vote for it in the 2023 general and presidential elections.

Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka

I missed my paternal grandmother and niece’s funerals in the late 2000s, as I couldn’t afford to travel back home. I have in fact missed a whole lot of funerals and subsequently suffered from strange deathly symptoms. The tears have come to dry, depressingly, right to the point where I actually began to yearn for physical and emotional pain.

Guilty about my constantly tearless, distant and soundless aching, I have regularly found myself trapped in an emotional vacuum, struggling to relive life’s special, indelible moments, wondering whether I have changed as a person, or as a Zimbabwean.

I have tried to work through my decisions and justify the choices I have made in life, always conscious of the adjustments I have made to found a home in exile, always alive to the immense intangibles and rewards I have lost and gained.  

I moved to Johannesburg uncertain about how the Zanu-PF-led government would resolve Zimbabwe’s mounting economic and political challenges. After the violent 2000 and 2002 elections, cries of Sokwanele / Zvakwana had bellowed from Beitbridge to Manica Border Post, but Zanu-PF turned a blind eye to the country’s rapid demise, choosing instead to maintain a fallacious grip on power.  

The economy had virtually ground to a halt, prices of basic goods didn’t hold for a day and the only monies that mattered happened to be found in Johannesburg, London and New York. Confident that Zanu-PF would drag the country to war before it instituted political reforms, governed effectively or conceded power, I disregarded warnings about violent crime and xenophobia in Johannesburg, said goodbye to my family and hit the road.

I figured that if I were hacked to death by a xenophobic mob, or shot in a hijacking attempt or home invasion in Johannesburg, it would be no different to dying at the hands of angry, violent Zanu-PF youths and war veterans. Whatever came my way, I had decided, it would be no less an undignified end.

Life wasn’t easy, to be honest. Most job interviews that I attended were often prefaced with a tasteless joke about Zimbabwe’s chaotic economy and politics, Zanu-PF failures. Opening a bank account, applying for vehicle finance or a mortgage wasn’t as straightforward as it should be, not for foreigners.

It took a while, but it all came together. I survived the 2008 xenophobia attacks, but admit to feeling extremely vulnerable and speculating about bleeding to death after an attack by a panga-wielding mob. I imagined how my death would be reported, and hoped everyone left behind wouldn’t be hurt so much. I hoped dying, simply because I am a Zimbabwean, would be quick, and prayed it would be fairly painless.

Then, the priest at the local Anglican Church said a prayer for us, and that felt good. Attending church on Sundays felt warm, reassuring and familiar. I cherished the repressed memories invoked through time-old prayers, and appreciated the love all gave. Although it didn’t replicate home, or fully mimic that exuberant emotion a bright sunny day in Zimbabwe could extend, going to church reminded me of home.  

But the glory’s faded, as Zanu-PF hasn’t figured things out. Of all the ugly tribulations I could tabulate all day long, the public health sector has collapsed, corruption is rampant and machete gangs are terrorising mining communities. So while South Africa is a violent and relatively prosperous country, Zimbabwe is similarly somewhat violent and bankrupt.

It’s a miserable indictment on Zanu-PF’s dismal performance, yet the ruling party remains stronger than ever. It reportedly hopes to register 5 million registered voters before the 2023 elections, and has embarked on a mass recruitment drive in Johannesburg. I am surprised by Zanu-PF’s determination to recruit me: isn’t it obvious why I left Harare in the first place?

I left out of palpable frustration and an insatiable desire for normality flattened by Zanu-PF’s strong-willed misrule. I left when Zanu-PF simply wouldn’t allow the MDC to recruit new members publicly meetings and organise rallies. I departed after the presidential election had been rigged in plain view of the world. Indeed, I left because Zanu-PF elites had monopolised wealth for themselves and cared much less about building a nation that stands tall in Africa.

So I am at a loss to understand that 5 million voters might expect Zanu-PF to turn things around after the 2023 elections. They should visit the multimillion-rand mansions Zanu-PF elites have bought in Johannesburg, or attempt to dine at the restaurants and bars cabinet ministers love to frequent here and spend supposedly hard-earned salaries. They should really understand that the expanding gulf between Zanu-PF elites and ordinary Zimbabweans is plainly indefensible and it appears increasingly irreversible.

I have lost faith in my country and no longer believe substantial political change is a possibility in my lifetime. Although I do hope the MDC Alliance can also mobilise 5 million registered voters and give Zanu-PF a run for its money in 2023.

Still, with every passing year, it’s becoming evidently clear that Zimbabwe is developing into a typically fairly poor country run by wealthy political and economic elites. I won’t in fact make plans to return Zimbabwe. I am afraid to return home to poverty.

Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka

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