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With Chin’ono in prison and Dzamara gone, I am tired of hearing ‘Zimbabweans are strong people’

By Tafi Mhaka

The reaction to Hopewell Chin’ono’s arrest and subsequent detention has become a significant indictment of how Zimbabweans have become miserably complicit in their continued deprivation, humiliation and dehumanisation by the Zanu-PF government.

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

With each and every personal and legal setback that Chin’ono has suffered, Zimbabweans have responded with a disturbingly familiar retort: be strong, Hopewell.

But nobody has held a march for Chin’ono in downtown Harare, Bulawayo or Mutare.

The people, unfortunately, willingly bear the agony of a repressed existence by only feigning extreme courage and moral indignation online and in closed quarters.

My daily interactions with friends and family bear witness to this entrenched despair.

When, for example, I inquire about how civil servants survive on $30 a month, I am told that Zimbabweans are a strong and resourceful lot: everyone is selling something to generate income and get by.

When I try to understand how patients who don’t have medical aid or access to large amounts of US dollars survive in hospitals without adequate medical resources, I am told people buy their own supplies.

They don’t actually demand to get medical services in state hospitals at a reasonably affordable fee.

And whenever I mention that it must be impossible to remain fairly sane and optimistic in such challenging conditions, I am told that Zimbabweans are smart and resilient people and they can withstand any potential challenge.

You just have to be strong, I am assured, and you will do relatively well in this economy.

But I have found this renowned toughness an incredibly perplexing strength, because I have always wondered why I should be strong.

Why should I be the one to suffer indescribable hardships and become a tough guy, when I could just be ordinary, hardworking and human?

Why should my countrymen and women suffer endless dilemmas, when they could have decent jobs, admirable savings and unrestricted to essential services?

Yet despite these pervasive trials and tribulations, the usual and mind-numbing exhortation emerges: Zimbabweans are such strong people.

But I am tired of acting strong and carrying this homegrown burden around. I am just tired of repeatedly testing and increasing the threshold of pain I have to endure simply because I am Zimbabwean.

I am tired of the wide smiles that hide the scars of economic and political terror, because I can’t remove the images of unbridled bliss that characterise the lives of Zimbabwe’s political elites.

Try as I may, I can’t forget about Grace Mugabe’s R45 million mansion in Johannesburg and her 16 commercial farms.

I just can’t.

Whatever I do, I can’t forget about the humongous houses, fancy cars and overwhelming wealth routinely flaunted by Zanu-PF elites in Johannesburg and Harare.

I just can’t.

So I refuse to be strong for Emmerson Mnangagwa, Constantino Chiwenga or Kembo Mohadi’s physical and financial wellbeing.

I refuse to finance wasteful fiascos and contribute to the perpetuation of extreme incompetence.

Yet am I the only person that has reached the point of human saturation with Zanu-PF’s repressive rule?

Am I the only person that is fed up with Zanu-PF’s stunning failures?

Indeed I would rather be angry today, than proudly strong and submissive.

Contrary to what many have said after his court appearances in leg chains, I believe Chin’ono should be angry, not strong.

Contrary to what many believe after countless human rights violations perpetrated against him, Chin’ono should certainly be very angry, not very strong

To that end, with everything that has happened, Zimbabweans definitely have every right to be angry with the government.

On Tuesday, for instance, Patson Dzamara lost his battle with colon cancer.

Despite the late civil rights activist needing urgent medical help, Dzamara had to beg for money, as essential state health services have been run into the ground by an outstandingly inept government.

This is not right at all.

But this is the shocking state of our beloved Zimbabwe.

Yet each time people like myself agitate for nonviolent demonstrations in support of democratic reforms, we are told to hold the demonstrations by ourselves.

We are ridiculed, laughed at and dismissed as irrational.

Not by the government, but by the very people that want, need and deserve to enjoy political and economic change.

Yet every unjust beating, imprisonment and death demonstrates an immediate need to unleash our combined anguish.

To be sure, as Zimbabweans, we can choose to remain ‘strong’ for the sake of the political elites’ comfort and fancy lives.

Or stand up for our constitutional rights and demand change.

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