By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
Friday 22 January was a bleak day. The day when you tried to avoid the news or social media including Whatsapp feeds because each time you did, someone had died. Or been diagnosed with Covid-19. Simon Chimbetu’s “Shura regore riya” played on the edges of your consciousness, your voice unable to form words because you feared that if you did, in but a week’s time your relatives will be gathered around a fire saying “he knew he was going, only the other day he just started singing shura regore riya”.
Hiding from these morbid thoughts, one took to reading. It was in this process that I discovered an author I want to follow and really get to know, with the hope that if we survive this, one day I might write the epic Zimbabwe novel, which will still be but a pale shadow of his work. His name is Aberjani, a black American. It was upon meeting something he said in “The River of Winged Dreams” that may decision was made:
“In the days when hyenas of hate suckle the babes of men, and jackals of hypocrisy pimp their mothers’ broken hearts, may children not look to demons of ignorance for hope.”
With each death of a prominent person, we saw how polarised by hate this nation has become. While people celebrated deaths like some ghoulish minions at a grave desecration ceremony, their leaders offered no rebuke, only silence; their calculation perhaps being that speaking might force them to ask the question we all have:
“since US sanctions ban American companies from doing business with Zimbabwe and Pfizer is an American company, will we be able to access their vaccine on the open market or pay extortionate prices through the use of middlemen?” Perhaps they forget the saying that in the end, voters will remember not the words of their enemies, but the silence of their friends.
Some among us even created a hitlist, and phrased it in the form of a prayer to Covid-19: “Dear coronavirus, please pass through and take these…”
We have come to that, as a nation. It is truly sad.
It prompted some people to wonder what has happened to our so-called “chivanhu/ubuntu”. That we had lost all essence of the value of a human life to the extent that we could consider its passing a cause for celebration. They asked that people consider that the virus was not selective, that one could be celebrating today and tomorrow be its victim.
It was a plea that seemed to have merit, or so it seemed to some. Yet others dismissed it out of hand. Where was ubuntu when people were being killed in 2008, someone asked, seemingly oblivious to the differences between criminal acts and a random virus that scythes across populations “indiscriminately and without technique,” like the great Mzwake Mbuli once said.
And we were shocked to discover that among those dismissing this ubuntu based plea were some of the leading opinion makers in our nation, including a leading composition write whose column’s initials have been bastardised on social media to refer to bull manure. It was said. Let them celebrate, he said.
Infused into this shameless celebration of death is the shameless theft of hope through irresponsible conspiracy theories. While the world pins its hopes on a vaccine to deal with the pandemic, spreading like wildfire on Zimbabwean social media is the claim that the vaccine is white people’s ploy to eliminate all black people. To accompany this ridiculous conspiracy theory, the packaging for a particular drug is circulated. This drug is not the coronavirus vaccine, but the purveyors of this conspiracy will never allow the facts to get in the way of a good yarn.
On this packaging are pricing relevant geographical restrictions for its use, and that is seized upon to “prove” that the drug is meant only for Africans – lazy thinking prevents those buying this conspiracy from acknowledging that there are in fact millions of white people in Africa. Will they take the vaccine and not die? Or are the white people out to get us so callous they will eliminate their distant cousins just to get us?
And, if white people really want to kill us, would they have gone to the trouble of inventing a virus that has decimated their own populations and killed only a fraction of us, just so that they manufacture a vaccine to kill us? Seems too roundabout, does it not? Much quicker to use just about everything else we use, from conforms to the measles vaccine, 5G to perfume, than this elaborate method, no?
Community leaders are some of those peddling the conspiracy. Some “prophets,” those among us that have become rich due to the willing ignorance of our fellow citizens, are on the forefront of those claiming that the vaccine must not be taken. Of course, they do not tell their congregants that they have ventilators in their homes because they can’t rely on divine hope for their own families and will be first in line to get said vaccine. It was a clergyman who once said
Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
To cap it all, we have healers or those trusted with healing, predicting (or causing?) deaths of prominent people days in advance, to the extent of creating followers whose sole purpose if to receive, and convey, news of deaths before even families of the bereaved are informed. In this manner, the death of national hero JB Matiza was announced on Twitter two days before it happened.
When the reaction by the authorities is understandably perturbed, those who have wronged their professional ethics and several sections of the criminal code hide behind human rights and freedoms. Freedom of expression, we are told. Really? It was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel who wrote:
“The definition of the freedom of [expression]as freedom to say and write what one pleases, is parallel to the one of freedom in general, viz., as freedom to do what one pleases. Such a view belongs to the uneducated crudity and superficiality of naïve thinking.”
In the days when the ignorant write bull manure every Saturday to inspire and sow hate and division, we build a nation of the ignorant and the shortsighted. In the days when the greedy but literate can pick up a bible and start prophesying, we create a nation of zombified believers who have cast off their free will and will willingly walk to the slaughter.
The world is full of stories of people that followed cult leaders to their deaths, believing themselves to have found a truth. These people cut themselves from their families. They abandoned their sense of self. They abandoned their free will, and gave themselves over to a chorus that saw nothing but that which their leader wanted them to see.
There is no shortage of leaders in our nation. In politics, in religion, and even in pseudo-academic writing that sees nothing wrong in anything and everything that its side does. Politicians that repeat a lie so many times that it becomes truth: remember the 2,6 million votes claim? Religious leaders that weave an intricate web of lies so thick that those caught in it can only say “papa”.
Opinion writing that inspires people to find no fault in the ghoulish celebration of deaths because an activist on their side was allegedly abducted. Healing that forgets professional ethics and seems to not just celebrate deaths, but appears to suggest that it is inspired by an active process of helping the now dead along their way.
If we do not rediscover our chivanhu/ubuntu, we might find that there will really be no point in surviving this pandemic. For why must we survive? So that what, exactly? We cannot hope that this current hate filled divide is going to magically end on its own, so we must surely want it to continue, right?. Only no-one is asking the question: if it continues, then what?
You know what? Perhaps we shouldn’t take the vaccine after all. Maybe those who inherit this land will make a better home of it than we have. Friday 22 January 2021 made clear to me that not only are we a nation divided, we are a broken nation. And a disgrace.
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