Dear Zimbabweans, hear me out. What if these are actually the ‘good old days’?

By Ranga Mberi

What if these are the good old days?

These days in which I see pensioners outside NSSA’s bank at dawn, having slept there all night, waiting for a few dollars’ worth of pension? These days where folks are losing jobs? Highly qualified young people, bursting with ideas for their country, are jobless, drugging their desperation away, just waiting for the first chance to leave? Yes. these same days? What if these are the better days?

The other day, I was playing Edwin Hama. He complained that “unemployment is doubling” and “prices and taxes have gone up again”. He said “it’s too hard to handle”. He screamed “ndasauka” (I am finished). ESAP had the man singing as if the sky was falling. And this is the early 1990s.

You know how we Zimbabweans like comparing problems? That whole annoying “my problems are worse than yours” thing that we do? Yes. How I wish I could travel back in time and annoy Edwin Hama like; “Eh, Bla Eddie, my brother, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” You sing: “the dollar is getting small, day by day every day”? Well Eddie, I would say to him, at least you still have your own currency. In my time, we use dollars from America to buy bread and bananas on the streets because we destroyed our own.

One day, some people will look back at these years of yours, Edwin, and tell you they miss the 1990s. I will tell you that there will be something called YouTube and, under your song singing about your nation’s “asila mali” troubles, the nostalgic ones will still write: “This was when Zimbabwe was still Zimbabwe.”

And as for you, Mr Thomas Mapfumo? Your whole nine-minute song whining about “corruption in the society”? I want to go back and say, “Mukanya, sit down, they haven’t really started”. This sort of corruption you sing about, Mukanya, I will say, at least now they pretend to be ashamed of it. One day, they will lose all shame. In the future, they won’t even hide it. They will steal and flaunt their bounty on something called Instagram. They will call this sort of theft entrepreneurship. They will shame anyone who doesn’t have it as lazy.

Whole government officials, in my time, Mukanya, will take public money and justify it in big-worded press statements. They will go to rallies and, while their victims bake in the sun, scream in defence of their privilege.

I will go find war veteran Solomon Skuza. That song of yours about the Justice Sandura Commission, the song JSCI, makes me laugh, Jah Solo.  “There will be no more buying and selling. They’re gonna fight, fight, fight, fight to end corruption,” you sing. El Oh El (that’s how we laugh out loud these days, Jah Solo)! You’re so funny! No, Jah Solo, they’re not “gonna fight, fight, fight to end corruption”. They will fight, fight, fight, to eat. One group will fight among itself to eat. Another group will wait outside, shouting, and baying for its turn to also eat.

As for your question, Jah Solo, in your other song Love and Scandals, “how can someone buy a car and sell it again”? Do you mean people merely buying Cressidas from a government supplier at a discounted price, and selling them at a profit, is a scandal in your time? Shocking. Amateur stuff. 

Jah Solo, this poor comrade in the news who killed himself because of guilt? The one who wrote the book Among The People? Yes, that comrade. He shouldn’t have bothered. What he did was a minor misdemeanour, in my time, Jah Solo. Entry-level corruption. I see your shock. I swear. You’re a war vet, Solo. In my time, the corrupt and vacuous will be called the hardworking patriots. The rest of us, including the likes of you, are just lazy people who hate their country.

Sorry, my guy Leonard Dembo. In the future, these greedy capitalist types that you sing about today in Chinyemu? Those ones who take from you the poor worker and give to the rich? They will no longer be the subject of ridicule in your song. They’ll be role models of how to do business.

I will also laugh at Simon Chimbetu, who, in the voice of a war vet, asks a party chef, “muitaure yehupfu hwevana vangu”. When you go to your big meetings, he pleads, please discuss the small matter of feeding my children. You are lucky, Cde. You mean here in 1997 when you’re singing this song, with all these strikes and currency troubles I see you’re now facing, it’s a thing to discuss the economy in Cabinet? These are good days, Chopper. In the future, the Cabinet will sit and discuss panties. Or, more accurately, the absence of them. Honest. Don’t laugh, Chopper! I kid thee not. Panties, cadre! They actually did that.

No, Majaivana wasn’t a prophet when he sang “leli lizwe kalila mali”. He wasn’t seeing in the future when he sang of displacement and marginalisation in Umoya Wami. Wavele wabona uMajee? Not really. He was singing about a crisis at the time. And yet, today, Majee would read the news from home and laugh at himself for having wailed about a broke nation in the 1980s. 

And then, after I’ve self-righteously lectured these legends to stop whining and appreciate how good they have it, someone from my own future will come and give me the same lecture. What if they say; you have it good? That, just like those that went before us, we too tell ourselves “it can’t get any worse”. And then we watch as it does.

Mapfumo’s corrupt are not only getting more corrupt; they’re getting more brazen and arrogant in their corruption. The people Solo sang about in JSCI don’t even pretend to investigate corruption anymore. For who?

Have I seen today’s paper? Yes Edwin, I have. And it’s worse than yours. And my greatest fear? The headlines will be worse tomorrow.

Maybe there’s nothing we can do about our fate. So, maybe I shall go back to the 90s, find a carefree township, dance to Paul Matavire’s Nhamo Yousavi– and simply refuse to ever come back to this future. 

After all, wasn’t it Matavire who sang “takura nayo (nhamo), tatindivara”? He knew we’d get numbed by pain. Worse, we would normalise it even.

Or maybe we must hope. And choose, amid all the despair, to treasure and savour all the good that’s around us right now, today. To make the most of our time with those around us. To create good memories today, for tomorrow.  

And wait. Just like Edwin Hama sang, “waiting for a new day, waiting for a new time, hoping for a new life, wishing better to come”.