The Chris Kabwato Column: Of land evictions and the betrayal of the people’s songs

"Soon we'll find out who is the real revolutionary..." Bob Marly in Zimbabwe, 1980

The past week has been traumatic enough across Zimbabwe, even if one was not the direct victim of the evictions and demolition of houses by our revolutionary government. The sight of a grader smashing into a house built with blood and sweat was disheartening. The wails and pleas of the affected families went straight to the heart like some okapi strike.

Whilst some saw in this some vindication of their opposition politics – a kind of schadenfreude moment – others sought to give lectures on the importance of title or lease agreements for any allocated land.

Franz Kafka in the corridors of Kaguvi Building

One of my favourite writers is the Hungarian Franz Kafka. His novel The Trial starts with an interesting line: “Somebody must have made a false accusation against Joseph K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong.” Throughout the novel, Joseph K. never finds out what wrong he did. But he pays the ultimate price with his life after going through absurd trials by secretive and obscure officials.

As houses tumbled and compounds were razed to the ground, there remained the unanswered question: why was this government committing this atrocity against its own people? Who had given this ‘operation’ the green light? Whilst someone tried to postulate that the leader of government had no clue this was happening, the silence from the usual 10-dollar-a-day hyenas was telling. It surely could not be that all of a sudden Mr Government had woken up from some slumber and realised that illegalities had been committed in allocating land and that the solution was simple: demolition.

The grievance in the song

Some people love to dance, and some people don’t. Some people love to read books, and some people don’t. However, we have a consensus when it comes to music. It is the character Lorenzo in William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice who captures the essence of music:

“The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
Let no such man be trusted.”

The power of songs in expressing mood and in mobilising a people is captured in two books that appeared some two years into our independence – Alec Pongweni’s Songs that Won the Liberation War and Julie Frederikse’s None But Ourselves (the title being an echo of a line in Bob Marley’s Redemption Song). These two authors collected and wrote down the music and experiences of Zimbabweans as they came out of the war. Their work reflected the pain, suffering, perseverance, and ultimate triumph of a people. At the heart of what they captured were grievances such as land and dignity that compelled our youths to cross the borders of Zimbabwe to join the liberation armies.

As the young people return from the war, temporarily housed in the “assembly points” before their demobilisation, you can feel the euphoria, the expectant hope – the sense of an arrival of sorts. Despite the machinations of the Rhodesians, a landslide electoral victory delivers a victory for the comrades, and the people – so we thought.

The betrayal of the song

In a recent CNN interview that went viral, reggae artist Ziggy Marley was asked about his most memorable moment with his late father. He recalled his trip to Zimbabwe with Bob Marley and how former guerillas recounted to them how Marley’s music had motivated them during the war.

It is good that Ziggy holds that fond memory. Please do not let him know that we have finally found out the mercenaries who his dad sang about in the song Zimbabwe:

To divide and rule could only tear us apart
In every man chest, there beats a heart
So soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionaries
. And I don’t want my people to be tricked by mercenaries…”

The hijacking of people’s dreams has meant that our triumph in 1980 was an illusion just like that pool of water you see on the tarred road on a sweltering day which disappears as you inch closer. At one of his mass rallies in Ouagadougou, the late Burkinabe leader Captain Thomas Sankara asked a rhetorical question: Who are the enemies of the people? Well, in Zimbabwe, political power and wealth have become inextricably linked – looters in the corridors of Kaguvi and Mkwati buildings know very well that they have to sustain their chokehold on power at all costs. The code of conduct sung in Nzira DzeMasoja during the war has been conveniently set aside.

As the pigs battle it out at the feeding trough, we totter in the dark where policy coherence is an anathema. Nothing is ever certain. Things can change at any given time with these masters of plunder and brutal clampdowns. Arrogance personified and with a propensity to dishing out threats of “unpalatable consequences” to those that ask annoying questions, you would think they created the heavens and the earth. Someone might as well release a song called The Revolution That Lost Its Way (with apologies to historian Andre Astrow).