The Chris Kabwato Column | Of Mbuya vaHector, Vene and the Ministry of Pain

In 2016, two women temporarily took centre stage in national conversations. One was Mbuya vaHector, who called into ZiFM and stated her situation simply: aged 62, no savings, no pension. Her voice. Her clarity. She captured the imagination of those who wanted a different reality for our people.

The other woman was Gogo Shumba. Photographs of her being assaulted by baton-wielding riot police went viral. We were outraged. We saw in her our own mothers. We have always believed that beating up your mother is taboo. You invite misfortune. You go mad.

But here we were in the land of a regime drunk with power – training their guns on unarmed people because there is no right to protest hunger, unemployment and theft of state coffers. Thugs own the state. Thugs own the government. Thugs own the country.

The Ministry of Pain

My editor frequently muses that there is a dedicated team in the government of Zimbabwe that sits weekly and ponders on what measures to introduce to inflict pain on our people. They are a sadistic bunch. Pauperising a people. Terrorising a people. And then howling with laughter and taunting us on social media.

On one hand, it is that uncouth senior civil servant making it out like the poverty of our people is self-inflicted. Afterall, he is the hardworking man that felt he could help himself to public funds from some medical insurance scheme. On the other hand, it could be his principal dishing out United States dollars (not ZIGs) to an old man who has humiliated himself dancing like a clown in the presence of the owners of the country.

Harare’s Sir Teletubby

Then there is the inimitable act of the self-knighted man of Harare, the Sir of all Sirs. The past few months have been surreal in the teapot-shaped terra firma. Dozens of artists and party zealots had hoped that a message from Sir Namedropper would arrive via X announcing the magical words:

“Go and see Victor and collect your…” A Mercedes? A GD6? Or a humble, but welcome, Aqua.

For some, the message never came despite the well-articulated video posts: “My name is Believe Mwanawevhu. Mukoma, I have a small request. In 2017 I lost my music instruments in a car accident. I have a band of 17 people. If you could assist us with a vehicle to enable the group play shows in the rural areas and growth points, we would be most thankful. I don’t have many words. All I can say is that we are here to lift the spirits of our people. I appreciate the work you are doing, Mukoma. Ndapedza hangu.”

For those watching from the sidelines, it was a sick show. Theatre of the Absurd. The pleas reflected how far we have fallen as a people. Stripped of our dignity, we were grovelling on the ground begging pigs linked to the Vene trough. We were saying all doors are closed. Nothing works here. Only a connection to those with fingers in the cookie jar could rescue us.

But these are not nice people.

Dambudzo Marechera: When a country becomes a toilet

The politicians and the unproductive, uncreative dunderheads have turned the country into the metaphor Dambudzo Marechera wrote about in his play The Toilet. The country is the toilet. The power grabbers and their acolytes have lined up by the door waiting for their chance to dump their dung on us.

You can never accuse the post-2017 class of being subtle about their looting. It is open season, and they flaunt the fruits of their heists. After all, if you know that the robbery is protected. No one is coming to pick up fingerprints. No docket will be opened.

Seated in some office, sharing a Glenfarclas 25-year-old whisky, they laugh at the naivete of that leader south of our border who allows for a free and fair vote and then calls the enemy inside the tent to divvy up power. Scandalous! We did not die in the bush to give up power.

Marechera reading in First Street Mall, Harare, during the International Book Fair Harare in August 1983. (© Tessa Colvin)
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The Artful Dodger: disguised corruption under the Zvimba Man

In the early days of the reign of the Man from Zvimba, we said of every whiff of scandal: “He does not know anything. It’s the bad people around him.” We said this when that first Minister of Labour and Social Welfare partnered with some businessperson and drought relief trucks disappeared between departure point and destination. Marechera articulates this well in his poem, Oracle of the Povo.

In just three years into our independence, Marechera could see that something had shifted. The Wabenzi Tribe had started the scramble for the state resources. But for many of us, the honeymoon had been prolonged as if the euphoria of Independence was bottled in every Cola Cane or Castle we opened. Maybe, it was that Oxonian accent of the Dear Leader that still had us in awe. I, for one, certainly looked forward to him delivering a eulogy for a fallen comrade at the Heroes Acre. I was mesmerised by his ability to weave a story as he deployed his full arsenal of rhetorical devices – gestures, pauses, pitch. A speech could be like a three-act drama with a set-up, a confrontation and a resolution. But whilst I was still hallucinating about the “new” Zimbabwe, Dambudzo the poet was already screaming in 1984:

Her vision’s scrubland
Of out-of-work heroes
Who yesterday a country won
And today poverty tasted

The antiliteracy campaign

In 2024, it would be a waste to write a poem. This gang that has come in, refreshingly redefines anti-literacy. Their crassness and crudity are no longer jarring. They do not seem to have ever drunk the milk of civility. Back in the 80s when the Zimbabwe International Book Fair was a real book fair, you could have Eddison Zvobgo tussle with Marechera over poetry and meaning. After all, Zvobgo himself had written poetry whilst in Comrade Ian Smith’s jails (Salisbury Prison and Sikombela restriction camp). I do not know if Sir Maybach has ever read a book. I won’t ask about his handlers. The evidence is clear.

These are not nice people.

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