A closely knit society, where we all shared the little we had:
Some say it will never rain but pour. It hurts much when we see our society being torn apart due to artificial differences. In a small community in Zimbabwe villagers lived cheek-to-jowl with each other, that is before the external forces ‘invented’ some differences and imaginations for political expediency. It was a society that lived in harmony. It was indeed a closely knit community; a community where everyone could borrow salt from the neighbour. This then means that, the social relations were quite sound. However, with the passage of the sands of time, events turned topsy- turvey. Events followed one another with great speed, especially after the consciousness and preaching of the gospel of nationalism, patriotism, ZANUism and all other isms.
For it is these ‘isms’ that have brought suffering to this small community. It is June 2008 and Zimbabwe is poised for another major nationwide election. Fear has gripped this small village. The villagers now hate all politicians. Politicians came and started preaching the gospel of diversity amongst a closely knit community. Some even promised delivering the suffering villagers to the biblical Promised Land. However to my utter surprise the community still wakes up to this day to realise that the proverbial Promised Land is indeed an illusory nightmare not even a dream.
They came with posh cars, promised us heaven on Earth and the next day we woke up to see our village still in ‘hell’. They drank Mineral (bottled water) and Orange juice, we staged a high table for them, and women spread some cloths for the politicians to step on. This was indeed a red-carpet given to people who later divided us, pitying brother against brother. Shame on Us. Nyanga district has always been a harmonious place to live. Villagers were socialized to live up to the standards of brotherhood and unity, through the cordial community cohesion. One cannot imagine that, this was a society were villagers could share oxen (cattle) to plough the fields of one’s neighbour.
I also grew up in this society, and I also grew accustomed to the love, care, unity, togetherness that was pervasive in our society. I am also reminded of the sayings that goes, “An Injury to ONE is an injury to all”. This is perhaps the vocabulary that inspired us and even several other villagers to live in peace and harmony with each other. It was a small community, were one was taught that, No man is an Island. This by no means meant that, ‘every child was everyone’s child’. The biblical teachings and the Christian principles taught the society to love one another. I was really touched by this sense of ‘oneness’ that is despite the high levels of poverty in our community. The community members still loved one another.
One old woman used to tell me that you cannot be poor to reach an extent that you will not have anything to give at all. These words kept on ringing at the back of my mind. Each and every day, I witnessed the poor villagers giving each other seedlings in the gardens, match sticks to light fire in their huts, small parcels of sugar in khaki cover packets. Men also drank the home-made beer from the same gourd without any slightest fear of being poisoned. They all contributed in various ways in preparing the home-brewed beer popularly known as ‘7 Days’, meaning to say the beer fermented and was ready for drinking within a seven day period. Each time one of the community member fell ill, the whole community would collectively assist in various ways. Some could bring firewood or a bucket of water. This was all done in all earnest, out of true love, kindness and compassion. Every time I saw these poor villagers giving the little love they had, I said to myself what was a closely knit society we live in.
A society where we were taught that what belongs to one belongs to all. This was in clear contrast to individualism as espoused by some so called developed communities. In our community ‘collectivism’ was the buzzword in every sphere of our lives. This was an essential value of ‘humanism’ a concept that has been explained by many as “Ubuntu” meaning oneness and people’s loveliness. Collectively people would till their land and harvest their crops collectively, they would go hunting and fishing together. They even farmed in the same garden that was established by NGOs like the German Agro Action. This garden was a form of collectivization programme, were people shared and exchanged ideas, not only socially but also economically and religiously. It is a society in which I grew up loving everyone, and I guess everyone did the same. We knew the names of our friends, peers, colleagues and relatives. Every day we met either at school, dip tank, shops, bore hole, well and in our gardens. Like in most societies as reflected in the Former Yugoslavia, politicians started preaching hate language and they also embarked on mindless political propaganda on concepts such as state, nationalism, patriotism etc. The same also happened in Rwanda, the community became torn apart with some naming fellow community members ‘cockroaches’.
Our community was also not immune to such fictionalized and imaginary differences. As I write I still passionately feel grieved and touched over the sad erosion of cordial community relations, peace and tranquility that characterized our community. The encroachment of hate language and speech and the triumphant of evil have since become our daily realities. As politicians went ahead preaching the discourse of political diversity, brother turned against brother as can be reflected back in the biblical case of Cain and Abel. The elders were also not left out, fellow youth slaughtered animals belonging to their neighbours, stole, beat and harassed innocent civilians due to the mere politics of belonging. It was an era of bases which were popularly known as ‘pungwes or Command Centres’. At such gatherings the poor, frail and elderly women were made to spent the whole night awake singing and ululating whilst the war veterans and green bombers (youth brigades) were busy beating the so-called ‘sell-outs’ loosely named as ‘vatengesi’ in Shona. Literally meaning people who had abandoned the liberation war values, doctrines and ideologies as espoused by the so called revolutionary ZANU PF party. As if not enough the comrades at the bases forced the villagers to sing ‘Gandanga Haridye Derere Mukoma’. This meant that the war veterans could not eat vegetables as relish as they preferred meat. Such discourse through the song narrative re-kindled the profound and sad memories of the liberation struggle. By so doing the helpless villagers contributed the chicken and goats they had in fear of a replay or rendition of violence that had visited them during the dark days during the war of liberation.
Houses were torched to ashes. Community relations became sour, scientific political labels seemed to have been triumphant in our lives. We all forgot that political parties are only but mere scientific labels. We also forgot that belonging to a political party is just equal to an act of belonging to a different soccer club. Violence was meted on innocent civilians, and the very same violence visited our communities in savage proportions, leaving a trail of despair, fear, solitude, disillusionment, hatred and anger. It was a society torn apart indeed.
Politicians went on fermenting these conflicts whilst hiding under the veil of ‘political madness’. All these justifications made peace a treasure hunt in our community. Peace became illusory to many innocent vulnerable civilians. Everyone became a victim of this moment of madness, we all lost our nobility of character .Virtue was traded by vice. As of now I still look back to that closely knit community. I even spent sleepless nights thinking about the future of my community. More painfully I fail to have the courage to greet all our neighbours who have wronged us. In the same vein, I still pray to God to give me the courage to one day stand in front of my neighbours and look each other straight in the eye. My mother used to buy clothes, shoes, kitchen utensils from town and give the underprivileged but she has since stopped.
Relations in our communities are now at the lowest ebb, and they are also now very cold and frozen. We all wish to turn back the clock of time. All the same nobody has emerged a winner in all this madness. But we have all become losers, we are unable to circle and freely associate as fellow community members. We can’t release our attachments; these are the emotional attachments that are drowning our inner self. The writing is on the walls for everyone to see, it will take many years to wipe out the imprinted etches of violence and hatred that is deeply embedded in our community as I speak. To make matters worse the community also lost an 86 year old peace loving grandfather Mr Rwisai Nyakauru due to political violence that was unleashed on him subsequently leading to his sorrowful untimely death.
As of now all the accustomed night dances, the cordial sharing and giving its now only but a thing of the past. It will certainly take time to see smoke rising again in the chimneys of our neighbours, for we no longer come close to each other. Deep wounds continue to fester our hearts, the poison of past hatred continue to haunt the present and the future. As I write my tears ooze uncontrollably, for forgiving and forgetting seems a distant pipe dream. But I seek solace in the fact that GOD teaches us to forgive, turning the other cheek. We all know that an eye for eye will make this world blind and an ear for an ear will make this world deaf. The character of innocent civilians was soiled; pride of women has been trampled upon. It is doubtful whether these women will move from being victims into being survivors of rape. It is also very difficult to regain their pride and it is even more painful to reflect daily on the agony and violence they have gone through. All these psychological wounds have left scars in us. The wounds have never healed. It will be difficult to pretend as if nothing has ever happened. Are we able to preach and live to the ‘politics of never again’.
However as of now I still value the courage and humility of Evelyn who happens to be my mother. She has since stretched her reconciliation hand, she has always said, “The door is always open, let’s forgive and forget”. However, without first of all healing the victims and the families of the victims I tend to prove my mother wrong. Reconciliation without transitional justice will never see the light of the day in our community. For our case is a case of a community torn apart. In a community were remorse is still a distant pipe dream, healing will always remain illusory and far-fetched.
We still carry that pain, it is part and parcel of our everyday lives. All the same our worlds are not that very much apart, that we cannot bridge them. If we all read from John Locke’s postulation that, “Law of reason teaches us that no one ought to harm another in his/her life ,in health ,liberty, life or in possessions”. If we all learn this, we will build confidence and drink from the same well using the same gourd without any suspicion of being poisoned. I can hardly find the right words, but mere words alone without deeds will not be enough. I end this episode with some drops of tears flooding my eyes, I should end now, I am unable to go ahead. But I wonder if we are going to reach out to our neighbours, drink tea together under the tree, visit each other and still preach the gospel of ‘collectivism’, love and compassion. Are we able to stretch our hands again to give not a lifeless but a lively handshake? ARE we able to afford to smile to them not a plastic smile but a genuine warm smile and are they able to return back our smiles????? Are we able to live in peace without fearing the knock on our doors after dusk. Do we have the extra-ordinary will power to forgive and live with those who wronged us all under the banner of politics. How many will come out openly like how Eugene De Kock did in a must read book by Pumla Gobodo Madikizela entitled ‘A Human Being Died That Night’. De Kock referring to the victims’ survivors he said, ‘I wish I could do much more than say I am sorry, I wish there was a way of bringing their bodies back alive. I wish I could say, ‘here are your husbands…., but unfortunately I have to live with it’.
It is my deepest wish that many will also come forward and account for their evil deeds and ask for forgiveness. One day amongst the days in our lives can we cross the ‘RIVER BETWEEN’…? Can we IMAGINE A WORLD …….where there is no country to kill or die for, were all people live for today and the world will be one. These are none other than John Lennon’s lyrics. Can we live in a society where there is no ZANU PF or MDC? Will our people fight each other? Are we able to confront and overcome the ‘politics of silence and fear’? But it’s never too late to apologise. The award winning Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us that there is NO FUTURE WITHOUT FORGIVENESS.
Gift Mwonzora is a human rights researcher and peace activist. He is a holder of an M.A in Development studies majoring in Human Rights & Social Justice. He writes in his own capacity. He writes passionately about human rights, conflict, social justice, gender and international law contemporary issues.