COLUMN: DR ALEX T. MAGAISA
Dr Alex T. Magaisa
Obey was a decent boy who worked hard looking after the cattle and tilling the fields in return for shelter and the few pennies he earned each month. Then one day he decided to take of heed of the call and he went east.
After a few years, Obey was back, carrying arms alongside his fellow comrades. For the villagers, Obey was a good omen; an emissary sent by those who reside in the winds to protect them in a time of war. It was fate that brought him back to the area.
And true to his name, Mukoma Obey, as he was now known as a mark of respect, took his duty to heart, making sure the villagers were safeguarded from the worst of the war’s effects.
But even he could do nothing when some of his fellow comrades fro another group rounded up the villagers who helplessly watched on a dark day as they executed one of the village elders, accused and summarily convicted of being a mutengesi, a sell-out.
There was not much evidence for his alleged crime except that the elder possessed a bicycle which, it was said, was a vehicle for relaying messages to the enemy. For this group of comrades knew little of this village, which was a haven of security for Mukoma Obey’s group. But on this fateful day, Mukoma Obey and his group were away on an operation when this new group made its murderous foray into the area.
When he arrived later that day, it was too late.
Villagers who remember the sordid scene say Mukoma Obey, a battle-hardened warrior though he was, could not hold back tears. The tears of a soldier betrayed by his fellow combatants.
Later, the comrades would fight hard battles. Villagers still talk about the infamous battles at Matafi; the duels fought in Dzapasi and the mountains of Wedza.
Lives were lost and limbs were broken. Villagers still shed tears for the decent sons that had become part of their community; men who had given up their lives in order to secure a free Zimbabwe. They still talk about them.
But today the conversations often end up with questions; questions that remain unanswered: Did they have to die for this? Did Mukoma Obey have to sacrifice his best years for this? Did the village elder have to die after conviction by a kangaroo court? Yaiva hondo - It was war, they say wistfully as if nothing could be done about it.
For when you pause to think about it; you cannot help but ask, whether those young men and women who fought for independence ever imagined that their efforts would be rewarded with today’s Zimbabwe.
You have to wonder whether they ever imagined that their efforts would become so privatised by their surviving comrades.
You do wonder whether, had they known it would come to this, they would have sacrificed their lives. Because the villagers amongst whom they were fish in water, have become impoverished victims of the acts and omissions of their surviving comrades. They are tortured, maimed, some are killed – all in the name of the revolution.
They probably never knew that the war would escalate long after the declaration of independence, to become a war against the people.
They never knew that their comrades would institute a new ‘Scorched Earth Policy’ against the people in whose name they fought. Because when you look at it very closely, this new government is virtually destroying everything in its path in the process of inevitable withdrawal from their position of leadership.
Just like the warriors who burn and destroy everything to fend off the enemy, the new Zanu PF is slashing and burning everything useful to the country – agriculture, industry, young men and women, etc.
They would never have imagined a situation where their name would be used to deny the people the ultimate right for which they fought – the right to choose their own leaders. Is it not one of the greatest ironies of modern times that this week Zimbabweans are called upon to celebrate independence, when the very epitome of that freedom is being denied nonchalantly by the people who led that struggle.
Zimbabweans celebrate independence in a state of suspense and tension. For more than two weeks after the elections they are yet to know the result of the presidential election. They ma never know.
But then when you think of the brutal murder of the elder in my village at the hands of some of the wayward comrades, you can see why today there are some war veterans who are prepared to wage war against their own people.
You can see why it is so easy for them to label others as sell-outs and mete their own forms of punishment. Some things never change. But you also have to ask where the Mukoma Obeys of this world are. You have to ask why they cannot take a stand against their fellow wayward comrades.
The meaning of that gallantry is all but gone. There is a certain hopelessness; an empty feeling on what should be a great day of celebration and remembrance. It leaves you wondering whether this was no more than a hollow victory; a simple transfer from one form of oppression to another, but this time it is much worse because it is caused by those who purported to be with you fro the start.
You look around and listen. And all you hear is the laughter which says, ‘we told you so’. You refuse to listen but it is that kind of laughter which echoes in your ears long after its maker is gone, indeed, no matter how hard and how long you shut your ears. You close your eyes but still see the fingers pointing at you, labeling you a fool to have been taken for a ride for so long.
For here Zimbabwe is no more than a sinking ship. It is sinking because of a Captain who is too proud; a Captain who appears to have lost the purpose of his mission. As that American singer, Norah Jones, sings words that couldn’t be more poignant, in that song “Sinkin’ Soon”,.
a boat that's built of sticks and hay,
I can’t help but wonder, on this occasion of Zimbabwe’s independence, whether she might well have dedicated that song to my country.
For surely, our captain has not simply dropped the oar; he has thrown it away. It is not just a tiny hole but a large gap … and it does look like we are going to be sinking soon.
Then there is Mukoma Obey, the herdboy who left and came back holding a gun alongside his comrades in search of independence; what, surely, must they be thinking as they watch this scene from wherever their souls rest?
This, surely, cannot be what they fought for.
Magaisa is based at Kent Law School, UK and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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