Of indoor 40th birthday celebrations and locked down livelihoods

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By Luke Batsirai Tamborinyoka

Tomorrow, Zimbabweans celebrate 40 years of independence amid a global calamity-induced lockdown that is being ruthlessly enforced by brutal national security forces.

It’s an oxymoron of sorts–having to celebrate your independence while the same independence and the attendant freedoms of movement and assembly are heavily curtailed by an odd combination of a global pandemic and trigger-happy security forces itching for blood. Indeed, it’s ironic we are having to “celebrate” our 40th national birthday while neatly tucked indoors. It is telling that we are having to mark this landmark Uhuru day just after the High Court has had to urge restraint on our national security forces, as if to solemnly confirm that the ordinary Zimbabwean is still a long way off the presumed independence. It was as if the police and the army had to be reminded by the courts that our basic freedoms, for which we fought a protracted war of liberation and that are now enshrined in the people’s Constitution are the very essence of this unique Uhuru day that we are having to “celebrate” while neatly tucked in our blankets.

We are shackled. And this has been the hallmark of our lives for the past 40 years. Tomorrow’s lockdown independence celebrations are a graphic of not tragic illustration of our four decades of national lockdown.

We have been locked down in a brutal dictatorship that saw us jump from the frying pan into the fire in November 2017. Forget the promising early years of our independence and the national happiness engendered by the 4-yesr tenure of the inclusive government. Those were two ephemeral moments whose memories have since been scorched away by the unmatched melting incompetence of the current regime. The early 1980s and Morgan Tsvangirai’s dollar-for-two years seem like a very distant past. Indeed, they were commercial breaks in this horror movie; an enchanting hiatus in a general drama of pain.

There was a time during the wonderful MDC years in government that Zimbabweans could afford to smile. Civil servants, farmers, villagers and our uniformed officers could afford to get into a bank and withdraw greenbacks to feed their families and to drink in merriment. Those heady days will forever stand out as a testimony to the MDC’s competent hand on the wheel of government!

Memories, memories. That joyous past has become another country.
Now the Covid-19 global pandemic and the attendant lockdown have brutally exposed the cluelessness of these men and women currently occupying the seat of government. The lack of preparedness for this pandemic has exposed this regime, what with the glaring shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE’s) in the national quarantine centres

It all marks a scarfed lockdown of competence at the very apex of the State!
For a country that has been politically independent for four decades, our ill – preparedness in the wake of this disaster is an unparalleled, gargantuan indictment particularly on those holding the levers of the State. Granted, no one could have adequately prepared for a global pandemic of this magnitude but the ineptitude of government, even one that brazenly stole a mandate, has been brutally and terribly exposed.

Fate has conspired to make the pandemic and the lockdown a national nightmare. As a country, we have no industry to show for our 40 years of independence. We even import toothpicks!

For a country with a highly informal economy, the Covid-19-induced lockdown has inadvertently become a lockdown of livelihoods. The majority of Zimbabweans are small-time traders who depend on buying and selling. Everyone has become a vendor and the teeming roadsides and our street pavements have become hectic sites of high transactional activity as citizens struggle to survive. The lockdown has meant closure of these teeming “industrial sites” where our people peddle anything for a living, including even their bodies.

That has been our life for the past 40 years-a life of kiya kiya as Zimbabweans engage in all sorts of enterprise to earn the precious dollar.

Kiya is a Shona word which means lock but the refrain kiya – kiya literally means anything goes. Kiya-kiya colloquially refers to what most Zimbabweans do for a living. It literally and metaphorically denotes a lockdown. It is a phrase that presumes small-time dealership and crooked means through which the country’s citizenry ekes out a living.

Given the parlous state of our economy, ours has simply become a kick down of livelihoods, a situation that has been worsened by yet season of drought that has spawned the current food shortages.

And we even don’t know when this lockdown will end, meaning a lot of Zimbabweans could be locked down to death in their own homes. Indeed, some might never come out alive if this regime fails to somehow conjure a plan to feed the nation.

For a regime that is itself on a mental and cerebral lockdown, unable to think whether inside or outside the box, maybe Zimbabweans are expecting too much from the team in government!

There has been some cheer in the homes during this lockdown as families have had to spend a lot of time together, maybe for the first time in their lives. One positive thing is that these are the times a parent may begin to notice those small but important things about their loved ones that they never noticed before because they are always busy with kiya- kiya, chasing endless schedules to bring some modicum of dignity into the home.

For me, I have begun to notice that my little angel, eight-year old Lee-Anne Tapiwanashe, is quite a genius. Granted, she has been exceptional at school but there are certain things I did not know about her. I have begun to appreciate her true interests, thanks to the lockdown. I didn’t know she was this respectful to elders; she is conversant with some Shona idioms; that she speaks such impeccable, flawless English and that she can dance. I never knew her favourite artiste was Winky D. Now I know: Give her the Gafa anytime and you will chuckle at how she rhythmically dances as she sings along to “Njema” or “Ijipita”, her favourite tracks!

The bad news is that I have not had time to spend that much time with her, as I have used the lockdown to work on the dissertation for my Master’s programme as I seek to enhance my cerebral aptitude.

The bad news of this lockdown is the locked down livelihoods that I have had the opportunity to see at very close range down here in my rural hood of Domboshava. Whole harvests of tomatoes and vegetable are perishing in the fields as there is no proper market to sell them. My kinsmen and kinswomen who survive on these products depend largely on crowds and gatherings, a teeming market and safe passage and travel on the roads. All these factors have conspired against them and their livelihoods have simply been locked down.

They are not alone. The showbiz industry has been seriously affected as well and the best one can do is to listen to music in the safety of their homes. As my little angel every morning gyrates to the lyrical sounds of her beloved Winky D before I compel her sternly to give it a break and do her school work, I know she is not alone. Zimbabweans across the length are dancing away their sorrows, their hunger and their poverty within the solitary confinements that their own homes have become.

Now with this self-quarantine, we all appreciate the towering brand called Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in solitary confinement at Robben Island.

There has been the ugly dimension to this lockdown as well.

Perhaps what takes the crown on the ugly side is the, Covid-19 judgement surreptitiously handed down by the Supreme Court on 31 March 2020, which highly political judgement has been vehemently rejected by the people as the ultimate Supreme Court in the realm of politics. The judgement that sought to waylay sanity and commonsense has been utterly rejected even by the traditional leaders in Domboshava who have been sending me messages about the emptiness of it all. They are all agreed it is a stinking judgement reeking of scarfed political odour.
Nelson Chamisa, the trending national brand, has convincingly won his case in the court of public opinion, the highest court in all politics!

That judgement has birthed what is now called MDC-Corona, an entity scouring around the country and struggling to find delegates willing to be bought to attend its court-induced Congress that is turning out to be practicality impossible to hold.

Well, I don’t wish to return to that vacuous judgement in this week’s instalment, even though the temptation is great. Am telling myself: “Let this cup pass.” (Komichi iyi ngaipfuure).
But who knows just how much this so-called judgement has galvanised an already angry nation for action?

Well, fellow Zimbabweans, have a happy locked down independence weekend in the solitary confinement of your own homes.

After this, the deluge!

Luke Tamborinyoka is the Deputy National Spokesperson of the MDC. He is a multiple award-winning journalist and former secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists. He is an ardent political scientist who won the Book Prize for Best Student when he graduated with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Political Science at the University of Zimbabwe. You can interact with him on Facebook or on the twitter handle @luke_tambo.