Patriot trumps cynic

2010-09-04 11:48

You can always tell the state Zimbabwe is in from the paper in its public ­toilets.

In December, it was coarse single-ply dull beige.

The kind that comes apart between your fingers before it even gets to do the job.

Now the paper at Harare airport is slightly softer and pink, but still single ply.

The diamond money clearly hasn’t trickled this far down.

It is a great time to be here. Schools are closed, the harvest is done, sweet potatoes are three dollars for a bucket.

That is three Obamas, not the Zim dollar which no longer exists.

Nothing beats the sunshine of a spring day in a Harare garden.

It gives you hope when there is nothing in the political realm to make you optimistic.

Perhaps I am more patriotic than I realise.August is Heroes’ Day month.

Cynical as I try to be, those liberation songs get to me.

I wake up on Heroes’ Day to loud commentary from Heroes’ Acre.

My friend Nozipho has gone to the ceremony. Her uncle is one of our national heroes.

Every year her family is taken by the state to breakfast, the ceremony and lunch.

Thank God the electricity is on today.

I watch the whole thing on television.

I want to dismiss it as Zanu-PF propaganda.

But I can’t be cynical.

This is real.

The commentators read the histories of the women and men lying on that hill.

I look at their families crowding the graves, laying flowers.

I find myself weeping.

I text my friends Percy and Nyaradzo in Johannesburg: “Where did it go wrong? How did we betray these people?”

Percy sends an unsympathetic response, and Nyaradzo tells me she is in Plett having fun.

Dreadful as this sounds, the thing that cheers me up about Heroes’ Day is seeing Morgan Tsvangirai, Thokozani Khupe, and Arthur Mutambara being saluted by members of the armed forces and getting into their Benzes!

The day following Heroes is Defence Forces’ Day.

The men in uniform are armed to the teeth.

They flex their muscles, sending chills down spines.

That this is a militarised state is shoved in my face for the two weeks I am in Zimbabwe.

State media refer to Robert Mugabe as His Excellency the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

We already knew that. There are eight roadblocks between Harare and Bulawayo.

At one, they turn my rickety Mazda 323 inside out.

At the next, the officer demands my ID, questions me about my South African work permit.

Driving back towards Bulawayo in a friend’s fancier car, we are told there is a document missing.

We can tell he wants a bribe.

I have been away too long.

When they say “make a plan” in Johannesburg or at Beitbridge I know how much to take out.

I can even haggle to get a good “deal”.

I don’t know what the appropriate amount here is.

A dollar?

Twenty rand?

From the look on our driver’s face and the shocked smile on the policeman’s I know I’ve overdone it.

Even at the tollgates there are armed men watching from the sidelines.

In case someone tries to drive off without paying, I am told they’ll shoot to kill. Why doesn’t Jacob Zuma send General Bheki Cele up here on secondment?

I hand over the dirtiest dollar from my stash. At least there is evidence these dollars are being used to repair roads.

I am struck by the absence of political conversation.

What had I expected?

Rip-roaring debate?

Over what?

Political milestones have come and gone.

None has delivered meaningful change.

I try to think of a song to describe this feeling, this state of nothingness.

Bob Marley’s Zimbabwe will do for me.

Soon we’ll find out who the real revolutionary is.

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