I was at the Solidarity March in Harare yesterday, the 18th of November, 2017. And I am not naïve.
As soon as I heard that the army and police would not beat up anyone I decided I would go. You have to understand that Zimbabwe is a country where the security forces are characterised by heavy-handedness. In the late 1990s while at a University of Zimbabwe (UZ) demonstration against a proposal to scrap students’ pay-outs I was beaten up by riot police. My leg was so swollen I could not walk for four days. So I associate the security forces with force, heavy-handedness, violence and intolerance. To be quite honest, if there had been no reassurance on protection I would not have even dreamed of leaving my house.
Over the years there have been a number of demonstrations or meetings of the opposition parties or Civil Society that have been blocked or violently broken up by the police. The process of seeking police clearance is always controversial: are you supposed to inform the police of your event or you are supposed to ask for permission to hold the event? My understanding is that one needs to inform the police but the police have other ideas. The interpretation of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) obviously differs depending on who you are. The police have largely used it against dissenting voices. I can tell you that the police and army are guilty of selective application of the law in my country. They will break up an opposition rally whilst that of the ruling ZANU PF will go ahead. This is an all too familiar script.
So you will understand why it was a big deal for me that I could march freely without any threat of violence from the army or the police. These institutions have not been known to protect civilians. In fact, they have been an integral part of the State Machinery used to oppress ordinary Zimbabweans with impunity. I was not going to miss the chance to exercise my freedom of movement and expression. Perhaps the more important reason to join the march is rooted in my childhood.
I was born and bred in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. This is the part of Zimbabwe which experienced what became known as the Gukurahundi massacres. I remember hearing that the army was looking for dissidents Gayigusu and Gwesela. I personally experienced the Entumbane disturbances. There was a curfew so no one was allowed to be on the streets after 6pm. The helicopter would fly very low and a voice from a loudspeaker would announce “Seligonjolozelwe. Lingaphumi ezindlini.” This means “You are now surrounded. Do not leave your houses.” That is where my fear of helicopters started. Sadly, even now my reaction to helicopters is the same: my heart beats very fast and I get a headache.
I remember an incident that happened in Mpopoma where I grew up. One of the guys whose name was Muneyinazvo was on the streets during the day and the police asked him what his name was. His reply was “Muneyinazvo” and they beat him up so bad because his response was “what do you have to do with it.” They thought he was being insolent. But that was his name. In the end, he showed them his identity document but he had already been beaten up. So you see, from an earIy age I have associated the army and helicopters with fear and terror.
I fully understand that the army is part of a system that has done all it can to deliberately exclude and oppress those that are not part of it. I am under no illusion that the army did what it did for ordinary Zimbabweans like me. Not even. This is part of ZANU PF internal struggles. But the thing is ZANU PF is the ruling party and what it does will eventually affect me, directly or indirectly.
The army obviously knew that we were tired of a system that it has protected for the longest time (therefore, it was clear citizens would rally behind them on this particular issue). I also fully understand that Robert Gabriel Mugabe presided over that system. He cannot be the only one to account for what the system did. Unfortunately for him, he was the face of that system. The buck stops with him. However, I think that whatever process has been started should continue.
Let me share what I said on Twitter this morning: “Here’s the thing. There’s a whole system. A whole structure that is designed to benefit just a few. To dismantle it will take a long, long time. Lots of time, energy and effort. But we have to start somewhere. That’s all.”
As far as I am concerned, the Solidarity March was that start. And what a start it was. Ordinary Zimbabweans came together for a cause. We stood together to express ourselves. When was the last time we did that? I am 42 years old and I have never been part of anything like this before. I am proud I was part of that moment. This was a moment where I took a picture with a soldier, and in front of a tanker. That is such a big deal for the young girl from Mpopoma. Thanks to Twitter, I saw many other pictures of citizens with soldiers. I would never have imagined this happening under any circumstances.
I am convinced the engagement between soldiers and citizens achieved the following:
• It reminded us that the soldiers are people like us. Yes, they are part of a system that does not have our interests at heart, but under the right conditions, they can be one with us. We can count on them for protection. Now we have to work hard to create the right conditions.
• It said to the soldiers that they can still be one with us. They appreciated the interaction and love from the citizens. I am sure they realised that despite what they have come to symbolise, they are still part of us.
Hopefully, both the soldiers and the citizens will invest whatever resources they have at their disposal to create the right conditions for all to co-exist peacefully, to have a system that goes beyond personalities.
Phew, this must be my longest post ever.
I rest my case. I was at the Solidarity March and I am not naïve. I fully understand what is going on. I was not coerced to join the march. I did not do so under duress. I have no issues with those who did not join the march. Everyone has a right to choose what they want to do. Freedom of choice is important. But I just do not want to be viewed as naïve for my choice to join the march.
I understand that I am a Ndebele woman who is, for all intents and purposes, at the bottom of the “political food chain”, as it were. But Zimbabwe is still my home. I know no other home. It is also the only home my children know. This is why I joined the Solidarity March. I did it for posterity.
And of course, the camera-photo-picture with #SoldierBae did not hurt either.
This is my own truth. Indaba Yam’istraight. Ayifun’iruler.