Zimbabwe Freedom Anthem Loses Its Meaning

Last year a song about freedom became a rallying cry as Zimbabwe unseated longtime president Robert Mugabe. Now the anthem has become tainted by the lack of tangible change for people there.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let’s take you now to Zimbabwe, where tomorrow the country will hold its first elections since Robert Mugabe was deposed from power. This is the story of the rise and the fall of a pop song that marked Mugabe’s demise. NPR’s Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: November 18 was a historic day in Zimbabwe. After 38 years of a brutal repression, thousands of people shed their fears and poured onto the streets to call for the ouster of Robert Mugabe. And, as local news footage shows, in the middle of the capital city, they began to dance to a song by pop star Jah Prayzah. The chorus is full of promises – a hero, it says, is coming, and everything will be different.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “KUTONGA KWARO”)

JAH PRAYZAH: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: A few days later, Mugabe would be gone. And, in a country with a canon full of songs of struggle, a new national anthem is born.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “KUTONGA KWARO”)

PRAYZAH: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: Eight months after that day, I find myself in Harare Gardens, a big park in the middle of town. A group of churchgoers is on the lawn singing for a united Zimbabwe.

UNIDENTIFED PERSON: (Singing) Remember me, oh mighty God…

PERALTA: Couples linger near the pond, and I find Paida Moyo near one of the open gardens. I ask her what’s always a sensitive question for young people in a country with huge unemployment.

So, what do you do?

PAIDA MOYO: I just stayed in the park…

(LAUGHTER)

MOYO: …Like I’m doing. This is what I’m doing. I’m working right now.

PERALTA: That day in November, she was full of hope that Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice president who led the rebellion against Mugabe, would become the hero, the gamba racho (ph) who would change everything – or at least get her a job.

MOYO: We used to dance to that song ’cause we – we were hopeful. But now, we no longer dance to that song ’cause everything that’s in the song is a complete lie. Nothing is happening. And the gamba racho is not doing anything, so why do we dance? Why do we have to dance to that song?

PERALTA: A 61-year-old park photographer is listening to our conversation. He gives me only his first name – King (ph) – because he still fears retaliation. He says he has no doubt that this song was not written as a political manifesto.

KING: The musician just composed this song. But it has been twisted to mean something else.

PERALTA: It’s something that happens a lot here in Zimbabwe, he says. A just liberation war centered on equality turned into a dictatorship. This song ushered in freedom of expression, but the same party remains in power, and Zimbabwe is still poor.

KING: Our freedom is only centered on what we can speak about but not what we can practice.

PERALTA: Across the park, I find some hope. Natasha Nyamadzawo (ph), 21, says nothing has changed in Zimbabwe. But Monday, there will be elections, and she feels change – real change – might happen.

NATASHA NYAMADZAWO: So if it happens, the song will have a proper meaning.

PERALTA: And, if change happens, she says she’ll dance to that song that makes big promises.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Harare.

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