Ngomakurira – Cholera and curtains

For some days our attention has been on curtains. The Herald’s front page carries the headline, NO TO CITY’S EXTRAVAGANZA referring to a government veto on the Harare City Council’s plan to spend $35 billion on furniture and curt

ains for the mayor’s mansion. Inside, since it was published on St Valentine’s Day, a cartoon suggests the proposed curtains should be red.

The front page article goes on to quote a Dzivarasekwa resident, Thomas Mukumbati, as protesting, ‘in terms of priorities, what makes sense? We are busy warding off flies and we have to endure the smell of raw sewage when someone wants to spend money on furniture. At the end of the day we think we are not people. The council only needs our rates and not us.’

Then we go to page 2 and see Mukumbati’s point: the continuing story of the unhygienic handling of food in Epworth, which was responsible for the death from cholera of five people over the week-end in Domboramwari.

Then we let the paper fall for a moment and say to ourselves, ‘wait a minute! This is the Herald telling us of the city executive put there by the government proposing to spend vast sums on her residence. Then Mukumbati is a member of the povo saying, “we are not people.”’ All of this – the curtains and the cholera – are due to government policies yet they are subtly reported in a government controlled paper.

It is saying, ‘we are on your side even if we are the ones who put you on that side.’ If Mr. Mukumbati had joined with others to march down Second Street protesting at the city’s priorities he would probably now be languishing behind bars with the brave WOZA women. But hopefully he is not. He has just had prime coverage in the Herald instead.

Shifting the blame is an old game. The Hebrews did it when they got ‘the goat to bear all their faults away with it into a desert place’ (Leviticus 16:22). Curtains, and even a subtle use of cholera, can serve as scapegoats too.

It amounts to saying, ‘we know there are many things wrong but we are not prepared to do anything about them. We are however prepared to air them so that all you people out there feel good about your government because you will know that we are aware of your suffering. That should take some of the steam out of your anger and let us off the hook for a little longer.’

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