She started off with onions. Thorough research, keen interest and dedicated staff assistance she established herself as a commercial farmer in Zimbabwe. Three years, later, Tsitsi had 18 workers and was thriving. Then, she was asked to turn her farm over to the government. She claimed they wanted the land to set up Border Gezi camps and train youth militia and she was determined to fight against it. Like many farm owners in Zimbabwe, resistance proved futile and she was soon taken over. What makes Tsitsi different is that she “thought I was black enough,” not to became a target for land seizure.
Her story is one of 24 in the book “Don’t listen to what I’m about to say,” a collection of narratives that aims to tell Zimbabwean stories in Zimbabwean voices. The editors spoke to a range of Zimbabweans across the social spectrum, from those who live in exile to those who have remained behind, from farm owners to farm workers, from elderly people battling to preserve memories of their homeland, to youth struggling to see a future for themselves in it. The result, as mentioned in the foreword written by Harare North author Brian Chikwana, is “a record of what it means to be human.”
It provides details into Zimbabwean life that have not been told before, such as the story of John, who worked for ZAPU during the 1980 election and married Joshua Nkomo’s daughter. His tale offers rare insight into the early activity after independence. Zenzele, a former police officer living in Canada, also has a personal account to give. He shares graphic detail of his torture which included the assault of Gukurahundi. To contrast with Tsitsi’s tale, is the story of George, a white farmer whose family owned land in the Karoi Estate which was commandeered by war veterans and Nicola, a horticulturalist, who ran a farm with her sister when their father fled. George left Zimbabwe but is now back in the country, working as a manager for a farm owned by a black Zimbabwean while Nicola still works in Harare, hoping to re-enter the agricultural industry.
Perhaps the most poignant anecdote is that of Nokuthula, a former hairdresser who works as a domestic worker in Cape Town, South Africa. Having fled Zimbabwe and having sought safety in South Africa, she found herself a victim of a different kind of hostility in her adopted home. Nokuthula was travelling on a taxi which was searched for foreigners during the wave of xenophobic attacks that swept South Africa. She escaped violence by pretending to be a Zulu from Durban and was lucky to be believed. Hers is a reminder of the fragility of Zimbabwean existence, both at home and abroad.
The book concludes with a chapter dedicated to one man, Sankoh Chari. A symbol of a larger Zimbabwean problem, Chari’s business in Budiroro which was one half barber shop, one half room for charging batteries for people without electricity, was destroyed during Operation Murambatsvina in 2005.
Having his livelihood taken away from him incensed Chari to the point where he turned to politics. He joined the MDC and became one of it’s most outspoken youth leaders and even clashed with Morgan Tsvangirai. After movie-like cat and mouse games with police officers and the murder of his brother and his best friend, Chari fled to South Africa but he is not at peace. His story, he said, is a message to all those who fought against him in Zimbabwe and think they won that, “Sankoh Chari is still alive.”
The book concludes with those chilling but reassuring words but its overall message is not one of despair. It is an account of courage. Pamela and Themba, a husband and wife team in Harare, encapsulate that best with their story of resilience. The couple do marketing work for small firms and have started their own business and believe there is still potential in Zimbabwe. Themba said his homeland does not compare to any other and so, “Someone has to stay behind and protect it. Yes, I still have hope.”
So many Zimbabweans feel the same way and in an election year, it is ever more important for them to hold on to that hope and continue to believe in change. Boniface, a preacher on the Musina border, has a message to keep the fighting flame burning. “We are hard pressed but we are not crushed, we are down but we are not destroyed.”
Don’t listen to what I’m about to say: Voices of Zimbabwe
Edited by Peter Orner and Annie Holmes, written by Charles Mungoshi
Published by Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2011Post published in: Analysis