Part of the solution, or the problem?

Zimbabwe - Warm heart, ugly face by Jerome Gardner (published by Jerome Gardner) 2010 Battle for the President’s Elephants by Sharon Pincott (published by Jacana) 2012

Zimbabwe in Transition: A View from Within, edited by Tim Murithi and Aquilina Mawadza (published by Fanele) 2011

This unlikely group of books highlights a spectrum of unresolved issues from our country’s colonial legacy. With several notable exceptions the passengers on the nation’s rollercoaster ride towards democracy are all black Zimbabweans. It can be argued that while it might be some time before the country reaches a transitional stage, if you are not part of the solution, you may well be part of the problem.

Zimbabwe – Warm Heart Ugly Face chronicles the rocky journey many companies travelled as the country sank into economic chaos. From the outset the author says the ‘rights and often violent wrongs of farm takeovers’ are not the theme of the book. His layman’s approach and his own experience nevertheless provide valuable insight into the day-to-day struggles of a businessman who quite clearly wants to make a positive contribution to the country.

For anyone who wants a stark, but accurate picture of the obstacles business faced this is suggested reading. However, the author’s lifestyle is far removed from that of ordinary Zimbabweans, who are not able to access his standard of living but who are grappling with those same economic realities.

The second captivating book Battle for the President’s Elephants describes the remarkable Sharon Pincott, who for 11 years has almost singlehandedly battled to save elephants in Hwange. Superficially this appears to be yet another glossy account of a white woman in Africa – but Pincott’s genuine passion, some might call it zeal, for her chosen mission and the matter of fact way she pursues her goal make this both a riveting and amusing read.

One cannot help but admire her tenacity and the incredible bond she has with the elephants she loves. Although she names all her elephants she acknowledges that they are wild and doesn’t seek to tame them. One of the most astonishing photographs in this book is one of her kissing an elephant on its trunk. Occasionally confronted by aspects of Zimbabwe’s current uncertainties Pincott’s is a very different reality and she lives her lifestyle choice mostly quite isolated from the nation’s political struggle.

Zimbabwe in Transition: A View from Within speaks through nine chapters with the voices of political activists, women, faith-based groups, the media, the young and those in the diaspora. The book is an excellent overview of contemporary Zimbabwe.

A selection of experts look at variations of community, political processes and the media. In the opening chapter Welshman Ncube, president of the smaller MDC, is quoted as saying that Zanu (PF) continued an already in place ‘authoritarian political system’ when it assumed power. This meant that conditions for free and fair elections could not find fertile grounds in which to flourish.

The influence of the legacy of ‘settler culture’ is identified as having made it easier for the government to use race to mobilise the masses. By the same token the urban-rural divide is increasingly evident in present day Zimbabwe. Zanu (PF) has both manipulated and exploited the failure of civil society organisations and the opposition to secure significant rural support.

The chapter on community healing and that on women examine reconciliation i.e. the ‘forgive and forget’ route. The authors recognise that churches have in the past addressed poverty and inequality, and could in the future provide a useful platform for national healing.

With elections looming, violence and abuses have not stopped; the book asserts that there is new evidence that ‘securocrats’ enforcers are being regrouped and sent to rural areas as the election approaches. Whether politically active or not, women often bear the brunt of political violence.

They have been consistently marginalised from the time of the liberation struggle to the present – where groups like Women of Zimbabwe Arise lead protests. The author cites the attitude of both wider society and women themselves and calls them to account. The “culture of impunity” associated with violence against women is a human rights violation. Restorative justice with healing is seen as the way forward to help communities deal with a divided and violent past.

According to statics in the book, approximately 15% of Zimbabweans live outside the country making up the diaspora, and have the potential for being either a positive or negative influence. Indeed it is widely believed that diaspora remittances help keep Zimbabwe afloat – providing not only cash but also vital medicines and educational materials. Unfortunately the diaspora mimics the political divisions that exist within Zimbabwe and thus is not currently in a position to maximize its capacity to be an effective agent for change.

This book is essential reading for anyone concerned with the future of Zimbabwe.

Post published in: Arts

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