The image of compassion

Most of us must have heard appeals to help victims of the Tokwe-Mukosi flood. I received one that claimed this was our biggest disaster in recent years. I suppose that depends on what you call recent.

If we go back only six years, I would call 5,000 deaths a bigger disaster than 18,000 people losing their homes; a little further and 750,000 people losing their homes is 40 times worse than 18,000. Tokwe-Mukosi may be our biggest natural disaster, but the cholera outbreak was man-made, completely avoidable if those responsible had done their job, and as for Murambavanhu, we know it was planned and the planners boasted about it.

What is happening to us? Everyone runs to help victims of a natural disaster, but if you try to help victims of man-made disaster, you must do it in secret – if you do anything at all. I am not short of compassion for anyone, but I ask whether these victims are already getting enough help – when there are constant threats of another Murambavanhu. Give to Tokwe-Mukosi, as long as it isn’t over-subscribed. To say whether it is, we need someone in authority to list what is needed and what has been received. Information of that sort is always difficult to get in Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, pardon me if my fears focus nearer home. After all, “Charity begins at home”. There are many people who still feel the hurt of Murambavanhu. As for the Third Chimurenga, forget the poor white farmers, now doing very nicely for themselves in Zambia, Nigeria and Australia. Farm workers, over a million people if you include their families, lost everything. Also, I meet people often enough who still think “murder, rape and torture” when someone says “elections”.

Can I expect readers in Matebeleland to pardon me for not mentioning Gukurahundi until now? But that shows we all have memories of horrors near us and even in comfortable Harare the worst crime of all can be overshadowed by the nearer ones.

I write not to stir up old resentments, but to ask important questions. All these things and more happened and leave their scars, but they are acts of man. When that means The Man, it is dangerous to even mention them. But man, all of us, must rush to be seen helping the victims of an Act of God.

Isn’t that the point: to be seen? We may have seen all these atrocities, we may all live in fear of the most corrupt police force in Africa. Our teachers may refuse pupils and our nurses ignore patients in the name of ESAP or some other work of the Great Satan on Wall Street and his minions who hold us all down.

They even deny us food if we don’t vote right. But we are a compassionate people; look at what we do for flood victims. God made a mistake; we put it right. Man makes a mistake and we tremble in our boots for fear he’ll do it to us next.

All this is really aimed at the great compassionate outside world, who are not close enough to see the flaws in that picture of a compassionate nation rushing to help poor flood victims. It’s part of the same picture as newspaper stories of some chef or his wife building a home for about 20 orphans. Ask yourself what would happen to the journalist who dared to publish pictures of the 100 people who were cleared off that land to make way for the orphanage?

If I write with passion, maybe I can’t forget that when Murambavanhu reached the end of our street (it stopped there), a baby died of cold before most of us knew it had been born. Maybe I’m more moved by one baby than by things you might think worse. Maybe I’ve grown used to the violence and corruption of daily life. We share the blame for the past. Let’s not repeat those mistakes.

Post published in: Analysis

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