I did not go home to vote today. I already knew my ‘candidate’ was not on the ballot paper. All of the ballot papers, Presidential, parliamentary, local government. She was not there. No, this had nothing to do with rigging, lack of identity documents, lack of adequate time to prepare or any of the logistical issues – before you consign my candidates’ absence to all the alleged stereotypical issues that everyone has been rattling on about. No.
My candidate gracefully chose to step aside. Walked away from this election – literally and metaphorically, because she knew that this was not that sort of election. My candidate figured out five years ago that the 2013 elections were never going to be about the issues or things she, myself and probably millions of other Zimbabwean women care about. She knew already, that this was merely an election to choose one man over the other. Yes. A man. Women like my candidate have been quite clear for some time now that it didn’t matter how clever, analytical, or clear they were about what the problems are in our country and what the solutions could be, they did not stand a chance. Their voices would get drowned out in this all male contest. And if we were ever in any doubt as to what this election was about, a young man representing MDC-T told us categorically on South Africa’s E-TV last weekend – “this election is not about VALUES”, he thundered, “all we want is to remove Robert Gabriel Mugabe”. I have never understood why or when it became necessary to pronounce his name in full like that? Interestingly the other contestants are now referred to in that way…’Morgan Richard Tsvangirai’ Hee hee. Is that supposed to give them more gravitas? (Or more curiously, referring to them by their totems/clan names. Each time this happens I have visions of their wives kneeling on the floor wiping their penises after sex). Let me not digress. We were told the truth. Or more accurately we were reminded. The message was broadcast across the region. Whatever little denial I had left was banished from my head. I cancelled my ticket.
Values. A concept that has largely deserted our politics and our people. Honesty. Integrity. Humility. Care for another one. Heck – just being a good person! We forgot what that means many years ago. It is now person eat dog and its owner. It is not just the political leadership who lack values. It is most leaders, from so called Civil Society, to religious bodies to even the family. Everyone just wants what is good themselves. The fanciest car. The biggest house. The largest amount of cash. The longest weave. The latest Apple product. The biggest Bible. Let us not forget this last one. The biggest fashion accessory of my people. This is what matters. How you get it is not that important. You just have to have it. In NGOs– that part of the population with which I am most intimately connected, we made sure we generated these material things from our vantage point. It started with us being the ones getting forex, trips outside Zimbabwe, (to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe), and the fuel coupons. This was back during the hyper-inflation period. Soon we got hooked onto these lovely things. We generated trips to Joburg and London. As Directors and Senior program staffers we made sure we did not miss the next per diem. If there was no per diem we threw such tantrums that the money just had to be found. Our donors did not disappoint. After all we were the leaders furthering the democracy and good governance agenda. Development? Rural development? Urban poverty? That agenda is coming later, for now we just needed Mugabe to go.
When the ‘crisis’ eased after dollarization, we struggled to keep up our lifestyles. We almost fell into the bottom 5%! We had to do something. So we generated more trips. The smallest altercation with a police officer became global news. Even if it was for an infringement of the road rules. We organized workshops, preferably after hours, or out of Harare, just so we could award ourselves the $30 per diem. Why we had to get a per-diem to participate in our own workshops I still don’t get. Actually I do. There is a name for it. Greed.
Greedy. Selfish. Now there are two words that define who we have become. At the top of the greed ladder are the ones who want to control all the diamond mines. In the middle the ones who fleece anyone fleece-able; the plumber charging an exorbitant amount to fix a mere broken pipe, the mechanic stealing car parts instead of fixing your car, the school teacher charging for extra lessons when she should have been teaching properly during normal school hours, and the home affairs officer wanting a ‘Coke’ to give your baby the birth-certificate to which she is entitled. On the same spectrum, the church leader/founder screaming around town in a 10 fancy- car- convoy while his congregants have not had a decent meal in many months.
Most of us have, over the last decade forgotten what this clamour for change was about to begin with. For some of us it was as that political party person said – not about values. It was only about getting rid of Mugabe. He could never do anything right. Nothing that he said could ever be true, or good, or useful. And if the uninformed among us were to be believed, the man and his government had never EVER done a single good thing for Zimbabwe since his mother Bona delivered him. Mugabe and anyone associated with him were just bad because….they are intrinsically bad. Gone was the critical perspective. Even those of us who went through doors of UZ thanks to his social development policies did not ever want to be heard acknowledging it.
Across the street, our newspaper editor friends and journalists in the non-state media joined the ‘party’. Besides the entertainment good news, everything and anything that Mugabe and his party said or did was just to be trashed. Ditto, across the borders, and across the seas. Ours became the single narrative – MDC good, ZANU PF bad. Simple. No room here for nuance, or complexity. And we all know, to quote Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi ‘the danger of the single story’.
My candidate is not on the ballot paper because she would simply be hounded off the political stage by the sexist, misogynistic, homophobic and violent political culture that pervades Zimbabwe. From a whole elder statesman who swears at a diplomat from another country and calls her a ‘street woman’, to the average Tendai and Senzeni, who take to Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms to abuse others using the most degrading Shona and Ndebele words ever seen in print! ZANU planted and cultivated this political culture, it got nurtured by other political parties, sections of civil society and ordinary citizens. In between the swearing at ‘your mother’s vagina’, it is hard to pick out what is at political stake and how the one whose mother’s vagina is better/cleaner/smaller,(or whatever it is one’s vagina is supposed to look like on public platforms), will do anything different. Political violence and intolerance is certainly not the preserve of ZANU PF.
‘Zimbabweans should stop being driven by ideology and be more driven by economic pragmatism’, advised one economist on twitter. For many days I have wondered what this meant. I guess it is in the same vein as saying this election must be devoid of VALUES. The economist should have said in simpler English, don’t think, just focus on making money. Be good capitalists and your problems will be solved. It doesn’t matter where the money comes from, who gets hurt in the process or who you shove out of the way.
My candidate is not on that ballot paper because she thinks too much about ideology. She worries a lot about what some of the choice phrases mean; attracting foreign investment (of what sort? To invest in what?); Reengaging the North/West (Because? How will we make sure we don’t lose power and control over our resources?); Attracting donors (so that they can support whose development?); Unlocking Zimbabwe’s wealth (so that it goes into whose pocket?); Media freedom, (to promote whose rights and will black women in Mkoba township get to speak for themselves? On their rights?). See what I mean? My candidate asks too many questions. She wants to have conversations that are about ideology, values and principles. In the current atmosphere, she will not be heard. She might as well be speaking to herself and her few friends like me who make her helpful cups of coffee but aren’t enough to win her an election. She will not have an inch of space in the media. She will have very few NGO friends, religious ones, or media ones because that is not our language at this moment.
I will vote in 2018. My candidate will run in that election. The dust will have settled. I am optimistic that come the next elections Zimbabweans will put values back on the agenda. We will debate and be clear about our leaders’ political ideologies. I see NGOs in another five years discussing and implementing human rights based DEVELOPMENT for all Zimbabweans– not just the heterosexual. In the next five years, I want to have honest conversations about the unfinished business of RACE and RACISM. Honest conversations, inside Zimbabwe and outside Zimbabwe, rather than the current dishonesty that says it is one of the present male leaders’ sole agenda. It is still my agenda. By the time we vote in 2018, we will have a definition of democracy and participatory governance which is not just about personalities but about my favorite topic- street lights. Yes really. Street lights. to increase safety and security for my granddaughters when they walk late at night in the township.
By 2018 we will have developed a new political culture, one which at the very least allows each Zimbabwean to speak, act, chose, and be who they want to be. I will vote when my country and its women’s broken souls have healed. When we relearn how to just be what my mother used to call ‘good people’. Simply that. I so wish that by the next election – Zimbabwe will have reverted to being a secular space. Jesus will be removed from the ballot papers and we will keep him off forever. As a black Zimbabwean woman, it is my deepest wish that this is the last election in which the only choices in front of us are ‘BULLS’, (their party’s words not mine!), and a bunch of great-grandfathers who have never heard the phrase ‘sexual autonomy and choice’.