I slept through the coup-not-coup. After spending 29 years of my life under Robert Gabriel Mugabe, there was no way I was choosing to believe the social media hype about tanks in roads, coups and wild conspiracies. However, as I am consistently starting to learn, I know less than I think I know, which is a humbling perspective and possibly a good way to approach my musings below.
When I woke up the next morning the world as I knew it had changed.
When I think of it now, it was actually quite fitting. It was a gentle reminder that until that moment, nothing we had collectively done as a people had been able to dislodge the man, who seemed to so many to be an immovable object. Looking back at the moment I learned that Mugabe was at risk of being deposed by the military, I can only describe my feelings as awe with a tinge of the surreal.
To attempt to describe the emotional turmoil that surrounded the next few days that followed would be akin to describing the sensation one feels when they are on a rollercoaster. There are just so few words that can encapsulate the moments of pure joy, dread, extreme disappointment, frustration, relief and hope that ebbed and flowed as the man we all knew as president finally bowed out of the show (or so we thought until a very bizarre press conference on the eve of the elections).
There are those among us who now feel they should never have marched in favour of the removal of Mugabe. In hindsight, I can see why some choose to take such a view. However, life is never as black and white as history so often tends to paint it.
I believe, like myself, there are many who would march again. Those who marched for hope and in hope. You see, the simple truth is Zimbabwe has been at war with itself for decades. The psychological trauma endured by so many should never be underestimated. To be able to believe that holding your flag and stepping out into the street with your fellow Zimbabweans in protest can yield tangible change, is exactly what the mind needed to brace for the struggle ahead. We all need the silver linings that remind us, even for a brief moment, that every step is not in vain as long as we keep moving towards what we believe is the greater good.
I was never under any illusion that removing Mugabe would solve our problems. I did not march in support of Mnangagwa. I marched for myself. I marched for my sanity. I marched in solidarity with every Zimbabwean who needed to break the psychological shackles that living under Mugabe had cast on our existence. Yes, granted, Mugabe was part of a larger system that we may have failed to dislodge in its entirety. However, in every battle the warrior must believe she can win… without that, the battle is lost before it has even begun. Seeing Mugabe go was definitely a small win in my mind.
The past ten months, since this historic moment, have not been simple either – but life rarely is. The new dispensation has consistently reminded us that the more things change, the more they remain the same. But to say this without a deep reflection of the election period would be insincere. There were real changes in how we felt, spoke and engaged with the state. It was as if after so many years of whispering, we could begin experimenting with our outdoor voices. We could speak up and debate the national question. Increased registration numbers are testament to the increased confidence that change could happen at this pivotal moment. Conversations about Zimbabwe were no longer dismissed with the age-old adage nothing will change.
Now in case you haven’t noticed, I’m an optimist. I believe that there was some good that came out of this transition of power. I know we tend to look to the economy as the key indicator of progress, but I will allow those who are better equipped to dissect the intricacies of our economy to guide that conversation. I choose to look at the subtle indicators that are not always easy to quantify. The murmurs of hopefulness that we may have turned a corner in the right direction. The debate on who should lead this process can never be resolved in a nation as politically polarised as ours. But the need to improve our lot can be agreed upon by all.
Election season was brutal. The best and the worst of Zimbabwe came to the fore. Our deeply divided psyche was exposed and amplified through social media. It was exhausting. We abandoned our ability to be critical and objective in favour of fanatic, emotionally charged absolute positions. We became a nation of absolutes without nuance, narratives without context, stories without depth. I guess this is to be expected from a nation that has been fighting mental demons for decades.
But now that the election has come and gone, and ZANU PF has remained in power, I find myself back on that emotional rollercoaster that confronted us in November, oscillating between despair and hope. In some ways, it feels like we failed to make any progress. We are arguably caught in what can be called a subtle military state, characterised by the senseless bloodshed we witnessed at the end of the election period. But in other ways we may be on the verge of progress, embodied in the fresh-faced Olympian Kirsty Coventry, appointed Minister in the new cabinet.
We seem to be crashing between moments of immense hope and equally immense despair. I’m not sure if this has always been the way Zimbabweans have survived but I do find myself looking back and thinking, no one could have predicted the year that was, nor the year that is about to come to its end.
What I can say for certain is, I have to believe that there are better days ahead for Zimbabweans. I keep reminding myself that if you keep hope alive, it will keep you alive. I keep willing myself to be part of the change I want to see, in whatever small way I can be. And as the road ahead is uncertain, and most certainly going to be hard given the state of where we are, I do believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Why do I believe this, when all evidence would suggest otherwise? I believe it because I believe in Zimbabweans. I believe in who we are when we walk hand in hand in common purpose and dance through the streets as we did in November. No matter what the road ahead holds, I believe in who we are when our minds are freed from the shadows of those we believe are larger than life. Nothing lasts forever, so I choose hope, always.
Source: Nyasha Musandu
*Nyasha Musandu is a strategic communication specialist with experience in leading and supporting communication and policy engagement interventions for researchers, knowledge intermediaries and development practitioners. She manages a unit which delivers tailor made, fit-for-purpose capacity building solutions for development practitioners dealing with complex communication challenges. Her interest lies in using communication as a transformative tool for improving development outcomes. Nyasha is also passionate about community development, doubling up as the Communication Director for the Mt. Pleasant – Be the Change Campaign.