Our “New Normal”, thoughts on Zimbabwe’s Dark Days

I am typing this in the dark; an article about ZESA blackouts, and the irony is not lost on me. The fuel in my generator dried up last night, and I woke up to hiked fuel prices (growing evidence that prices are indeed, going down).

I am feeling thoroughly defeated. A great time to put fingers to keyboard and finish this article that has been to infuriating to write. Infuriating because the growing evidence of grand corruption and predatory behavior of those who mismanage our country’s affairs is making it increasingly clear that the dark mess we are in is was entirely avoidable.

My despondence got me thinking: what are the impacts of the blackouts on Zimbabweans’ mental and emotional wellbeing? What coping mechanisms have different people adapted-if at all? (Can you tell I am a researcher in my day job?)

Complicated debt arguments aside; Shingi’s I could have fixed this all at a click of a finger remarks aside, I wanted to know what the human experience of this madness has been.

People are physically tired. An elderly domestic helper from my church said she hasn’t slept properly in a month now. She either stays up until power comes back (between 10.30 and midnight, if at all) or wakes up by 3am to catch the last few hours. In that time, she and her employer are ironing, switching on the washing machine, filling up the borehole, switching on the geyser, switching on deep freezers, boiling water for the day. Last week she fell asleep while holding a hot iron and burnt through a shirt.

I visited a friend of mine who rents a flat so cannot get a generator even if she could afford to. We sat in candlelight and made the most of a bad situation with cheap wine, but on most nights she is so cold, and so overwhelmed by the darkness that she chews a piece of bread and jumps into bed by 7pm.

A colleague of mine who lives in Kambuzuma showed me pictures of a nearby house that burned down between electricity flashing on and off and coming back with varying degrees of power. The affected family had been sleeping on the streets.

A lady operating a till at my favourite grocery store told me she had to throw out expensive meat in her fridge. She suspects the meat had not been properly refrigerated where she bought it.

My parents spent two weeks at our rural home where electricity is not expected anyways. I went to check in on their house to find there had been a 6 day ZESA fault. ZESA they told me they didn’t have ZESA to fix the ZESA fault. You can understand the string of profanities I hurled at the poor guy in overalls.

This got me thinking of how very urban this problem is. And that, in fact, urban Zimbabwe has been having an impossibly difficult and terrifying past 12 months; we are the consumers of fuel for cars and generators; we are the ones bearing the brunt of hiked daily public transport; the ones about to commemorate the deaths of August 1st 2018; the ones most affected by the Shutdown of January 2019 on all angles: property destruction and hundreds of us beaten and tortured in those few dark days; and the victims of the darkness.

There is something psychological about sitting in the dark with all these memories of violence, loss and the country shutting down around us.

An article on blackouts in Haiti shows that for some people the endless power outages provoked memories of repression by security forces who used to conduct violent raids in neighbourhoods. Sound familiar? On Saturday 20th July we had no phone service, WIFI was down, Eco-Cash was down, electricity was gone and a panicked thought crossed my mind- are we in another Shut Down, and if so- what are they busy doing to people in the dark?

How much can we really take and where will it all end?

Well, in Madagascar in 2014, demonstrators protested against prolonged blackouts and brought the seaport Toamasina to a complete standstill.

But in Zimbabwe it seems like we are doing what we do best- adjusting and finding a new normal. Infuriatingly, given what a non-confrontational citizenry we tend to be – you would think politicians would take the opportunity to offer us platforms for dialogue. But government is preoccupied with claiming things are getting better as the completely fall apart and opposition is for all (our) intents and purposes nonexistent (I have not heard one word from my MP since the day he was elected).

Maybe this coping mechanism; our unfailing ability to create a new normal; is what has kept us teetering on “just ok” on our mental wellbeing scales over the decades. But maybe it is also time to ask ourselves if nobody will say enough on our behalf- should we do it ourselves?

Source: Rumbidzai Zinyemba

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