Sometimes early in the morning large crowds of young men come running along the streets of Mbare (and no doubt elsewhere, too) singing war songs.
Even though they do not enter any house, no one can miss the message: “We are here, we are watching you, we are ready to pounce if you try any funny business, we have beaten you and we can do it again.”
As the raucous singing is fading away, the ever-present fear in our hearts is reinforced: “Keep your head down, don’t get involved on the “wrong” side, keep quiet, watch what you say in case someone hears you and reports you to his ‘chef’.”
We live in fear, no doubt. What frightens them is for some the stamping feet of those “toy-toying” young bullies, for others the raised fist, or the slogans and songs remembered from pungwes, meant to bring back the war.
For me it is the sound of helicopters that scares me. I was living next to an airfield where heavy gunships used to land and take off again on their way to Zambia to attack guerrilla camps. Those rotating blades and roaring engines mean war to me, blood and death.
Police with long, vicious-looking batons give me the creeps. They seem to say: “You are all naughty children we have to teach how to dance to our tune by stinging pain.”
Actually policewomen upset me most, not because they would hit harder, they don’t.
But if even women behave like violent thugs, what hope is there? Aren’t women by their more gentle ways, by persuasion rather than violence, civilising the more brutal male? I don’t like to see them in battle dress either, let alone carrying guns. Old-fashioned? Sure.
Women may laugh. But I was born in a war, I lived through a war. To me it is not a laughing matter.
If you are frightened you cannot walk with your head held high. You need to hide, try to be invisible, disappear in the crowd.
You need to conform, adapt, shut your mouth, stop letting on what you think, in fact have no thoughts of your own at all, become a zombie.
Is not liberation precisely freedom from fear? Did people not fight for the right to walk upright with their heads held high, free to speak their minds, free to show that they had minds of their own (which their oppressors scoffed at)?
How come people are still afraid, despite all those “freedom fighters”, some still alive, many laid to rest on various “heroes’ acres”?
Intimidation is a way of controlling people, dominating them. Fear is worse than putting handcuffs on people: it enters the mind and shackles people’s thoughts.
As soon as you hint that something is “political” we change the subject and stop thinking. We are like trained dogs, we have absorbed our masters’ thoughts, their commands and orders, thinking or doing something “political” we regard as a criminal act and have a bad conscience over it.
It is not only politicians who know these tricks. Anyone aspiring to power knows about mind control.
Billions and trillions are spent on ever more sophisticated weapons to intimidate the enemy.
Nobody actually wants to drop an atom bomb, but everybody wants the world to know that you have it, just in case.
The cold war was a game of mutual scare tactics. It somehow worked out, the balance of terror prevented an actual atomic war — but at what price! We could have wiped out all infectious diseases and provided every family in the world with clean water with those trillions.
Even teachers of good morals and religion have their scare tactics. “Stick to one partner so you don’t get Aids”. It is partly true. And yet it is intimidation.
Some preachers play on people’s fears and speak more about Satan than God, and how to be delivered from the forces of evil. And for “deliverance” you need to pay hard cash, everybody understands this.
Exorcising the possessed paradoxically enhances their belief in insidious spirits and increases their fear and dependence on the exorcist.
Three months after “delivery” they are back asking for more of the same.
I used to get angry with some little boys making a racket beating our church drums.
Now I am mortified when I see them running away every time they see me. We are all at times intimidating. Even the best of mothers occasionally slaps her offspring when they become too trying. And don’t we hear about “God’s anger” in Scripture?
Didn’t Jesus drive the money changers out of the temple?
Indeed, looking on calmly when your neighbour is being assaulted and humiliated is no virtue. You need to act, “cunning as snakes and yet innocent as doves”.
“God is love”, Scripture says simply. Which may well mean that “God hears the cry of the oppressed” and sends them Moses to get them out of the clutches of Pharaoh. “In love there is no room for fear”.
This may well mean that out of love we may do things which otherwise we would be afraid to do, like speaking ‘truth to power’.
Love can be a matter of courage. If some people have no fear that does not mean that nothing fearful happens. It means that even threats and intimidation do not stop them from doing what is right and just.