One of the timeless, and therefore iconic, rock songs of my generation is Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits from the iconic album of the same name.
Report by Albert Gumbo
It is best listened to during an uninterrupted cruise on a stretch of highway or during the days of the walkman, on a Sunday afternoon stroll.
The song is intense with the accompanying electric guitar evoking the pain and comfort evoked and felt at the same time by the genius of Mark Knopfler. It is a song for Zimbabwe.
In one section, Knopfler says, “There’s so many different worlds, so many different suns, and we have just one world but we live in different ones.”
There was a time in Zimbabwe when going to town, for the poor, actually meant going downtown as far as Chinoyi street and in exceptional cases, as far as First Street in Harare. In Bulawayo, it was as far as Lobengula street and in the exceptional case as far as Main. Once a year, in Bulawayo, the masses would venture across Main street in an exciting time to the Trade fair grounds to collect pages and pages of pamphlets that they never ever looked at again.
Even the ‘world bank’ despite its pretentious name did not venture beyond Fort Street. Zimbabwe has always been a divided country, first following colonial design based on race and then swiftly by economic reality as the black middle class mostly moved in to the northern or eastern suburbs in Harare and Bulawayo respectively.
Even my example of the uninterrupted cruise or the walkman is distinctly middle class although if you caught the chicken bus to Shurugwi in the early eighties you might have heard rock songs like ‘Gypsy Girl’ by David Scobie who has since moved back to his native Scotland.
Yet there was a time when the country was innocent. There was a time when one could work genuinely hard and make the transition from Highfields to Cranborne before finally ‘making it’ to Highlands and beyond.
Despite the one world of Zimbabwe’s myriad of economic challenges that include power and water outages, the different worlds reality ensures that cholera and typhoid remain the preserve of the poor. It is the same poor toiling every five years or so to put the elite in power through their vote, stone throwing or being the targets of said stone throwing who continue to bear the brunt of the extinguished promise. For the promise was once nascent and growing.
Township life was not a disgrace! You could go to Chinoyi street and buy chinos under the ‘Sting” brand and you could drink at Mushandira Pamwe Hotel while listening to Oliver Mutukudzi and the Black Spirits or Thomas Mapfumo at The Kambuzuma hotel.
Now surrounded by open sewers, the fear of political violence to the point where they prefer to postpone elections, all dignity has been stripped of the people. Ti’s true then when Knopfler sings “ You did not desert me my brothers in arms.” It is true of the poor anyway.
Certainly not for the political elite who continue to show up for rallies and votes but not for the social upliftment of a once proud people. You see, the elite have the disease of forgetting from whence they once came and become the “fools to make war on our brothers in arms.”
The born frees have turned 32 and the majority have self imposed exile, holding down two to three jobs each in England and the US, to show for it while their parents locked out of erstwhile thriving factories make a weekly trek to Western Union or some such agency to receive what little assistance they can from their children.
Their days are as dark as the storm clouds one hears in the intro to Brothers in Arms and their lives are like the mist coloured mountains that Knofler evokes in the opening line of the song. There will be no return to the valleys and the farms in the lowlands where the people once thrived because a rapacious elite has consumed that dream through the fields of destruction that marked the noble and just idea of land reform.
Yet as Knopfler reminds us, “Every man has to die” and what is important to every man, I reckon, is how they choose to be remembered. As pre-independence heroes are laid to rest at Heroes Acre, the majority of our post independence heroes live outside the country.
The heroes of sport, music, literature and business who would help to lift a nation’s gaze and pride live a life of nostalgia beyond our borders and the gap left by the forced export of their skills is difficult to fill, leaving the very old trapped in economic hell and the very young born in to it.
It needn’t have been so. It can change for the better and it is not all doom and gloom. If Zambia did it, Zimbabwe can also move from daily outages to taking electricity and water supply for granted again. Our people should be demanding regular elections on time, every time and not postponing them because the memory of the recent violent and intimidating past is only too vivid in our fragile minds. That is a slippery slope that can be exploited by future elites because the ‘conditions are not right.’
The conditions are certainly right for Zimbabweans to say Zimbabwe will never be a hostage again. A hostage to the elite who forget their brothers in arms when they get in to power.