Ordinary Zimbabweans heroes of economic struggles

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Learnmore Zuze

The late reggae music legend Robert Nesta Marley, fondly known as Bob Marley, sang in one of his inspired tracks: “One good thing about music: when it hits, you feel no pain.” His words ring true in the ears of many who appreciate the stupendous power of music.

Learmore Zuze

Last week, nonetheless, I was left with a somewhat changed viewpoint after listening to some local music compilation on Zimbabwe’s economic struggles. The compilation, simply titled Economic struggles, brought me to a conclusion I would never have embraced before: perhaps the reggae music icon was wrong after all, because the melancholic songs on the compilation hit hard, one feels the pain in song. How could one not come to such a conclusion after listening to a discography of music that captures the struggles endured by Zimbabweans in the last two decades? A litany of sorrowful songs, from the late Edwin Hama’s all-time classic, Today’s Paper, Paul Mpofu’s Mapepa enyika,Thomas Mapfumo’s Corruption, Leonard Zhakata’s Mugove to Simon Chimbetu’s Ndaremerwa, among many others, mirror the sorry state of affairs of post-independence Zimbabwe. Edwin Hama’s Waiting for a new day and Asila Mali can easily move one to tears. The songs cannot be more relevant than they were when they were first composed over two decades ago.

In Today’s Paper, Hama bemoans the then new economic misfortunes and caustic government policies. The melancholic tune, Asila Mali, bewails the devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar. Those were the beginning of pains in the early 1990s, but very few saw it coming with full wrath. Waiting for a new day is one song that Zimbabweans are still singing with gusto and enthusiasm to date. The “new day” certainly has not arrived and many have left the country while others, sad to say, have died before seeing the “new day”. If anything, the “new day” seems to be drifting away. What, with millions, being unable to feed themselves, with the sea of hungry faces in the streets hawking every day?

Zhakata’s Mugove, a song sung at the height of the devastating Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap), is unmistakable with the hard-hitting message, which identifies with the suffering masses. Zhakata, personifying the weary Zimbabwean soul, cries out to the Lord to deliver him from the jaws of poverty. He personifies the impoverished masses that are almost getting past retirement years pleading with the Lord to release blessings that may be stored somewhere in the heavens. A number of Mapfumo’s tunes follow, all with tear-jerking messages of the depressed and oppressed Zimbabwean soul. One wonders whether Mukanya was some kind of prophet because when he began highlighting the ills so rampant in today’s Zimbabwe, very few people saw things his way. The song Corruption was a chart-topping number with a distinct reggae beat, where he highlighted the corruption scourge ravaging the country today. Even the song Hurukuro inhamo squarely fits in today’s set-up, where many are incessantly mournful of difficulties, while a few live in sickening opulence. The late Farai Pio Macheka also comes in with the song, Gadzirisai nyaya yedhora. Apparently, the dollar had started its free-fall in the late 1990s, prompting the song.

Realising the “new day” was increasingly becoming unrealisable, thousands began to seek refuge in foreign lands, where some faced clear rejection. Many will remember how locals were cruelly deported from London upon arrival at the turn of the century. Millions opted for South Africa, where the xenophobia and abuse never end. Superstar, Oliver Mtukudzi, then weighs in with the song Nhava, where he laments the long trips to London; have the trips yielded forth the results or the locals are dying from endless years of vain toil? The late Tongai Moyo’s song, Chingwa, then pays tribute to illegal gold panners (makorokoza) for trying to survive in a punishing environment capturing the story of the people’s economic struggle.

The weary Zimbabwean continues to fight in the face of mounting difficulties. After listening to the struggle music, one cannot help but realise that our definition of a hero certainly needs a second look. Zimbabweans have endured a lot, particularly in the last decade-and-a-half and their resilience ought to be applauded. Less than 700 000 people are formally employed yet in the bustling streets of Harare and nearby towns, you won’t find an idle person in sight. Hawkers offer vegetables, tomatoes, airtime, soft drinks, clothes or shoes. Shops and bars operate in shacks. Vendors won’t give up the fight, as they square up with police and council operatives.

Many still use their homes for various small business ventures like peanut butter making, barbershops and salons.

It would appear the whole country has become one huge marketplace.

All said and done, one can only look in wonderment at the resilient spirit of the Zimbabwean people. And, as scores of local musicians have captured in song, may be the Lord will bring the “new day” which Hama sang about.
Indeed, even the ordinary Zimbabweans are heroes too; heroes of the economic struggle.

Learnmore Zuze is a legal researcher, author, and media analyst. He writes here in his own capacity.
e-mail: lastawa77@gmail.com

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