SOUNDTRACK: Where are the protest songs?


A day in the ordinary Zimbabwean is ever eventful.

Just think of my friend, John, a single guy renting a single room in Kuwadzana.

He wakes up to the new normal ‘magetsi aenda’ chorus.

His alternative, LP gas, is now being sold only in US dollars by the local guy who tells him, ‘haa mdara, kwatinohodha havachada mambond’

John is a civil servant, and his salary comes in the weirdly named RTGS$, which is basically a bank balance deposited into his account every month.

To get the US dollars for the gas, John will have to go to the parallel market, where he has to folk out RTGS$21 to get US$3 to buy 3 kg of gas, enough for a week.

He does not have the money and he forgoes breakfast.

Water supply has been cut, so he rushes to the borehole with a bucket, but there is a long queue already, so he heads back home.

Back at home, John has no choice but to reach out to neighbour, Amai Susan, who gladly offers a bucket of water.

Amai Susan is a fine young woman whose husband went to South Africa last year to look for a job but never called.

In addition to the water, John was offered a plate of warm leftover porridge, which he ate like a baby, under the watch of Amai Susan, who sat on the other side of the bed in John’s single room.

As he headed to work, John, who had paid a dollar of the new $2 fare, was sitting PaKadoma, that section of the kombi behind the driver’s seat, where people who pay less are made to sit, with their legs squashed, and facing the rest of the passengers.

John is depressed, but sees more misery on the faces of the 16 passengers in the kombi and the song playing on the overhead speakers, Rugare, by the late Tongai Moyo is like a soundtrack to the sad movie that Zimbabwean life has become.

“Nyika yenyu ishe yave mamvemve, nyika yenyu ishe yave marengenya, ndiyaniko waviga rugare, ndianiko watipa kutambura…” goes the song.

As the song played, John’s mind wandered to back in the day, when music spoke to the situation of the day.

He remembered when Thomas Mapfumo sang the track Corruption and the late Solomon Skuza did the classic reggae tune, Love and Scandals at the height of the Willowgate Scandal, while the likes of Edwin Hama had tracks Asila Mali and The Morning Newspaper, among others when the effects of economic structural adjustments popularly known as ESAP were gnawing into the working class.

The late Leonard Dembo, a former labourer at the Coca Cola plant, contributed to speaking out with some of his tracks which include Chinyemu, Ndibatsirewo Ndanzwa,and Zorora Wawana.
Leonard Zhakata did his part with Mugove in the 1990s and was to later sing the classic Sakunatsa, and Rwendo Rwembiri.

Dhewa did memorable tracks like Rugare, Chingwa, and Gomo Rinorema and Simon Chimbetu has classics such as Survival, Zuva Raenda, Simba Nederere,and Ndima, among others.

These are just a few examples of artistes and tracks that spoke of the socio-economic and political currency of the time and the focus often was on the inequalities that existed in society, where there was now the post-independence black elite that had replaced the colonial white minority.

Many artistes sang, often without much repercussion, with the worst being denied airplay.

It was only in the early 2000s that government began systematically suppressing works of art perceived to speak truth to power.

Musicians were hounded, and self-censorship became the new way of self-protection among artistes.

Then Mugabe left office, and there is now what is being called ‘the new dispensation’

Things have not gotten any better economically and the austerity measures appear to be affecting the already poor and it is like a return to the 2008 economic collapse.

The working class is watching salaries getting eroded by inflation and the informal sector is affected by the uncertainty and the currency distortions.

Prices are going up every day amid a crippling fuel crisis and a shortage of medication in health institutions that serve the ordinary people.

In the midst of all this, security forces, who were in streets in August last year and January this year and were recorded opening fire on ordinary citizens, are standing by on watch, in case there is any form of dissent.

As the kombi drove towards the city centre, John, who believed that music was the best soundtrack to any situation, bad or good, asked himself if there were any artistes left who could sing, with great depth, about a day in the ordinary Zimbabwean.

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