BY TAPIWA GOMO
Sometime back, I stayed in one of the troubled East African countries along the coastline of the Indian Ocean. The country has endured nearly three decades of war and is now attempting to rise with the re-establishment of State institutions and proper governance systems. It is not an easy task but it is happening.
The climate in that country is very warm, oppressive, windy, and mostly cloudy. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 25 degrees to 35 degrees and is never below 25 degrees. However, the evenings tend to be cooler and windy; and at our lodgings there was a nice rooftop that overlooked the Indian ocean just after the airport runway. It is there that most people gathered during weekend evenings for a drink and dinner.
One of the mid-weekdays, I decided to go for a solo dinner at the rooftop and to enjoy the Indian Ocean breeze and to steam-off and unwind after a long and hectic day in office. I tucked myself near a corner facing the ocean side.
Just moments as I started to enjoy my dinner, a clowder of cats appeared and positioned themselves around my dinner table. They looked hungry and they wanted food. I had the food but I also wanted it. It was my food.
I do not have a good history with cats. My young age was full of “cat-fights” as I enjoyed stepping on their tails. Some cats were unforgiving, cantankerous and they would retaliate. And here on this day in this compound, the number of cats had grown exponentially and yet they was no one tasked to feed them.
They scrambled for food every meal time. On this day, my young-age discomfort with cats was evoked compounded by the awareness that a hungry cat can do anything for food and here I was surrounded by a clowder of them.
So, they started with their usual strategy. One mews to draw my sympathy while another crawled from under the bench, as the rest criss-crossed around — perhaps to unsettle me so I could abandon my dinner. I remained still and steady. They made their advances using different tactics. I held my ground but I had stopped eating which I thought pleased them.
My attempts to scare them away did not yield results. The cats were unwavering. Maybe this was their only chance for dinner and I was cornered.
My dinner was saved by a colleague, who I thought also intended to have a solo dinner at the rooftop. I told him of my battle to scare away the cats, how they were reluctant to leave me alone and disrupted my dinner.
He laughed and then he went downstairs to the kitchen to collect waste food in a huge bowl which he brought upstairs and placed at the far corner of the rooftop.
With speed all the cats trooped away and followed him and feasted from that bowl. I did not see them again that evening.
We resumed our dinner as he tried to tell me that hungry cats are unrelenting and if push comes to shove, they can attack just for food.
He further told me that the best way to handle that situation was to find them food and place it far. That way, the cats will never disrupt your meal. They are proud creatures.
As he continued to tell me how to deal with hungry cats, I began to relate it with the situation back home. Those in leadership are eating at the dinner table alone and lining their pockets with national resources. If they are asked about political instability in the country, they say there is no crisis but only a few individuals who are disrupting the stability of the country.
When you ask those who are protesting for bread and butter issues, they tell you that the leaders are eating alone while the rest are dying of hunger.
They are both unrelenting. The elite are unwilling to stop looting and to eat alone and they see protesters as the cats that are disrupting their dinner.
And for protesters, just like the cats at the rooftop, no one must eat when others are sleeping hungry, they will disrupt the party until they are fed.
There is a real challenge in this standoff. The elite are now disrupted from eating by the cats who, too, want to eat. In the absence of a level-headed person like my colleague, the battle will continue. If the standoff continues it is the elite who have everything to lose — the food will go bad and the cats will either feast on the remains or look for the next target until they are fed.
That was not the only lesson I learnt from that experience.
I also learnt that once the cats were fed, they had no business lingering around my dinner table.
In fact, they did not need me at all so my colleague and I enjoyed our peace, our dinner in our corners. Similarly, the day the elite decide to feed the masses, is the day they will know peace.
It is the same day they will realise that they are not as important as they think they are.
The only reason the masses make noise to them is because the elite are feasting on people’s food.