Tinomudaishe Chinyoka, Harare Bureau
Many people think, and they are wrong to think this, that Zimbabwe begins and ends in Harare.
In fact, many in the opposition believe this, and this is a clue as to why they lose elections, that Twitter represents the entire voting population of Zimbabwe.
For it is on that micro-blogging site that their battles are fought, and “won”. They talk about how many followers their leader has, how they are more than those that follow President Mnangagwa, but forget that Twitter accounts do not vote, and that many of their friends have dozens each under fake names.
Fortunately, fake accounts cannot vote in elections. Where I come from, Mberengwa North, where vast swathes of land have network connectivity limited to the government-owned NetOne alone, (apparently we are not very important to other service providers), real people have real concerns and while they access social media, they do not think it the beginning and end of their lives.
It is on social media that last week, Nelson Chamisa, leader of the MDC Alliance asked his followers to begin a week of prayer and fasting in preparation for as yet undefined but potentially unlawful mass action. And, starting from Monday July 29, 2019, he has sent daily devotionals from the Christian Bible, exhorting his followers to carry on the fast, running a countdown.
His lieutenants, in typical herd fashion, have embraced this call and are busy cajoling members to “follow the leader”. Unfounded claims about Zanu-PF’s time being “up” are made at every opportunity. Recent MDC convert and Zanu-PF-government-educated Fadzayi Mahere, perhaps acknowledging that the “debt” the party owed her has been “paid” since she is no longer in need of further education, keeps repeating that “Zanu-PF belongs to the past”.
Despite it being the party of government, but then again they never did bother about details.
Out in Mberengwa North, the people are going about their business, concerned about water for their cattle and the distance from their villages to the nearest ECD centre. In Chamawanga village, mothers say that their children have to start school late because at age 4 or 5, it would be impossible for them to walk the distance to Rusvinge Primary School to start Grade 0. Further north in the Chomukoto mountains, a borehole sited three years ago remains unsunk because the contractor went back to Masvingo and promised to return but never did.
During weekends, many people go to church in Mberengwa North. Home to the Lemba under Chief Mposi, a people whose claim to Jewish ancestry has been genetically proven, many go to the synagogue on Saturday. A Jewish charity spent all of last week not fasting and praying but running a medical and dental clinic from Danga, where many thronged to be examined and treated. They began working in earnest on July 15, 2019, but on the 13th people had begun queueing already.
The majorityof the people are Lutherans, they worship on Sundays. There are other churches too and many who simply do not attend church. Recently, perhaps in a ploy to win over Jewish descendants over to their faith, Arab missionaries set up a mission station in Dumbwi, the Guruuswa of the Lemba in Mberengwa.
My brother is a headman in the village where I am building my homestead, in the land of our fathers, and all of June I did not find him at home. He was busy scanning the area for water for our livestock. The borehole in the area broke down years back. I advised him to find a pump-minder and his quest is over. He is at home more often now.
The people are not fasting in Mberengwa North. When you ask Haruperi why she does not fast, she laughs before she answers you. Why, she asks. We fast all the time from the things that they eat, which we do not have, she adds. Ukavona munhu achikwira ndege kunokumbira ma sanctions munhu iyeye haana zhara, she says. Her mother lost five children before she was born, she has lost three, she thinks from not having enough. Clearly, in her family, rufu haruperi. Tasiyana, her neighbour, asks, “ko vasiri maKristu unoti vadini?”
Someone is building a gold smelter at the foot of the Chomukoto mountains without consulting anyone in authority; not the chief, not the council, not EMA. Zhou, who lives nearby, worries about the potential contamination that will occur. “Kubva kuno kusvika nyasi kuMundi-Matanga dam uko, mvura ichazara sainedi”, he says.
There is clearly more insight in the people than they are given credit for.
While recent converts to the MDC believe that “rurals” must not run the country, that only private school-educated people must be in government, it turns out that these rural voters are politically astute. They can clearly state the problems that they face.
The cyanide used in gold smelting poses a real danger to the water catchment area. The hardships brought about by the sanctions are visible for the people to see and the hypocrisy of a politician who calls upon his followers to help him detox from eating too much is also plain to see.
And, like Tasiyana asks, what about those who are not Christians? Do they have a place in Chamisa’s version of Zimbabwe? The Muslims, the Hindi, the Jews, and those who simply have chosen to not affiliate with any theology? What is their place in this vision? Clearly, this is a leader who conflates religion with Christianity, and appears unwilling to look at anything else. No wonder why he conflates Zimbabwe with Twitter.
We have witnessed how religion can be used to trick people into losing property, abandoning jobs, losing family members and, losing themselves to the predatory instincts of “prophets” and other charlatans. When you interrogate these things, it has always been the cynical manipulation of religion by the leader that has been at fault. It would seem, unfortunately, that there is now a concerted effort by politicians to use religion as a weapon with which to hoodwink people into becoming zombie followers of a lost cause.
Fortunately, it would seem that the people are wise to the ploy. If the example of Mberengwa North is anything to go by, the people know what their problems are, who is to blame, and what needs to be done to address them. They will not follow a call to fast by someone who thinks that they have forgotten about his sanctions-begging trip or the privileged followers who surrounds him who also believe that those from the rural areas are good for nothing, but following.
And, the voice of the people is the voice of god. Any god.