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The Zimbabwean Response: Passivity or Strategy?

You should have seen me during the first week of April, glued to my computer or scrolling down cable channels to catch video and sound bites on Zimbabwe. I was ready to see real change and to join the subsequent nation-rebuilding dialogue. And I was already brainstorming on what my national-scale contribution would be. But all hopes crumbled when it became apparent that nothing would change that fast, that it would take some time before we knew the results of the elections. Then, when the results finally came, a strong fog of uncertainty was already hanging over the troubled country. But see, I am out of the country and my anxiety has also been exacerbated by not being on the ground to witness the reality attending to the people. I have become more aware of the uselessness of the media sources that I have relied on to raise my hopes for change. I have, however, noticed that the world has many questions about the Zimbabwean situation, questions leading to more questions, questions that seem to defy answers.

Even as the country seems mired in confusion, there is definitely the sense that change, real change, is inevitable. As this change prepares to take off, many questions regarding the future of the country are springing up. Only yesterday, a Sacramento man who visited Zimbabwe and South Africa in 2007 asked if Morgan Tsvangirai would give back the land to white farmers after he got in power. This is one of the questions that have been appearing in different forums and debates recently. Sources ranging from NewZimbabwe.com to SW Radio show that many people in Zimbabwe would not go for the idea of giving back the land. Instead, some prefer a system where the land redistribution would be done more equitably and fairly, since the current belief is that government corruption put the land in the wrong hands.

The other question burning a hole in the conscience of Zimbabwe is that of corruption. The black market has grown extensively in Zimbabwe, and for some it has become the only way of survival in a difficult economic environment. There is the suspicion that even when change comes to Zimbabwe and nation rebuilding begins, it would take a long time to normalize the way business is done in the country. The few that are doing well in the current business climate would not be willing to give up their source of income. A few speculate that over time, things would settle down and become normal. Connected to this question is that of inflation. How long is it going to take to stabilize the currency? Assuming that the change will attract foreign investment and donor funding, chances are that stabilization of the currency may occur sooner than most expect, although it will be met with obstacles in other areas of slower change, such as, perhaps, in the employment sector.

Recently, the Chicago Tribune carried an article entitled “Absence of Street Fury in Zimbabwe Puzzles Analysts,” which questions why Zimbabweans are not taking to the streets to fight for their rights. Paul Salopek, the article’s author, observes, “This deep well of stoicism—or, as some critics sneer, passivity—in Zimbabwe’s victimized population has for years been a source of puzzlement to many Africa analysts, humanitarian workers and foreign journalists, who contrast Zimbabweans’ seemingly inexhaustible acceptance of suffering with deadly explosions of electoral fury elsewhere in Africa, most recently in Kenya.”

This has been a disturbing question, leading to other questions: Why are Zimbabweans not like Kenyans? Why is Zimbabwe not showing that it is another Rwanda? Why are Zimbabweans not engaging in violence to show the government that the people are the true rulers of a country? As the questions proliferate, so do the answers and speculations: Any act of mass violence would be met with government violence, which would lead to the death of innocent people. Demonstrations would lead to a civil war and chaos. Of course, the Zimbabweans know that their efforts would be fruitless, since the government controls the army and owns lots of guns. The government, some argue, would not hesitate to kill the people, so the people don’t want to put themselves in danger.

A common explanation for the inactivity of Zimbabweans is the fear of war. The Chimurenga War left memories of extreme violence in people, and most would rather struggle to find ways to survive than engage in violence. Some have argued that Zimbabweans have learned from other African countries that violence always begets violence and that many lives are lost for no reason. Certainly, Zimbabweans themselves would not want to repeat Kenya, Rwanda, or Sierra Leone. The Zimbabwean electorate understands that the world’s expectations of African violence is a stereotype that should not be allowed to continue growing. And how about this simple answer: Zimbabweans are too busy figuring out ways to stay alive in a place where survival seems impossible, which means that they really have no time to waste staging violent demonstrations? This has been supported by the argument that the only statement the people had to make was made at the polls—they voted, and now they are waiting.

Waiting. Somewhere in the new philosophy of life in Zimbabwe is a rich reserve for patience, where the idea of waiting perches like a domineering eagle. Somewhere in there, waiting has been raised to levels never seen before elsewhere, a new concept from which many in the world might learn. It seems that as Zimbabweans wait, the world, where it’s not losing patience with them, is also waiting, waiting for the obvious, waiting for the unknown. Waiting has become a confusing world of questions without answers for some, a world of silly questions with silly answers for others, but a world of questions all the same.

A whole month has gone by, and I am still scouring the world of news, discovering questions and looking for answers. It has become apparent that the news and reports either fabricate the truth or the truth is just nowhere to be found. What stands out though is the stark reality that in Zimbabwe, the idea of change itself has taken a desperate turn, that there is a change in the way change happens.

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