By Takura Zhangazha*
I have on occasion grimaced in international fora when Zimbabwe is mentioned. Or when watching a media programme about any new developments that will have occurred in the country. From a cholera outbreak, to a naturally occurring tropical cyclone, a general election or even a visit by one or the other international celebrity.
This is mainly because Zimbabwe’s narrative and placement in global discourse appears to be set in stone.
Its without doubt a negative narrative. One that is neither preferable nor always truthful. But one that has become somewhat almost run of the course, pre-ordained perception of what our country was, is and will ‘inevitably’ be. Unless specific and somewhat pre-approved ‘things’ or ‘events’ happen in it. Especially as they relate to our recent history. Be it in relation to the globally derided fast track land reform programme (FTLRP), our continually contested general elections and as with many other countries on the African continent, a perceived failure to meet the requirements of a global capitalist economy.
Our narrative in global spaces however remains particularly unique. We pop up in narratives of failed states as though one cannot land an aeroplane at Robert Mugabe International airport. Or stories about cholera outbreaks that have a unique angle to them when it comes to Zimbabwe when this is clearly a general sub-regional problem with the same occurring in neighboring countries.
Never mind stories about our Diaspora when again, across the whole African continent we have very serious problems with emigration to the global north where it is now increasingly clear we are not wanted. Even, in some cases, for the cheapest of our labours. All the while losing precious lives in the Sahel or in the Mediterranean sea on what are more perilous journeys than a flight via Dubai to Europe or North America. Or an illegal crossing of the Limpopo river to South Africa.
Even when we crosscheck how the Zimbabwe story is perceived by those that are our neighbors such as South Africa, they also look at us through lenses that assume a Conradian ‘darkness’ about us. Even as they lynch us. While this also happens to other African brothers and sisters living and working in South Africa, we, thanks to social media, generally get falsely blamed for issues we have no inkling about.
The key question is why does this narrative persist? Moreso when we have one of the most neo-liberal governments since 1980 under the present Zanu Pf leadership of Emmerson Mnangagwa. The latter has been attempting to tick all the neoliberal boxes as it were under his engagement and re-engagement policies. Something that it appears private global capital appears not to have a major problem with. Except where and when it comes to political matters such as elections, human rights- and where it concerns in particular the human right to private property.
So the first reason why Zimbabwe’s narrative in the global arena will probably not change in the lifetime of persons my age is because of the fact that our country defied that one most seemingly sacrosanct right to private property with the FTLRP. And also former president Mugabe’s ‘indigenization’ economic policy. Hence we now have a national ‘compensation’ policy for former white farmers. And also a courting from the highest national levels of global financialised private capital into our mining industry in a relatively clumsy attempt at ‘normalisation’ of the national political economy. I use the term ‘clumsy’ here because it is a mixture of nationalism and profit, two elements that in a globalized economy are not good bedfellows.
The second reason why our negative narrative persists is because it has become almost a given culture when people in power in the global north look derisively at African and/or global south states that they definitively do not agree with ideologically or in some cases, historically. Or at least those that will not side with them. Be it in favour of their erstwhile rivals such as China, Russia or any of the left leaning governments of South America.
And this is where the global media comes into the mix. Zimbabwe has been lumped with almost propagandistic comparisons with countries where there has been or is existent outright conflict/war. So much so that when you watch cable television or view clips on social media you ask yourself, “How am I still in this country?” Yet there are still millions of us here. With variegated understandings of our own existence and futures. But no, we are not dying in numbers or in the equivalent of concentration camps that we are now clearly seeing in some parts of the Middle East.
The third and final reason why our house of stone’s narrative appears set in stone, is that in most cases, out of general naivety, we will it on ourselves. In contrast to the rebelliousness that for example Fanon and Biko among many others so desired. It is regrettably almost as though a good number of influencers want this negative narrative on Zimbabwe. Even where it has no factual basis but fits a specific twenty-plus year narrative.
You may ask is there a contrary narrative to what obtains. My answer is yes. It is a narrative that relates to facts and not what you feel you want to hear. Zimbabwe is not by any stretch of comparison a ‘failed state’. It is not at ‘war’. We need to counter these ‘set in stone’ narratives. We may not be up there in terms of various neoliberal global indices, but we will be alright.
I will end with an anecdotal comment. Upon arriving in the United Kingdom in the early 2000s, a British cde asked me if we had an airport back at home. I asked him why? He said based on what he had seen on the media and heard from his local MP and the asylum seekers, he thought I had arrived by ship from Zimbabwe! I replied, no I came on British Airways.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his own personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)