I was driving from Mthatha to East London heading in to the sunset with a famous South African musician when the storm struck. Basically from the wheel I felt the car being pushed sideways and before I could say something was wrong, a piece of roof sheeting flew off a house right across the highway. My brain refused to register what my eyes were seeing and it was only when a canopy flew off a bakkie (what we call a pick up) and the lady screamed did I slow to a crawl. The electric poles to our right were literally swaying to and from the ground as they grimly held on to their foundations. Fortunately none of the cables snapped. After a few very scary minutes, the storm passed and we carried on with our trip.
This is what happens in life in general and, in Zimbabwe, in particular. We carry on with our trip because the cable hardly snaps for us. It gets severely stretched for most Zimbabweans but the definition of snapping is very different for all of us. Some had their pensions completely wiped out with hyperinflation, thousands more lost their jobs and worse, I believe, is to come. For some, there is an escape to the diaspora. I do not know any Zimbabwean who does not have a relative in a foreign country. The scale of family break ups is unprecedented. It is not the case of a successful daughter going on to greater things elsewhere to conquer the world, it is mostly the case of people being forced to up and leave.
The greatest cable snap, though, is forced disappearance of a loved one. For the disappeared, there is the terror of knowing that your loved ones will never have closure, the sheer horror of being alone in the world and the very real possibility of dying and being buried in an unmarked grave or dumped in a lake. For family and friends, lack of closure after a loved one has disappeared is torture till the end of days.
Patrick Nabanyama’s cable snapped in June 2000 when he was abducted by unknown persons. To this date, no one has been able to shed light on what happened to him. For a whole year, every Friday at the small City Hall steps in Bulawayo, I stood with a dozen or so people with a hailer in my hand and loudly asked the question: “Where is Patrick Nabanyama?” This culminated in a march around the Bulawayo CBD and a memorial at a city church where I declared the following in my brief remarks, “you may kill all of us but I guarantee someone will replace us.” Later on I organised a job for his daughter at a local retailer but it was not long before she left for South Africa. Patrick Nabanyama was declared dead by a provincial magistrate in August 2010.
As far as well documented disappearances go, another cable snapped for another Zimbabwean activist. Itai Dzamara replaced Patrick Nabanyama and was kidnapped in similar circumstances as Patrick’s on March 9, 2015. The hand of evil never tires. As June 16, global symbol of youth resistance, approaches I call upon the twitterati and Zimbabwean society in general to stand up for Itai and publicly demand to know about his whereabouts and the truth behind his abduction. I call upon the opposition political parties to set aside their incessant and destructive bickering to rally around the question of demanding answers on the disappearance of Itai, Patrick and other undocumented cases. It is time to march.
We, too, were shadowed by shadowy people. We, too, were afraid as am sure the youth of June 16 were in South Africa. But we were driven by our conscience knowing that standing up, publicly, was the right thing to do. I remember vividly, people looking at me as if I was crazy as we stood every Friday at the City Hall. I remember people ignoring us as they went about their chores and I remember appealing to them to join us. I also remember vividly my fellow black middle class friends asking me to be careful.
Look how far we have fallen as a country, as a people, as human beings. What is that former UN Secretary General Dag Hammaskjold admonished us with? “Never, for the sake of peace and quiet, deny your own experience and convictions.”
Zimbabweans have peace and quiet but it is the defeated peace and quiet of a battered spouse. It is not the pride and dignity that made Jimmy Cliff sing, “I would rather be a free man in my grave, than living as a puppet or a slave.” We have lost face, Zimbabwe. We have lost face before the world because we have not dared stand up in the way others do. The world does not owe us. We owe the world an example of courage, fortitude and solidarity. Only when we do that, will the world stand up with us. I stood up. David Coltart stood up. Morgan Tsvangirai, Gibson Sibanda, Moses Mzila Ndlovu, and Tendai Biti stood up. Welshman Ncube stood up. The dozen people who stood with me at the small city hall stood up. Many stood up but not enough of us and impunity carried the day once again.
Zimbabwe’s cable is close to snapping. This June 16 and beyond, stand up for Itai, Patrick and Zimbabwe. Stand up and peacefully ask, where is our Zimbabwe? Why are our people not home? What happened to our prosperity? Why is our constitution only on paper? Bring back Itai, bring back our Zimbabwe!