The struggle for Zimbabwe lit up the imagination of people around the world. In London, New York, Accra and Lagos, bell-bottomed men and women with big hair and towering platform shoes sang the dream of Zimbabwe in the words of the eponymous song by Bob Marley: Every man has the right to decide his own destiny.
I was in a very multi-racial, multi-cultural schooling system. I had a really delightful childhood. I was a jock. I became a very competitive swimmer in Zimbabwe. I was a swimmer, a tennis player, a hockey player. Then, when I was 13, I joined a Children's Performing Arts workshop in Zimbabwe.
Remember one thing as South Africa prepares to go to the polls this week and the world grapples with the ascendancy of the African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma: South Africa is not Zimbabwe. In South Africa, no one doubts that Wednesday's elections will be free and fair. While there is an unacceptable degree of government corruption, there is no evidence of the wholesale kleptocracy of Robert Mugabe's elite. While there has been the abuse of the organs of state by the ruling ANC, there is not the state terror of Mugabe's Zanu-PF. And while there is a clear left bias to Zuma's ANC, there is no suggestion of the kind of voluntarist experimentation that has brought Zimbabwe to its knees.
If you'd like to meet some fully realized characters while learning some specifics of Zimbabwe's postcolonial struggles, as I did, you're likely to come away with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction. If you're willing to settle for first-rate writing and provocative meditations on memory, corruption and loss, they are all here in abundance.
I learned so much in Zimbabwe, in particular about the need for humility in our ambition to extend mental health care in countries where there were very few psychiatrists and where the local culture harboured very different views about mental illness and healing. These experiences have profoundly influenced my thinking.
There is absolutely no doubt that Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF have lost the popular support of the people of Zimbabwe. And the more they become intransigent, the more they become vicious and try to repress people, the more it turns people against them, and the less chance they have of ever holding onto power.
I started, actually, as an analyst on African affairs, mainly on Al Jazeera. I remember the first few series were about Saudi students, and the negotiations between the government and the Sudanese rebels in the south. And then, slowly, I was speaking about Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and a few other places.
When I was 15, I went on a cricket tour of Zimbabwe with my school. My defining memory of it was stroking a semi-tame lioness at a game reserve. I grew up on a farm, so I felt I had an affinity with animals, and when it put a paw out, I thought I'd connected with it. But its claws came out and nicked my leg. Then I did the most stupid thing: I ran.
For decades, Robert Mugabe has thumbed his nose at the world. The long-time dictator has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist, repeatedly insulted foreign dignitaries, ignored regional and international agreements to which he was a signatory, and isolated the country from any legitimate international economic or political engagement.
I don't believe in soul mates, not exactly. I think it's ridiculous to think there's only one person out there for us. What if your 'soul mate' lives in Zimbabwe? What if he dies young? I also think 'two souls becoming one' is ridiculous. You need to hold on to yourself. But I do believe in souls being in sync, souls that mirror each other.
The organization I founded in 1993, Camfed (the Campaign for Female Education), was in large part inspired by the generosity shown to me by a community in a village in Zimbabwe. During my visit to Mola to research girls' exclusion from education, the people of Mola fed me, shaded me, walked and talked with me for hours each day.
The World Bank, anxious that the last vestiges of Zimbabwe's former inclination toward socialism be abandoned, successfully urged the imposition of a token tuition charge for all grade levels. Equivalent to one U. S. dollar per year per child, this fee constitutes a burden to the poorest families, who have responded by sending only boys to classes. Too many of the girls... have resorted to prostitution in order to eat.
It has been hard to muster the resources to support fledgling democracies- or to help the world's most desperate - the AIDS orphan in Uganda, the refugee fleeing Zimbabwe, the young woman who has been trafficked into the sex trade in Southeast Asia; the world's poorest in Haiti. Yet this assistance - together with the compassionate works of private charities - people of conscience and people of faith - has shown the soul of our country.
I've worked with farmers in Zimbabwe who've lost their lands. I've worked with people in Venezuela, under threat of kidnappings, whose external world is unstable. But they have very strong social connections with their family and friends. And as a result, they're able to maintain a greater level of happiness and optimism than I've seen from bankers, consultants, or salespeople who are on the road all the time, who follow jobs separated from their families, and, as a result, find themselves missing out on the happiness that comes from those very connections that they severed.
It was the end of the October term of my sophomore year, and everything was petty normal, except for Social Studies, which was no big surprise. Mr. Dimas, who taught the class, had a reputation for unconventional teaching methods. For midterms he had blindfolded us, then had us each stick a pin in a map of the world and we got to write essays on wherever the pin stuck. I got Decatur, Illinois. Some of the guys complained because they drew places like Ulan Bator or Zimbabwe. They were lucky. YOU try writing ten thousand words on Decatur, Illinois.
I am a supporter of blacks. White civilization; their cultural values"‹"‹, false, dehumanizing model of the world, built by them - did not pay off. Everything goes to the beginning of the anti-white pogroms on a planetary scale. Russia saved only by the fact that we are not pure white. Predatory multinational corporations, oppression and suppression of all others, MTV, gays and lesbians - this is the fruit of white civilization, from which it is necessary to get rid of. So I am for reds, yellows, greens, blacks - but not for whites. I wholeheartedly on the side of the people of Zimbabwe.
In 1491 the Inka ruled the greatest empire on earth. Bigger than Ming Dynasty China, bigger than Ivan the Great's expanding Russia, bigger than Songhay in the Sahel or powerful Great Zimbabwe in the West Africa tablelands, bigger than the cresting Ottoman Empire, bigger than the Triple Alliance (as the Aztec empire is more precisely known), bigger by far than any European state, the Inka dominion extended over a staggering thirty-two degrees of latitude""as if a single power held sway from St. Petersburg to Cairo.
Charles C. Mann
Does rough weather choose men over women? Does the sun beat on men, leaving women nice and cool?' Nyawira asked rather sharply. 'Women bear the brunt of poverty. What choices does a woman have in life, especially in times of misery? She can marry or live with a man. She can bear children and bring them up, and be abused by her man. Have you read Buchi Emecheta of Nigeria, Joys of Motherhood? Tsitsi Dangarembga of Zimbabwe, say, Nervous Conditions? Miriama Ba of Senegal, So Long A Letter? Three women from different parts of Africa, giving words to similar thoughts about the condition of women in Africa.' 'I am not much of a reader of fiction, ' Kamiti said. 'Especially novels by African women. In India such books are hard to find.' 'Surely even in India there are women writers? Indian women writers?' Nyawira pressed. 'Arundhati Roy, for instance, The God of Small Things? Meena Alexander, Fault Lines? Susie Tharu. Read Women Writing in India. Or her other book, We Were Making History, about women in the struggle!' 'I have sampled the epics of Indian literature, ' Kamiti said, trying to redeem himself. 'Mahabharata, Ramayana, and mostly Bhagavad Gita. There are a few others, what they call Purana, Rig-Veda, Upanishads ... Not that I read everything, but ... ' 'I am sure that those epics and Puranas, even the Gita, were all written by men, ' Nyawira said. 'The same men who invented the caste system. When will you learn to listen to the voices of women?
NgÅ©gÄ© wa Thiong'o
Why Westerners are so obsessed with "saving" Africa, and why this obsession so often goes awry? Western countries should understand that Africa's development chances and social possibilities remain heavily hindered due to its overall mediocre governance. Africa rising is still possible - but first Africans need to understand that the power lies not just with the government, but the people. I do believe, that young Africans have the will to "CHANGE" Africa. They must engage their government in a positive manner on issues that matters - I also realize that too many of the continent's people are subject to the kinds of governments that favor ruling elites rather than ordinary villagers and townspeople. These kind of behavior trickles down growth. In Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe is the problem. In South Africa the Apartheid did some damage. The country still wrestles with significant racial issues that sometimes leads to the murder of its citizens. In Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya the world's worst food crisis is being felt. In Libya the West sends a mixed messages that make the future for Libyans uncertain. In Nigeria oil is the biggest curse. In Liberia corruption had make it very hard for the country to even develop. Westerners should understand that their funding cannot fix the problems in Africa. African problems can be fixed by Africans. Charity gives but does not really transform. Transformation should come from the root, "African leadership." We have a PHD, Bachelors and even Master degree holders but still can't transform knowledge. Knowledge in any society should be the power of transformation. Africa does not need a savior and western funds, what Africa needs is a drive towards ownership of one's destiny. By creating a positive structural system that works for the majority. There should be needs in dealing with corruption, leadership and accountability.
Henry Johnson Jr
I feel to that the gap between my new life in New York and the situation at home in Africa is stretching into a gulf, as Zimbabwe spirals downwards into a violent dictatorship. My head bulges with the effort to contain both worlds. When I am back in New York, Africa immediately seems fantastical - a wildly plumaged bird, as exotic as it is unlikely. Most of us struggle in life to maintain the illusion of control, but in Africa that illusion is almost impossible to maintain. I always have the sense there that there is no equilibrium, that everything perpetually teeters on the brink of some dramatic change, that society constantly stands poised for some spasm, some tsunami in which you can do nothing but hope to bob up to the surface and not be sucked out into a dark and hungry sea. The origin of my permanent sense of unease, my general foreboding, is probably the fact that I have lived through just such change, such a sudden and violent upending of value systems. In my part of Africa, death is never far away. With more Zimbabweans dying in their early thirties now, mortality has a seat at every table. The urgent, tugging winds themselves seem to whisper the message, memento mori, you too shall die. In Africa, you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of the stage, waiting only for your cue. You feel perishable, temporary, transient. You feel mortal. Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death. That's what infuses it with tension. It is the essence of its tragedy too. People love harder there. Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life's alibi in the face of death. For me, the illusion of control is much easier to maintain in England or America. In this temperate world, I feel more secure, as if change will only happen incrementally, in manageable, finely calibrated, bite-sized portions. There is a sense of continuity threaded through it all: the anchor of history, the tangible presence of antiquity, of buildings, of institutions. You live in the expectation of reaching old age. At least you used to. But on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, those two states of mind converge. Suddenly it feels like I am back in Africa, where things can be taken away from you at random, in a single violent stroke, as quick as the whip of a snake's head. Where tumult is raised with an abruptness that is as breathtaking as the violence itself.