By Dirk Frey
I heard someone call it ‘Black Friday’ again… I was peripherally aware of prices rising, certain goods getting scarce, and read about it coming to a head. It was at home or out doing ‘leisure time’ (winter is gone, after all) and amidst good company and brilliant jazz music it didn’t touch my life.
Until Monday. My fuel tank is empty, and social media is telling me filling it will be a problem. Luckily, I find a station with petrol not too far from home. The queues are short, they accept cards and don’t limit how much we can buy, so it was fairly painless. But while I joke with fellow queuers a weird nostalgia comes over me. I was 22 in 2008, and I remember it as a bizarre nightmare you wake from and ask yourself ‘Was it real?’
During hyperinflation, I didn’t have any of the skills some of my peers employed to make money off black market cash deals. I was an observer, a dreamer with a vague longing for a better Zimbabwe with no clue as to how to get to that shimmering, mystical destination, as unreachable as Oz or wherever Peter Pan and his boys messed around. All I could do as a young adult is help my father do the things we needed to do to keep food in our fridge.
I remember the helplessness of those days, the cheerful jokes as we helped each other in queues and elsewhere masking desperation as people lost weight. I did not know a single fat person anymore. Everyone I know was slim to skinny.
I remember walking into a supermarket in South Africa with my father and seeing him stop in his tracks and nearly fall to his knees – it was so long since he had seen anything but empty shelves.
I remember the silent pain in people’s eyes in the sugar queue as soldiers walked into and went to the front – the one bag per person rule didn’t apply to them.
And amidst these memories comes today’s chorus of ‘We’re back to 2008. The hard times are here again.’ Zimbabweans as we are, we say it with a smile, a joke and a chuckle, but they die quickly and eyes drift to painful memories.
But this is not pre-2008. Then it took some time for us to learn the skills of navigating that madness. The fact that over the weekend, we’re back at it shows we have not lost those skills.
Social media is more developed. We can now spread the word faster about where one can find fuel, saving time. And fuel.
And most importantly, we are no longer victims. In those dark days, we were like prisoners in a camp. Those who could escape. Those would not or would not, endured.
In the decade between then and now, a new generation has grown into adulthood. And we as a people are no longer afraid to say we are fed up. And we do not leave it at that – 2016 proves we now have an appetite for resistance and fighting back.
The government knows this. A government grew old and brittle, their facade of legitimacy and competence in tatters. This could not happen at a worse time for them, with elections looming. It is solid evidence of their incompetence, and their inability to take responsibility. Their bag-man Mangudya promised us he would resign. But exactly what we told him would happen has happened, and he has not resigned. While we panic-buy and make moves to survive, they buy Rolls Royces and take expensive holidays to go sleep in New York.
Unlike 2013 when we were apathetic, we are now clamouring to register to vote. This time we will not take it lying down. I do not think our generation, at this point, has it in them to lie down and be trampled the way it happened in the past. The government has to be very careful, because of each new incompetence, each new injustice, each time they deny us our rights and each time they flaunt their ill-gotten wealth, we grow angrier and more determined. I am glad and proud that we have decided to be peaceful and legal about this, but choosing the sensible route and shunning violence, guns and mayhem is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of wisdom and principle.
I do not see 2018 going the way of any previous election. We will register, we will vote, we will defend our vote, and if they are stupid enough to try to steal it, we will resist. History and the future of our children and ourselves demand it. The legacy of our heroes, those men and women who followed the likes of Tongogara into the hellish furnace of war, the sacrifices they made and the purgatory they endured, was for a free, fair, peaceful and prosperous Zimbabwe. It is our duty to make sure they did not fight in vain.