by Dirk Frey
Evan Mawarire’s return to Zimbabwe after 6 months in exile set Zimbabwean social media ablaze. The tone of the furore is very similar to the last time it happened, when he left.
At the time, I wrote an article on why I thought the emotiveness and snap judgements were misplaced. A few months down the line, I’m unsurprised to see the same sort of thing play itself all over again.
We are, after all, part of the popcorn generation. Safely behind our screens, our generation has grown accustomed to be entertained. We heap scorn on people who sing better than we do, play sports better than we do, cheat with people more attractive than we get to hook up with. Our tabloid scene is voracious and brings out the worst in its audience, an audience desperate to be distracted from everyday reality.
Yet apart from this aspect, there’s an extra depth to the Mawarire storm – that of disappointment and bitterness (and a seasoning of disinformation). When Evan fled, people thought the citizen’s movement died with him (which is inaccurate). They thought of him as the man who would magically change everything. They were wrong. They built an ordinary family man and pastor, thrust into activism, into a god-warrior, a superhuman messiah. And when it turned out he is only human, they blamed him for it.
Now everyone longs for a messiah at some point, to a certain extent. But this hankering of Zimbabweans for a deus ex machina that will appear in their hour of need and solve all their problems seems disproportionate.
I think that the same way an individual is shaped by their childhood, so our nation’s psyche is marked by our history. And if I look back on our history, I can see the roots of this messiah syndrome.
The rationale of colonialism – how it was sold to the public of the colonising countries – was that they were bringing Christian civilization to benighted barbarians. And in return, the grateful natives were all too happy to swear allegiance to various crowns and governments. Oh, and put in backbreaking work in mines and plantations.
Those that did the actual colonising (and profited handsomely from it) knew that in order to impose their way of doing things, they needed to subvert the existing culture and social structure. Which is why some of the first emissary-scouts to King Lobengula and the changimires that weren’t his vassals were missionaries. In European culture at the time, men wore long trousers but boys wore shorts. Symbolically, in Rhodesia, trousers were on the whole worn by white men. Black men, no matter how old, would wear shorts and be called ‘boy’. The colonial belief that the people in Zimbabwe were child-like and unsophisticated was force-fed to the descendants of empire-builders. To this day, some of my country-people believe that until whites arrived, their ancestors wear spear-wielding savages.
However, the missionaries brought something else – a religion that taught that the savage can find salvation through the Messiah. All that is required is complete submission, to ‘be good’, and the gates to the Kingdom of Civilization shall open. This dynamic, in which the majority of the population is submissive and trained to follow instructions, didn’t disappear at Independence. In fact, the new (and since then only) government saw that it was in its interest to exploit this, and set themselves up as a new Messiah, who saved the people from the old one.
It is time to wake up, Zimbabwe. No one is going to appear and magically make our problems disappear. Not Pastor E, not any other prophet political. We have to do it ourselves. We told you at the times, heck, Evan told you too. It’s not about an individual. It’s about the cause. At the end of the day, it is children that look to a seemingly all-powerful, all-knowing adult (a parent, a teacher…) to fix their mistakes and show them what to do. We are no longer children.