I have always been an outsider in one sense or another. I have never easily fit into the convenient boxes we are squeezed into. I straddle several, truly fit into none, and buck labels and easy preconceptions. What am I talking about? Identity. If you see me without talking to me, especially if your skin isn’t like mine, your first impression – “There goes a white guy” – is correct, but is nowhere near the full story. I am a white Zimbabwean, yes, but my parents aren’t from here. In fact, they aren’t from the same place themselves and don’t speak the same language. English is actually the third language I learned as a child, and when you talk to me you’ll hear that I don’t sound like you’d expect a white Zimbabwean to sound. This reality of being a loose radical, socially, gave me a unique insight, by virtue of the situations I found myself in. I interacted with an saw the coloured community from a lot close than most whites do, I found myself in mixed company and the standard assumptions we make about ourselves and each other, I discovered, are social constructs that aren’t always accurate, and often simplistic generalizations.
And one thing I learned at school: The white community, like all other Zimbabwean communities, have an element of exclusivity. So because I didn’t talk like them, walk like them, act like them, I was an outsider… which suited me fine – my friends at school tended to be anything but white. I didn’t feel any urge to overcome the barriers to integrating with the white kids at school, and by associating with others even more ‘other’ than I, I added a layer of suspicion from them. And I didn’t fit in with the transient expatriate white community either. My family settled here, we weren’t going to move on after a few years, and our connection to Zimbabwe ended up being far stronger than to my parents’ countries of origin.
In fact, I only ever holidayed there. It was never home. The one time I spent any length of time in Europe as a child, the children there called me the ‘African Ape’. It’s something that amuses me now, but it wasn’t fun at the time, and I couldn’t wait to return home. Today, I understand that part of our identity is a social construct – in that time and place, I had more in common with any other non-white African who finds themselves an immigrant in Europe than those I look like on the surface. Yes, there are the obvious physical aspects of identity that are a given. I cannot change the colour of my skin or the fact I’m male (barring extensive surgery), where I was born, who I was born to. But there is far more to identity than that, much of which is determined by the society I grew up in. Then, finally, there is a small part that might be the most important: what I chose to do with it. And this is by far the most precious part of my identity, perhaps because I’ve had to fight to defend it: I am African. That is not a given. There are people with a similar background to mine that don’t feel themselves as strongly African, or at all. There are white people whose families have been here far longer than mine, yet when I asked them where they are from, they’ll talk about Wales, Scotland, Ireland etc. After a lifetime of being ‘other’, I can understand and empathize with fellow Zimbabweans who aren’t viewed as ‘fully Zimbabwean’ because the language they speak came from South Africa. Let us be clear – the majority of Zimbabweans in the southwest have totems, and there weren’t so many who came with Mzilikazi to begin with – so the construct of them as ‘less Zimbabwean’ isn’t anywhere close to accurate. In this way, and others, I’ve come to understand on a very personal level the dysfunctional nature of identity in Zimbabwe. The artificial, politically expedient story of the realest Zimbabwean being a black man who speaks Shona and votes Zanu is a problem. The concept of a ‘shona person’ didn’t exist before colonial times. And the colonial divide-and-rule story of Zimbabwe being split into two ethnic groups is just as artificial. Zimbabweans are not split into two monolithic blocks. Those whose ancestors adopted Mzilikazi and his Impi’s language along with their protection were and still are related, and sometimes very closely, to the people today considered as ‘Shona’. Besides that, there is a rich variety of peoples with distinct languages and culture, and we as a people are waking up to that and seeking to embrace and protect that heritage of diversity. Yet the old colonial and Cold War ideas are still with us and do damage. And we as a nation are at a pivotal point in our history. We no longer believe the old lies, but we have yet to fully explore and settle a very important question – what does it mean to be Zimbabwean? To be continued
In July last 2016 government shutdown the internet for 4 hours as citizens protested against the arrest of Pastor Evan Mawarire. It was a new experience to most Zimbabweans but across Africa it had become the norm during times of political arrest, like Egypt shutting down the internet during the Arab Spring. Stifling access to internet can take many forms but the most popular methods are:
• complete internet shutdown • blocking of popular applications like Twitter, Facebook & whatsapp • Throttle the internet (make the internet super slow)
I have already covered serving an internet shutdown occurs in an earlier blog post. In this post I cover 3 WhatsApp alternatives. Whatsapp is the biggest OTT application in Zimbabwe. Most people access the internet for the first time through Whatsapp. Hence those guys along Harare’s First street corners with signs that say”Tinoisa whatsapp pamaphone!” (We install whatsapp on phones). Facebook doesn’t even come close, this is whatsapp country. A lot of Zimbabweans depend on it for business, activism, entertainment and for connecting with loved ones. While whatsapp is very cheap, and has end to end encryption its not the only fish in the sea. Being 100% dependent on whatsapp may make your data vulnerable to surveillance by big brother and put’s you and me in bit of a pickle in the event that the authorities decide to block its use in the country during highly charged political periods. Here are 3 alternatives you can start using that work as well if not better than whatsapp.
The team behind this application has a strong understanding of the local market. Their application is designed with Africa in mind. They even have an office in Harare, Zimbabwe with a team thats working on engaging with local community – Pamberi! This means if anything happens to your data, if its compromised in any way you can engage them face to face – which is very difficult to do with a company like WhatsApp – Unobvunza and whatsapp yako ikafa? The Cullian application is fairly new to the market but has gained significant traction, clocking 12 000 downloads on the Google play store since January 18 2017. The Cullian team in Harare is still giving away free Cullian credit with each download to use to make international calls. I know Zimbos like free things and anyone who gives freebies wins the heart of Zimbabweans – just ask ZANU PF. Besides having every feature that whatsapp has, you can also purchase Cullian bundles for yourself or send them as a token to someone directly from the app and not have to worry about Econet, Netone & Telecoms data wars affecting your pocket. Cullian is an encrypted OTT application, allowing users to make secure voice calls to fixed lines and mobile phone numbers at very low rates with very low data usage as well as free app to app (Cullian to Cullian) calls.
You could say Signal makes the things that make things you don’t want to be seen not to be seen. Basically privacy is a huge deal with this application because the server never has access to any of your communication and never stores any of your data. The application uses an advanced end to end encryption protocol that provides privacy for every message every time. Its also the only private messenger that uses open source peer-reviewed cryptographic protocols to keep your messages safe. Well that means security yavo yakanyanya kunyanya. There are no separate logins, usernames, passwords, or PINs to manage You can create encrypted groups so you can have private conversations with all your friends at once. Also you can send messages that disappear after a specific period. Which makes it a lot more secure for those who would rather not wake up on the front page of H-Metro.
Telegram pretty much looks and feels like whatsapp as well. But the cool thing is you can send media and files, without any limits on their type and size. Your entire chat history will require no disk space on your device, and will be securely stored in the Telegram cloud for as long as you need it. In terms of security its encyption has been questioned by various techies but the company insists everything on Telegram, including chats, groups and media is secure and encrypted. What l like most about Telegram is you can create group chats for up to 5,000 members! Imagine that.
Telegram Messenger App
Let me know if there are any other applications out there you are using in the comments section below.
For the longest time disability issues have played second fiddle to other matters which are often meaningless with the sole intention of diverting the ordinary person’s attention from bread and butter issues.
Yet a great deal of our population is disabled. Most government buildings cannot be accessed in a wheel chair. This is just one sign that shows how insensitive government is to issues to do with disabilities.
That disabled people are routinely shut out of Zimbabwe’s transport, shops, sports arenas and toilets is not new. #21daysofactivism
Its 2017 and Harare City Council is in the course installing a wheelchair ramp at Town house which is the city council’s head office has had no wheelchair ramps that make it easy for people in a wheel chair to access the building. While the constitution of Zimbabwe takes note of the disabled the situation on the ground is very little is being done to empower the disabled. Meanwhile the word empower is a word that has been thrown around for a reason different from its meaning. A word thrown around the ordinary people in order to pacify them.
While we are at it deliberating on the issues surrounding people with disabilities, let’s spare a thought for the disabled in the rural areas where the majority rely on subsistence farming. Spare a thought for the stigma in our communities around disabled people. What more of the majority of disabled in urban centres whom government hasn’t done much for them so instead the majority opt for begging in the streets. Surely a lot more can be done to change this.
Beggars outside City council in Harare, Zimbabwe
The sad fact on the ground is that issues affecting disabled are intertwined to other issues the government needs to address such as the big elephant in the room which is turning around the economy. The disabled are still affected by unemployment and other issues that affect able bodied Zimbabweans, to top it off think of the stigma they have to endure.
As a way forward Zimbabwe need to progress to provide an equal opportunity between able bodied and disabled people. Our national budget allocates 800 000 dollars towards the elderly and the disabled, meanwhile development around the discussion of the disabled is yet to be noted.
Pastor Evan Mawarire & other prisoners walks towards the prison van after the presiding magistrate remanded him in custody to February 17 2017. Mawarire has been charged with subverting a constitutionally elected government, which carries up to 20 years in prison.
Renowned playwright cum activist and #Tajamuka member Silvanos Mudzova will soon be leave in the country for the United Kingdom following his awarding of a prestigious one year fellowship titled Artist Protection Fund Fellowship.
Meanwhile Zimbabwe is slowly sliding back to its dark days of the early 2000s where jails were packed with political prisoners, activists and opposition party members abducted, tortured and interrogated and left to die others never to be seen or heard from again. The latest high profile brief kidnapping of 38 year old playwright turned activist Silvanos Mudzova’s is a prelude of the dark days.
In typical mafia style kidnapping, Mudzvova’s was nabbed right in front of his family, stripped down to his pants, and dragged out with a sack covering his torso. Mudzvova was abducted by six unidentified man, driving a car without number plates last year. Zimbabwean history of abductions suggests it’s rare that one makes it back, there are those still missing like Patrick Nabanyama, Paul Chizuze, and Christopher Mashizha, amongst those still missing the name Itai Dzamara is still fresh in everybody’s minds. The few that have made it back like Jestina Mukoko, Concelia Chinanzvavana, Kerina Gweshe, Emmanuel Chinanzvavana, Chinoto Zulu and Andrison Manyere have horror stories to tell.
Kudzayi Zvinavashe speaks with Mudzova to revisit his own night of horror, adding another chapter to the dark book of the taken in Zimbabwe.
Who is Silvanos?
Mudzvova Silvanos known in some circles as Bhanditi Mudzvova was born and bred in the Highfields, which is the second oldest high density suburb of Harare, located in the South West.According to Mudzvova his journey began when growing up he witnessed the early signs of corruption, “A part of me became aware of something really wrong when I saw municipal police harassing locals and demanding bribes” said Mudzvova. A combination of observation and talent saw him take up acting at a tender age of 17 years old; he was cast in the play Jekanyika by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ). Jekanyika became an international hit resulting in a European tour. Fortune or misfortune time will tell as the tour cost him the opportunity to attend college to train as a Teacher.
Once he decided that teaching was not his path in life, Mudzvova single-mindedly pursued his chosen vocation of Theatre. In 2001 he attended the Central School of Speech and Drama in London after successfully auditioning to gain entry into the prestigious institution to study arts. Upon his return from his stint in London Mudzvova was disappointed to find that nothing had changed back home. “I returned to find the same problems still existed, corruption was rife, service delivery was crumbling around us as we watched, and that is when I decided I would do my art , Theatre specifically, but that I would concentrate on Human Rights, Democracy and Government.”
Listening to Silvanos narrate his journey of life, one gets a glimpse of his heritage. Silvanos Mudzvova was initially named Bhanditi Mudzvova at birth after his grandfather a rebellious Vhitori man, who was infamous in his rural hometown of Masvingo which is located South East of the landlocked country. Watching Mudzvova’s dexterity in conversing with fellow scribes who pass by eliciting a comment about his recent experience and his ability to maintain his stream of thought as he narrates his ordeal to me, I get the feeling that maybe he should have stuck with his original name Bhanditi for indeed his demeanour his constitution must be that of a horse for him to be still standing after his torture at the hands of his assailants. He was named after his notorious grandfather who was called Bhanditi Mudzvova but was renamed to Silvanos after Independence in 1980. Bhanditi is a shona word for bandit. One scribe who interrupts the interview laughingly refers to activists as shadows, “one moment they are there, the next they are not,” Activism in Zimbabwe is truly a game of shadows.
Mudzova’s dance with the system dates back to the days when he penned what would be his first majorly successful play Madam Speaker Sir in 2002. The witty satire poked fun at the Zimbabwean parliamentarians. Zimbabwean parliamentarians are best known for making fools of instead of engaging in parliamentary business that would translate to development for ordinary people. Madam Speaker Sir was watched by the entire parliament.
Mudzvova remembers with sadness performing for the parliamentarians “They came and laughed themselves silly watching the play. They were oblivious to the deeper meaning of the satire.”
“I was offered a job to work for the ruling party, they wanted me to work in developing patriotic productions, and they tried to entice me by offering me resources that would augment my career” The success of Madam Speaker Sir led to the penning of Madam Speaker Sir II, which featured some of the country’s finest talents like Eunice Tava and Blessing Hungwe.
Talking about his offer to join the ruling party Silvanos admits, “It was a tempting offer “Silvanos further goes on to say “For a moment I was tempted to jump on board but I had to reject the offer after consulting colleagues” The history of Zimbabwe is replete with artists who have jumped on the propaganda bandwagon only to be ditched by the ruling party and left much worse than when the party found them. It’s a good thing Silvanos turned down the offer otherwise the country would never have had the theatrical gem Final Push.
In 2007 Silvano’s work took a turn and became more confrontational. 2007 saw Silvanos unleash the play Final Push. Simple premise two men stuck in an elevator. Well not so simple if those two men are representations of the power struggle in the fast shifting political landscape of the then volatile country a year before elections. Final Push the play was about Mugabe and Tsvangirayi stuck in an elevator. The physical play alarmed the government authorities and the two actors Antony Tongani and Silvanos were arrested on the second day of the plays run at a local theatre. The night of their arrest ended with multiple replays of the play to a handful of police officers who were still pondering on a charge for the duo.
“After our arrest, we had to act the play several times at a boardroom at the Harare Central Police Station, every time we had different policeman to watch us act as they deliberated on what crime we had committed”, says Silvanos. The ordeal lasted thirty six (36) hours after which they were notified they would be charged with treason. Treason for art, the intrigue does make one want to have watched the play. Because the law is the law the charge didn’t stick. The duo were summoned to court eight (8) months later charged with contravening the censorship act, and they were fined thirty six (36) million Zimbabwean dollars which was equivalent to two US dollars at the time.
In that same period of 2007 to date Mudzvova found himself selling second hand phones in the central business district of Harare. Why? I asked him, “Like everybody in the country I was left with little or no options, government had run the country into the ground but we still had hope, we had diamonds”
Diamonds were discovered in the country in 2008, one of Zimbabwe’s darkest times economically and politically sparking hope to many suffering Zimbabweans. Much to the dismay of the nation the highest office in the land in February 2016 confirmed the blundering catastrophic nature of the government by admitting that, 15 billion worth of diamond mining money was missing. How? The country asked could a bloated government misplace or miss or miscount fifteen billion dollars. The fifteen billion dollar jokes flowed through the whatsapp groups and other social media platform.
I was frustrated that people were making jokes about the missing 15 billion, nobody was demanding an answer, I was appalled
Mudzova says, “I was frustrated that people were making jokes about the missing 15 billion, nobody was demanding an answer, I was appalled” So appalled was he that he penned a one man play Missing Diamonds (I want my Share). His plan to perform it before parliament and in front of the Chinese embassy was thwarted by the police as he was arrested in front of parliament.
2015/16 heralded the birth of a new wave of revolutionaries. Activists intent on pushing for reforms in the country ranging from, electoral reform, protests against the deteriorating standards of living vis a vi the lush living conditions of the ruling elite. Corruption in the country is at its highest levels even the first scandals that rocked the country in the 90s such as the Willowgate scandal that implicated government officials, politicians and ministers as they were buying cars from a local car industry on discounted prices and selling them at inflated fees. If some of the perpetrators of corruption such as former cabinet minister, Enos Chikowore and others would hide their scandalous thieving faces in shame if they were to be resurrected from the Heroes acre.
Faced with such blatant disregard for the common people by the ruling elite, Mudzvova says it was time to take his activism a notch up. Enter the Social movement Tajamuka/Sesijikile which is a social movement that is made up of workers union, opposition political parties, student bodies, civil organisations and ordinary citizens. The movement ran along with the viral #ThisFlag movement that was inspiring Zimbabweans online to find their voice and speak up against the ills of the government. #Tajamuka’s activities have translated to action on the ground such as the pop up protests that have been witnessed in Zimbabwe over the past months. Mudzova has become an integral part of the movement working tirelessly in the communications department. It is his work with this movement that earned him his latest visit from the suspected state agents notoriously known as the boys in dark glasses.
They wanted to know who was funding Tajamuka.
Reflecting on the dreadful night Mudzova says “They wanted to know who was funding Tajamuka. Earlier that day I had visited Linda Masarira’s kids in Mutare.” Linda Masarira is a female activists who was in jail after the protests that rocked the country on the 6th of July, she was recently released on bail.
He adds,” On my way back I withdrew money from a bank and got on the bus back to Harare. The money was from a travel grant I had applied for when I went on tour with the play Missing Diamonds” says Mudzova. It was only later when he was being interrogated that he realised he had been followed all the way from Mutare.
On the fateful night, after the six armed gunman dragged him from his place they drove for about 30 minutes to an unknown location. “I was relieved to hear the men speak Shona, they wanted information”.
“Having been an activist I remembered the case of Tonderai Ndira who was taken in broad day light from his home in 2008 by armed men, up to now people don’t know what language they were speaking”.
Tonderai Ndira, is an opposition party member cum activist who caught the attention of the international media and civic organisations after he was taken in broad day light from his home in 2008 by armed men whom people still don’t know what language they were speaking, his decomposed body was discovered days later.
The Horrific Night
Silvanos narrates how he was dragged from the car and thrown to the ground where the assault began in earnest. “They beat me up for over fifteen minutes before they asked me anything before they finally quizzed me on the funding of the movement” Torture in Zimbabwe seems to be a popular form of interrogation and this case was no different. “They hooked my big toe to electricity and introduced me to some really excruciating pain”. Mudzova’s physical ordeal might have ended on that night but his nightmare continues. Before the assailants were interrupted by locals in the vicinity of the torture area which he later learnt was Nharira Hills, they injected him with a yet to be identified substance. Nharira Hills is 30 kilometres West of Harare. The last chapters of the life and activism of Mudzova will unfold in our lifetime. But sadly this chapter starting with his abduction is a dark one with no happy ending in sight.
MDC-T President visits Silvanos in hospital after his abduction
Abduction Trend in Zimbabwe
Shockingly as we were working on this article on Silvanos, the abduction trend is gaining momentum, at the time of writing this article National Vendors union of Zimbabwe (NAVUS) leader, Kudzakwashe Kambakunje was abducted, tortured, injected with an unknown substance and left for dead in the outskirts of Harare. Truly the dark days are back and hopefully we can count on the likes of Mudzvova to keep the flame of freedom alight, shining a light on the darkness.
Silvano’s family still lives in fear of unknown men violently kicking down their door and relive the events of that horrific night. The victim still hasn’t figured what he was injected with and is fundraising to visit neighbouring South Africa that has an advanced medical sector. The issue of Silvanos’s abduction is not an isolated one as we were working on this article as National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUS) leader, Kudzakwashe Kambakunje was abducted, tortured, injected with an unknown substance and left for dead in the outskirts of Harare.