Surnames are personal; totems are national

01 Apr 2019

For Zimbabwe’s rulers, Tropical Cyclone Idai is the best thing that has yet happened to them since they wrestled power from Robert Mugabe.

The cyclone unwittingly directed international attention and sympathy on the devasted people of Zimbabwe whose leaders were only too glad to stand up in the glare of worldwide media in mock helplessness.

It is ironic that a devastating cyclone, rare in these parts of Africa, was named Idai, a directive in the Shona language, urging (people) to love or like someone or something.

The world responded in full force as Cyclone Idai ravaged Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. I am humbled by the response of the international community.                                                  

Countries poorer than Zimbabwe came to its aid but, unfortunately, as it turned out, offering Zimbabwe’s rulers an opportunity to profit from the tragedy.

Tropical Cyclone Idai devastated Zimbabwe and the world witnessed offensive things while exposing the regrettable attitude of the Head of State himself.

Zimbabwe’s president flew out of the country to the Middle East when he knew of the forecasted storm.

Then, he, like before, had to be forced to return home from a foreign country to attend to tragedy in his own country.

I can imagine Mnangagwa’s irritation because his presence in the country yielded no discernable concern or sympathy for victims.

Once home, he, instead, delayed food distribution to the severely in need until he arrived. He wanted a photo opportunity to appear as a savior distributing food donated by other people.

Heartless is a simple but painful word yet it is used by many Zimbabweans in describing their president.

During desperate efforts to assist those affected by Cyclone Idai, none of the hundreds of Zanu-PF vehicles imported into the country for the last elections were seen assisting stranded Zimbabweans.

But they suddenly appeared when donated food and clothes arrived for distribution to the needy.                                                                                                                    They catered away truckloads and truckloads of food for themselves.

To insult the people more, Mnangagwa’s wife, who had flown to New York a week ahead of a UN gender equality meeting, flew back home as Mnangagwa himself “cut short” his visit to the United Arab Emirates “to be with the people”.

Well into the tragedy, Mnangagwa declared two days, last Saturday and Sunday, as Days of National Mourning then, on that very Saturday, flew out of the country for some meeting in Angola.

This was offensive to Zimbabweans who queried that if their president was not in mourning, who was?

As Mnangagwa, once again, flew to South Africa for a meeting in support of the people of Western Sahara, his wife was flying to Dubai for a meeting of First Ladies.

The biggest tragedy coming out of the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe is, regrettably, not the hundreds who perished in this violent eruption of nature but the lack of leadership.

Zimbabweans came out in their numbers to assist fellow citizens while the government dilly-dallied, playing victim and not whole-heartedly wading into rescue efforts.

There just was no sincerity on the part of the president but, instead, there seemed to be an eager expectation of donations. This is what caused some organisations to tighten security on what they intended to give to the needy, with others trying to by-pass the government in their efforts to get help to the people.

It is not necessary for me to comment on what happened in Malawi or in Mozambique or how their leaders and governments responded. There just was utter devastation.

Zimbabwe’s devastation, however, was compounded by the disturbing attitude of its president and its government.

It seems that every time I want to move away from talking about Zimbabwe, the “powers in power” throw to me a bone that is too tempting to ignore.

At no time do we recognize true leadership than when the country is in distress. At no time in the life of a nation does leadership matter more than when a nation faces disaster, man-made or otherwise.

In our African culture, we spend endless midnight hours at the homestead of a neighbour whose family has just lost a loved one, often going to our own houses just in time to shower and go to work.

After work, the first port of call is where the funeral is taking place; then, and only then, do we proceed to our homes but re-emerge later in the night to spend the night by the fireside, with or without those who have lost their loved one.

I love our tradition because, to a Zimbabwean, no one is a stranger to the other. If we do not have or know people in common, we shift gears and invoke the bigger totem tent within which we all account for our origins.

Funny enough, though, if you do not fall within this umbrella, you become the most jealously guarded, the most watched, the most protected because no harm should befall our guest while he is in our care.                                                                       

We are all responsible for each other.

Greed has overwhelmed those among us who have become leaders.                                           

Decency of thought escapes us: why does a president not care for those people who voted for him?

So, as I see it, the demise of our citizens offered a heartless regime the opportunity to play victim and profit from the suffering of its people whose responsibility it was to save them.

When people suffer, it is a neon light to a rogue regime that expects food and opportunity from good Samaritans just like a moth to a flame.

Money laundering is nothing compared to laundering life.

And South Africa is at it again. Cannibalism does not start at biting and chewing but at starts at killing…

Totems and surnames do not mean anything. We are all in one basket, the rulers and the ruled.