The owl has no horns – Zimbabwe protests
My grandmother was a great storyteller. Perhaps I inherited my love for writing from her. The most notable story I learned from my grandmother is the one about the owl’s horns.
The story goes that, for a long time, the owl terrorised the other birds of the forest, threatening to impale any dissenters on the sharp tips of his horns. The other creatures, seeing the owl’s stern countenance and pointed ears, were afraid. Then one day, the feisty nhengure attacked the owl, tearing at his feathery “horns.” The owl was exposed. “Zizi harina nyanga” (the owl has no horns) said the other creatures. In street language, that was the day when the owl lost his juice.
For three decades – through Gukurahundi, farm invasions, fuel shortages, food scarcity, cholera outbreak, Murambatsvina demolitions – Robert Mugabe, backed by the brutal state apparatus, has kept Zimbabweans cowering in silence. But like the feisty nhengure, Zimbabweans have risen against those they once feared. It all began in a little town called Beit Bridge, a town so small that if you blink while driving through it, you might just miss it. This is the very same town through which hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans have passed, on the southward journey in search of a better life.
Beit Bridge is burning down, burning down
In Beit Bridge, a Zimbabwe Revenue Authority warehouse went up in smoke as Zimbabweans protesting the import controls clashed with police. As palls of smoke blackened the Southern sky, up in the capital, another dark cloud was gathering. As if intending to steal America’s July 4 thunder, protesters led by public transport workers burnt car tyres and barricaded roads in Mabvuku and Ruwa. The owl, in the form of an underpaid but surprisingly loyal police force, flapped its wings and descended on demonstrators, teargasing, shooting and thrashing. But the brave people of Zimbabwe fought back.
Predator becomes prey – Zimbabwe protests
Several photographs of bloodied policemen circulated on social media. When history revisits July 2016, it will show perhaps the most poignant image, in which a protestor’s heel stands over the crushed helmet, abandoned by an anti riot policeman.
For many years, this will be the symbol of the day that the people of Zimbabwe decided enough is enough, zvakwana, sokwanele.
While Harare and Beitbridge smouldered, social media was ablaze with activity:
— Zimbo_Unchained (@Gabbz_Gabriel) July 4, 2016
— Zimbo_Unchained (@Gabbz_Gabriel) July 4, 2016
— Joe Black (@joeblackzw) July 4, 2016
The ZRP must understand where national allegiance lies, neither in ZANUPF, Mugabe nor his allies but WITH THE PEOPLE pic.twitter.com/ZvaKTVGOSr
— tawanda chivese (@TChivese) July 5, 2016
As predicted by one Twitter user, ZBC, the state broadcaster, remained mum over events in Ruwa and Mabvuku
ZBC inenge ichi taura nyaya dze muriwo during the news
— Pia (@pia_sumn) July 4, 2016
When they ask you, why Zimbabweans will be protesting tomorrow;
— Regime Change Agenda (@maDube_) July 5, 2016
As what remains of the country’s infrastructure burned, Robert Mugabe, who many blame for the current economic crisis, was conspicuous by his silence.
When future generations review events of this tumultuous period, it will be obvious that the government’s import restriction was the spark that lit the fuse, but several other events had added to the rising tension: Itai Dzamara’s abduction, the loss of 20,000 jobs in August 2015, Mugabe’s admission of the misplaced $15B, Bona Mugabe’s costly birth in the Far East while ordinary Zimbabweans brave the dilapidated local hospitals, Zanu PF’s subsequent demands for baby welcoming “donations” from the impoverished masses, the cash shortages at local banks and their attendant queues, the ban on urban chicken farming, ban on second hand clothing sale in places known to the locals as Kotamai Boutique (bend over boutique), the extortionist traffic fines and their accompanying police roadblocks (as many one per every 30 kilometres on the highways), the punitive business licenses for quail breeders, the vending tax, Vice President Mphoko’s brazen and callous taunts in response to his five hundred day stay in five-star Rainbow Towers. Several Zimbabwean bloggers and independent press referred to some of these events as “Mugabe’s war on the poor.” It seems inappropriate – silly even – to place American urban culture into a Zimbabwean context, but the profound words of Shaun Carter are fitting. “You can’t knock the hustle.” Perhaps somebody should have shared those pearls of wisdom with the authorities. A rebellion is likely, when everything is taken from a people who have nothing.
Leading his popular #ThisFlag campaign on social media, Evan Mawarire effusively and repeatedly said “hatichada, hatichatya”. We are fed up, we are no longer afraid. Running parallel to #ThisFlag is #Tajamuka (meaning we refuse/protest) and the call for business closure #ShutDownZimbabwe. In the country where a bird is the most recognizable national emblem, perhaps its inhabitants finally realise that the owl does not possess any horns.
My pen is capped