Monday, September 25, 2006

Zimbabwe from a different perpective

Ethan Zuckerman, one of my bosses at the award winning Global Voices project has just returned from a trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe. As can be expected of Ethan, he invested a lot time in chronicling his experiences inside Zimbabwe's boarders. Go over and read his posts on his time in Zimbabwe here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Like PRI's Sheri Fink, Ethan is surprised to find that we continue to survive in Zimbabwe despite massive odds stacked against us. Life in Zimbabwe seems more tranquil than circumstances warrant. Ethan explains that the apparent reticence to rebel is due to the stretchability and adaptability of my country men and women, a phenomenon he labels "makeaplan."
But Zimbabweans may also be avoiding the demonstrations because it’s just so hard to keep their families sheltered and fed. Operation Murambatsvina may have displaced as many as 2.4 million families from their homes; bread shortages are forcing the government to release hard currency to import wheat; petrol shortages make transport so expensive that some people can’t commute to work any more. These privations might inspire revolution in some countries. In Zimbabwe, it inspires people to “make a plan”.

The phrase is said as a single word - “makeaplan” - and reflects the incredible resilience of the Zimbabwean people. Power cuts mean the kids cannot study their books? Send the kids over to one house and light lamps, conserving expensive lamp oil. Can’t afford transport to your village? Trucks leaving Harare stop and load passengers on top of their loads, taking money to help with petrol costs. People who can’t afford prescription medicines - in short supply because of the currency crisis - make friends with people who travel to South Africa, who can smuggle medicines over the border.

Walking into town one morning, trying to find a taxi, I find myself in step with two young men walking to work. They tell me the taxis don’t come by here any more - it uses too much petrol to cruise for passengers - and encourage me to walk for another half an hour, into downtown, where I might find a cab. “It’s good exercise,” they tell me. “Look how strong we’ve become,” they say, laughing.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish by making a plan. My friend Kennedy Mavhumashava talks about a story she recently wrote for a Panos website. Despite AIDS donors deciding to cut programs in Zimbabwe, HIV prevalence in Zimbabwe is falling, both in the adult population and in mother to child transmission. What’s astonishing about this is that Zimbabwe spends much, much less on HIV care than other countries. Well-funded nations like Botswana spend $74 per patient per year - Zimbabwe spends $4.

Every once in a while, a few people in my reading audience, will, having been captivated by the grotesque realities of life in Zimbabwe, ask me why we can tolerate so much anguish. There it is then. Explained and illustrated better than I've been able to articulate it all the times I have tried.

Don't mistake the Zimbabweans' "makeaplan" abilities for an improvement in the dire circumstances in Zimbabwe; life in Zimbabwe is horrible. There's no denying it. It's just that the numerous dialectics in play in the Zimbabwean crisis make it difficult to adopt a mon0logical stance on my country. Post's like this one have elicited passionate responses from some in my readership who equate my documentation of what what the people on the ground are thinking to tacit support for the regime. I'm just calling them like I see them.

Zimbabweans are among some of the most resilient people in the world, sometimes to our own detriment. As much as our victimization by Mugabe pilories his reputation, our own resourcefulness is the crutch by which his regime is propped up. Now I'm beginning to wonder should we be less resourceful then to catalyse the regimes demise? Should the majority in Zimbabwe be incapable of defending themselves against the harsh realities that have become modus operandi in the country? How much worse do things need to get before we reach point break?

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