Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor- Qoheleth 4:13-14
I will never forget being one of the few chosen to represent Avondale Primary School at the February 21st Movement celebrations at the Rufaro Stadium. No one told us what was happening, just our names called out and we were asked to leave the class and make our way to the quadrangle.
There the headmaster asked us if we knew what day the 21st of February was. Someone, I think it was Godfrey, knew whose birthday it was. And so we were told that we were to join other school children from around the country in celebrating His Exellency President R.G. Mugabe, Zimbabwe's first executive President's birthday.
I am trying to remember my feelings at the time. While Bob was still popular (apartheid was still alive in neighbouring South Africa and there was Renamo bandits in Mozambique), I don't think any of us felt the euphoria of partaking in the celebration of what was becoming increasingly a Kim Il Sung type of leader. The year before, he had only been the Prime Minister. The cult personality thing was very much a novelty for those of us who attended what was then known as a Group A school, one that had formerly been for whites only.
I do recall noting that kids from the so-called Group B schools and the rural schools seemed to be all for cheering and praising and ululating. I also recall that Godfrey, one of the other boys from my class, led in a short-lived demonstration about the food we were given. Or, rather, not given, for we were nearly starved. Young as we were, we suspected that someone had revised the budget alloted to catering. The demonstration was swiftly crushed by a glare from one of our teachers.
I only attended one other 21st Frebruary occasion before I entered Secondary school. 1990 was the year that saw the emergence of Edgar Tekere in the face of a threat of the country becoming a one-party state. The first time I began to listen to grown ups talk about what was happening. A relative who was an activist for Tekere's ZUM. Another who took part in the counting of votes and new for a fact that there was something fishy about the way the elections were held. I also began to read Moto magazine. 1990 was also the year that I came across a copy of the report on the enquiry in to the death of Herbert Chitepo by the Zambian Government.
Yes, that was the year that I began to see things. Rapper Turbo B articulated my new outlook- Not political, but aware! The following year, I would start to read the Bible and come to the knowledge that Emperor Haile Selassie is the Living God.
When I look back, I am like many Zimbabweans who were around at that time, from all walks of life, who are now asking themselves: how did it come to this? How did we get to where we are now? The highest inflation in the world, industrialisation levels from over 60 years back, millions starving, collapsing infrastructure. Not only that, but we have seen increasing repression of dissenting voices, violence against defenceless citizens by the very forces that are meant to protect them, and the creation of a propaganda apparatus that challenges the tongue-in-cheek English expression; you couldn't make it up. You most certainly can, for whatever it is they are paying Tafataona Mahoso, George Charamba (aka Nathaniel Manheru) Caesar Zvayi and those hordes of "Conscious" Black Americans and West Indians from shadowy organisations with names like December 21st Movement? And that sickening interview with Tazzen Mandizvidza? Word has it that it was censored.
Because this is precisely what Mugabe's birthday means. Failure, denial of failure. Moreover, it means the continance of this failure. Another year gone by, and Zimbabwe is still occupied by a regime it rejected a long time ago.
A birthday it may be, but I most certainly will not be celebrating.