Hopewell Chin’ono was recently granted bail, a win for the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter movement. Let’s drink to that! No, not champagne, the economy is too bad for that, so we’ll content ourselves with tumblers of Mazoe Orange Crush. But even that’s expensive now, so we’ll toast with glasses of water. Sure, #ZimbabweanLivesMatter asks government to respect our constitutionally entrenched rights, but are we, the citizens, respecting the constitutional rights of our fellow Zimbabweans, especially marginalised ones? Or do we only remember that #ZimbabweanLivesMatter when the status quo inconveniences us personally? Don’t forget that ALL Zimbabwean lives matter, including poor and unemployed people, women, children, ethnic minorities, disabled people and the LGBTQ+ community. Yes, yes, I know you’re probably angrily thumping your Bible at the mention of LGBTQ+ rights, but please keep your mind open, while I run this discussion.
Zimbabwe has an exploitative labour culture we need to talk about. Last month when I saw we finally have a minimum wage (albeit still an abysmal one), I was excited, only to see the minimum wage doesn’t apply to domestic workers. My first thought was, are our leaders high on the wild weed that grows on their expensive property? The government’s refusal to protect the poorest Zimbabweans forced to be domestic workers allows their bosses to underpay them. How can you say Zimbabwean lives matter when you pay your helper peanuts every month? “But there’s inflation, I can’t afford a higher salary!” then don’t have a helper if you can’t afford it, Beatrice.
I know many people who’ve worked for wealthy bosses who didn’t pay them for months on end but were expected to work ridiculous hours. I have friends who worked at a well-known retail clothing company but weren’t paid for 2 months, and once they were paid their salary was mournful. On Black Friday last year, they worked until 2am but weren’t even paid for working overtime despite massive sales. I know someone who works for a local spa which pays her $500 Ecocash a week, which is heartbreaking considering zero USD is like, 200 Zim dollars.
Why tweet #ZLM if you pay your employees like they don’t get hungry or have dependents, like their children don’t need school fees? But they won’t quit their jobs—they’re desperate. Exploiting their vulnerability doesn’t embody the spirit of #ZLM. Start treating your employees like their lives matter. The lightning you saw during the rains this week was God taking a screenshot of your exploitation.
Much of #ZimbabweanLivesMatter discourse slams government’s unconstitutional policies and conduct, but is our own behavior consistent with the Constitution’s goals? Yes, the salaries of “unskilled” workers may not be sufficiently protected by law, but that doesn’t give you a blank cheque to exploit them, because that’s against the spirit of the Constitution which promotes freedom, yet you make employees your slaves. Don’t post #ZimbabweanLivesMatter if your gardener’s salary is less than the cost of your weekly manicure.
During the Cape Town #ZimbabweanLivesMatter protests, there was the banner “MTHWAKAZI LIVES MATTER TOO” because tribalism still marginalizes many non-Shona people economically, socially, politically and culturally (read my article on the sociocultural aspect here). If you think we smoked weed and are now hallucinating tribalism, please search “tribalism in Zimbabwe” for peer-reviewed journal articles on it. There was a state-sponsored genocide of up to 30,000 mostly Ndebele lives from 1983-1987, but it was swept under the rug. Recently, Vice President Mohadi had the audacity to tell victims to put Gukurahundi behind them because it divides Zimbabwe, Zimbabweans are one people and “but who has not wronged the other?” Look bro, acknowledging our differences by identifying as Ndebele, Shona or Kalanga isn’t divisive or problematic, the issue is discriminating and oppressing each other for those differences.
Some of the Shonas tweeting #ZLM always tell us to move on, sometimes claiming Gukurahundi wasn’t a genocide… yeah, and water isn’t H2O. Apartments aren’t flats. Trousers aren’t pants. You can’t say #ZimbabweanLivesMatter then trivialize the trauma of Gukurahundi victims like our lives don’t matter: no compensation to victimised families, no Remembrance Day, no mention in the curriculum, and none of the genocidaires were ever held accountable. How do you heal when even the bare minimum of acknowledging your pain isn’t met? How do you heal when an entire genocide is erased from history like your lives don’t matter?
What if someone murdered your child, your parents, brutally and in front of you, then you are told to forget about it, forgive the murderer without receiving an apology, sing Kumbaya and move on because “we have all wronged each other”? At the very least, we deserve remorse and an apology, but the government has never apologised for Gukurahundi despite public pressure to in Matebeleland. It’s this refusal to acknowledge our pain which divides Zimbabwe, because Ndebeles will be bitter until we receive restorative and retributive justice. Once you empathise with someone’s trauma and admit your wrongdoing, they’re more prepared to heal and repair a broken relationship, thus bringing Zimbabweans together.
The next issue is controversial, but it would be hypocritical of me to discuss all Zimbabwean lives mattering, then exclude the LGBTQ+ community. You are entitled to your opinion, but so am I, because this is a blog post in the Opinion section, not a newspaper report. Luckily, my amazing editor believes our creativity and writing voices shouldn’t be stifled, after all, Ingundukazi is a sounding board for ideas—you will sometimes see two articles on the same topic but with divergent opinions. Moreover, humans are an intelligent species, and intellectuals are open to critically engaging with the things they’ve believed since childhood, which is what I’m about to do as a law student basing my views on the Constitution.
The Constitution offers equal protection to everyone, including queer people; our legislators just haven’t awakened yet. Zimbabwean lives matter, and queer people are Zimbabwean. The Constitution doesn’t care about your religion, it cares about human dignity, equality, freedom and justice. The church has no business in government and government has no business regulating two consenting adults’ private and sex life because of legal separation between religion and state. Homophobia is basically obsession with someone’s sex life, which is creepy, Pamela. It’s not like queer people spread their 2-in-1 blankets on Main Street, play bedroom music and start having sex unprovoked—they do it in private.
You don’t realise the extent queer people are oppressed. They’re often harassed and beaten up, and corrective rape—men raping lesbians and women raping gay men to force them to enjoy heterosexual sex—is rampant, sometimes, under supervision of villagers and relatives. But few victims speak out because of the stigma surrounding homosexuality, and its illegality means they will be blamed for being raped. How does their sexuality interfere with your rights? Whereas, your intolerance interferes with their rights. If you need ibuprofen, let me know, because don’t you get back pain from carrying all that intolerance?
When Lasizwe tweeted, “I stand with Zimbabwe” I facepalmed upon seeing Zimbabweans’ homophobic responses, notably, “but we don’t stand with izitabane (f*ggots)”. Here is someone using his celebrity status to raise awareness on your suffering, instead of appreciating it, you attack his sexual orientation which has nothing to do with the hashtag… objection, your honor! Relevance? The only non-religious reason I’ve heard against LGBTQ+ equality is that homosexuality is “unnatural”. It’s your DIY eyebrows shaped like hockey sticks that are unnatural, Prudence, considering homosexuality naturally occurs in over 450 species.
You never open your dusty Bible, except to slam gays, yet you are an adulterer, liar, and your list of out-of-wedlock sexual conquests is as long as Rapunzel’s hair. You choose when to or not to apply the Bible like side dishes at a buffet. But that’s a theological discussion I have no space for here, so you can DM/email me to have it, after all, my favourite beverage is bigots’ tears.
Next up, in an interview during Chamisa’s campaign, they asked how he would promote women’s rights. His response was Zimbabwe has more pressing issues. How are the rights of 52% of the population not a pressing issue? For starters, politicised gender-based violence. Zimbabwe has consistently suppressed vocal women with sexual abuse, like the MDC trio which was abducted and sexually assaulted. How about the women raped by soldiers during the fuel protests? What about campus sexual assault and sexual exploitation in the career world?
How about the almost 1 in 3 Zimbabwean girls who are victims to child marriage, about 1 in 3 women aged 15 to 49 who’ve experienced physical violence and about 1 in 4 women who’ve experienced sexual violence since the age of 15? How about girls skipping school every month because of no sanitary wear? How about normalization of making rural women marry their rapists? What about rampant and normalised street harassment? What about child prostitution? Gender economic inequality?
Just because you’re not aware of or care about these things doesn’t mean they don’t exist and aren’t important. Your ignorance shouldn’t determine policy. Zimbabwean government is as useful as the “-ueue” in the the word “queue” when handling women’s issues, essentially saying #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, except women. When faced with appalling sexual assault statistics at University of Zimbabwe, the Gender Commission made a statement appealing to UZ to ban miniskirts and “provocative” clothing. Last time I checked, people rape bodies not clothes, and why the hell didn’t the Commission appeal to UZ to adopt better policies to discipline perpetrators and protect women?
But not just government is to blame, we normalize all these things and exclude women’s issues when discussing oppression of Zimbabweans. How can you say #ZimbabweanLivesMatter when you kikiki with your friends in sexist dialogue, and include protecting rapists in the Bro Code? #ZimbabweanLivesMatter yet you hit your spouse? #ZimbabweanLivesMatter yet you pay your male employees more than female employees? #ZimbabweanLivesMatter yet you deliberately seek young rural women to employ as housekeepers because you can pay them less but make them work harder?
Lastly, Zimbabwean children’s lives matter too. This isn’t my area of expertise, but I do know Zimbabwe has many child-headed households. Child prostitution is also still a thing. Even people employing children as maids because they know they’re easier to exploit. Children who sell vegetables on the street because their impoverished parents can’t do it alone. Child abuse in orphanages. Street kids we walk by without blinking, like they are part of the paving, because we’ve normalised their marginalisation. Google Do It For The Kids, an organization doing the most for children’s rights, and from which you can inform yourself better of Zimbabwean children’s plight. I try address child abuse in general in my novel as follows:
“The problem with African parents and grandparents is that they evade accountability by weaponizing their authority. You say adults never lie, instead of encouraging everyone to be honest and remain humble when it’s apparent they’ve strayed from the truth. You say children mustn’t talk back, reducing conflict resolution to an authority figure and a subservient subject, instead of a mutual conversation which isn’t based on a power imbalance. You say, ‘respect me because I’m older’ instead of, ‘respect me because I have qualities that deserve it’. You create a toxic culture wherein children are silenced, and adults are never wrong, instead of explaining why your reasoning is correct. Then you hit children when they point out the unfairness of all this.” I shook my head. “That’s not parenting, that’s emotional abuse.” — Zoleka Mazibuko, Spirits Fill This Place.
In our parenting, Zimbabweans are no different to our oppressors because we raise our children as captives who can’t have feelings or opinions, in the same way our government shoots and arrests us for expressing our feelings and opinions. Then we complain about our authoritarian leaders which we brought up in oppressive and toxic environments.
#ZimbabweanLivesMatter yet your parenting style is a dictatorship. You complain when the police beat up protesters instead of hearing us out, yet you just beat up your children to solve every problem instead of hearing them out like the humans they are.
Zimbabwe needs to be switched off and on then put in rice because we don’t treat our fellow Zimbabweans like their lives matter. We need to throw away the teabags of abuse, bigotry and exploitation in this teapot-shaped country and refill it with an aromatic brew of compassion, tolerance and justice. #ZimbabweanLivesMatter is more than a hashtag thrown around when you personally feel oppressed, it’s a lifestyle, a value that applies to every Zimbabwean, whether you are black, white, female, straight, queer, non-Shona, poor, a child or disabled. If #ZLM fights only for certain types of Zimbabweans while marginalizing others, we haven’t partially succeeded—we have failed as a nation.
While you’re here, Creativision is selling #ZimbabweanLivesMatter merchandise at https://creativisionzw.wixsite.com/website so you can fight authoritarianism in style. All proceeds go to charity.