“Inspire us,” someone wrote to me from the Diaspora recently, urging me to “be the change you want to see.” Whew, I thought that’s exactly what I was doing: fifteen years of telling the story of life on the ground in Zimbabwe; never giving up; never shutting up and always standing up for what I believe in. That, more than anything, is the change I want to see in Zimbabwe: a country where people aren’t afraid to speak; a country where people aren’t afraid to get involved in the affairs that govern their lives; a country where the perpetrators of wrong-doing are held to account for their actions regardless of race, sex, political persuasion or office.
Sometimes my letters over the years have been intensely personal: painful to write and difficult for people to read. Many times I’ve seen things or had encounters with people that I haven’t been able to write about; those untold stories remain part of the collective national secret that so many of us have lived, witnessed or heard. There’s no sugar coating on life in Zimbabwe for the vast majority of people where every day is a case of “chop wood, carry water,” both physically and metaphorically.
“It’s not hard to see that life is being squeezed out of the ordinary person,” someone visiting from the Diaspora said to me recently and those words describe us exactly. We are so worn down with the events of the last fifteen plus years that it’s all we can do to put one foot in front of the other and just survive.
As to the challenge from the Diaspora to “ inspire us,” what can I say except this: speak out for your homeland, complain, lobby, demonstrate, have think tanks, write. Do all the things that it is so hard for those us at home to do. Don’t just send money home, send ideas and initiatives too. Your money is saving lives but your ideas and innovations could change generations. We here at home are so proud of the achievements of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora. Every day we hear the stories: my child is a doctor, a judge, a nurse, an artist, a dancer, a film maker, an IT specialist and we puff out our chests at their achievements from such harsh beginnings.
My inspiration this week came after visiting a couple in their eighties living in a run-down Harare suburb. The husband spent his life as a policeman and then in a government department. His wife looked after the family, rearing five children. Pensions, assets and savings were eroded or lost in the economic collapse of 2008 and theirs is not an easy retirement. For an hour we talked, laughed and sweated under the blazing sun together. We didn’t talk of politics, just of life in Zimbabwe. Our age and race were different but our hearts were the same: proud Zimbabweans; proud of what we have achieved and proud of how we have held our heads high during these worst of times.