12 December 2012

Zimbabwe: We're More Than Our Politics


On the night of Sunday, December 2, Elisha Kanyama died. Kanyama, who was aged a mere 30, was found murdered near Zengeza 3 shops in Chitungwiza, probably on his way from a pub. His death was publicised on the front page of a local daily, and subsequently picked up by a couple of online news media. The narrative in the news was that he was an MDC-T activist murdered "in a case of suspected political violence".

Elisha's relatives suspect he was murdered for supporting MDC-T, we were told. A brother to the late Kanyama, one Brighton, was quoted as saying they (the Kanyama family) are known as MDC-T activists and there had been clashes before with some Zanu-PF supporters, "so we do not really know what led to his death".

Of course, Elisha was a cousin to the one Tinashe Kanyama who was once an MDC-T councilor in the area before he got the sack from the party over corruption allegations. He was also a brother-in-law to Collin Gwiyo, MDC-T MP for Zengeza West.

In fact, Kanyama was typically an MDC-T supporter who would go to any party gathering he could attend.

Yet somehow I reject this whole narrative about Elisha -- which has become quite commonplace in Zimbabwe, whether such characterisation and polarisation predates today's situations.

I knew Kanyama. Kanyama was an ordinary man - like all of us. It is quite unfortunate that he has been boxed in some parochial, self-serving political narrative.

Kanyama had two children with his wife Amai Takudzwa; Vanessa being the second. Vanessa came rather more quickly than had been anticipated, Takudzwa having not yet quite grown old enough.

I came to know Kanyama when we were both tenants at Philip Chidavaenzi's family home at Number 1 Charumbira Road, in Zengeza 3 and grew a friendship that befitted co-tenants of a particular age and habits.

The one habit we shared was drinking, which would take us away from home. It was a habit that Phillip did not share, has not shared and most probably will not, but he tolerated us. In one of his drunken states one night Kanyama left a pot cooking on his two-plate stove -- the wife was away -- and it was only Phillip and I who woke up to shake Kanyama from his stupor as his room was engulfed in think black smoke.

Phillip had to check on me first, I was single then, and later Kanyama. (It was no coincidence that it was Phillip who called me on Monday night around 10pm to announce the death of Kanyama, apologising for calling so late. He sounded very devastated.)

On other days and moments, Kanyama was an ordinary worker at the Chitungwiza Municipality where he, like many of his colleagues, found it hard to survive, having to go months on end without pay.

Things had been better at Harare Water, wherefrom Kanyama had been transferred in 2010 or thereabouts.

Recently, when a picture of striking Chitungwiza Municipality workers was published in one newspaper, my eyes instinctively looked for Kanyama. I did not find him. He, however, was no doubt one of the hungry and angry workers.

I am afraid to think that Kanyama met his Maker not so a happy man, due to the brutality of his death and how his employer, Chitungwiza Municipality, had treated him. I am almost certain that Kanyama was without a cent in his pocket when he was murdered, most probably by robbers who do "huruweki" in Chitungwiza, where they are particularly notorious.

My conversations with his drinking pals revealed that he had his last dollar, which he had hoped somebody would add onto so he would get a quart of his Castle Lager beer.

Amai Taku, who was in Mutoko at the time of her husband's cruel death, knew as much that her husband did not have any money and she told me she was surprised when Kanyama called her shortly before his death to say hello. He couldn't have had even money to recharge his phone. And she had asked him if Chitungwiza Municipality had finally done the honorable thing. It had not.

I was gutted when I went to the Kanyama family home to pay my last respects to Elisha. When she saw me, Amai Taku, wailed and wailed and told me how my Kanyama had been murdered like a dog. I could not hold back my tears, which had been welling in me since the day Phillip Chidavaenzi broke the horrific news to me. I cried freely. I sobbed. My eyes burnt.

Kanyama was such an ordinary man. My mind kept going back to September 15, when we had last met.

You could have guessed right: we met at the Glamis Arena at the Harare Showgrounds for what has come to be described as Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's "mock-wedding" to Elizabeth Macheka. (I was there for one reason, he for the other.)

It had been long and we hugged and hugged. Kanyama was truly happy to see me -- just as I was and we pledged to visit and see each other more. Time and space had come between us, somewhat.

Meanwhile, we got back onto our old hobby-horse. We drank and drank until the one outlet that was selling beer ran out of stock -- of course we were not the only guzzlers -- and we had to send one of his boys to the nearby Marimba Shops in Belvedere.

The boy did not come back. Kanyama and I stuck around a little more, until we parted ways as it was getting dark. It would be our last goodbyes. Our last drink together.

It was also the last time we would eat together, and I hope that when a time for Heavenly favours arises, he will help me jump the queue as he did when we ate lunch at the "mock wedding".

Kanyama was an ordinary man and it is because of the side that I illustrated above that I refuse the man, father, husband, brother and friend in him to be pilfered by transient political feelings and preferences.

(There was so much political talk at Kanyama's funeral when I went there, so much as to be some kind of rally and I even heard of the suspensions and infighting and plots and subplots in factional fighting in the MDC-T politics here.)

Unfortunately, Zimbabwe today is filled with so much political labelling and hate that the country has unnecessarily become polarised. And has it not even permeated the Church where we now have Kunonga's people, Gandiya's people and so forth?

This is a breeding ground for senseless violence.

If only people could identify people as they are: ordinary men and women deserving of respect for their choices, preferences, inclinations, persuasions or proclivities! That somebody you want, like a dog, to give a bad name and hang is somebody's son or daughter, brother or sister, uncle or aunt, cousin and neighbour.

Political violence is an anathema.

The elections that are coming soon will inevitably but unfortunately see the unfortunate negation of the person: their rights and their freedoms. And we call ourselves educated and civilised!

If only we could see people as Baba Taku or Amai Taku or whoever's mother of father or relation, without seeing their political colour!

For me, Elisha Kanyama, who met a cruel death on that unfortunate night of December 2, will remain the ordinary person that he was.

And if he, unfortunately, was not played "ngunzi" by robbers and he died for a political cause, my heart grieves for the kind of violent politics that Zimbabweans have embraced, however, small the scale.

One can only hope that the same cannot be allowed to happen to anyone of whatever political (and religious, even) persuasion.

I wrote a couple of columns ago that we eat politics, but then, we do not necessarily eat people!

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