This week is the official first anniversary of Operation Murambatsvina/Cleanup and there have been a few announcements for events to mark this dark spot in Zimbabwe’s history. Interestingly, it seems the idea of commemorating the injustice of the cleanup has met with a lukewarm response countrywide at best. Zimbabwe’s streets aren’t buzzing with a contemplative reminiscence befitting an evil as great as Murambatsvina was. There just hasn’t been much resonance among most Zimbabweans for the commemoration of those days last year when hundreds of thousands of our fellow countrymen experienced the wrath of Mugabe’s man-made Tsunami. This not because we are a calloused people with no regard for the value of lives lost and affected by the brutality of Murambatsvina. Allow me reader to explain Zimbabwean cultures complex dealings with emotional trauma.
First of, welcome to Zimbabwe the country with a culture that places a high premium on the concept of “saving face.” In many contexts, the idea of saving face is most ofte associated with Asian cultures. Newsflash: saving face thrives in Africa too. With regards to emotional pain and mourning; you cry only when it is appropriate like at funerals. And if you’re a man you’re brought up to cry even less. The logic of this idea seems to me to stem from the perception of open mourning as a public symbol of giving up and succumbing to one’s circumstances. At funerals when we cry it’s because (and you’ll often hear verbal expressions of this in the crying) there’s nothing we can do to revive the deceased. The same is true for physical pain; from an early age, Zimbabwean children are urged to bottle their emotional response to pain and only to cry when it’s too much to bear.
When you cry you admit you have been overcome, with that you lose face. Zimbabwean families will do everything they can before they throw up their arms in surrendar, or mourn publicly. This is the reason why when a family has an internal problem, the first person to seek external help however appropriate the move might be, will be castigated. Zimbabweans love to take care of their busines amongst themselves. That’s why Mugabe has succeeded in labelling Tsvangirai an arrant knave for “running and airing the nation’s dirty laundry publicly.”
If you extrapolate this understanding of Zimbabwean families dealing with grief, you can begin to make sense of why we as a nation family aren’t quite ready to commemorate Murambatsvina yet. We’re still reeling from the problem of Murambatsvina, you still hear reports of police inadvertently raiding markets, and we still have the same brute leadership. We’re trying to work on this here problem, we haven’t given up yet. We’re not quite ready to even think of giving up yet.
In sense, there’s still too much pain everywhere for us to take time to mourn right now.