All posts authored by Santino Zhakata
The 80´s were a glorious time to be alive for me. They were the years of my childhood. In Zimbabwe there is a term called "ma born free", referring to anyone born after 18 April 1980, the day when Zimbabwe officially attained its independence from 90 years of colonialism under Britain. And now, it seems it is hard to talk about history or the present time in Zimbabwe, without risking being accused of "talking politics". My focus is not on the politics of this period, but is instead a chance to talk about my simple experiences during that historical epoch from my childhood. I wonder if it is possible at all to talk about the glorious days of my childhood without someone seeing it as a political discussion. I will try that here and see how far I go before my post becomes stained with politics.
The wheel of time
To be born in 1979 and living in Zimbabwe full time until about 2008, made it possible for me to live through or experience the vast changes in the history of Zimbabwe, these included, among others :
The taste of Freedom
Immediately after independence, started the years I call my childhood years. Dominant politicians then and now, (since they are basically still the same generation calling the shots) used to apply the term, "ma born free", strategically to imply that whoever was born after independence is inexperienced about life and as a result should "shut up". This was silly of course, and still is silly, since experience in life has nothing to do with when exactly one was born, even a 2 year old has an experience in life, it´s just not a long one, but still very relevant and as a result, it counts.
Anyway, what they were trying to say was probably that those born after independence did not experience the hardships of colonialism, but were born into a free country with all its milk and honey laid open in front of them to partake. Technically speaking, being born in the last month of 79, I am not "mu born free", "freedom", in this case, did not come until five months later. So, when I turned 4 months and 16 days old, I experienced the birth of freedom. Without insulting those who gave their all to liberate Zimbabwe from colonial oppression, the early years of independence (the transitional period), did not mean an overnight leap into the richies preached by independence. The quality of life for the ordinary child in the townships or "rokesheni" of most cities, had not been much different from those born a few years earlier. On the political front and the socio-economic platform of the freedman, changes were notable. These included huge possibilities for jobs in the civil service as well as various freedoms of movement which had been restricted in war years and before.
The generation that would remember
There is something special about all those Zimbabweans who were alive and consciously experiencing life during the first 10 years of Independence in Zimbabwe (to about 1980-1990). Those who experienced childhood or teenage during that time, my generation, let´s say those who are something between 35 and 45 years old now (2018), carry a special memory of how things were. They have witnessed the stages and transformation of the Zimbabwe of the 80´s and how it gave way to the Zimbabwe that is now. In the minds of these people and in their memories, the images that are imprinted, are not those of colonial oppression, but instead, the good old days of a Zimbabwe that had just been born into independence. To me these include, the new clothes bought for me every Christmas, the bell from the ice cream cart or exchanging empty bottles for popcorn (maputi) packs. I enjoy glimpses of my dusty feet and the bruised knees of my boyhood, playing hweshe ( a football made with plastic paperbags that are wrapped round inflated rubber tube or septic glove). Happy visions of my childhood, driving wire cars and pushing old tyres from cars and rims and tyres from unrepairable damaged bicycles on the dusty roads of Sakubva township. The feel of cold concrete benches in the noisy Sakubva Beithall while we watched old kung-fu, war and action flicks, makes me chuckle. Some popular Zimbabwean movies that capture life in this golden age of the 80s and early 90s include the hits "Neria" , and "More Time", among others. A range of classical tv -commercials of the time also captured these glory days. More detailed posts of memories of my childhood will follow. Watch this space, it´s one of the things I enjoy talking about.
The fox broke free from the trap (Gava radambura musungo)
In Shona, the saying, "gava radambura musungo", the fox broke free from the trap is used to explain a transformation from good to bad. It has more or less the same implication as the english saying "opening a can of worms". The fox that had been captured has broken free and is on the loose again, hopelessness for the villagers since their chickens are now in danger. In this context, the proverb applies to some periods in my life experience where the quality of life took a nose dive.
At the turn of the new millennium, Y2k, I started college. It was the same year that government stopped subsiding tertiary education and stopped giving out student loans, as well as privatising college catering- a system that meant in order , for a student to get residence at college campus, they had to give proof of having paid in advance for every single dinner they would eat during the term...no meal tickets meant no residence. I remember how the catering company at our college used to abuse this advance payment privilege by buying bulk food that would still be cooked and served no matter how rotten they had become. The cover up the weak sauce, they added loads of baking soda, which gave students tummy issues and a diarrhoea outbreak once...this is a long story that can be shared in another post.
By the time I had finished my college education and started working as a high school english language teacher, the economy was staggering backwards, prices of commodities rose while salaries remained static. My income as an intern, one year earlier, was better than when I graduated. It felt like the carpet had been swept right from under our feet, years of training for a profession that all of a sudden felt worthless. In my first year of service, after graduation, I was earning millions of Zimbabwean dollars, a year after that, trillions. My salary rose by so many percentages and by many millions of dollars every month. In different circumstances, it would be a dream come true to have millions of dollars rolling into my bank account month after month, but sadly, in this case, it was just papers and zeros, the value bought less and less and less.
I remember how on every salary date, I would carry my fabric bag and walk into the bank and later walk out with the bag filled to the brim. I would walk across the street to the clothes department store to pay my first bill of the day. Instalments for clothes I hade purchased. After the payment, my bag would be half empty already. And that is before I had even bought my monthly groceries yet. Hours later on this stressful day, I would see myself waiting at the bus station for rural buses. The bus would take me back to the rural school where I was teaching. Here life was calmer and kinder. Most of the local villagers in this part of the country were farmers. They grew their own food and bought only stuff they could not grow out of their land, such as salt, cooking oil, sugar, soap and a bunch of other stuff. They were the true rich people of this era. These villagers were more than happy to, every now and then, send their children, my students, with little parcels of their produce; fresh maize cobs, pumpkins, water melons, all sorts of vegetables, yams, sweet potatoes and my favourite, avocados the size of a man's head. Sometimes they would even send a live chicken. Their justification was that they were more than thankful that there were teachers who had chosen to leave the big city and come to educate their children, as a result, they would not forgive themselves to watch the teachers starve. I was a way for them to hold on to this valuable crop of manpower. During these years, I leaned to value the importance of human relations instead of money.
Time passed and the economy continued to worsen, until a point when I was to make one of the most important and life impacting decisions of my life. I could not bear it any more to watch myself dying professionally and to feel so devalued as a professional. I decided to throw in the towel and call it quits. One sunny Monday morning, with a few carefully books and clothing, I got on the bus and shifted my gaze towards other horizons. More details about this will come in a future post.
A last word
I wonder if it is being provocative to claim that the "born free" came and went. I wonder if the kids being born in present day Zimbabwe can fit the category of "ma born free", as it applied to those in the first 10 to 15 years after independence. Those in my generation, mentioned above, have something totally different to compare the present with. Until November 2017, everyone born in Zimbabwe since 1980 had only experienced one president/ruler, one political party ruling through more or less the same politicians. While this is the case, our childhoods were entirely different, thus our view of the present is different.
© Santino Zhakata 2011
I am Santino Zhakata, born in Zimbabwe, living in Sweden. I do a lot of writing, photography , blogging and website creation for fun and for profit. My fields of expertise include teaching and tutoring English via distance or face to face. I also specialise in communication for development. Welcome to my blog, feel free to share your thoughts.