A Personal Letter

In Personalhistory, Season 2 by Tine Ndhlovu

Dear Vabereke (Elders),

I am certain that I do not have to introduce myself, but I feel some formalities may be in order. I am you, all together in one form, I am Zimbabwe, but I was known by other names in your time and the time before. I must acknowledge our family ancestors, tribal ancestors, and national ancestors of the Ndau, Manyika, Korekore, Zezuru and Karanga dialects, and your custodianship of customs and our everyday existence. 

I am writing to tell you how so much has changed since you left, while I come to terms with everything going on. Though I never got to know the way you talked or walked, I am aware of your customs and patterns since your departure. The land has been met with a lot of strife, both politically and economically, and we would have thought that your struggles would create freedom for us today, but sadly we continue to face the challenges of tomorrow. We grieve for you, as we grieve for ourselves. 

I did not get the chance to know you too well, but I am sure if you see what is happening today muchanyadziswa nezvatirikuita (you will be embarrassed by what we are doing). 

Am I the one to blame for all the trauma everyone has faced? Because it was only after my existence where people found a communal sense of trauma and preyed on bad decisions for individual gain. They run away from me and take all the resources within me, in search of a better future forgetting that a brighter future begins with me.

Trauma

Nhamo dzeNyika ufunge (my country is in trouble). Vakuru, toiita sei pasi pano? (Elders, what shall we do down here?). We ought to prosper with life, but many of us are being washed away. The paths which were built for generations to come, have been washed away in the path of the missionaries and colonists.  We were impacted by the trauma of colonialism attempting to wash away our very essence of culture and burying it in history. With colonialism which lasted nearly 100 years, inter-tribal conflicts, historical disempowerment, and intergenerational trauma are all significant contributors to our current situation.

Some of our youths do not even know how to read or write in Shona or Ndebele, and I simply question how one can call on you in your native tongue, when you cannot even understand the tongue in which we speak today. They carved our tongues to mimic their anglophone accents and leave behind our traditional ones. There are words that you once spoke amongst yourselves in which we have no translation for and revert to English to fill in the blanks. You must pity us for our use of language, for very few of us can maintain the same conversations that you used to use amongst yourselves. 

We have lost our traditional attire. We see our neighbours flourishing in their traditional pieces, while we simply borrow and make it our own. What kind of cultural trauma can we call this? When we move so far away from you and adopt another cultures’ forms of representation. When did cultural pride disappear when it comes to immersing ourselves in our own culture? Simply, the real trauma is in hiding our true identities so we can mask the shame of our own cultural transformations.

The euphoria that greeted us at the end of Mugabe’s 37-year rule, has given way to a sobering realisation of what lies ahead for us, and that is to heal the trauma of our nation. The events of the past four decades have had a severe impact on us as a nation and people. Four generations have been marked by fear. 

We have endured the 1980 Matabeleland massacres that killed many Ndebele’s leading to our modern day inter-tribal segregation. We have endured a liberation war, enforced land redistributions, caused destruction of our homes, and sadly created an atmosphere of violent repression and economic struggle.

Choices

Imagine, one of our own decided to stay in power, ufunge (imagine)! His actions which started off with prosperity and positivity, soon became an endless dream away from reality. One single bad decision caused a ripple effect over the nation troubling every economic industry. From the mismanagement of the country’s resources, inflation, and increased corruption, Vabereke, we have suffered. 

Our poor economic structure affected all the other sectors, such as farming, employment and education as an effect of our 2008 economic crash. This was such a hard time and demonstrated how poor decisions can affect an entire nation. Although it gives me pleasure to share this in past tense, vanhu vanga vachi tambura (people struggled), ndzara yanga ya ruma (hunger became intense) and we never fully recovered.

I wonder how you managed to govern your kingdom with such order and coordination, because now the government is the cause of our problems, not the solution. Somehow those principles did not manage to trickle down to our current system, as greed, expropriation of land and violations continue to take place.

We could not even maintain our own currency. It’s funny to think that we were even billionaires for a moment, then became trillionaires. The irony of it all, is that even with all the dollars we had it took more than billions to even buy a loaf of bread. After the economic financial crash in 2008, we had to abandon our currency as it peaked at 500 billion percent, wiping out savings and pensions, and leaving people with nothing. Yanga ichi nyadzisa (it was embarrassing). We have tried to put the blame on others for our current situation, but in the end, we cannot heal from the bad choices as a nation until we are all healed.

Legacies and tradition

Despite the ugly trauma and bad choices that have possessed us, we ought to still acknowledge the good legacies which lay upon us. We have reclaimed our neighbourhoods which were overtaken by developers and returned homes back to families who hold deep roots in our areas. Our communities are self-sustaining. Despite all the trauma and bad choices, there is still such joy in living amongst each other, feeding one another, using our gifts as growers, artists, healers, and teachers to make our lives and our culture richer. Through our struggles we have created abundance, and you all taught us that it was meant to be shared with a community rather than being hoarded.

You had a religion and were led by the Creator. Many of you, like Mbuya Nehanda who stayed true to our traditional religion, held on to it even with your dying breath. Some of you enhanced it with Islam, others enriched it with Christianity, while the rest refused to abandon it completely. Because of that, we are trying to preserve the essentials of your religion and ingrain it into the culture that you passed onto us. We have become creative beings and took the challenge to craft a Christianity that does not obliterate our Africanness, but rather contributes to its richness.

We are trying to acknowledge your existence and the incorporation of Shona traditions, to retain our personal histories. We continue to eat sadza neNyama, matemba and many more crops that were initially planted by you. We continue to play our traditionally inspired music that is based on melodies of the mbira that was associated with your existence. As we play the mbira, we play as a form of contact to your spiritual existence and our ancient tribal guardians. We are not only trying to retain your legacies alone, but the good in retaining the basics of tradition. 

And because we lack the direct sources, we hold onto the oral traditions teaching us the art of your land, pastoral practices and forms of respect that have been passed on through generations, to help share your experiences and personal histories. 

Therefore, this is my attempt to retain those histories for the next generation. This note aims to bring back a bit of our culture and maintain our long tradition of storytelling and folklore to leave each generation with a sense of connection to their ancestors and personal cultural history. It is a note that addresses how far we have come, and how much harder we need to work as a nation to fill in the gaps of our ancestors. Only time will heal trauma and the bad choices, but it is the legacies and traditions which will continue to make us prosper as one.

Sincerely, 

Zimbabwe