The axes in our heads

Author and play write Steven Chifunyise never fails to tickle the funny bone in me. Last night I was at Theatre in the Park, excited at the thought of getting a dose of political satire from his new play, Heal the Wounds and equally excited about the opportunity to unwind in the cool breeze of the evening while breathing in the garden’s fresh soil and grass. While we waited for the play to start, the breeze was indeed cool, but it also transported oppressive messages decodable only as the stinks of urine and other forms or human waste, thanks to the vagrants who often use the park for ablution facilities. In the words of a colleague, this was cruel irony signifying the current state of the nation.  Thankfully, the play was not as disappointing. It featured two brothers who, because of their different political orientations, could never be imagined as friends but at some point find themselves working and sitting together in a committee of national healing and reconciliation. Sophisticated terminology, concepts and all, they are seen trying to sell the idea to their elderly rural parents who seem skeptical of this GNU and the process of healing. Forgiveness is the gospel they both vociferously preach and believe to be the only ‘practical’ way forward to achieving healing and forming the basis of national development. The parents are of the opinion that it is so simple for the people in Harare to just forgive and move on because they lost no cattle and neither was their houses razed to the ground for perceived differing political orientation. The parents use an old metaphor to ask the sons how any healing is possible if lots of people in the village were still walking around with axes stuck to their heads. Of course the ‘masalad’ sons took the literal meaning, discarded it as ludicrous and soon started to argue between themselves about which party did what in the violence of 2008. Their short display of ‘disunity’ invites the mockery of and convinces the old men that nothing reasonable was being done in the ‘committee healing national’ as one of them kept confusing it. The long and short of it all was, this process is out of touch with the people and is not being done in as inclusive a way as it should be, that is by involving all stakeholders. The gospel of forgiveness that is being preached by politicians, some of whom were themselves responsible for the atrocities surrounding the June 2008 elections, abductions, rape, torture and murder, is just not enough to the ordinary Zimbabweans. Advocating for collective amnesia won’t work either especially when perpetrators roam the earth making political racket and being a constant reminder of the violent past.

The old men towards the end of the play prescribe 10 panaceas that they felt needed to be presented to the committee in order for real discussions of achieving national healing to begin. In short, they describe a number of transitional justice mechanisms, some of which are not practical, and seem very silly to the sons, but actually do lie buried deep in the hearts of many. This being the way for the axes they carry on their heads to fall off. The emotional weight carried by most Zimbabweans from the many violent episodes since independence are the axes Chifunyise refers to. They are a constant annoyance which cannot be wished away and lie so deep they cannot just die a natural death at the prompt of forgiveness, especially coming from the highest offenders. Known offenders need to apologize in public; property-grabbers have to return the cattle, chickens, wives and whatever else they stole back to the rightful owners. In the rural areas, some people live with the reality of seeing their livestock in the stock pens of their neighbors. People want to freely bury and mourn their dead from that violence, a chance to be heard, to say their story and a record created so that there is a certain measure of closure. They want a commission of inquiry, and nothing like the joke that was the Chihambakwe commission of the 1980s. Insulted chiefs want to be apologized to. So do parents whose sons and daughters insulted them because of differing political views. This all sounds petty, but could it be that the real journey towards true healing begins at the grassroots and the answer lies in each one of us finding means of shedding the little axes we each carry on our heads?


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