When it came down to it, it was a Grace Mugabe-shaped straw that broke the overburdened camel’s back.
I still can’t get over it. Don’t get me wrong, I know that our former first lady, the fabled Amai, is terrible. But is she the most terrible of all the collective indignities we’ve endured? Is her 3-month PhD, her diplomatic immunity, her grab for the ceremonial torch worse than the lack of running water and electricity? The 90% (and climbing) unemployment rate? The shockingly low and dropping life expectancy? None of that drove the army to a televised national address announcing the ‘not-a-coup’ coup. What drove them to it were the moves made to install a black woman as the leader of the country. It’s not that it was surprising. It was in keeping with the national (and international) discourse around Grace Mugabe. There has always been a gleeful tone to our criticism, a slightly over-the-top fixation with the details of her decadence, and a delight in all of the ‘gold digging angry black woman’ boxes she ticks.
This discourse is not new, or unique to Mugabe. Just consider how swiftly Jacob Zuma’s come-uppance has been served up on a platter lined with the leadership aspirations of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. People hate women, and they reserve particular brands of malevolence for black women.
So while I recognise the sexism inherent in the extreme antipathy towards Mugabe, it’s not new, and, if you’ll allow me an unfeminist moment, it couldn’t be directed at a worse person.
Even so, I can’t get over it. All of the loss and the grief. All of the families separated. All of the homes and careers and lives interrupted. All of the death.
In 2011, a young Zimbabwean man named Farai Kujirichita was brutally beaten to death by a vigilante mob. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is to say he was a black Zimbabwean, living in a black working class South African community. The story goes that the mob assumed he was a petty thief. That’s one of the pervasive discourses out there about foreign black Africans in South Africa: we steal – jobs, women, cell phones, whatever you got, we want it! It doesn’t matter. You don’t need to have actually physically taken anything; the fact that you’re here makes you a thief. This man was working a menial job for racist man, in a country far away from home in all of the ways that matter. The appalling circumstances of his life and death in this unforgiving and foreign land were not enough to launch a coup.
Why does this matter to me? Ding dong, and all that.
It matters because it says something about how we are to go forward. There’s work to be done, that much is obvious. I am just not sure that our new leaders have the same list of priorities that we do. I’ll be frank: I am afraid that nothing will change. I am afraid that people will continue to live these fractured lives, at home and within the diaspora.
I am afraid that we’ve gone too far down this painful path and there is no going home again.