Kenya Conversations [Part 2]

Johannesburg Central.

Five-ish, PM. I’ve figured out the direction to Spar, Nord & MTN taxi ranks. Apparently that’s important for a non-Joburger because you need food and taxis in your life to survive here.

The town is ugly and stinks like a public toilet in some parts. Scattered like naughty children in summer drizzles, on the streets are Joburg people rushing everywhere. Most of them look like God’s warning to you against the bad side of Joburg.

“If you don’t keep a straight head here, you could end up like this,” you’d swear that’s what God is showing you.

You occasionally puke in your mouth and hold your breath, but it’s okay. People are living here.

Can’t the bloody government clean this town? Where is the government? Who is the government?

In the room, my friend’s room, we start a conversation about Zimbabwe, because the guy who has been kind enough to escort me for the day is Zimbabwean. His name is Romeo.

“How’s Zimbabwe? I’d love to go there,” I say.

Sorry – the conversation did not begin here. It began with me telling my friend a little bit about the Liberian Civil War that lasted ten years, as I relayed how my stay in Kenyatta was.

Patricia 2

I told her a lot of things, including the fact that in Kenyatta, I met a woman named Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, a Liberian Civil War survivor, writer and lecturer who lives in United States of America since she was in exile from the war.

“I will write about the Liberian Civil War until the day I die!” she exclaimed once, before she performed her poems at the University of Nairobi.

War is ugly. She doesn’t even have to tell you that. You hear it in the tone of her voice when she sings a Liberian cry song that women used to sing to say “the world is coming to an end.” Imagine the constant screams. The smell of corpses every day. The drought. The hunger. The excruciating cries at night from the woman next door. The insanity in every corner when you realize that the town you used to own is marked by aggressive footsteps with only an appetite to kill you. The darkness even in light. How many prayers fall into ten years? Imagine the sight of children who are born into war, who cannot actually be children. The inability to allow the potent smile of the sun to grace your window seal every morning with not a single worry in the world. Imagine mornings without coffee, and nights with a slightly fading nostalgia of what a double deck cheesy Pizza tastes like.

The fear.

Imagine the fear.

Imagine the fear becoming life as usual.

It must feel like the world is coming to an end. I still can’t imagine having the threat of death so close and visible and tangible and attainable to me for ten years; watching people dying, women and children being brutally raped and worst, people eating one another.

Cannibalism. When humanity becomes something else.  

But, how? We asked Patricia in the taxi to Nairobi, a day before I flew back to South Africa.

But, how? My friend in Johannesburg asked me.

How do you bite, chew and swallow another human?

Well, I guess people were hungry and the intensity of the war had changed them. I don’t know. I still cannot fathom the psychological effects of war (though I can imagine them to be brutal), but in her [Patricia] poem about it for her husband, she does mention that they had become different people.

Like how, Zipho? Different how?

I’ll borrow you her book. She does not speak about it too sad in that poem, but you can definitely see that it was hard. It was the worst time of their lives. They didn’t have a mirror; which Patricia says was somewhat good because they couldn’t see what they had become, visually.

I mean, they were eating things they had never eaten before; leaves that were available. They would see what they can mix to eat. Nothing but survival mattered, I guess.

Eish, Africa! Things are bad.

This is where Zimbabwe came into the picture. Romeo tells us that he left Zimbabwe in 2012 because he had absolutely no hope anymore. A teacher by profession, he says he was earning R1 400 and explains that ministers in Zimbabwe are earning something like R10 000.

Huh?! We exclaim.

The discussion quickly becomes a joke when he starts delving deep into the currency situation.

I was earning something like seventeen million Zim dollars and I was teaching in a village. To go to the bank cost something like twenty three million Zim dollars, and you had to carry a suitcase to collect your money from the bank. Everyone was a millionaire in Zimbabwe.

We all burst into laughter. Say what?

Yes, the last detected currency of Zimbabwe before it was thrown out had over 25 zeros, that’s like trillions and trillion of dollars, now we use the Rand and the dollar.

More laughter.

But, on a serious note, as a Zimbabwean, I feel like Mugabe is a dictator, he is the head of state, first commander of the army and just the head of everything. He amends the constitution whenever he feels like it. Do you know that in 2008, his party used to go to all the buildings in Zimbabwe to make sure that people vote for Mugabe. If you were not going to vote for him, you would be tortured violently, buildings would even be burned, I am telling you. It took 45 days to count the votes of the country and after 45 days, they came out to say Mugabe won, they did not give any figures of the votes.

We sometimes come to his defense in the conversation; some sentiments are that he had good ideas but power got the better of him. Some sentiments are that he should have kept the white people in the country. This one reminds me of a conversation I had in Kenyatta again, where some students shared similar views.

Well, as the colonised people, we don’t win either way because if the colonisers are left to keep all of which they stole, they progress even further and the gap between the rich and the poor becomes even wider, just like in South Africa. Some people feel as though South Africa is too neo-liberal.

I added my two cents to both conversations playing the devil’s advocate towards South Africa, although I knew that there had to be a reason why there are over one million Zimbabweans in South Africa today.

But South Africa is ten times better. You guys are so vocal here; in most of these other countries, you do not dare speak against the government. Have you seen how polite and disciplined Zimbabweans are?

I tell Romeo that I appreciate the Pan-Africanist policies in some African countries, but am anguished by things like war, which took people like Patricia away from home and brought so much pain to them. Africa is literally known for war and that is completely counter-revolutionary. We might blame the West as much as we want to but the fact is that the co-drivers of war are the leaders. Isn’t it so? So, they betray the Pan-Africanist cause, because what is Pan-Africanist about Africans killing Africans? It’s really stupid. That’s why we do not progress. I know that the West has a part to play, but just imagine if Africa had level headed leaders who were not corrupt and not power hungry, where would it be?

We all agree that Africa needs a new breed of great leaders to drive it to progression.

Featured Photo taken at the University of Kenyatta.

Thanking the Prince Clause Funding and everyone who supported Isidlo Sentliziyo Poetic Play showcase, for making the trip possible for myself and Palesa Sibiya.

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