"Why don’t you all return to Zimbabwe and march against (President Robert) Mugabe like the Egyptians are doing against (then president Hosni) Mubarak?"
The other man mumbled a few words in his – and his people’s – defence before shaking his head and walking away. "You won’t understand. You will never understand," he said. "Hambani! Get out of here. Go fix your own country," continued his angry colleague. It was an accusation I had read and heard repeatedly over the past month as popular uprisings toppled undemocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.
"Zimbabwe, are you taking notes?" asked a Facebook friend. Other people accused Zimbabweans of being "cowards" who wanted to "outsource their own struggle to the South African government" and to the international community.
The talk at dinner tables and shisa nyama outlets is no different. As we discussed the North African upheavals the other day, and their lessons for us here, down south, an acquaintance even suggested that the government "round up all the Zimbabweans who are here" and send them to Harare to protest.
"Only then can Mugabe go," he said.
"These guys have become too comfortable here. They blame everybody but themselves for Mugabe’s continued stay in power," he continued.
All this talk of Zimbabweans "outsourcing their struggle", however, disregards history and sometimes borders on xenophobia.
The truth is: Zimbabweans have been to the streets in protest on numerous occasions over the past decade. Their endeavours have often been met with the state’s brutal force. That Mugabe is still in power today is not due to lack of trying by gatvol Zimbabweans. In 2008, they even voted him out of office, only to see him stay on through thievery and the threat of military repression.
There were numerous similarities between Egypt and Mugabe-ruled Zimbabwe.
But we ought not to lose sight of the stark differences if we are to understand why Harare’s streets are not teeming with peeved citizens. The role of the military, for one, is important.
In Tunisia, the military assisted the cause of the protesters a great deal. The Egyptian army weakened Mubarak’s hand considerably when it refused to use force.
Can you see either of those scenarios playing out in today’s Zimbabwe, where the fortunes of the army’s high command are so intricately linked to Mugabe and Zanu-PF ?
Our own history should have taught us not to point accusing fingers across the Limpopo.
When Portuguese colonial regimes crumbled in Mozambique and Angola in 1975 – and as Zimbabwe gained her independence in 1980 – we weren’t scoffed at by those who didn’t appreciate the complexity of our struggle for alleged "cowardice"?
There is no one-size-fits-all type of solution in the struggle for democracy and freedom.
Each country has its own set of peculiar circumstances that it has to resolve in its own way. We should not, therefore, use Tahrir Square as a barometer for the Zimbabwean struggle.