Once upon a tyranny in Zimbabwean culture

MY FOCUS this week is on the “tyranny” in Zimbabwean culture I had to endure as I grew up. I will focus on just two levels of tyranny:

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  1. The tyranny in food distribution
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  3. The tyranny of the school principal
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Let me start with my favourite pastime – food.

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In the ancient period of the 1970s when it was supper time the sadza occupied one big plate (okay, let’s call it a dish) and the meat mixed with vegetables (covo, tsunga or muboora) sat on the other side in a smaller plate. Your big brother was vested with divine power to pick up meat first.

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Dear reader, I had a devious brother in Rex. He would dip his ball of sadza in the gravy, pinch a piece of meat and hide it underneath that sadza and just swallow calmly as if the world was at peace. But there was no peace in my heart! The man was “chowing” more than his fair share of meat but the rules of the game were clear: big brother first and no complaints. I mean there was no Small Claims Court where you could seek relief against a brother behaving like the Minister of Local Government in Kalakuta Republic.

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Of course many a time one felt like just doing a David against Goliath thing – but against that boy you stood no chance. No wonder I was so thin for so long and only got a bit round recently because of workshops and conferences…  

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But if it wasn’t your own kith and kin denying you a fair share it was the visitors who had to be given your prepared meal. In those days kids and adults would just rock up like there was a wedding. No letter of appointment or sms to alert us (oh sorry, there were no mobile phones then and to get a landline you went to the Post Office and got into 5-year waiting list…) And amongst the visitors was the pastor and his gang who would turn up at the very moment that we were about to have supper. At that point the message from your mother was clear: just give up your food and start cooking again. Can you imagine a man of cloth calmly eating my food and delaying my supper to 10pm? Why, I could have starved to death!

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But one year I had my revenge (or so I thought). It was my brother Desmond “Tutu”’s birthday. We duly bought a nice cake at Mitchell’s, the Bakers and waited till evening for the usual folk to retire to their homes. As darkness fell from the sky we thought we were safe. We started singing “Happy Birthday, dear Desie”. Then we heard that sound from the gate – our hearts sank.

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I grabbed the cake and shoved it under the sofa whilst my sisters rushed to the door to check who the “enemy” was. Aaah. Pastor and his bodyguards. They came in and one of the deacons sat directly opposite me. He seemed to be looking down where I had stashed the cake. Even though I needed the bathroom I vowed I would not move – my legs had to block the dear cake from the binoculars of the church men. As our parents chatted happily with the men of cloth, we sat stiff praying, ironically, that we would soon be able to enjoy our cake. It didn’t happen. One by one we began to fall asleep…the price of stinginess?

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Then there was the tyranny of the boarding school. At school in Nyanga there was something called “Silence Time” where from 8pm till 6am the next morning you were not allowed to speak or play the radio! You had a prayer to usher in that Silence Time and then at 6am you gathered together again to break the silence.

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Now I loved reggae (still do, although ragga has now lost me) and on Thursday nights there was Mike Hundu (and later Denis Wilson) with a most amazing show, the Reggae Session. So there I was trying to listen to Aswad”s “Bubbling” or  Cocoa Tea’s “Rickers Island” and there would be our headmaster, “Ngugi”, peeping through the door with one of his lieutenants, Joshua. The punishment was absurd: a whole Saturday cleaning the kitchen and the chimney (and this could be the day the girls from Mount Mellery or Bonda Mission were coming!)

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Years later at another boarding school (I was a kind of migratory bird when it came to changing schools – 5 schools in 13 years) we had this village headmaster who came in and just changed our diet. Out with the pudding, the jelly, the roast beef, potatoes and in with samp and more sadza. One hungry day I went up an avocado tree and, just as my luck would have it, the villager walked by and spotted me. My punishment: dig out a whole tree stump!

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God created the avocado tree and I get punished for fetching a juicy fruit from a whole tree sagging with avos? Tyranny of the worst, dear reader. That man should have been the original author of Ecclesiastes – joyless and fatalistic. No wonder Kaay Musimwa named him Evolution (he was certainly a Neanderthal).

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But looking back I am a bit kinder to those days of my youth. People visited people and laughed and that was very kenge. And when I meet my former principals all I can say is “thank you.”

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But maybe I am just being sentimental here as usual? Talk to me on kumbirayi@gmail.com.

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Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet. ChrisKabwato

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pic: Chris still remembers the agonies of not fully participating in hearty meals such as these.

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Publisher: Chris Kabwato   

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Editor: Levi Kabwato (editor@zimbabweinpictures.com)