Thursday, March 4, 2021

Dreaming of Zimbabwe: Stories from the diaspora

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Nearly 24 years in the past, Lance Guma got here head to head with a gun.

A person had adopted him out of the primary publish workplace within the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, earlier than trying to impress him into an argument. Lance was 22 years previous.

Lance remembers the gunman threatening to tug the set off earlier than shrugging and telling him nonchalantly: “You’re making too much noise.”

He was sure it was a warning. As a pupil chief at Harare Polytechnic College, Lance had spoken brazenly about police brutality and advocated for a rise in pupil grants.

He didn’t hassle to report the incident to the police.

“This is what happens to activists,” Lance, now 46, explains over a Zoom name. “They (the state) will create a pretext to do something to you and you will struggle to link it to your activism because they’ll make it so random.”

That was the primary time he contemplated leaving the nation, nevertheless it was not the final.

Student activism

When he was 20, Lance had enrolled to check broadcast journalism.

He shortly delved into the world of pupil activism, taking part in a wave of pupil protests in response to the nation’s worsening financial state of affairs and police brutality.

During his first 12 months on the Polytechnic, he met Lawrence Chakaredza, a pupil chief often called Warlord, who attended the close by University of Zimbabwe. At simply 5 toes, 5 inches, Warlord was a talented orator and a legend among the many pupil physique for all the time being on the entrance of a protest.

Famed for sporting a helmet he had wrestled from police throughout a protest, Warlord organised demonstrations towards police brutality and in assist of accelerating pupil grants.

His fearlessness impressed Lance, and collectively they protested towards the notorious Scottish physician Richard McGown, nicknamed Doctor Death, in 1995. McGown had carried out greater than 500 anaesthetic experiments on Zimbabweans between 1981 and 1992, together with administering epidural morphine to kids. He was accused of killing at the very least 5 individuals, together with two-year-old Kalpesh Nagidas, a Zimbabwean of Indian descent, and 10-year-old Lavender Khaminwa, who was Kenyan-born.

Despite being arrested in 1993, McGown nonetheless had not been convicted nearly two years later. Lance had been following the case and met with the mother and father of Lavender Khaminwa. Soon after, Lance, Warlord and one other pupil activist, Pedzisai Ruhanya, determined to go on starvation strike. Joining protesting crowds on the trial, the three college students sat exterior the courtroom, the place they refused to eat or drink for 5 days. Worried for his well being, Lance’s mother and father drove the six hours from their home in Bulawayo to attempt to persuade him to cease, however he refused.

The starvation strike helped the case make worldwide headlines. But, regardless of their efforts, McGown, who was discovered responsible of two instances of culpable murder, was sentenced to only 12 months in jail, six months of which was suspended. He was launched on bail after at some point as he tried to enchantment towards his conviction. The enchantment failed, and McGown ended up spending a complete of 4 months in jail.

Many Zimbabweans had been shocked by the sunshine sentence, which they believed highlighted continued racial inequities within the nation.

All these years later, Lance’s anger remains to be uncooked as he remembers the case. “Someone can’t come from Scotland and experiment on Black patients in Zimbabwe,” he says.

Picture4 e1614060900953Lance Guma and Lawrence ‘Warlord’ Chakaredza; the moveable radio on the facet was used to take heed to ZBC and BBC broadcasts in regards to the starvation strike [Photo courtesy of Lance Guma]

A number of months after the starvation strike, Lance efficiently ran for secretary-general of the Student Representative Council (SRC). Along with Pedzisai, who was elected SRC president, he led a number of demonstrations to demand the federal government increase pupil grants.

“We wanted to shut the town down,” Lance says with fun.

“We ran constructive demonstrations, and we were the first SRC to increase our grants. We were at the peak of our powers.”

He laughs on the reminiscence of him and 5 different SRC members operating Ignatius Chombo, then minister of upper training, out of his workplace, throughout one of many protests. “He was basically avoiding us and pretending he wasn’t there,” he recollects.

Blacklisted and crushed

After graduating from faculty, Lance hoped to place his broadcast journalism diploma to good use. But he had already been blacklisted by the state-owned ZBC – the one broadcasting firm in Zimbabwe.

He ultimately discovered work as a TV correspondent for overseas media organisations. In 2002, he coated Zimbabwe’s presidential election for CNN. It was a very tense and shut election and when the incumbent, President Robert Mugabe, declared victory, the chief of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, accused him of rigging the vote. Security forces had been despatched to patrol the streets. Foreign media organisations, CNN amongst them, had been vital of how the elections had been carried out.

Six months later, on his approach home from an interview with UK-based radio station SW Radio Africa, Lance was attacked by six males on a bridge that linked Arcadia, a suburb of Harare, to the primary railway station.

“They hit me with a brick on the head, stabbed me with a screwdriver in the back and took my phone and wallet,” Lance recollects.

It is unclear who the attackers had been or what they wished, however Lance suspected the assault was linked to his protection of the elections.

This time, he reported it to the police, who he says dismissed the assault as a mugging with out investigating it.

For Lance, it was the ultimate straw. He had a spouse and youngsters now and felt the danger of staying in Zimbabwe was simply too excessive. In 2003, he and his household packed up their lives and fled.

Picture14 e1614060876295Lance stands exterior his home within the UK in November 2020 [Photo courtesy of Lance Guma]

‘A thorn in the flesh’

They landed in Scotland, the place Lance already had some buddies, and he discovered work in a cake manufacturing facility.

“It was cold. And you know, there was a time where I seriously debated with whether I could survive that sort of climate and say this is my new home,” he recollects.

Two years later they moved to London.

Lance had taken up a suggestion to work for SW Radio Africa, thought-about by many to be an anti-Mugabe station. Founded by Zimbabwean journalist Gerry Jackson, it reported on present affairs and informed tales which may in any other case get journalists in Zimbabwe arrested. Much of their content material comprised of phone conversations with individuals on the bottom.

“The government were jamming our transmission on shortwave, because obviously we had this situation where they have a monopoly on broadcasting,” he says.

“We were a thorn in the flesh of the government,” he provides, proudly.

Lance left the radio station in 2012 to deal with Nehanda Radio, a venture he had initially based as a passion in 2006. Today, he runs the radio and web site, which give 24-hour information on all issues Zimbabwe.

Picture11Lance with Zimbabwe music legend Thomas Mapfumo for Nehanda TV in Leicester, UK in March 2013 [Photo courtesy of Lance Guma]

‘The most difficult moment’

Despite being greater than 8,000 miles away, Lance’s activism nonetheless has its penalties.

In 2009, his mom handed away and he was not in a position to attend her funeral due to his precarious place with the federal government. “That is the most difficult moment I’ve had to endure,” he displays.

But generally he feels as if hazard can nonetheless reach him, just like the time he says an nameless Facebook web page claimed a hitman had been employed to assassinate him.

Still, he feels safer within the UK than in Zimbabwe.

A navy coup compelled Mugabe from energy in 2017, however the local weather for journalists and dissidents has not improved within the years since. He reels off an inventory of these dealing with persecution: Hopewell Chin’ono, a journalist and anti-corruption campaigner, who was arrested for a sequence of tweets that inspired individuals to attend an anti-government rally and charged with inciting violence; Jacob Ngarivhume, a Zimbabwean politician, who was arrested alongside Hopewell; Job Sikhala, an outspoken authorities critic who went into hiding after showing on a police wished record and was later arrested; and Joana Mamombe, a politician who was kidnapped and tortured after talking out towards the federal government’s failure to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am able to do my job from where I am. I don’t have to be in Zimbabwe to be effective,” he says.

It has been a tough time for a lot of Zimbabweans. Extreme poverty rose from 30 p.c in 2017 to 40 p.c in 2019, in response to The World Bank. Child poverty has reached a report excessive of 70 p.c within the nation. At the tip of 2019, the unemployment price was 16.Four p.c and this has solely worsened in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last 12 months, a joint report by the European Union, FAO, OCHA, UNICEF, USAID and WFP highlighted dire ranges of meals insecurity, estimating that 4.three million rural Zimbabweans are going hungry.

Picture8Lance interviews MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai in London in October 2013 [Photo courtesy of Lance Guma]

Lance confesses that there are moments when he feels the exile neighborhood will not be doing sufficient. “The Zimbabwean exile community is letting Zimbabwe down. You know it was actually the exiles who led the movement that helped to free South Africa,” he says.

He feels there may be a lot extra to be carried out.

“Exiles have an opportunity to lead something special. To take advantage of the freedoms in the countries where they are, whether you’re in South Africa, UK, or Canada. You have the freedom to lobby, to advocate, and put your motherland in the discourse to be discussed. There is a large population [of Zimbabweans] in the diaspora and we are not taking advantage of where we are,” he says.

While Lance doesn’t see the Zimbabwe he as soon as went on starvation strike and marched for, he doesn’t hesitate when requested what he misses most about home. “The food,” he says. “It tastes better.”

Tawana Zendera: ‘I didn’t know I used to be Black till I got here to the UK’

Picture17Tawana stands for an image [Photo courtesy of Tawana Zendera]

Twenty-seven-year-old Tawana Zendera moved to England in 2002 when she was eight years previous. Her mother and father had left two years earlier than, whereas Tawana and her siblings stayed behind with their uncle and maid.

The very first thing Tawana noticed when she arrived in England had been Zimbabweans. Their mother and father’ four-bedroom terraced home in Bedfordshire was full of brown faces like her personal. Little did she know it will not be like this in the remainder of her small, majority-white city. At her college, she was considered one of 4 Black kids.

In Zimbabwe, Tawana and her household had been firmly upper-middle class. They lived in a four-bedroom bungalow on one-and-a-half acres of land that had been bought by her grandfather, who Tawana says was the primary Black particular person to personal property within the Harare suburb of Belvedere. Her father was an engineer for Air Zimbabwe and so they went on household holidays three or 4 instances a 12 months.

In England, nevertheless, her Blackness made her “other”.

“I didn’t know I was Black before I came to the UK,” Tawana says with fun. She shakes her head, her brown eyes wanting up once in a while as she chooses her phrases rigorously. “I guess that’s the privilege of being in the majority – you don’t have to think about how you fit in because you just do.”

She felt the privilege she had loved slip away.

“I realised that in the UK I am not benefitting from the generational wealth that my grandparents built up. We basically had to start from scratch. Being working class isn’t something that we anticipated,” she says.

Tawana recollects being in a store as a baby when one other lady requested her how previous she was. At the time, Tawana’s Zimbabwean accent nonetheless lingered over her phrases and when she replied, she says the lady gave her a unclean look after which ignored her. “Even though I could speak the language I realised I am not privy to the culture and the nuances,” Tawana says.

As she watched her mom navigate her job as a major college instructor on the college Tawana attended, she seen that she, too, was totally different. “She was more reserved, more guarded. I knew that’s who she had to be to fit into the new environment,” she says.

But there have been instances when “fitting in” wasn’t an choice – just like the time when Tawana was 17 and a gaggle of white males known as her and her mom monkeys and threw their drinks at them. “We learned to avoid certain neighbourhoods over time just because we knew we would never be received well there,” she says.

Picture15 e1613992938848Tawana at her uncle and aunt’s home for Christmas circa 1997 [Photo courtesy of Tawana Zendera]

‘This suit of whiteness’

Unlike her youthful brother, now 21, and her older sister, 29, who acclimated to England “like fish to water”, Tawana struggled.

“I have had to sacrifice being my true self. I have had to sacrifice my mental health by staying in England. I only feel at home inside my four walls.”

“I feel like I have to wear this suit of whiteness and it has taken a toll on my mental health,” she provides, explaining that she is at present in remedy for anxiousness.

Tawana does expertise moments of solace when she watches Gringo, a traditional Zimbabwean comedy, or has a heat plate of sadza, a staple Zimbabwean meals, made for her by her Zimbabwean accomplice.

The feeling of otherness she first felt when she bought to England has by no means left her. “Over time it has gotten steadily worse, with it affecting the way that I form relationships with people because I always assume that I’m not going to fit in,” she explains.

One of the issues she struggles with is Britain’s failure to handle its historical past.

“White people during Black history month would say that England isn’t racist because they’ve never seen anyone being racist and then when I try to explain to them that what we are fighting is institutional racism because that is what England does best, they say that that doesn’t exist either,” she says.

“It’s a constant state of being told that I’m imagining the racist experience that I’m experiencing.”

Michael Chitehwe: ‘My friends sold me an adventure’

Picture22Michael Chitehwe in Zimbabwe visiting household in 2018 [Photo courtesy of Michael Chitehwe]

When Michael Chitehwe, now 43, left Zimbabwe, he was in search of an journey.

“I didn’t have a reason to leave,” he says matter-of-factly, talking from Scotland.

In 1998, Michael was 21 years previous and had a snug life in Zimbabwe, working at his sister and brother-in-law’s telecommunications firm.

But curiosity is a robust factor, and when he started listening to about buddies within the UK who had purchased a automobile or bought a mortgage, he was intrigued.

“My friends sold me an adventure and said there were more opportunities,” he recollects.

He left quickly after. “My mother only knew the day before I left,” he chuckles barely.

“I was young, and I had this chance. I thought, if I don’t experience this now, I may not get this chance again,” he says.

Michael first moved to England, the place he stayed for 5 years and studied nursing. But when a job alternative arose in Scotland, he moved.

He made buddies almost instantly. “People just took you for who you were. It was a more welcoming feeling than the other places I’d ever experienced,” he says.

“There’s a lot of community spirit. I quickly managed to integrate in Scotland, and it was just amazing.”

Soon after he arrived, he additionally discovered a chunk of the journey he hadn’t realised was lacking – his future spouse.

Now, he says, “there’s no incentive to go home”.

Picture20Michael (proper) and his greatest man at his marriage ceremony in Scotland in 2005 [Photo courtesy of Michael Chitehwe]

Michael’s spouse and youngsters are Scottish, and he doesn’t wish to move them away from the one home they’ve recognized. He additionally enjoys his job as a scientific nurse supervisor with an addictions group on the NHS, the place he has been for greater than a decade.

“I like the job because I have a great team that supports me. We support people who are stigmatised by society and changing their lives. As a manager there is a constant demand and changes to be implemented especially with Scotland having the highest drug deaths in Europe,” he says.

He admits that he was fearful about how he could be obtained when he first began the job. “At first it was a bit scary and intimidating as in most meetings I sit in I am the only Black person, but you quickly get over that and Scottish people are the most friendly and helpful people, which makes my job easier.”

Michael has made certain his household stays linked to his heritage as nicely. “My wife and kids have been to Zimbabwe to visit and they love it. The last time we visited with my wife’s sister and her family and they are dying to come back.”

He says his kids “cannot believe the space and freedom there is. My 14-year-old daughter always comments on how happy and welcoming everyone is even when they don’t have much. They also love the wildlife and the food gogo (grandmother) cooks for them.”

Although he has toyed with the concept of retiring in Zimbabwe, for now, Scotland is home.

He says it helps that it has putting similarities with Zimbabwe. “The scenery and friendly nature of the people. A lot of green land, mountains, and rivers. They also love to drink a lot,” he provides, jokingly.

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