New Internationalist

Zimbabwe: the curse of fabrication and exaggeration

I once heard of a European photographer who came all the way to Zimbabwe to take some photographs of all the carnage here. Perhaps he hoped to win an award for taking photographs of Africans killing each other. Perhaps he thought he would see streets strewn with dead and dying people: people dying of hunger and disease. Who could blame him for thinking that Zimbabwe was on fire? That’s what the stories say which the world gets to see.

He was deeply disappointed when he stepped off the plane: no sign of trouble. He saw a lot of shiny cars, clean streets and what seemed like happy people. I say ‘what seemed like a happy people’ because Zimbabweans in general have been a frustrated people for over a decade and the people of Matabeleland have been bitter since the country’s ‘independence’. The photographer went to the rural areas and again he was disappointed when he realized that he wasn’t going to get the photographs he had come all the way from Europe to get. In a foolish act of desperation, he paid for a grass thatch hut and then paid some men to set it alight. He went back to Europe with photographs of ruling party supporters setting the houses of opposition members alight. Not that those scenes have not been witnessed in Zimbabwe, but he wasn’t there when it happened and it doesn’t happen as often as people the world over think.

There is a lot of corruption in Zimbabwe. There is a lot of politically motivated violence in Zimbabwe, and thousands have been killed and thousands more maimed. But the question that has to be asked is, is it as bad as we put it out to be? There is a lot of exaggeration and a lot of fabrication even. Those who carry out this fabrication and exaggeration argue that the international community will only intervene if there is a certain amount of blood and death – so an alarmingly exaggerated picture of Zimbabwe is painted to try and get the international community’s attention. Like a child who gets slightly injured whilst playing and screams loudly until the mother’s attention is attracted.

The problem with this approach is that the perpetrators of human rights abuses sometimes prove that there was some fabrication or exaggeration. They will tell anyone who will listen: ‘You see, all that is said about us is lies. Zimbabwe is a democratic and peaceful country.’

Far from it; Zimbabwe is not a democratic and peaceful country. But then people’s limbs were not chopped off during the last election, despite what those who have never seen even a political slap reported from within Zimbabwe. The short sleeve, long sleeve story was copied from Sierra Leone and other countries where it did happen. It is alleged that machete-bearing rebels would ask their victims if they wanted their arms cut at the wrist (long sleeve) or at the elbow (short sleeve). But that didn’t happen in Zimbabwe.

A lot of people have won awards for writing on the Zimbabwean situation; protest plays have been written from which people have made a lot of money. A lot of people have sought asylum in a lot of countries, but mainly Britain. One girl in Britain went as far as saying she did not want to go back to Zimbabwe because she would be put before a firing squad when they tried to deport her. Maybe that happens in North Korea; certainly not in Zimbabwe. Those who have sought asylum have done so because of the gross human rights violations in Zimbabwe, yet for over a decade, Zimbabweans have not achieved the one objective they have so ‘passionately’ devoted their time and energy to: removing Robert Gabriel Mugabe from power and restoring Zimbabwe to a democracy.

While it cannot be denied that there are gross human rights violations in Zimbabwe, we have to examine whether our strategy of exaggerating and fabricating in order to attract the world’s attention has let us down and perhaps put us in a worse situation than we should really be in. Have we, as Zimbabweans, relied too heavily upon international intervention that might never come, instead of thinking of solutions we can implement on our own?

Have Zimbabweans been suffering for too long that standing tall and telling lies about one’s own country with a straight face has become a stroll in the park? I think it is high time Zimbabweans took back their country, embraced it with pride and realized that no US fighter jets are going to come and bomb Mugabe out of power. Our destiny is in our hands, and the sooner we realize it, the better. Fabricating and exaggerating has not helped us thus far, and nor will it. Or maybe some view the millions of money ‘donated’ to Zimbabweans in the name of removing Mugabe as progress. I don’t.

Photo: Zooey under a CC Licence

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  1. #1 Stewart Lane 16 May 12

    Yes, yes, yes! And not only Zimbabwe. Both media and NGOs conspire to distort the truth for their own purposes.

  2. #2 Susan Cloete 22 May 12

    I really liked the last 2 paragraphs of this story, encouraging us as a people and nation to reclaim our country and our destiny. I do however find it a concern that we can try to brush over the very significant and unacceptable level of human rights violations that have occured in Zimbabwe.

    I think these are two very different concepts and, if confused, can be very dangerous.
    1. Yes, we have a learned-dependence on international interventions and aid, and
    2. We had and to some extent still have a grave human rights problem in Zimbabwe.

    Fixing the first does not mean the second will go away. Nor should we imply that the first caused the second to happen. It may have contributed to the passivity of the people and in the long run slowed down recovery. But by no means does relying on international support cancel or reduce the responsibility a government has for its people, and in turn are accountable for their actions.

    In effect, for someonone who has not lived in Zimbabwe or does not understand the political climate there or anywhere else for that matter, reading this could be just as misleading as the photographer 'creating' a story.

    I would be prompoted to ask: Where is the evidence that there was there NO abuse? As there seems to be an overwhelming amount of evidence to demonstrate there was and still is in some areas. Rape, mutilation, torture, intimidation- these tactics have all been used and are well documented.
    Until there is evidence otherwise, I cannot agree with this suggestion that Zimbabweans are dramatic by any means.

    Embracing our country for how it is now is pivotal to recovery and its future success; I could not agree more. Let us just be careful with disregarding the process that brought us to this place. Let us instead honour the process, respecting our fellow zimbabweans we have lost through it and learn from it so that is does not repeat on us again.

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About the author

Mgcini Nyoni is a playwright, theatre director, screenwriter, thinker, blogger and poet based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. He is also the founder and creative director of Poetry Bulawayo.

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