Grounding with Zimbabwean comrades

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My home since January to the end of May was the warmest and welcoming part of Africa, Zimbabwe. Most of the people I have met who visited here didn’t want to leave just like me and some never left they made it their home – a place that embraced the whole of me and built me in lots of different ways. I came here in a quest to find myself and the warm parts of me that had turned cold due to the class struggles in Kenya. The everyday struggles had made me so exhausted that I didn’t want to keep on with the struggle anymore. The plan was to hide from everything that was happening especially in our country after the 2022 elections that put in place a president who is clueless and an anti-people government. It’s as if I was running away in search of something that I couldn’t explain. It felt as though I had been traversing deserts and I couldn’t wait to come across an oasis, to drink some water and rest for a while as I recollect myself and gather enough strength for the journey ahead. I travelled to Zimbabwe seeking hope, newness and rejuvenation. I wanted to breathe!

Immediately I landed Zimbabwe and looked around, I saw people very happy to be home. At the arrivals, people very excited to meet their loved ones. Some held balloons written welcome home and others screamed and hugged and cried. I thought, as I went past them,” this country must be great given that these people are so happy to be home.” I couldn’t help but look forward to experiencing the longest of my stays away from home.

The air I breathed immediately I stepped outside was fresh and I couldn’t help but notice how in Nairobi air pollution is high. Zimbabweans are warm and loving. I gleaned this from the comrades who showed me around and invited me to their spaces and also to spaces where I could meet other comrades to my neighbors who threw one or two Shona words in our conversations to make sure I kept on learning. At some point I even forgot that I was away from home, in that period I remember calling my mother approximately twice in a month. That is how much I felt at home. Unfortunately I didn’t learn many Shona words from all those Shona lessons from my neighbors and comrades, I think my tongue is too heavy. Luckily enough I speak Swahili, I could understand a few words.

I met incredible young people in Harare, Bulawayo and Shamva. From engaging with young women in Shamva and discussing women rights, sexual reproductive health and rights and how young women can advance girls and women rights to discussing and enlightening ourselves on how the patriarchal system is organized and some of the tools to use towards dismantling it and how we can use feminism as a tool to advance socialism.

In Harare, where I spent most of my days we discussed about voter apathy and how we can reignite the fire in young people so that they can keep on fighting oppressive systems and state repression. We analyzed the current political context and discussed how we can achieve total electoral reforms and the role of young people in advancing pro-people agendas and manifestos. I loved the vibrancy of young people in advancing their agenda. It is evident that that young people have taken ownership of their struggles. We are not yet where we want to be and it’s evident that we have a long way to go but we also have to acknowledge the small wins. We also discussed the PVO Bill, which is a bill that seeks to have all the civil society organizations register as PVOs. PVO is the short form of Private Voluntary Organisations amendment bill. This bill is a way for the government to infiltrate and do surveillance of these organizations in the pretence of curbing money laundering as the Bill also requires that the institutions give monthly reports to the state. This will lead to the shrinking of civic space. This reminded me of the Community Groups Registration Act of 2022 in Kenya which is meant to shrink grassroots organizing and alienate the people from organizing around human rights by only reducing human rights organizing role to only NGOs.

In Bulawayo, we discussed the struggles of the peasants and workers and different avenues young people are using to hold the government accountable. They spoke with conviction about their war against state repression. Organizations are required to seek ‘permission’ from the authorities seven days prior to their activity. The ‘authorities’ then choose whether to authorize the activity or to stop it. Once they authorize it, they send their representatives to attend. This acts as intimidation to the people so that they don’t voice their grievances. It’s even hard to register an organization, you get asked for details that will make sure that you would be scared to go against the ruling class. Details such as: where your parents live, the actual location of your residence, all your contact details and even where your children go to school. This intimidation has demotivated some from organizing while it has inspired others to be more vigilant, creative and innovative. I met a group that has been using art in advocating for Ubuntu spirit as well as holding leaders accountable. I also met a group of young people that has been using social media to seek accountability this is because getting authorization of such activities from the local administration takes lots of back and forth.

The excitement of being in a new place almost made me forget how bad the system really is until I met comrades and realized that things were not only not working in Kenya but here as well. The first thing I was faced with not so far away from the airport were non-functioning traffic lights and because it was on a weekend and no traffic I didn’t really care much about it until this one day that I wanted to run an errand and the roads were all congested, had potholes, no street lights and nonfunctional traffic lights. Then baptism by fire came; the struggle for clean and safe water for drinking, power cuts that would last for days and the inflation. One morning we woke up and the exchange rates for the Zim dollars to a US dollar had risen from 1400 to 4400. I felt pain for the working class who are paid using Zim dollars and they have to go to the black market to exchange them for US dollars. This struggle is so much familiar, where I come from in Kayole water only comes in once a week on Thursdays and with the congestion in the city, it’s never enough especially for the people in flats who have to fetch from one tap, the current fall of the Kenyan shilling which seems to be on a free fall, the high cost of living and what this means for the working class.

In all these I couldn’t help but realize how interconnected our issues were and to realize how more than ever the need for building a Pan-African front is necessary. This will help us to understand other people’s struggles, how they organize and will also help us in offering each other solidarity from an informed point of view. The Zimbabwean struggle is not so different from the Kenyan struggle, protests there are criminalized here just like in Kenya where our government has curtailed our right to demonstrate, picket and deliver petitions. In Zimbabwe even just calling for a peaceful protest warrants an arrest.

I left Zimbabwe, this land with beautiful people, for my home in Kenya where we live on prayers. Where  we even pray for miracles in the health sector and hope that medications will fall from the heavens like manna. I was grateful for my experiences in Zimbabwe, but most importantly, I was ennobled by the realization that there are no greener pastures anywhere. We cannot run away. It is our duty to make things work for us. As tricky as these times are for community organizing, our heaviest task is to free ourselves from a system and a government that is exploitative and anti-people, and from a government that is led by thieves, murderers and blockheads. We cannot afford the luxury of giving up. We keep building up on the gains made and making sure we wage war on the oppressive and repressive system.

*Faith Kasina is a human rights activist and a coordinator of Kayole Social Justice Centre.

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