[OPINION] Zimbabwe: Songs of the new independence
Nearly three weeks ago Zimbabwe came alive with thousands of residents taking to the streets to show solidarity with the army who had taken over the government in November.
Army general Constantino Chiwenga led the takeover, later dubbed ‘Operation Restore Legacy’, which saw the arrest of several cabinet ministers and former President Robert Mugabe being kept under house arrest until his resignation.
Army vehicles could be seen parked at strategic points around the city, including at State House where discussions around the removal of the man who had been at the helm for nearly four decades were held.
It's undeniable that this was a momentous event unfolding on the streets of a country experiencing a 90% unemployment rate, extreme poverty and political and economic sanctions that left very little positive prospect for the future.
While the political events that took place grabbed the attention of the international community, the ordinary people of Zimbabwe kept me intrigued by their almost ‘obedient’ participation in the so-called soft coup. It’s the songs they sang and danced to at many of the public gatherings that made it obvious where their loyalties lay.
When we arrived on Thursday 17 November, besides the few army roadblocks we had driven through, it seemed the hype was exaggerated as there were no signs of any kind of unrest.
Mugabe’s first public appearance at the Zimbabwe Open University graduation ceremony failed to give much clarity on the progress of the talks between himself and General Chiwenga through the mediation of the South African envoys (Ministers Nosiviwe Maphisa-Ngqakula and Bongani Bongo) and Jesuit Priest Fidelis Mukonori.
It was on Saturday, when thousands marched upon State House to call for the 93-year-old to step down and demonstrate their support with the general and his men, that the voice of people could be heard through the songs of local artist Jah Prayzah.
Zimbabweans lined the streets from the Harare Sports Grounds where hundreds had gathered to be addressed by representatives from various political and civic organisations ahead of the nine-kilometre walk to State House. The locals could be seen fist bumping soldiers who sat perched in their authority on armoured vehicles, brandishing rifles along with their inconspicuous ‘heroic’ smiles.
Marchers could be heard singing along to Jah Prayzah’s Masoja which speaks of soldiers running up a hill ready for combat, only to be met by a melodic tune which warmed their hardened hearts.
In the context of the political atmosphere at the time, the song is almost prophetic, with some interpreting the lyrics to mean the soldiers would face a mammoth task (uphill battle) of delivering the people from Mugabe’s rule, but they would be victorious (melodic tunes).
Days would go by with much uncertainty over progress in ongoing talks with Mugabe. And, as if the city had not been brought to a standstill just a day earlier, Harare was eerily quiet after the elderly stateman’s address to the nation on Sunday 19 November 2017 in which he was widely expected to resign – of course, that didn’t happen.
A special committee had met at the Zanu-PF headquarters that same day, where the party announced that it had recalled Mugabe, expelled his wife Grace and other key figures in the infamous Generation 40 (G40) faction.
The party resolved that ousted deputy president Emmerson Mnangagwa would serve as interim leader of the party and the country.
Delegates at the gathering could be heard singing another one of Jah Prayzah’s songs Kutanga kwaro. In this song, the artist paints the picture of a hero who returns to make new rules. Local publication Daily News had written about the song, translating some of the lyrics:
Hero razvika gamba – the hero has arrived
Ndaakuchinja mutemo – I am going to change the laws
Nyangwe kutondizonda ndakovaorora ini – They hate me because they failed to suppress me
Mugabe would resign on Tuesday, just as the National Assembly debated a motion on impeachment in a sitting that had moved from Parliament to the local Rainbow Hotel.
The spotlight now swerved in the direction of Mnangagwa who had gone into hiding following an alleged attempt on his life.
After a gruelling day at the Africa Unity Square with my EWN colleagues where we tried to wrap our heads around what we had just witnessed and been a part of, I was sitting in the hotel room and noticed the beautifully shot video to Mdhara Vachauya aired on the state broadcaster’s channel ZBC.
Jah Prayzah is dressed in camouflage, something we were told was unheard of as it was prohibited by Mugabe’s government, as he serenades the woman who plays his lover in the video.
WATCH: Jah Prayzah - Mdhara Vachauya
The song is a man’s dedication to his wife who he leaves behind as work causes him to travel abroad. He tells her to remain faithful while he is away, reassuring her that he would return.
Some have compared this to Mnangwaga’s brief stint in self-imposed exile due to ‘tensions at work’, and his return to the country following the president’s resignation.
The ‘Crocodile’, as he is popularly known, returned to a hero’s welcome and delivered his first public address at Zanu-PF’s headquarters.
A waitress at the hotel restaurant overheard us discussing the song we had heard playing in stores, cars and hangout spots around the city – Ndin’ndamubata. We had Shazamed it while walking in town a few days earlier, and she volunteered to give a quick translation. According to her, it means “I am the hero that caught the culprit.”
I caught a glimpse of what looked like a smile from Mnangagwa, as Jah Prayzah performed this song at the inauguration event at the Zimbabwe National Sports Stadium.
The 60,000-seater stadium had been filled citizens and African dignitaries, including Kenneth Kaunda who has a long history with the former president.
WATCH: Jah Prayzah performs at the inauguration ceremony of Mnangagwa
Now that I am back home, my connection to Zimbabwe and that moment in history lies in the album I had downloaded in a flash. Each song takes me back to a distinct moment and occurrence during my 10-day stay in the home of warm hearts and friendly smiles which continued to exist against all odds.
To the people of Zimbabwe, the many helping hands I never got to thank: Zviri sei? Mazvita.
Masechaba Sefularo is a reporter at Eyewitness News.