|These Bones Will Rise Again
‘Mudzimu waivepiko, mudzimu mukuru isu tichinetseka?’ The Jairos Jiri Band asks this of me as I listen to them over my iPhone speaker. Where was our ancestor spirit, our great ancestor, while we were suffering? Someone had just sent their song ‘Take Cover’ to one of the many WhatsApp groups keeping me updated with the latest in fake and genuine news of what was happening in Zimbabwe. The day before we had seen the videos of tanks moving on the outskirts of Harare after army chief Constantino Chiwenga denounced Robert Mugabe’s sacking of then Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa. My friends in Zimbabwe told me about the gunfire they heard. By the morning we had all seen the shaky recordings of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) announcement in which Major General Sibusiso Busi Moyo declared that the army had taken over. Apparently it was not a coup. Mugabe was safe. They were ‘only targeting criminals around him’. The army was merely safeguarding the revolution, lest it be betrayed.
When I forward the clip of ‘Take Cover’ to my friend, she in turn shares her recordings of the Chimurenga music playing on ZBC that morning. She says she is feeling patriotic. Apparently, so are a number of other Zimbabweans on my Twitter timeline.
Zimbabwe has had many versions of history. The history of this moment, that some are already beginning to tell, is that this is the ‘Fourth Chimurenga’.
As I listen to the Jairos Jiri Band, I am unsteady. Mugabe’s impending removal feels as if the bottom half of one of Zimbabwe’s famous granite balancing rocks is being dislodged while we are still sitting on top of it. Where we are, suspended perilously above the ground, is not good, but where are we going to fall? What are we going to fall onto?
There are many questions and I am looking for answers. The kind of answers that slip past the facts of history books or analyses by pundits and experts. Answers that are not party politics. That are not Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), or Zimbabwe African
People’s Union (ZAPU) or the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Answers that are not Cecil John Rhodes, Ian Smith, Joshua Nkomo, Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai or Emmerson Mnangagwa, or any other Big Men in the history of the nation. Instead, the answers I need are answers to politics that are about how we live, hope, dream, cry, laugh, pray and believe. As I search, I realize that if I want different answers, I need different questions. The kind that the Jairos Jiri Band is asking: ‘Where was our ancestor spirit, our great ancestor, while we were suffering?’
In the midst of the confusion, I turn to a more familiar song: Thomas Mapfumo’s ‘Mhondoro’. My Shona is proficient but not literary. The long-exiled Mapfumo, whose lyrics are less ambiguous in their revolutionary message, should have been far easier for me to understand. He had not really featured in our household, despite the fact that he, along with family favourite, Oliver Mtukudzi, played music based on the mbira dzevadzimu, the mbira of the ancestors, an instrument of the Shona people, discouraged from being played by both missionaries and the Rhodesian state. The colonizers were right. They recognized that the mbira is dangerous – a mouth through which spirits can stir up their people.
I had ‘discovered’ Mapfumo on my own in the last few years. His Greatest Hits album is in my car, so I look for him on YouTube. In the video I often play, we hear Mapfumo’s deep bass explaining the song before it starts. This song, like many songs of the mbira, is one that is used for communication between the living and the dead. When it is sung, the ancestors, communicating through the spirit mediums, tell the living what they should know about the past, present and future.
As a people who believe that a person is both flesh and spirit and lives on after death, we often commune with our ancestors, but it is especially in times of crisis and need that we look to them for answers about ourselves. Answers that fall outside the categories of birth and death, that move with and against time, that collapse time, that are of and outside a place, that perhaps only a mudzimu, a familial ancestor spirit, or a mhondoro, a royal ancestor spirit, can provide. Singing as if he is witnessing a spirit medium being possessed by an ancestor, Mapfumo declares that Zimbabwe is the land of the mhondoro. Those who fought in the Chimurenga looked to the royal ancestral spirits to guide and lead them. This is how the war was won. In his words, I can feel I am closer to the heart of what defines our people, a deeper truth that eludes news reports and punditry.