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April 15, 2024

The Headman and the Election Monitors

By KK Brown

Isadore Muzorewa had been watching the efforts of the United Nations Election Monitors over the past ten days with detached interest. They had been scurrying around ceaselessly in the scorching sun, calling endless meetings, and explaining to all the tribesmen the intricacies and subtleties of the individual votes they had been accorded as a result of the Settlement Agreement in Zimbabwe Rhodesia.

It had been a very hot summer in 1980, and Isadore Muzorewa felt faintly sympathetic towards these strange white men who sweated continually, and who daily became redder and more blistered as a combined result of the efforts of the mosquitoes and the fearsome November sun.

He had instructed his people to offer the white men every possible assistance and hospitality, even going to the length of ordering that stores of boiled water should be kept at all the outlying kraals and villages, so that the foreigners would not incur any possible sickness that he had heard they often picked up from drinking ordinary water.

He had issued strict instructions that his people should listen politely to everything the Monitors had to say, and not to argue with them, or ask too many questions, which may have appeared to be lacking in respect for the kind strangers.

Such questions -- particularly concerning the secrecy of each individual's vote -- should be avoided, Muzorewa had instructed his people. There had been no need to explain to the people that the Monitors would not understand that M'wari saw all, and that nothing was secret from Him. Or that the N'yangas were, nightly, in consultation with M'wari, and were continuously appraised by Him concerning the secret intentions of every person.

Isadore Muzorewa had already explained all the relevant details of the Settlement Agreement to his people, (in as far as they needed to know them) but he had taken care not to dwell overmuch upon the grisly fate of those poor folk who had been identified by the N'yangas as having offended M'wari, by secretly intending to vote for any candidate who was opposed to the Party that he had been instructed that M'wari had identified as having, at heart, the best interests of the People. Anyway, that task was being done for him by the government press, which daily highlighted such unpleasantness under the prejudiced heading "Terrorist Atrocities."

At the conclusion of every meeting with the international Observers and Monitors, Muzorewa's people had been instructed to smile and to ululate respectfully, and to indicate that they were very happy with their new secret votes, and with the prospect of freedom from further oppression.

Isadore Muzorewa himself considered the whole episode -- about this new voting -- to be slightly absurd.

It might work quite acceptably in those far off cold lands from whence the Monitor people came, but it was obvious to Isadore Muzorewa that the whole concept of equal voting rights for all was simply a non-starter in his own tribal area, and indeed in the whole of his country. He could not understand how the clever white people from across the seas (who had invented the aeroplanes which left cold silver streaks in the burning sky) could be so simple as to imagine that the young men and women of his country -- who had not yet accrued the experience of Life, or received the necessary instruction in tribal lore and respect for the customs of the tribes and the wishes of the Forefathers and Tribal Spirits -- could possibly be expected to have any meaningful understanding of what should be done for the benefit of the People as a whole.

No. And Isadore Muzorewa was further confused by the continual emphasis that the Monitors placed upon the fact that the voting would take place again and again -- at short intervals of only three or four years -- when the voters could throw out the older and wiser leaders they had formally chosen, and install new 'leaders' -- on a whim, almost. Did the Monitors not understand what a vast proportion of the population had not yet attained the age of thirty years -- of jijina -- before which a man must remain seated, and could not stand and speak at any tribal meeting ? And what about the wives ? Were they to be permitted to vote in secret as well ? Were they to be permitted, slyly, to vote against their husbands' wishes ? It just did not seem to make any sense. It was pure silliness. And what would happen to the continuity of succession, where generations of accumulated experience and knowledge was passed down from one leader to his chosen one, as the time approached when M'wari would finally call the older man to his deserved rest? What would replace the ageless custom of night vigils upon the sacred mountains, with the fire made from the N'miti tree, which sent signals in smoke, telling the fathers and sons of jijina age, what the Spirits held in their collective mind? What would happen to the meetings of the Tribal Elders, or to the discussions between the Sangomas and the established Matriarchs of each tribe, with a slaughtered white oxen and special millet beer that been brewed for five days, from when the moon had begun to wane ?

No, again.

Isadore Muzorewa shook his head resignedly, and re-lit his pipe.

What the white people from across the seas -- and some of the young local hotheads from the towns -- were suggesting, could never happen.

Oh, yes! The White Settlers would certainly be forced from power. And that was not necessarily a bad thing. But then the newly elected black representatives would consult with the genuine Chiefs (not those appointed by the Settler Government of Zimbabwe Rhodesia) and the Chiefs would set up a Tribunal of the country's genuine Chiefs and Tribal Elders, to rule the land in the traditional manner, as dictated by the Spirits of the Ancestors. Of that, Isadore Muzorewa had been assured by the representatives of the Freedom Fighters. There would be no further nonsense about secret voting.

But above all, the war had to stop.

If there had to be a short period of secret voting and other such silliness, then so be it.

More than anything, Isadore Muzorewa wanted peace. Each day, he begged the Spirits for an end to the hostilities that had killed so many of his people; the end of a war that had torn brother from brother and father from son. And an end to the continual fear. He prayed for cessation of the terrifying visits from the government soldiers who arrived from the skies or by lorry in daylight, and to the equally violent attentions of the 'Boys from the Bush,' who inevitably followed them after the sun had set.

And, above all, he prayed that the government's "Ghost Soldiers" would go away.

Those strange men -- black and white -- who came and went(almost always unseen) and left their ever-widening stain upon the land -- but never any tracks to show where they had been or gone. The naked body of a Freedom Fighter found hanging in a tree near a kraal as the morning mists evaporated, his broken rifle strung from his penis with twisted wire; the young mujhiba who had been forced to run errands and pass messages for the Freedom Fighters, who was found -- suffocated -- buried face down in an anthill with his wrists bound behind his back and the letter he had been carrying stuffed up his anus; the girl -- barely past puberty -- whose flighty young emotions had tempted her (against her family's wishes) to form a liaison with a dashing young soldier of the guerilla army. Her throat had been slit -- silently in the night -- in her family hut as she slept with her siblings, who had not even awoken. The dogs had not even barked.

And there was never any trail, or evidence of whom had been responsible, nor even for which side they fought. People had long whispered of zvikiros and evil spirits, of demons and ghosts, and of formless hyenas which formlessly rode the swirling night mists.

But Isadore Muzorewa knew who had done these things.

Just as he knew that the 'Saviours of Zimbabwe,' those 'Boys from the Bush' had cruelly slaughtered countless people because they had been associated with, or had helped the authorities of the Settler Regime in Salisbury.

When -- and how -- would the mindless mutilation and murder cease ?

Isadore Muzorewa had given much thought to the imminent demise of the white man's authority in his country.

Certainly, there had been many advances in the circumstances of his people during his lifetime, but it now seemed to be time for the next logical progression in the course of Africa's history. And -- broadly -- Isadore Muzorewa welcomed its advent.

Of course, there were now numerous boreholes near the far flung villages, and the women no longer had to walk for miles, carrying back heavy gourds of water. Also, some schools and clinics had been built, although in nothing like the quantities demanded by an ever growing population. Most villages now had a shop (of sorts) to cater for the immediate requirements of their inhabitants, and the few dirt roads were occasionally graded in the wet season, to allow lorries to service them. Also, inter-village fighting and livestock raids had all but ceased since the white Government had established Police and District Commissioners' camps in the outlying areas, although this -- aggravated by the white men's limited understanding of Tribal law and custom -- had to be set against the ever-shrinking authority of the Chiefs and Headmen.

There had been many bitter disagreements between the black villagers and their white overlords, not least amongst which had been the District Commissioners' insistence that cattle should be driven every month to special compounds to be dipped against ticks and other perceived infections; and that fees should be paid for such unrequested services. Also, there had been the Government Order that trenches should be dug in the grazing lands to prevent what was called "erosion," and that fines were collectively imposed in cases of non-compliance.

Yes, upon reflection, Isadore Muzorewa considered that the directives had eventually benefited the community in general, particularly when one conceded that the settlers had somehow chased away the dreaded Tsetse fly by spraying strange water at them, and also that there was no longer any malaria in the lowlands.

One law with which Isadore Muzorewa had never felt entirely comfortable, however, was the white men's insistence that one of two new-born twins should not be strangled, to pacify the Spirit of Ingula. But then, of course, the white people had never learned of the tragedy that had beset the Chiefdom of Mangula when Ingula's twin sons had sundered the tribe by attempting to split the honour of the Spirit of aMangula between them.

Isadore Muzorewa held no particular grudge against the white settlers -- although he considered many of them to be both arrogant and aloof -- and he recognized the undoubted benefits that had accrued from the many clever tricks of the white men. Also, the money that many of his subjects earned from employment on white farms and in white businesses in the towns had enabled significant growth in their tribal homelands. Although it would be inadvisable to say so in the current circumstances, Isadore Muzorewa privately hoped that many of the white people would stay in the new Zimbabwe, and continue showing his people their clever tricks.

By and large, the whites had left him and his people in the Mtoroshanga District alone, provided that the people put up with certain minor inconveniences.

But, as the black politicians correctly said, it was now time for Africa to be ruled by black Africans.

In some ways, Isadore Muzorewa was more fearful of the young black nationalist hotheads who came to the village from the big towns, wearing sharp white mans' suits and sunglasses, and preaching rebellion and equality for all (regardless of age or experience), and with scant respect for established position or time-honoured authority.

But Isadore Muzorewa knew that these young hotheads would be dealt with swiftly by the Chiefs and Elders, as soon as the white men had been forced from power, and normality had returned.

Too many good men had already died, and -- at whatever future cost -- the war had to stop.

Isadore Muzorewa stood and waved as a convoy of Monitors and their guards drove past his kraal, towing swirling parachutes of dust behind their heavily armoured departing vehicles.

Isadore Muzorewa glanced at his watch. They would be back in their air-conditioned hotel in Salisbury within three hours, he estimated.

Isadore Muzorewa sat down again.

And they would probably be back in their homes in New York, Moscow and London before the moon had waned.

Did they know that as soon as the Settlers' controlling influence had been removed, there would once again be trouble between the Shona and aMatebele tribes ?

And did they really care ?

Isadore Muzorewa was not terribly concerned about that.

He only hoped that his People would not be visited again that night: either by the 'Ghost Soldiers,' or the 'Boys from the Bush.'

Article © KK Brown. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-06-27
2 Reader Comments
01:56:33 PM
" From whence" ? OUCH !
01:51:05 PM
Is there a general sense in Zimbabwe that the last 30 years have been a disaster? Are the "young hotheads" any wiser, or are they just older?

Well written, by the way. Your characters always seem very exotic, but always believable.
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