Zimbabwe @ 40 : Washing the paint brushes

Today I woke up to the memory of an incident that took place in 1982 when I was in first Grade. It was at Mafakela Primary School, Luveve, Bulawayo and it must have been a few weeks into the first term.

I do not know what brought the memory back but I remember I caused a huge consternation at the school, albeit innocently.

My teacher, Mrs BE Nyamambi, had assigned me and a group of girls to go and wash the art paint brushes after an art lesson and the girls led the way straight to the wash basins in the girls toilet. Yours truly followed and we started washing the brushes under running water in the was basins.

I remember we were then surrounded by so many girls raising a chant about a boy in the girls toilet and I did not even realise it was about me and my solidarity friends kept nonchalantly passing me the brushes to be rinsed under water and I obliged, not concerned about the growing crowd around us in the toilet. Childhood innocence!!

I think the storm abated when a senior prefect was brought in and after seeing our scenario, she ordered the crowd out and I think she helped us gather the brushes up and escorted us to our class. I don’t recall much after that but what I recall will suffice for today.

It is a painting lesson that got the brushes dirty and the realization that the next painting lesson would not take place under dirty brushes made our teacher to ensure that the brushes were cleaned.

The brushes might have painted masterpieces at that time but there was no value in leaving the paint on the brushes. It added no value but actually diminished the relevance of the brush. There with my story today.

Forty years after Independence my beautiful country has tried to paint a masterpiece. A dream masterpiece that was meant to come to life from the colonial portrait and become a gem where all rivers met and the grass never wilted. A masterpiece that was meant to be a great haven to all and sundry.

Then something like my paint class happened. The paint caked on the brushes and no one washed them. Instead they were used to try and paint mire pictures but because the brushes were caked not distinct art came forth. Blurred lines,smudges and undefined portraits came forth. Some brushes broke, some got lost and the paint diminished to a whitewash point.

All that would have saved this was running the paint brushes under running water regularly. The water would have breathed a new mileage to the brushes, given the bristles a sharp edge and the artists more zeal.

Running the brushes under water would have exposed the wear and tear and shown the need for replacement but one cannot assess wear and tear in a caked brush.

Running the water over the brushes would have taken the excuses away. A good painter will not blame a clean brush! But because the brushes smudged all excuses were there except to blame the painter.

Then many portraits later the picture did not tell our dream story. We had, and still have, an image that the current brushes cannot paint. Our dream picture needs us to return to the washbasins in innocent candor to nonchalantly strip away the caked paint so we can paint a clean clear portrait at our next turn.

We need to defy the remonstrating crowds and focus on the task at hand for we have a portrait to paint. A multicolor portrait that will bring the rainbow back.

We need to catch the rainbow. We need to paint a new picture. Happy Independence Day Zimbabwe. Let us gather your brushes and run them under the running water. In innocence.

Painted in a corner? You’ve but to look at your own hand to see who’s holding the paintbrush.
Laurie Buchanan, PhD


X is for Xenophobia

 My earliest recall of what I thought was an earthquake was an earth shuddering sound that shook Bulawayo one night in the late eighties. I vividly remember a thumping sound, the earth rumbled, windows rattled,chickens squawked and dogs barked. In the middle of the night I could smell fear even in our parents as they whispered amongst each other trying to comprehend the cause of the big blast.

In the morning I was one of the first in the newspaper queue and The Chronicle was emblazoned with a black title reading ” BOMB BLAST IN TRENANCE”. We were to later learn that apartheid South Africa agents had infiltrated our country, identified a ANC safe house and had bombed it as we slept. Among the dead were Zimbabweans.

A letter bomb took the hand of an anti apartheid clergyman Father Michael Lapsely in Harare among other acts. 

History taught us how Zipra and Umkhonto we Sizwe operated in the Hurungwe hot zones in 1967 in the quest for independence for both countries. Years later , the independent countries suffered the brunt of supporting the liberation forces of South Africa and no country was spared. 

The Frontline  States were born out of a stubborn resolve to dismantle apartheid.

1994 everyone celebrated and serenaded South Africa . It was called the rainbow nation. 

Last week of 2005 going to the first week of 2006 the rainbow was smudged with the blood of fellow Africans no longer wanted in South africa. I learnt the word xenophobia.

After fighting to help the brothers gain advantage the brothers turned against their own fellow Africans citing disadvantage.

Last week the rainbow tapestry got more crimson. It continues to smudge as I speak, fuelled by genocidal incitement and tacit complicit inaction.

When we grew up, a tick on paper meant approval and correctness and an X meant wrong and possibly disapproval (except when we vote). Today the X in xenophobia cries out for the greatest disapproval ratings and we owe it to our children to stand up and speak against this ill.

In his book , My second Initiation: the Memoir of Vusi Pikoli, the writer speaks of the brunt borne by Lesotho nationals because of hosting ANC cadres. He speaks of Zambia and their days in Harare including their academic sojourns in these countries. 

Besides agents of the apartheid regime, they had nothing to fear.

But today our brothers have turned into agents of fear and purveyors of death. UnAfrican.

Whatever the reason, whatever decree, whatever grievance, all Africans are one as Credo Mutwa will say. We live, fight, celebrate and die together. 

Anything else is unAfrican.

X is for Xenophobia. (To be continued)