I was really surprised yesterday. One of our team wrote an article of the title: Kwese is not a Zimbabwean company. He was responding to a debate that had ensued in an earlier article. To be honest, I wasn’t excited about his article when he wrote and I wasn’t gonna read it because well, it was just a statement of fact that I felt could not be narrated beyond the title. So why write it, I thought.
Oh but surprise surprise, it became the most read article yesterday and the most commented on across different platforms. That was not the bigger surprise, the bigger one was that most people who commented on the article felt like it was an attack on Strive Masiiwa. Huh? How is Strive Massiwa attacked by a factual position that says he is a global businessman who’s companies are originated from several countries and succeeding across multiple borders.
The problem is we have too much of an attachment to the man such that we are not willing to look at him in any objective way even when he is not being attacked. We are so caught up with defending him that even if someone were to state a mere fact that Strive Masiiwa wears spectacles, the people here would draw out daggers and call for that poor person’s head. Defenses would sound like, “Ko zvemagirazi ake zvaita sei? Hazvimuite less of an icon indava muchingoda kudzikisira mwana wevhu? (What have his spectacles to do with anything? They don’t make him less of an icon, why do you have a pull him down syndrome against this true son of the soil?)” Hang on! Dude just stated a fact that our beloved Strive wears specs. Dude just stated the obvious that Kwese though found by a Zimbabwean is not a Zimbabwean company. We do not love it or Strive any less.
The Root of the Problem
This fascination with individuals is a serious problem in Africa. We have a good culture of honouring our elders but at times this good practice is extended to an excess that is dangerous. Even when our elders are wrong, we are not expected to speak out against them, it is not our place.
I remember in my final year of High School we had genuine grievances regarding some deterioration in our standard of living at the boarding school. We decided to approach the headmaster to let him know and to give him the opportunity to explain to us the situation. I was a prefect and had a good relationship with the headmaster. I was one of the group that approached him because I thought it was noble to discuss with him and perhaps to hear him out, who knew maybe there was a plausible explanation. That’s all we wanted.
How did he respond to us? Vakavava (He blew up). He said, “Muri vana vadiki, hamuna ma grievances (You are little kids, you do not have grievances). He didn’t say our grievances were unjustified or that we had approached him wrong, he said we DO NOT have grievances! That is the cultural attitude we have and we extend this stance beyond elders. We adopt this position towards leaders, wealthy guys, achievers, employers, people who give us lifts on the road and our more successful relatives at family gatherings especially at a funeral when they have bought the casket.
The Need for Heroes
Everyone knows tiri pama1 (we are in a terrible situation) in this country. Our very dangerous tendency is to then look for heroes to take us out of this mess. I remember when Evan Mawarire first came to prominence and when we all showed up at the Magistrate’s Court for his initial hearing. Social media the following day was awash with descriptions of him as this super hero. In fact one such was an actual graphic animation of Mawarire in a Super Hero suit similar to Captain America complete with a shield only that he had the Zimbabwean flag colours.
I know Evan personally and he is a super cool guy (Maybe the ministry of cyber security will place me on their watch list for this admittance). Anyway, I love the guy but I was worried when I saw people draw him as Captain Zimbabwe. We do not need heroes, in fact we go beyond heroes, we build people into gods. It is cool to draw inspiration from remarkable individuals, to celebrate them or even to have them lead us at times. However, when we make them gods, we miss the point.
Hero worshiping places pressure on these our favourite personalities. Suddenly, they will need to be politically correct every time, they need to live up to an unfair expectation imposed on them by us. No one can live up to that expectation every time and this sets us up for disappointment. How many people felt disappointed and complained when Pastor Evan went with his family to the United States? Where those complaints fair? Should a man be attacked for getting his family to safety? You see, this reaction comes from an unfair expectation that we had placed on him in the first place: he has to choose us before his family, before his freedom, before his life.
The Robert Mugabe Case Study
If in the early eighties someone had raised concern about Robert Mugabe or called out some facts about him that person would have been attacked and vilified for being against the icon, the true son of the soil. thirty seven + years ahead and we are where we are right now. Mugabe was a hero and he could not be touched therefore people chose to ignore certain things until they began to haunt us as they do now.
Do we really want to use the same terms to describe Masiiwa? A number of people who commented called him an icon and a son of the soil. What does that even mean? Let’s not burden the guy with this misplaced worship. Dictators are born out of the praise songs sang about champions. The best thing to do for a champion is to remind them that they are human. If we love them, we will protect them from our hymns of praise
Read me well, I am not saying Strive Masiiwa is a bad apple. I love the guy and admire him no doubt. I am saying that the fair thing we can do for him and for ourselves is to remember that he is a man and can be spoken about in good and in bad or in plain facts that are neither good nor bad. Facts such as where he lives, what clothes he wears or where his companies are incorporated for that matter. Even those who work in his business should view him in this light if they want to serve him and his vision effectively otherwise they will become a bunch of yes man and yes ladies. Who needs those?
Zimbabwe Needs Inspiration
Zimbabwe is looking for inspiration. Strive Masiiwa is a good story. He reminds us that there is still hope, that we are not cursed as a people. Kwese is a good story. It reminds us that even Goliath can be challenged and of course it provides us a more accessible entertainment option. We will continue to be inspired. However, we must still remember that Strive is just a man, a great one yes but still a man. Let’s not force him unto a pedestal and project our needs unto him: leave the man alone.
We must still remember Kwese is one of many services, a great option yes but still just a service. Let’s probe it as a service and let us place our expectations on it to deliver otherwise if we do not keep probing at it, it will stop developing and that will be the death of the service we love so much.
I expect to be attacked in the comments but hey that’s ok. Our job is not to just tickle ears, our bigger job is to stimulate conversation and that usually comes at a price of being misunderstood and attacked. I love my job!