Black Lives Matter: Re-Living the story of the Animal Farm

All lives matter. But specifically do the lives of those toiling for life in the diaspora also matter?


By Alois S Baleni


The death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in the USA recently has suddenly made Blacks rediscover the hard truth that actually their lives do not matter. If Black lives indeed mattered one can argue that some lives are more equal.

The totalising view that Black lives matter is not only unreal but misleading much as in the Animal farm not all animal lives equally mattered for some were more equal.

Do Zimbabweans’ lives really matter? It becomes unthinkable to conceive Zimbabweans as equal citizens whose lives matter and for that matter whose lives equally matter.

A few days back in one of the family WhatsApp groups, one member sent us down the memory line. He posted a rich Tjikalanga indigenous language composed piece entitled Kubukalanga sang during the early years of independent Zimbabwe.

Part of the paraphrased version of its lyrics meant that let the Bakalanga nation hold each other’s hands for their nation had gained its freedom. The freedom from darkness for if they looked back they indeed could see the flushing light shine upon them. The euphoria of gaining independence in April 1980 and the return from exile for those fortunate to have been alive was short-lived.

Today the Bukalanga nation is no longer home as the short-lived message of hope derived from the master piece had implied. Gone are the days when the Tjikalanga master piece did not only have a different meaning but also carried a message of hope. Black lives that mattered.

The taste of freedom

I recall intimately when the old, women, men, youth and children sang the master piece with jubilation in celebration of Black lives that indeed promised to matter then. The taste of freedom was on their lips for the first time post the Smith regime.

The euphoria did not last anything an infant could take in its mother’s womb. The curfew moments eventually surfaced, schooling started to be disrupted, the dissident era befell.

The Gukurahundi genocide in parts of Matabeleland was turned into a ritual to send some to victory and others to the graves. Today the Black lives claimed in the genocide and that of those surviving it still does not matter. The 1987 unity accord became a ceremonial reconciliation.

The tribes remained unreconciled without political leadership to preside a proper truth and reconciliation. Some Black lives are still pained but because they do not matter their pain also does not matter.

Post the ceremonial unity accord of 1987, natural disasters such as droughts, pandemics and famine became fashionable. Black lives were slowly at the brunt of HIV and Aids, poverty and Economic Structural Adjustment programmes. The state desperately sanctioned all possible forms of taxes including Aids and drought levies over time.

Black civil unrests became fashionable and the trade union labour movement uprisings emerged. The Movement for Democratic Change as a political party was born at the time. It is needless to ask what other democratic change was required so early into independence.

What had happened to milestones such as the unity accord of 1987 as a mechanism for social cohesion and instrument for political democracy?

Relived on Animal Farm

The failure to reconstitute Black lives as citizens that mattered by perpetuating tribal and ethnic disparities in the country has been effortless in creating endless problems. Doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers and later every other person skilled or unskilled started leaving the country to unknown and undefined destinations.

Do the lives of those who remained in Zimbabwe under the prevailing conditions matter?

Do lives of those toiling for life in the diaspora also matter? The KuBukalanga master piece has long lost its taste and message.

Its insistence that Bukalanga nation was home for Bakalanga is outdated by the existential realities of today. The women, youth and girls who sang in jubilation at that time are today raped on their way as they try to desperately leave what promised to be their nation.

They encounter the menace of ruthless groups of gangsters who in the process of assisting them cross borders illegally turn and pounce on them through rape and brutal activities. Some lives are claimed in the process if not either preyed upon by crocodiles or through drowning.

Whether stuck back home with no voice of expression, with no freedom and liberation that they sang so much for in celebration in the 1980s or on the other side of Limpopo it remains two sides of the same coin? Do Zimbabwean lives really matter?

South African envoys

South Africa recently sent special envoys not for the first time and probably not for the last time either to look into the issues of alleged human rights violations. In the past the same was done and a meaningless Government of National Unity was put in place.

What should have surprised even former South African President Thabo Mbeki himself then was why even assembling a governmental structure for national unity.

This on its own confirmed the absence of unity in the country and the contrary is true. Zimbabweans lives have not equally mattered for many years. Some have remained more equal and others less privileged. Repressive violence is the order of the day.

It has become very uncommon for an average person in Zimbabwe to speak and engage freely and truthfully so about their daily lived experience as a citizen.

In the context of a re-lived Animal Farm era in the country even those that are legitimately of high intellectual ability have given up thought. Activists live under surveillance and fear. Some including a learned Professor whose life did not matter anymore live in exile.

This is contrary of the Kubukalanga old master piece recently remixed by a Zimbabwean Acapella group Amavevane based in South Africa in the spirit of regeneration. Nonetheless not all Zimbabwean lives matter, some are more equal. The Animal Farm experience sustains.

Alois S Baleni is a Research Fellow in Society, Work and Politics Institute/African Centre for Migration and Society, Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa. He is former Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Award Visiting Scholar, the University of Winnipeg

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