Mathabelazitha/the anvil BY ZIFISO MASIYE
To trade fair or trade foul, that is the question.
In the past week, Bulawayo woke up to that roving, rattling helicopter sound, hovering low, above her rusty rooftops…the harbinger of the city’s most iconic calendar ritual, the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF).
Countless times now, the rumbling sound flew past my own craven cottage, which is nestled a couple of minutes between both the Trade Fair grounds and the purported source and epicentre of the trade value chain, the industrial hub of the City of Kings. For a week, summoning the unflinching patriot in me, I struggled to master the energy to respond to the clarion call of the copter and get my butt to that Fair. For as I walk for two hours every day (courtesy of my aging legs and doctor’s advice), I can’t help but notice the disturbing peace and absolute desolation that has become of the hitherto noisy, throbbing heartbeat of Bulawayo industry from Monday to Friday. Our cemeteries have become busier and noisier than our manufacturing village and only on Sundays are my walks through the industrial sites disturbed, and then, only by the thundering praise and worship sounds of churches that have converted factory floors to congregate-seating, tithing aisles and made pulpits of lathe machines. Somehow my walking mind fails to wrap itself around the relationship between a moribund, virtually collapsed industry and ostensibly “the best ever trade fairs” Zimbabwe has experienced!
Or is it true that ZITF is simply a glorified dining table, hosting Harare people for a Harare dinner? For indeed that too is good business.
But I digress.
It must have been in Marketing 101 that Mrs Hall drilled home that cardinal rule: the fundamental anchor of any successful marketing has to be a conscious understanding of the cognitive psychology, the internal dynamics and underlying motivations and fears of the target market.
Examples in the history of marketing were awash of great products that failed dismally for sheer lack of resonance with the market psyche or for recklessly insulting the history and culture of the targeted community and market.
Without doubt, outside the bomb-dropping setting of war, the military helicopter is in itself beautiful, intriguing enigma to any citizen. It influenced many of our young dreams of a career in the air force.
The groggy, roaring of the camouflaged war monger circling the clear calm skies of Bulawayo last week was a historical ritual and accompanying embellishment of the trade fair. It meant well. It was purposed to propel the requisite public hype and drive community interest and that va-va-voom that must usher national exhibition showcase. Four times it zoomed just above my roof in its usual imposing presence. I tried to get into the mood, to rekindle my most beautiful memories of the years gone by that my mind readily associates with that sound and the fun, fanfare and razzmatazz that came with the trade fair.
There is a particular buzz about Bulawayo that tends to come with that unmistakable April sound of the roaring helicopter. It is the first in the year, that I have had to queue up to shave my greying hair and indeed my barber claims he has never been busier. For a frenzied week, he reckons the minds of the city are off-ramp, faces less gloomy, the customary painful conversations of both price madness and the protracted moment of madness seemed to be parked as old lads shave off their age and hordes of young boys out-compete each other on the coolest black American hairstyles.
I await my turn as we reminisce on the imagery aroused by the sound of that helicopter from our mutual nostalgia.
Flashes of beautiful people in a jolly mood: immaculate drum majorettes, police dogs somersaulting through rings of fire, flashes of stately dignitaries and that mistaken, yet unmistakable voice and nuanced English of one Robert Mugabe, the thrills of the colourful luna park and sprightly happy little ones — and yes, the unforgettable, incomparable taste of that Eskimo Hut ice-cream.
Swiftly as I drive home, the beautiful memories that come with that helicopter sound flashed by as some nostalgic bygone. I thought to let bygones be by-gones!
But lo and behold, that exciting façade of a celebrating Bulawayo seemed to screech to a jolting halt soon as I confronted my father’s dying eyes on that Forester Ward floor. That roaring sound of the camouflaged war-monger circling the skies of Bulawayo and the roof that housed my ailing Zipra veteran was symbolic as much of Bulawayo’s momentary happiness as it was of the fear, the pain, the betrayal and “moment-of-madness” embodied in Misheck Velaphi’s emaciated body and engulfing the people of the city and the region 40 years later. The monster helicopter conjures the callous unleashing of red-berets aka Gukurahundi and events that my pen trembles to recount.
Our house happened to be their virtual arrival lounge and first port of call. Every time they descended on the City of Kings, they made ‘Emagetsini’, that mountain side intersection between Masiye-Phambili and Luveve roads their home and the base station. It is a strategic hub and convenient command centre for launching and co-ordinating any community onslaught targeting the western townships. Five times on successive the 5th Brigade onslaughts, we would just wake up to a virtual battalion barrack and hundreds of red-berets right on our fence. Baaaba..!
It seemed too far-fetched a coincidence that Misheck Velaphi, who had been convicted for arms catches and was rotting at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, would have his isolated house at the Fambeki hill, literally hosting a brigade specifically trained to come and search and harass and torture and kill his kith and kin.
Always, our guests were tough, uncouth, thorough and methodical in their cruelty. They roamed and ransacked our entire house at will. Every new group that entered demonstrated a fresh conviction that somewhere in that house was stashed some form of arms or ammunition that my mom and us knew about and were hiding.
It is the only time and my only haunting experience of any man laying a hand on my mother while I watched absolutely helpless. It is the only time I was forced to watch just as helpless as some six soldiers tied up my brother, Dumiso onto the rafters of a garage and asked him to say, either his last prayer or where dad’s arms were, while they all prepared to shoot the back of his head. Day and night, him and I were made to dig up a massive concrete slab that covers a gaping hole up that Qaqeni hilltop “to remove the arms your father buried”.
Yet my experience is child’s play when you listen to the testimonies of hell around the region. Bulawayo’s love letter is a chilling reminder of evil.
I am about to bury Misheck Velaphi, he said back then while languishing in Chikurubi, “Stay strong and courageous in your spirits because yours is the truth.
If they kill you or me, you must know that the man who dies for the truth, has the happiest grave of all.”
Go well Tata!
Zii Masiye (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes elsewhere on social media as Balancing Rocks.