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Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP.

Disgruntled Zimbabwean civil servants march while carrying protest banners rejecting current salary payments in the local currency and demanded to be paid in United States Dollars so they can a meet their basic cost of living in Harare, on November 6, 2019.

#ZimbabweanLivesMatter: Here are Their Personal Stories

We highlight the experiences of 10 Zimbabweans impacted by the ongoing unrest in the country and the significance of the Zimbabwean Lives Matter movement on their lives.

Since July, there have been scenes of chaos in Zimbabwe's capital Harare and in other regions across the country as police officers assault and arrest protesting citizens. Long queues outside of supermarkets are common as people attempt to buy food they can no longer afford. The homes of journalists, opposition leaders and anyone who criticizes the government are being ransacked. The mere threat of reprisals for those who dare to mobilise and stage demonstrations is enough to keep many holed up in their homes.

Over the past few months, Zimbabwe has been embroiled in anti-government protests both online and on the ground in an attempt to raise awareness about human rights violations and media censorship at the hands of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government. The celebrations of 2017 that followed after longtime President Robert Mugabe stepped down, and the hope that permeated the air at the time, seem like a distant memory.

From mass arrests and detainments to documented instances of police intimidation and brutality, the online movement Zimbabwean Lives Matter has and continues to shine a light on the volatile socio-political and economic troubles of Zimbabwe. And while the government insists there is no national crisis, every day the rest of the world learns that this is untrue.

And so OkayAfrica asked Zimbabweans both in the country and the diaspora to share their personal stories with us. These are stories illustrating the complex realities of real people and their fears, frustrations, suffering, and the sliver of hope they continue to cling to in the hopes of tangible change for their country.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Names have been kept anonymous where requested.

Tendai, Student, 21

MDD, Student, 29

David Orpen, Software Engineer, 36

Anonymous, Engineer, 27

MDM, Self-employed, 56

Anonymous, Lawyer, 27

Anonymous, Unemployed, 41

Nhari Unendoro, Civil Servant, 33

Robert Jones, Digital Marketer, 32

Jongumuzi Lobati, Graphic Designer, 36


Tendai, Student, 21

Are you currently in Zimbabwe or the diaspora? For how long have you been there?

I've been in Zimbabwe my whole life.

How would you personally describe the ongoing unrest in Zimbabwe right now?

I would describe it as an escalation of human rights violations in the form of abductions, torture and lawfare whereby dissenting voices are detained for months using bogus charges as punishment for speaking out. There has been an escalation in corruption too.

Would you say that you are afraid for your life or livelihood or that or your family and friends? If so, why exactly?

I would say I am afraid for both my life and livelihood as well as that of my relatives because the economy is in a freefall. Civil servants now get about 40 USD per month and hospitals are closed during this pandemic because doctors and nurses are on strike. The only way out is to call for the resignation of this government as it has all the levers of power but no intention to fix things. However, if you call for this, you risk being kidnapped, tortured and raped (if you are a woman). We are between a rock and a hard place. If you get sick in Zimbabwe, you die even if it's something minor and this is what the normal citizen is facing.

Do you feel that the online movement #ZimbabweanLives Matter has helped the situation in Zimbabwe in any way? If so, how? If not, why?

I think it has not helped the situation as of yet because the authorities continue to persecute critics. However, it was never meant to be a solution to our problems. It was meant to get the world's attention so as to pressure the relevant international organisations (SADC, AU, UN, UNSC) to intervene or elicit unilateral action from powerful nations like neighbouring South Africa. So far, we haven't gotten the forceful action we were looking for but if it is sustained and intensified, the campaign can be the first step in resolving the decades-old crisis in our country.

What has been your connection to the protests if any?

I haven't had any connections to the protests so far.

What has changed in Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa compared to the Mugabe era?

Nothing has changed in terms of government action. The spotlighting of heinous crimes on social media is the only change that has occured but nothing is happening which hasn't happened before. Abductions, the killing of opposition members, the detention of opposition figures, nepotism in government, hyperinflation and grand corruption have always existed in Zimbabwe since independence.

Mr Mnangagwa is carrying on his party's traditions. Zanu-PF is irredeemable and incapable of any form of reform because they are all compromised. They have committed serious crimes since the Mugabe administration so they themselves can never stop corruption in Zimbabwe. They are the problem and are used to acting with impunity.

What do you want the rest of the world to know about the plight of Zimbabweans?

I want the rest of the world to know that Zimbabweans are suffering and in need of their help to amplify #ZimbabweanLivesMatter until it reaches the right desk so that we can get help. The world helped free us from white minority rule and so we call upon it again to liberate us from the liberators themselves. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

What changes do you want to see take place for Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans?

I would like to see electoral reforms so that for the first time in history, the Zimbabwean people get to choose their leader without any fear of reprisals. Additionally, institutional reforms so that the presidency is never allowed to capture the two other branches of government. I also want to see economic reforms so that Zimbabweans rise out of poverty and get to enjoy a life of dignity.

MDD, Student, 29

How would you personally describe the ongoing unrest in Zimbabwe right now?

The unrest and dissatisfaction has always been there. What is beautiful is seeing people speaking out i.e. the general populace, activists, the church, politicians and civic society. People are speaking in one voice..united under the #Zimbabwean Lives Matter banner.

How have you, your family or friends been affected or by the unrest in Zimbabwe?

Politically, [I have been affected] as a supporter of the opposition. I have witnessed consistent electoral irregularities. Currently elected MPs are being recalled from parliament and replaced by individuals aligned to the ruling party. Economically, my family income and savings have been eroded.

Would you say that you are afraid for your life or livelihood or that or your family and friends? If so, why exactly?

Yes. In certain cases you have to hide your identity before speaking out for fear that your family will be victimised.

Do you feel that the online movement #ZimbabweanLives Matter has helped the situation in Zimbabwe in any way? If so, how? If not, why?

Yes. The region, the continent and the world are now aware of what the people of Zimbabwe are going through. We have managed to destroy ZANU-PF's propaganda machinery and tell the world the correct narrative. People now know who ED Mnangagwa is.

What has been your connection to the protests if any?

I make sure to keep the awareness going through daily tweets and the sharing of information.

What has changed in Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa compared to the Mugabe era?

The state has become more militarised. ZANU-PF has captured the state i.e. courts, the army, electoral commission, parliament and police. Zimbabweans can't breathe.

What do you want the rest of the world to know about the plight of Zimbabweans?

The ZANU-PF government is corrupt, murderous, repressive and predatory. Democractic means such as elections and courts are now captured by the party. Activist activity in some cases leads to torture, arrest or murder. We need regional help.

What changes do you want to see take place for Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans?

[I want to see] the opening up of the democratic space and a return to constitutionalism, the demilitarisation of the country and free and fair elections.

David Orpen, Software Engineer, 36

Are you currently in Zimbabwe or the diaspora? For how long have you been there?

[I have been in the] diaspora since 2004, about 17 Years or so.

How would you personally describe the ongoing unrest in Zimbabwe right now?

ZANU-PF is harshly cracking down on peaceful protests engendered by rightful indignation over the state of the economy and the healthcare system. Only desperate people protest in Zimbabwe because ZANU-PF is so good at spreading fear, abducting, torturing and making people disappear. So the fact that there are widespread protests tells you that people are at their limit.

How have you, your family or friends been affected or by the unrest in Zimbabwe?

A friend was abducted a few years ago and she was arrested again more recently. She is brave. Other friends who live in Zimbabwe have seen their lives reduced to a struggle to survive. My parents' generation was hit hard and their children live abroad. My generation is scattered all over the world. It's not uncommon for a family to have siblings on 3 different continents. We make new lives for ourselves but we miss home.

"We make new lives for ourselves but we miss home."

Would you say that you are afraid for your life or livelihood or that or your family and friends? If so, why exactly?

I am afraid for my friends who live in Zimbabwe. Life in Zimbabwe is hard even at normal times. Now with the government cracking down and the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals and medical care are basically non-existent. The Zimbabwean dollar is collapsing again (predictably). The Zimbabwean government has no interest in improving things. Even without actively murdering people (which they do plenty anyway) they are killing them slowly. Preventable diseases. Starvation. Poverty. No one is immune except for the elites.

Do you feel that the online movement #ZimbabweanLives Matter has helped the situation in Zimbabwe in any way? If so, how? If not, why?

I just hope. All Zimbabweans hope. We hope that things can change. I want to help. This #ZimbabweanLivesMatter movement has made me aware that others feel similarly. We need to take action and organize. Sooner rather than later. We as Zimbabweans must stand up and fight for what was stolen from us.

What has been your connection to the protests if any?

Just Twitter. I know it's pathetic. I've also given money as well to a couple of organizations though.

What has changed in Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa compared to the Mugabe era?

Mnangagwa is not bothering to hide his evil nature. Mugabe was a clever politician. He, for example, would never have taken on the Church directly. Mnangagwa is more of a brute, more inclined to rule by force and less bothered to pretend that he rules for the benefit of all. Of course he goes through the motions.

What do you want the rest of the world to know about the plight of Zimbabweans?

To be honest, I am convinced that we as Zimbabweans need to solve our problems. I recently read a book (Gene Sharp's From Dictatorship to Democracy) about how non-violent defiance can bring down totalitarian regimes like that in Zimbabwe and I think we need to do that. It would be nice if more of the rest of the world would notice what an evil bunch ZANU-PF are, but yes, it kind of feels like it's time to go after those bastards and non-violently invite them to get stuffed.

What changes do you want to see take place for Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans?

I want to see a popular democratic movement taking root, which will through non-violent means, overthrow the corrupt and evil ZANU-PF regime and replace it with a truly democratic government. It's important that this is done by Zimbabweans so that we as a population know how to resist if ever another dictator with a bunch of hired guns comes along and tries to hold us hostage again.

Once the new government is in place, I want to see good and transparent governance. Keep the politicians where we can see them. Public accountability. There's a lot of bad stuff to undo. The court system has to be made independent again. The police and army have to be rehabilitated to serve the people. Infrastructure investments will need to be made. Industries like agriculture will need to be restarted. In the short term, food aid may be needed. The rule of law will need to be enforced, but not insensitively and not to serve the narrow interests of the few. Unjust laws will need to be revoked. We'll need to rebuild trust in the banking system. Zimbabweans now suffer from widespread poverty, we're gonna need to address that. Healthcare and education will also be priorities.

These are basic things that anyone can see as priorities for a post-ZANU-PF Zimbabwe. Currently with ZAN-PFU in power, there's no hope that they will take place. They'll talk about it but just like with the COVID stuff and then they'll steal anything that's not nailed down as soon as they think no-one's looking. Once Zimbabwe's back on its feet, I'll be celebrating.

Anonymous, Engineer, 27

Are you currently in Zimbabwe or the diaspora? For how long have you been there?

I have been living in the diaspora for 9 years.

How would you personally describe the ongoing unrest in Zimbabwe right now?

ZANU-PF has the entire country hostage. They control everything: banks, courts, police, military and transportation. There are rampant murders, disappearances and tortures.We can't protest without being shot at. We can't write without being arrested. We can't do even a one-man protest without being tortured and disappearing thereafter. We can't distribute organizing material without being arrested. We can't attend workshops on organizing without being arrested on arrival. All these sentences are not hyperbole––Itai Dzamara, Hope Chin'Ono, the MDC Trio, Maldives 7––we cannot breathe.

How have you, your family or friends been affected or by the unrest in Zimbabwe?

We all live in different countries. My dad died because we couldn't find meds in the hospital for him. My family in the diaspora sends almost a ton of groceries every month which serves as the main source of food for our family in Zimbabwe. As a child, my parents were intimidated and beaten by ZANU-PF youths.

Would you say that you are afraid for your life or livelihood or that or your family and friends? If so, why exactly?

Yes. Even tweets under my real name, I am afraid. The arm of the Zimbabwean intelligence is very long and they work with impunity. They have targeted my family before and they can get us and kill us very easily. Heroism is wonderful but many would agree that partial freedom is better than death.

"Heroism is wonderful but many would agree that partial freedom is better than death."

Do you feel that the online movement #ZimbabweanLives Matter has helped the situation in Zimbabwe in any way? If so, how? If not, why?

A little. I think it has raised awareness about the situation. But sadly, not enough to effect any change.

What has been your connection to the protests if any?

Online support.

What has changed in Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa compared to the Mugabe era?

More death, intimidation and disappearances. It feels like a never-ending nightmare.

What do you want the rest of the world to know about the plight of Zimbabweans?

We are not placid or waiting on a messiah. ZANU-PF has it's knee on our throat. Anyone who has tried any form of organizing (solo protest, sharing masks, meetings, mass protests) has been jailed, killed, tortured or has been arrested and put through a lengthy trial. We have had mass protests before and dead bodies ended up on the streets. If you protest in Zimbabwe, no-one is going to save you or your family when you die. There are no heroes' statues. You die. That's it.

What changes do you want to see take place for Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans?

I want to be free. I hate my nationality.

MDM, Self-employed, 56

Are you currently in Zimbabwe or the diaspora? For how long have you been there?

[I have been] in Zimbabwe since birth.

How would you personally describe the ongoing unrest in Zimbabwe right now?

It is exhausting and frustrating.

How have you, your family or friends been affected or by the unrest in Zimbabwe?

We are under a brutal military dictatorship aided and abetted by China. Elections are a sham. Citizens cannot enjoy their rights. The regime's grip on power is to protect ill gotten wealth. Corruption is rife at the highest level. Cartels have taken over key economic sectors. Day-to-day living is a nightmare due to the unavailability of basic needs such as water, electricity, transport and medicine.

Inflation is at +840 percent (official). Unemployment is +95 percent and at least 7 million people face starvation. Infrastructure has collapsed. Public health and education have collapsed. Teachers and nurses have been on a prolonged stay-away. The government blames everyone else but themselves for the crisis. Some family members and relatives have had to emigrate to escape the harsh economic conditions and oppression. These challenges are causing anxiety, stress and have psychological effects.

Would you say that you are afraid for your life or livelihood or that or your family and friends? If so, why exactly?

Yes. Public critics can be abducted, arrested, tortured, raped or murdered by the state agents with impunity.

Do you feel that the online movement #ZimbabweanLives Matter has helped the situation in Zimbabwe in any way? If so, how? If not, why?

Yes. The movement has provided the only safe platform available to register dissent and alert the world to the crises. The state media is heavily censored, it is not available for the opposition.

"The movement has provided the only safe platform available to register dissent and alert the world to the crisis."

What has been your connection to the protests if any?

None, it's just too risky.

What has changed in Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa compared to the Mugabe era?

The democratic space has been closed. Corruption has flourished. Impunity has worsened with abductions, torture, arrests and extra judicial killings continuing. The economy is haemorrhaging.

What do you want the rest of the world to know about the plight of Zimbabweans?

The world must adopt a more robust response and stop being diplomatic and nice to ZANU-PF. In constitutional democracies, citizens can replace failed governments by diplomatic processes. These processes have been shut down by the regime.

What changes do you want to see take place for Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans?

#ZanuPFMustGo for a complete overhaul of the governance systems.

Anonymous, Lawyer, 27

Are you currently in Zimbabwe or the diaspora? For how long have you been there?

I have been in Zimbabwe for 7 months.

How would you personally describe the ongoing unrest in Zimbabwe right now?

The population is being silenced under the pain of violence, abduction, torture or arrest. Zimbabwe is deep in poverty and decay under authoritarian rule.

How have you, your family or friends been affected or by the unrest in Zimbabwe?

There is no freedom, even in our homes, to say anything critical of the government. The whole country is in a "jail" of sorts where freedoms are severely curtailed.

"There is no freedom, even in our homes, to say anything critical of the government."

Would you say that you are afraid for your life or livelihood or that or your family and friends? If so, why exactly?

Yes, because other citizens have been abducted or arrested and tortured for merely protesting for a better Zimbabwe. This might happen to anyone at any time.

Do you feel that the online movement #ZimbabweanLives Matter has helped the situation in Zimbabwe in any way? If so, how? If not, why?

Yes. It has drawn the attention of the international community. State authorities think twice when others are watching before committing atrocities. The hashtag might save lives if it sustains enough pressure on the regime.

What has been your connection to the protests if any?

I have staged solo demonstrations in my area and have been active online seeking accountability [from the government].

What has changed in Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa compared to the Mugabe era?

Nothing has changed for the better. Everything has changed for the worst.

What do you want the rest of the world to know about the plight of Zimbabweans?

We have a murderous regime that will stop at nothing to preserve political power. They are sitting on skeletons of a 1980's genocide, political murders, election violence, killings by security forces commanded by them, and grand corruption.

What changes do you want to see take place for Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans?

An open and democratic society where people don't have to live in fear, and where public participation in politics is not discouraged, but encouraged. I would like to see accountable and pragmatic governance. I would like to see common sense leadership, consensus-building and a return to the rule of law.

Anonymous, Unemployed, 41

Are you currently in Zimbabwe or the diaspora? For how long have you been there?

Zimbabwe. I've lived in Zimbabwe for about 39 years.

How would you personally describe the ongoing unrest in Zimbabwe right now?

It is intimidation and reprisals mainly. People are living in fear for their lives. The army always drives by wielding guns and is ready to pounce on the public if they are instructed. They beat us up and worse.

Our lives are at their worst. There are no livelihoods. The COVID lockdown, we believe is being fabricated, promulgated and propagated to abuse the WHO guidelines so that they can suppress us and control an already volatile and toxic political environment. It is actually scary to go to the neighbourhood grocery store. The COVID lockdown is downright political. Look at the Khupe ruling against Chamisa or the Chin'ono issue. One can attribute this abuse of the populous to a repressive regime.

How have you, your family or friends been affected or by the unrest in Zimbabwe?

No livelihoods mean we are not able to have proper meals. Food might be in the shops but we cannot afford to buy it. There is poor plumbing, burst water pipes are not being fixed, potholes in the road, etc. Worse, with the quashing of the parallel forex market that was mitigating some disparages in the local currency and enabling us to make ends meet. Now, we are at a loss. If one is caught trying to make ends meet, one is arrested.

Would you say that you are afraid for your life or livelihood or that or your family and friends? If so, why exactly?

Yes, I fear for my life and livelihood. The army or the police regularly come for bribes which eats away at the profits. It is not safe to go to work because the army might be waiting for you to beat you up for trying to make ends meet. We are not free but are all considered to be criminals. One cannot speak without fear of subverting certain laws that protects an elite few.

"One cannot speak without fear of subverting certain laws that protect an elite few."

Do you feel that the online movement #ZimbabweanLives Matter has helped the situation in Zimbabwe in any way? If so, how? If not, why?

I think #ZimbabweanLivesMatter helped a lot. Some stars and politicians have responded to it and I pray that the folks outside Zimbabwe will not be brutalised, arrested without bail or killed for speaking up and keep fighting for us. We need the international community like footballers and sports personnel, to speak out on our behalf. We cannot die and leave our children orphaned. I pray Danai Gurira will do what Thandie Newton did. The #ZimbabweanLivesMatter got Africa talking about what is important.

What has been your connection to the protests if any?

I've posted on social media only and have been issued with a warning against poking my noise into business that does not belong to me. I try not to be too vocal lest I'm singled out and taught a lesson.

What has changed in Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa compared to the Mugabe era?

Mugabe was a sophisticated man. Currently we are in hot soup. Things are worsening. It seems like we went to hunt tigers and they are now hunting us. The suffering continues. We need God to intervene in our plight. Things are just terrible.

What do you want the rest of the world to know about the plight of Zimbabweans?

We are not free to speak freely in public. The constitution is made and changed to the politicians' desires. We do not have freedom of the press. The ZBC is a propaganda channel for themselves, people are arrested for speaking the truth, potholes on the road are the order of the day and so it is impossible to drive in Harare.

It is scary to fall ill or become sick, the currency doesn't work and we are not allowed to use the forex in a place where livelihoods are eroded and salaries cannot take care of family. Everyone has a small illegal hustle (that is morally acceptable) like being a street forex dealer. Fuel shortages are also now the order of the day, electricity has recently started to be shed for hours per day and food prices are too high. Bread is a luxury.

"Bread is a luxury."

What changes do you want to see take place for Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans?

Zimbabwe needs a new leadership that is not corrupt and is for the people.

We need a situation where we can have an apolitical administration to get rid of government ministries. We need reliable fuel availability, electricity supply, an end to corrupt leadership, respect of the rule of law, and end to public reprisals against civic society by the government, an end to state-controlled media churning out government propaganda, political intimidation and reprisals. All soldiers need to go back to the barracks and the police must be apolitical. There needs to be an end to police brutality of any nature.

Nhari Unendoro, Civil Servant, 33

Are you currently in Zimbabwe or the diaspora? For how long have you been there?

Currently in Zimbabwe, regrettably. I have been here my whole life.

How would you personally describe the ongoing unrest in Zimbabwe right now?

Zimbabweans have been under oppression for a very long time and they are desperate to get the world's attention with regards to the brutality they are facing daily under ZANU-PF. Firstly, under the supposed leadership of Mugabe and now even worse, under the non-existent leadership of Mnangagwa who promised a false new dawn.

How have you, your family or friends been affected or by the unrest in Zimbabwe?

What has affected us more is the high cost of living, low remuneration, lack of affordable healthcare and the brutality of state security agents. The democratic space is shrinking by the day and there is no freedom of speech and expression. The government has put itself above the law and beyond reproach while they steal, build ridiculous mansions and buy expensive cars. As an educated youth, I can't even plan for tomorrow because it's basically hand-to-mouth. It's sad that as an employed and qualified graduate with a Master's degree, I can no longer afford the basics for my family. I go to work every day to work for the same government that has impoverished us. My parents get just 1 USD for their pension.

"As an educated youth, I can't even plan for tomorrow because it's basically hand-to-mouth."

Would you say that you are afraid for your life or livelihood or that or your family and friends? If so, why exactly?

We are living in fear every day. The government can just send it's ferret forces to abduct and even murder your whole family if you do as little as complain about remuneration. To this day, Itai Dzamara is still missing. I also fear a lot of my friends will succumb to hunger and depression considering some never got the opportunity to work ever since we left university for our first degrees.

Do you feel that the online movement #ZimbabweanLives Matter has helped the situation in Zimbabwe in any way? If so, how? If not, why?

I feel it has at least gotten the world to pay attention to what has been going on in our country for a long time. The ZANU-PF regime would rather invest a lot of money in propaganda than attend to the issues on the ground so the world has to know what our government is putting us through.

What has been your connection to the protests if any?

[I have] just been retweeting cleverly and encouraging others who are not trapped within the system to soldier on with the hashtag because anything above that, can cost me not only my job, but my life.

What has changed in Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa compared to the Mugabe era?

Things have gone from bad to worse. The emergence of Mnangagwa as president has seen dictatorship being refined. I saw it coming and warned my friends against the 2017 March and they all came back to me saying you were right. Mnangagwa, due to avarice and a mind bent on corruption, missed out on a golden opportunity to reform and let the country move forward. Mnangagwa's many children, perhaps amounting to over 40, are as corrupt as their father.

What do you want the rest of the world to know about the plight of Zimbabweans?

There is a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe! The leadership is deliberately sweeping it under the carpet so they can continue to loot undisturbed. Zimbabweans are in a tight spot and we need the world to assist us. ZANU-PF has captured everything including the judiciary and we have no hope of an internal solution save for an uprising which will destabilise the country and perhaps the region.

SADC and the AU are also toothless bulldogs that are more of octogenarian gentlemen's clubs serving the interests of corrupt African dictators and supposed leaders. Hopewell Chin'ono is suffering for having exposed Mnangagwa's sons and wife for stealing COVID-19 funds so is Jacob Ngarivhume, Job Sikhala, Mduduzi Mathuthu and many others.


What changes do you want to see take place for Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans?

We honestly need ZANU-PF gone. We need our freedom back and we need to be able to dream for a better tomorrow as the youth. Right now, we can't even plan for the day. It is, at the very least, tragic.

Robert Jones, Digital Marketer, 32

Are you currently in Zimbabwe or the diaspora? For how long have you been there?

I have lived my whole life in Zimbabwe.

How would you personally describe the ongoing unrest in Zimbabwe right now?

I would describe it as being one of suppression and has been ongoing for a long time. We are doing all that we can but are weakened by no central voice and movement.

How have you, your family or friends been affected or by the unrest in Zimbabwe?

Other than the curfew which was put in place, we have been privileged to not be affected as much.

Would you say that you are afraid for your life or livelihood or that or your family and friends? If so, why exactly?

Of course. The amount of people being detained for offenses such as just speaking out on social media and my also being a producer of a Policy Dialogue Forum that discusses the Zimbabwean situation, is very frightening. We will not even get into what it is like as a queer person as Zimbabwe is a very homophobic country so the fear is almost doubled.

Do you feel that the online movement #ZimbabweanLives Matter has helped the situation in Zimbabwe in any way? If so, how? If not, why?

I definitely think so because we finally felt as though this was not a normal reality and our stories were now being reflected and "some" action was being taken (South African envoys that were sent even though it in itself was a sham).

What has been your connection to the protests if any?

I have been part of an online movement and I also produce an online dialogue on the situation in Zimbabwe which includes the current movements taking place.

What has changed in Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa compared to the Mugabe era?

Well, it is a different head of the same animal. That's really the short of it. Emmerson had a lot of power during the Mugabe years and it is really painful to think of how nothing has changed when we celebrated so much when Mugabe was taken down.

What do you want the rest of the world to know about the plight of Zimbabweans?

That we have had generations that have never seen normalcy. I have really gotten as many people as I can to fill this [form] out because I cannot explain what it is like to have dreams deferred. My friend and I sat in her flat last year and decided to go out and protest the next day as we had faced death through suicide so many times that we didn't mind making the sacrifice. To protect ourselves, we really push our pain to the subconscious level.

"We have had generations that have never seen normalcy."

What changes do you want to see take place for Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans?

Normalcy. As Bob Marley sang when he performed "Zimbabwe" just as we got our independence, "Every man got a right to decide his own destiny". I just want that chance.

​Jongumuzi Lobati, Graphic Designer, 36

Are you currently in Zimbabwe or the diaspora? For how long have you been there?

[I am currently in] South Africa. It's been 2 years.

How would you personally describe the ongoing unrest in Zimbabwe right now?

I see it as the downfall of a pillar nation and a platform for the bullies to ruin the legacy of my beautiful Zimbabwe and turn it into a place despised by even us the nationals.

How have you, your family or friends been affected or by the unrest in Zimbabwe?

Splitting up of families and causing uncertainty of life for my family in Bulawayo. I have lost hope, together with patience, for a better Zimbabwe.

Would you say that you are afraid for your life or livelihood or that or your family and friends? If so, why exactly?

Yes I am afraid. I am a person who believes in justice and I fear that voicing out would endanger the lives of my family. There is no freedom of expression and standing for what is right is deemed "rowdy".

Do you feel that the online movement #ZimbabweanLives Matter has helped the situation in Zimbabwe in any way? If so, how? If not, why?

Both yes and no. Yes, because it is voicing out the cries of the common Zimbabwean but no, because no action can come out of "online venting". It's one thing to see the problem knowing the solution with our hands folded. ED and his crew are degrading the nation while we are online. I believe we need a vote of no confidence in not only Emmerson but ZANU-PF as a party. It's time our fathers realize that the legacy of Zimbabwe has to be taken back. We are not yet Uhuru.

"It's time our fathers realize that the legacy of Zimbabwe has to be taken back. We are not yet uhuru."

What has been your connection to the protests if any?

None, as I am currently in Johannesburg. But, I would love to be part of protests in Johannesburg.

What has changed in Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa compared to the Mugabe era?

To be honest, it has changed [under President Emmerson Mnangagwa]. Our freedom was never this worrying, infrastructure development has been forgotten while unemployment as the order of the day.

What do you want the rest of the world to know about the plight of Zimbabweans?

Dear World, without your assistance, we can never remove the reign of Emerson and his gang of thieves and murderous bullies. Stand with us for the change we deserve.

What changes do you want to see take place for Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans?

I want to see my people reacquire their hope and confidently rebuild the country.

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Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

'Proud and Unafraid' Details the Trials & Tribulations of Being Queer in Nigeria

We spoke with N’ihu Media founder Bayo Lambo about his documentary ‘Proud and Unafraid' and the power of using storytelling to uplift communities.

Despite the growing online visibility of Nigeria’s LGBTQ community, the reality of their lives is still dire. Shackled by the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) which criminalizes queer relationships in the country, and an overtly homophobic populace, queer people are forced to live a parallel life in the country far away from the reach of traditional news sources and media organizations.

The lack of documentation in Nigerian media about the LGBTQ community leaves a sizable hole in our national archives, meaning that the lives and activities of successive generations of queer people might be lost to the sands of time. However, thanks to the decentralizing effect of the Internet, new mediums are springing up that allow queer people tell stories of their lives and intricacies of dealing with being a member of the LGBTQ community in Nigeria.

Last year, N’ihu Media, a media agency based in Lagos, released a documentary touching on the lives of four queer Nigerians titled Proud and Unfraid. In the opening sequence of the documentary, culture writer Vincent Desmond, talks about the ways that being gay makes his perspective on life different. “Being gay is something that affects almost anything and everything you do,” he says. “The way you meet people, the way you react to people, the way you compose yourself in public. It’s because you’re always aware that someone who one minute is nice to you could just suddenly flip the moment they are aware that this person might be saying.”

Across 27 minutes, the subjects of the documentary explore coming out, the impact of being queer on their inter-personal relationship, and the cost and burdens of identifying as openly queer in a homophobic country like Nigeria, giving a fantastic insight into how they navigate their lives and the harsh realities of being queer in Nigeria.

Over a Zoom call one busy midday week in mid-June, Bayo Lambo, the founder of N’ihu Media lays out his reasons for green-lighting the documentary, what the process liked like, and his dream for a more empathetic Nigeria.

How did you get the idea to do a documentary of queer experiences in Nigeria?

I’m the owner of N’ihu Media and what we do is that we cover everything Africa. It’s a Pan-African thing and we basically explore the lives of people on the continent and it’s impossible to cover life on the continent without covering the disenfranchised. We try to give an objective view of everything and the community is obviously a disenfranchised one.

The idea for the documentary was brought to me by Hannah Ajala. She’s a BBC reporter that we do stuff together and bounce ideas off each other. She knows the kind of stories I like and so she sends me story ideas from time to time but when she sent that one I said, “Yes, let’s do that, let’s see what we can find.”

Half of the time when I do stories, I do them because I want to know. When I was first thinking about doing this channel, I said something out by mistake and everyone turned and looked at me. I said I’d like to follow people to their homes and everyone turned around and was like, “What’s this guy saying?” But what I meant is that I want to see what everybody is going through. You see me today but you only see a part of me. By the time I shut down this laptop or whatever you don’t know what I’m going through, good or bad. So that’s the main reason we took on this story, for telling those hidden stories. We’re like a baby Vice.

When did you start your production company?

Officially, it was 2020. The first time I put a video out was during the pandemic, that was the first time I put out a production but I had started on the sports side of things. I was covering sports in anticipation of doing stories like this one. I’d done the Shitsuke Flag Football in Nigeria which is a fantastic thing. I played in the league so we put cameras there to get clips of the action.

The lack of documentation in Nigerian media about the LGBTQ community leaves a sizable hole in our national archives.

Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

Speaking specifically about Proud and Unafraid, how important was it to for you to bring representation of the Nigerian queer experience to the fore?

I feel like one thing you have to remember is that everyone is someone’s son, daughter, brother, wife, husband, or child and we need empathy. We need to see other people’s side. I can never understand what you’re going through unless you tell me. I can never understand your choices until I understand why or what set it off. So it is very important that we put ourselves out there and put these kinds of stories out. It’s very good to shed a light on other people’s realities. It’s not easy to see somebody walking down, saying she’s going on a date and when she gets there, there’s a bunch of people waiting just to beat her up. We just need to have more empathy and understand what people are going through.

Can you take me through the selection process for the people you interviewed?

Hannah has been following one of our interviewees and she tried to reach out to them as well as keep me in the loop. Interviewing somebody is one thing and interviewing someone that can convey their pain and their joy is a different thing. The most difficult part of it is getting people to speak out in public and, to me, a lot of these guys are brave and they’re not hiding their lifestyles or they don’t hide themselves. I don’t even call it a lifestyle, they’re not hiding themselves and hey have prominent pages on social media where they discuss their lives openly hence the topic, Proud and Unafraid. With all the setbacks and backlash they face, they’re still brave enough to come out and tell us their stories you know. Hannah found these people, we discussed and decided how best to showcase their stories. Usually, when Hannah says something, as long as we agree, we just go through with it and beat it up as we go.

Proud and Unafraid was produced by N’ihu Media.

Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

A segment of the documentary touches on the lives of the interviewees before being openly queer, what significance does that part of the conversation hold?

If you look at life in general, you can actually pinpoint every stage of your life. You can base your life on before and after something. During primary school, after primary school, during secondary school, after secondary school. You have to understand that these are people that are going through so much, hiding it was easy in one way but difficult in another way, coming out is easy in one way but difficult in another way. Those are the things I wanted to know: how was it when you’re hiding yourself? What was the pain when you’re walking around? One of the reasons I’m very happy to do this is because I have a friend that I grew up with — we went to school together — he moved down to England, and he’s finally come out.

One of the things he was saying was that how he would have to go somewhere where people were gay bashing or whatever and he would have to laugh at that. He would also go home and his parents would say things or preach to him. Basically, your friends and family are doing things as strangers and you just have to keep quiet, so you can imagine the pain to laugh at yourself or to insult yourself. Then when you come out, there is a different pain those same people castigate you also at the end. So, before and after always brings its own good and bad perspectives. With those perspectives, you want the audience to question themselves and ask if this person would have chosen this life willingly if it was so bad and difficult. I can’t fathom it when people say being queer is a choice. If it was a choice, nobody would be willing to sacrifice jail time or their life on the continent. When you put out a show like this you just want people to be able to see the whole picture and put themselves in people’s place.

Desmond Vincent writer

“Being gay is something that affects almost anything and everything you do,” culture writer Desmond Vincent said.

Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

One of the points raised by Desmond Vincent was that re-educating Nigerians is part of the way forward. Do you consider Proud and Unafraid a part of the re-education process or is it just a picture of what’s happening?

The thing is people go around life with this feeling that if it’s not me, then it’s OK and we can say this for so many things: the plight of Black people, of Africans, and anywhere you can find a disenfranchised community. We need everybody to start speaking up for someone or something. We need to be able to see human beings first. If consenting adults are walking around, we need to be able to see that they are human beings we are talking about. So, to me, I think that’s the most important thing the documentary is trying to say, that they’re your neighbor.

Do you think you would want to explore the realities of the LGBTQ community in other countries on the continent, do you think that might happen down the line?

It would be a blessing to. It will be fantastic, it’s something we would like to do, the only reason we haven’t been able to do it is that finding the right people to get these stories is not always easy. You have to remember that finding people to speak out is hard because this is Africa. There are certain laws that don’t cater to the community and that is the difficult part. But once we find people that are Proud and Unafraid, we will be there to hear their stories.

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Photo courtesy of Vinyl Me, Please.

The Story of Zamrock: Zambia's 1970s Fuzz Rock Sound

Get to know the musical and political history behind Zambia's much-talked about 1970s fuzz rock scene and genre.

Zamrock was born in 1970s Zambia out of influences from James Brown's funk and Jimi Hendrix's acid guitar.

In recent years, the fuzzed-out and psychedelic Zamrock sound has been turning heads with vinyl reissues from some of its pioneering bands, the latest of which comes in the repressing of the Vinyl Me, Please anthology The Story of Zamrock, originally released in 2020.

Put together in conjunction with with Now Again Records and Strawberry Rain Music, VMP's Zamrock anthology will consists of eight albums from seminal Zamrock groups Witch, Amanaz, 5 Revolutions, Ricky Banda, Ngozi Family, Oscillations, Fireballs, and Crossbones.

VMP initially shared the anthology with an accompanying mini-documentary The Story of Zamrock! The Zambian Rock Sound 1972-1978, which takes a look at the genesis of the sound, the people behind it, and the sociopolitical events that shaped it. It features rare interviews with members of Amanaz, Oscillations and Crossbones.

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Photo Credit: Damilare Kuku

Damilare Kuku on How Real Life Inspired Her Hit Novel ‘Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad’

OkayAfrica spoke to author Damilare Kuku about her salient breakout novel ‘Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad.’

Damilare Kuku is new to Nigeria’s literary scene. But her short story collection, Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad, came with a buzz. Released in October 2021, the book is a collection of twelve salient tales of young Nigerians in Lagos. Capturing the complexion of the city, it grapples with themes like love, sex, deceit, infidelity, companionship, and heartbreak.

The characters in Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad are women. However, they are not just any kind of women. They are people with whom Kuku shares certain connections with.

Some of these women are friends, close acquaintances, and relatives. "One of the aims of my work as a creative artist is bringing human beings closer, especially women," Kuku told OkayAfrica. "Because women need to know that whatever they are going through, they are not alone. There are other people with the same thing happening to them."

Kuku, who loved reading books as a child, grew up between Lagos and Ile-Ife. Before her debut novel became a hit, Damilare played roles in movies. She’s made appearances in Africa Magic's television series Unbroken and Nollywood blockbusters like The Set-Up (2019), Chief Daddy (2018), and Love is War (2019). As her writing career enjoys attention and success, she landed her most important Nollywood role yet — in the Biodun Stephen-directed drama The Wildflower, released in May.

OkayAfrica caught up with Kuku on Zoom to talk about this anthology work, its inspiration, and her most important role in Nollywood yet.

Damilare Kuku book

How did you come up with the title?

The title of the novel came to me after a prayer session. I'm an unapologetic child of God, which means I rely heavily on God. I was actually in between projects and remembered I was in my one-room apartment in Yaba, Lagos — a very cute little place. I liked it, and I was so proud of the space.

Whenever I am not working, I pray. Somehow, somewhere, I was praying, inspiration came and was like, "how about you write a novel titled Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad?" It wasn't even the inspiration for the stories; it was only the title. So immediately, I sent the title to a very well-known Nollywood actor's assistant. I never got a response, which discouraged me a bit, but I thought maybe it wasn't the right time, so I let it go. This was in 2019. A year later, I submitted a book to my publisher. This was the publisher who later published Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad, and they were like we see potential, and we'd love you to come in for a meeting. So I went in for a meeting and they wanted to sign me on the spot.

Your book deals with themes like deceit, companionship, infidelity, social class, friendship, and heartbreak. Was there any of these themes you wanted readers to pay more attention to?

All stories in the novel are as personal as they can be. I don't have a story in the book, but each story was carefully written, which is interesting because I had all of these things written out, hoping anybody reading the book would get the message. When the message was clear, it was pretty comforting. Every particular story was of clear intention. The same thing with any of my work has always been clear. I'm always delighted when people see my message's clarity. Each story is a love letter to some woman I know.

In the story “Beard Gang” from Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad, you explored how Gay men use marriage to straight women to conceal and hide their sexual orientation. Do you think Nearly All The Men in Lagos helped in any way to pinpoint how this is problematic?

Firstly LGBTQ+ community is very precious, and I'm cautious with what I say. I believe my work mirrors what is going on in the society. Take from it what you will. I tell most people I'm not here to educate you, and I'm more of a timekeeper. That's what I am as a writer. I'm saying this is what is happening. As Damilare, I believe people should be who they want to be. People should learn to accept people for who they are. That's my phenomenon; that is my theory about life. When a person shows you who they are, accept them, but on the other hand, I'm not doing that in this book. I'm simply saying that this is where our society is. Read it and then take from it what you will.

Because it would be foolhardy of me to say this is wrong or right. I'm not here to teach anybody, I'm just here to mirror the society and say how it is. I've had many reporters ask me what my view on queer people is. I don't have an opinion, and that's not because I'm trying to play it safe, but this is what society is.

Damilare Kuku green shirt

"I'm very intentional with my work, and I feel like, as a woman, I can only share stories about what it feels like to be a woman," Damilare Kuku said.

Photo Credit: Damilare Kuku

Let’s talk about the theme of sex. Why was it so essential to the stories being told in your novel?

For me, it was the characters telling their stories, and I can remember older people who had read the book who called me and said, "Is this what is happening now?" and I said yes. I told them it was different from their time when women were very conservative about their sexual life and sexuality. Nowadays, if a woman consents to sex, she's doing it of her own free will. So is that necessarily a good or a bad thing? Then again, it is not my place because if I pass judgment as a writer, I'm not doing my job telling the story. It is left to the readers to make with it what they will. I remember I did an interview a while ago and the interviewer and critic called NALMILAM not too far from pornography, and I laughed. Similarly, the book is dedicated to my mom Oluremi Abake. She started reading the book, but she also says the sex talk is a bit too much for her. But I feel like it's a normal phenomenon; young people living in Lagos are having sex, so why sugar coat it?

Was there any story in Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad that was tedious or mentally draining to write?

The only thing that was quite tedious was emotions. So when my friends — the inspirations behind the stories — went through what they went through, I related as a listener. To write about their experiences, you have to become them. So I found myself being them. Sometimes I would even cry. In the story "Ode-plus complex," the main character (Jide) was a family member's experience. I became the character to understand what they went through, which helped me as an actor. It was very therapeutic.

Let's talk about your latest role in The Wildflower. Share with me what it was like to play the role

As I said, I'm very intentional with my work, and I feel like, as a woman, I can only share stories about what it feels like to be a woman, either through what friends have been through or what I know someone else has gone through. I can tell what other women go through because I am one myself, so when I got the role in The Wildflower, after several auditions, I was very excited. I wanted to tell the story of women and what they go through, abuse in the workplace and many girls go through that. They are being marginalized. Women go through a lot, and most times, some people who do these things to us don't think they've abused the woman.

In The Wildflower, my character was abused by her boss, and there was a scene after the abuse where he said to her, "If only you've been a little bit more cooperative..." and I believe most men think like this. They think, "I didn't rape you — we had sex." But no, it's rape. I told you "no." You didn't listen and went ahead to do what you wanted. When someone says "no," no should mean no. I have often heard some ridiculous views like, "when an African woman says no, she means maybe."

We are here in a society where men don't respect boundaries. They don't respect personal space, and they think it's okay to touch a girl because she's wearing a short skirt. I read a review about The Wildflower from a popular site, and the reviewer said, "absolutely not recommended because abuse has been talked about," and I actually wish I could talk to the person and say, "just because abuse has been talked about many times, doesn't mean it shouldn't be explored."






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The 4 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Mr Eazi x MIchael Brun, Gyakie, Flvme, and Asari Music.

Every week, we highlight the top releases through our best music of the week column. Here's our round-up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks.

If you like these music lists, you can also check out our Best Songs of the Month columns following Nigerian, Ghanaian, East African and South African music.

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