Now between two presidents, Zimbabweans dare to imagine ‘an easier life’
Johannesburg, South Africa—This time 37 years ago, the Moyo family had a lot to celebrate.
Their country, Zimbabwe, became independent that April, and to great international fanfare it inaugurated its first prime minister – a charming and bookish former freedom fighter named Robert Mugabe.
Then, barely four months later, the family rejoiced for a second time – at the birth of their daughter.
They named her Bekezela, an Ndebele word meaning patience.
In the course of her life, that has proven to be a virtue Ms. Moyo has often needed, as she lived through the transformation of the bright Zimbabwe of her childhood into something far dimmer.
She has called on that patience each time she handed over an entire month’s earnings to pay her children’s school fees – all, she thought bitterly, so they could attend schools that were a shadow of the one she graduated from two decades ago. And she has been patient during each of her pregnancies as she packed the many things the hospital could not provide – bed sheets and food for herself; needles, hand soap, and gloves for the nurses.
She called on her namesake virtue, too, on the crossing from Zimbabwe to South Africa, as the Limpopo River sloshed up to her chest and she prayed hard that she would not see a crocodile. And she was patient once again in the following weeks as she walked for miles from hair salon to hair salon in downtown Johannesburg asking if they had any openings for a stylist.
But on Tuesday night, there was suddenly one important thing she didn’t have to be patient about anymore.
As lawmakers in Zimbabwe’s parliament debated a motion to impeach Mr. Mugabe – whose stunning fall from power began when army tanks moved quietly into the capital early last week – the country’s justice minister suddenly rushed towards the stage with a letter in his hand. He whispered something to Parliament’s speaker, Jacob Mudenda, who opened the note and, smiling broadly, began to read.
“I Robert Gabriel Mugabe in terms of section 96 (1) of the constitution of Zimbabwe,” he began, “hereby formally tender my resignation as the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe with immediate effect.”
The chamber erupted. Outside, within minutes, it seemed a country-wide dance party had begun, as Zimbabweans flooded public spaces in jubilant celebration. A thousand kilometers away, Moyo heard the shriek of vuvuzelas and the staccato pop of fireworks exploding outside the window of her Johannesburg apartment. Below, entire blocks of the inner city – an area popular with migrants – had broken into a spontaneous block party.
Moyo herself was skeptical. The next Zimbabwean president, after all, will be Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former deputy and a career-long loyalist of his party, ZANU-PF, who will be sworn in Friday. Mugabe’s removal was set in motion by an early November political purge in which Mr. Mnangagwa himself was fired – a sign to many that the president’s wife, Grace Mugabe, was positioned to inherit his rule – but his rise hardly seems a recipe for radical political change.
But like many Zimbabweans, in this strange moment of suspension between the country’s past and its future – between Mugabe and whatever happens next – Moyo allowed herself a flickering moment of hope for the Zimbabwe to be.
Things could change, she thought. Things could be better.
Indeed, as analysts the world over scramble to guess at the country’s path post-Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s citizens are imagining their own – taking stock of hopes that, in many cases, they long ago gave up believing could become reality.