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My Brother's Keeper

This blog is a short story i wrote in 2017 celebrating the leadership, love and activism of Patson Dzamara. I re-publish it here in commemoration of the great inspiration he was to me and thousands of other activists and Zimbabweans. In the story, Patson's pseudonym is Gwinyai, and Itai's pseudonym is Daniel. The struggle continues...

25 September 2014: Going through my revolutionary readings, I bumped into the quote by Henry Thoreau. He argues that: “Any man more right than his neighbours constitutes a majority of one already.” Looking around, I can safely say that I can be that one majority. Things are slowly getting worse in the country again since Mugabe rigged his way into office again. I see the expectant, hopeful souls of Zimbabweans who existed under the coalition government dreading to get out of bed. Corruption is not being questioned anymore; the economy is beginning to scream again. I don’t know why I am writing again what I complain about incessantly in here. Right now, for the foreseeable future, action is needed; Zimbabwe needs the majority of one. Aluta Continua.

Gwinyai slapped the diary shut. He was only wearing his boxer shorts and the sun was out shining brightly and streaming in the early morning heat into his bedroom. He soon realised that the light from the window would strike his eyes directly when he sat up straight. Unwillingly, he sat on the floor and grabbed the diary again. He called it a diary, because that was its purpose, but it really was just a notepad. True to his journalistic character, his brother resolved to use the notepad instead of the diary, because they were functional for him. Palm-sized, he always kept them in his pocket wherever he went, scribbling his random thoughts of that moment.

25 September 2014: Of course I am not alone in this struggle. I do not think Thoreau actually meant doing everything alone in the struggle, but being the pinnacle of the movement, whatever it is. I am sure Gwinyai will be interested in helping me in this venture. Aluta Continua.

Gwinyai chuckled at the mention of his name. Ever since they were young boys, Daniel always led him into dangerous activities, mostly fun, but Gwinyai could still remember the twang of the msasa tree across his buttocks when their father caught them in mischievous acts. Gwinyai turned on the radio in time to hear the national anthem on the radio station. He let this song play on as he flipped through the dog-eared notepad in his hand, squinting at some areas, trying to read his brother’s barely legible writing.

“Welcome and this is the news bulletin at six o’clock on Independence Day; my name is Cassandra Dube. The president, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Head of State, His Excellency, Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe, has returned from his regular medical check-up in Singapore. He was greeted at the airport by the vice presidents, ministers in government and high-ranking military officials from the army and air force. The president, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Head of State, His Excellency, Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe, has wished all Zimbabweans a happy Independence Day and urged all Zimbabweans to flock to the National Sports Stadium in their numbers. In other news, the president, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Head of State, His Excellency, Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe...”

Gwinyai turned off the radio and made his way to the kitchen, which was next to the bedroom. His water for bathing was still heating on the stove, so he went to the bathroom to collect a bucket.

15 October 2014: What the people of Zimbabwe need to realise is that Mugabe’s power is in the fear he holds over all of us. People fear him so much they cannot even say his name in public, in case someone from the dreaded Central Investigation Office is nearby just waiting to hear you say his name. If only we read and listened to what Steve Biko wrote: “The greatest weapon the oppressor has is the mind of the oppressed.” This is why our actions need to be direct and clear. Mugabe is not some god; he is a mere civil servant employed to do our will. Aluta Continua.

Once the water had boiled, Gwinyai mixed it with some cold water in the bucket and had a quick bath. He strolled back into his room and picked out the clothes he would be wearing for that day; a white shirt, white shorts and leather slopes. “They will be easy to remove and run in case they start chasing me.” He laughed. He pulled his last piece of clothing for the day from underneath his pillow. The three-metre-long national flag had been nicely folded the night before. He unravelled it and tied it around his neck, letting the colours glimmer in the morning sunlight. He grabbed his brother’s notepad that was on the bed and an empty cardboard box from underneath the bed, which he folded into a smaller area so that he could carry it under his arm.

Gwinyai made his way to the main road in his neighbourhood to catch the seventy-five-seater buses that were taking everyone to the National Sports Stadium. Local members of Mugabe’s party were physically cajoling all the street vendors to close up and get onto the bus. “But I need to sell my goods to pay for my children’s fees,” an elderly woman moaned.

“You can sell them on the bus! Hurry up!” screamed the excited youth, whose muscles were bursting out of a shirt too small for his size. Mugabe’s youthful face was plastered on the front of the shirt, when he still had natural black hair and his face still had a bounce to it.

Gwinyai joined the lengthening queue in front of the buses and the elderly woman joined him in the line, closely followed behind by the muscular youth.

“Are you not Gwinyai, the famous protestor?”

Gwinyai spun around to look at who was talking to him. The muscular youth’s chest was right in front of Gwinyai. He had to look up at the youth, who was standing in line with the sun so that Gwinyai squinted to get a good look at him.

“Hello, my brother. Yes, I am. It is Independence Day, so I decided to spend it at the sports stadium.”

Gwinyai could not really read the reaction of the muscled youth, although he could tell that from the tense jaws and stern look he was getting that the muscular youth did not believe him.

“I hope you do not cause any trouble. The president, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Head of State, His Excellency, Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe, will be there.”

Gwinyai did not give him a response except for a gentle smile. The muscular youth left Gwinyai and the vendor as soon as they got onto the bus.

Gwinyai took the seat next to the window while the vendor sat next to him, with her goods wrapped in a thin blanket that she nestled on her thighs as she sat. She was thoroughly annoyed to be on the bus and her puffed-up cheeks were a sign of her protest. Mugabe’s party members who were sitting at the back began to sing songs praising their leader as the bus rattled to life. His cardboard was still underneath his left armpit. He used his other hand to pull out his brother’s notebook from his back pocket. He opened a random page at the back and continued to read.

21 October 2014: Four years ago, an unemployed Tunisian graduate lit up the revolutionary spirit in his country by lighting himself up in public in front of the governor’s place. The Tunisian dictator fell a month later. Today, I will be lighting up Zimbabwe by occupying Africa Unity Square, demanding Mugabe to resign. He has failed and it is time he is made aware of that. We will call this the Occupy Unity Square Movement. If the people unite against him, we can have a new president by Christmas. Aluta Continua.

Gwinyai took his eyes off the notepad and looked outside to watch the changing sceneries as they headed to the National Sports Stadium. He remembered that day when Daniel had begun the protests in the square in front of the parliament. He’d had a board printed: “Mugabe has failed. He must resign!” He had hung it up over his head facing the parliament building. People who were on their lunch break had watched him in shock; some had taken photos of him. He just remembered being there taking as many photos as possible to put on Facebook and Twitter later on. Unlike when they were kids, this time they didn’t have to fear the whippings of their father for their activities. They had a bigger whip, being Mugabe, who had a million minions from the police and army ready to beat up anyone who dared to speak against him, the president, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Head of State, His Excellency, Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe.

Gwinyai hadn’t noticed that the vendor was looking at him this whole time. Her eyes had reddened now from when they had entered the bus.

“Is what that stupid boy out there was saying true? Are you the Gwinyai I have heard about? My son is your age and he says you are protesting against Mugabe on Facebook?” blatantly questioned the woman.

“Yes, I am that person,” replied Gwinyai with a smile.

“He also tells me they kidnapped your brother. Have they brought him back yet?”

“No, they haven’t.”

The woman vendor saw the change in Gwinyai’s expression. She made sure her goods were firm and grabbed Gwinyai’s hands with her own.

“Put it in God’s hands. He will provide. He will be your comfort, my son. Never give up. You will find him.”

The singing of Mugabe’s name was growing louder and louder, but Gwinyai heard every word she said and returned it with a smile. She smiled for the first time in return, showing her crooked, rotting front teeth, but her smile was still true and honest, thought Gwinyai.

“I am tired of these Independence Day celebrations. No one wants to go anymore, so they buy alcohol and drugs for those singing youths in the back and force us old women to come. I am tired. Will Mugabe ever be removed from power?”

Gwinyai held Daniel’s notepad firmly in his hands as the bus was beginning to park close to the stadium. “Mugabe will be removed. We, the people, can remove him if we unite.”

Hundreds of people poured out of the buses and walked to the entrances of the stadium. Most were wearing Mugabe’s party regalia, which always had his face. Some had the party flag, which had a close resemblance to the national flag that Gwinyai was still wearing. For these people, Mugabe was the party, the party was the country and the country was Mugabe.

Gwinyai helped the vendor carry her goods as they settled on the terraces close to the VIP section. Once they were settled, they got a chance to look around. It was only nine o’clock and the president wouldn’t arrive for another two hours, but the stadium was nearly full. Gwinyai could only see a few terraces in the sixty thousand-seater concrete structure that were empty.

The military parade came and acted out battleground manoeuvres, much to the pleasure of the receptive crowd. The vendor was already standing up selling her cookies, sweets and drinks to parents who had brought their children to the celebrations. The police wind band came and dazzled the crowd as they played popular tunes that the crowd began to sing along to.

Gwinyai was trying to enjoy himself, but one eye was on the VIP seats close by. He noticed the ministers and the two vice presidents as they walked in inconspicuously and took their seats waiting for the main attraction of the show, the president, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Head of State, His Excellency, Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe.

He took out Daniel’s notepad to the last page to read the last entry he had made a week before his abduction.

3 March 2015: It is still quite difficult to write these days since Mugabe’s bullies beat me to a pulp. It has been three months, yet I am still in pain! I can cry to you at least; I need to be strong in front of the world. I even have to be strong in front of my little brother, Gwinyai. My strength will hopefully give them strength.

I am always reminded of Cain’s conversation with God when God was looking for Abel after Cain had murdered him. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain callously answered. I wish he knew that he was. I hope I never forget that too. I am my brother’s keeper. My brother is the man who cuts my hair by the barbershop; the one having sleepless nights trying to pass his university exams; my brother is Gwinyai. I do not need to know his name, just to remember I am not fighting for myself, but for them. And I have to be their keeper until Mugabe resigns or I breathe my last breath. Whichever comes first, until then. Aluta Continua. Vitória é certa!

A huge row and chorus of whistles rose from the stands as people got to their feet to welcome the president. A battalion of army generals and soldiers in cohort with the Presidential Guard surrounded the open-truck Jeep as he waved to his adoring fanatics. Gwinyai stared in bereavement at the ninety-two-year-old struggling to climb down from the Jeep without the helping hand of the men around him to hold his weight.

Most of the ministers, even though they had been sitting in the shaded VIP area, were sweating. Their grins were from ear to ear as each took turns to whisper obsequious greetings to their father and leader.

“Look at how old he is! Why does he hold on to power?” moaned the woman vendor, who had returned to her seat next to Gwinyai.

“Power, Mama. They say it is hard to let go of power.”

“Maybe if he didn’t have all of it, it would not be as difficult as it is.” She grimaced.

Once the crowd had settled, the Ministers of Publicity and Information stood up to introduce the president to the eager crowd.

“This man is one to be respected!”

“He has more than eleven degrees.”

“He has ruled this nation with love, wisdom and magnanimity for thirty-seven years. It is my pleasure, honour and blessing to introduce to you the president, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Head of State, His Excellency, Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe!”

Another huge roar came from the stadium as the president wobbled his way to the podium. Journalists who had been braving the heat for hours were awakened and lights were flashing fervently from their cameras. The crowd and journalists settled down to listen to the speech that was prepared for the president. He slowly went through the paragraphs. His concise, articulate, mission school English, despite age, had not left him.

Gwinyai looked around and saw that everyone was now focussing their attention on the president except for one or two mothers who were coaxing their babies to keep quite so that they could listen to the ruler of the nation speak. Gwinyai gently took out the cardboard that had been folded underneath his left arm since he had left home. He opened and straightened it to make sure the words inscribed could be seen without difficulty.

He stood up and took the staircase leading down to the ground of the stadium where the president had just passed.

“Is that not Gwinyai? The protester? The little brother to the abducted protester?” Gwinyai heard some people whisper to each other as he set forward on his mission.

The national flag was hugging his body tightly as he made his way into the view of the journalists. One or two had taken their eye off the president and were now looking at Gwinyai, who was directly in between the president and journalists.

He lifted his cardboard banner and a flurry of flashes followed. The pictures were capturing the man with the cardboard inscribed:


For a moment, there was absolute silence in the stadium. President Mugabe had paused halfway in a sentence trying to get a look at the man who was challenging him. The security detail, which had been stunned into paralysis, regained their composure and hurled themselves at Gwinyai, grabbing his cardboard poster and holding him down. The crowd seemed to have caught on and were beginning to make a confused noise. Some were clapping, others blowing curses at Gwinyai. As his hands were being tied up, Gwinyai looked up and saw the president staring down at him. Gwinyai’s eye caught the vendor, who was waving and smiling, showing her crooked, rotting teeth with glee at him. The security cartel that had cropped up around him hustled him to move forward in the direction of an exit point.

“I am my brother’s keeper,” whispered Gwinyai to himself as they took him away amongst the frenzy of journalists and tens of thousands of people.

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Nqobizitha Mlambo
Nqobizitha Mlambo

Rest in revolutionary power cde Patson Dzamara!

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