Running water is a problem in Harare. If I do have running water at all, it is a disgusting brown colour with the foulest of odours.
I am old enough to remember a time when you could open a tap – any tap anywhere – fill a cup and drink the water. Nowadays, such an exercise would require a force of will I am ashamed to admit I do not possess.
Regular readers of this column (forgive me, I’ve always wanted to write that) will know that I am not one to take such issues lying down.
Recently, I shared some photos on social media of the dirty water coming out of my tap. I ran a bath, and when I checked on the water, the amount of filth in the tub made me simply remove the stopper in disgust, let it drain before taking a photo.
The draining water left a trail of detritus the length of the bathtub; by the time it was all gone, the bottom was brown and a skidmark of silt ran down the middle.
After I complained publicly, a few responses reminded me of a phenomenon I have noticed in my fellow Zimbabweans – the comparison complaint.
I complain all the time – I will rarely accept rubbish, and the reason I created CONSUMERIZIM was to help Zimbabweans resolve consumer issues more efficiently, and put them in touch with those who can resolve their problems.
My compatriots have always grouched and groused, but lately they also compare their troubles. We have become not just a nation of complainers, but of comparers as well.
How many times have you witnessed the following, or a version of it?
Immaculate is visibly furious. “I haven’t had council water all week!”
Muchaneta smirks, hands on hips. “Haa sahwira, wati wadii? That’s nothing! In fact, you are very lucky, I haven’t had running water for six months!”
It seems like every time someone has a genuine complaint, there is always someone who has it worse, and is very vocal in trivializing another person’s personal issue or situation.
We now make special effort to express how much harder we have it than others, as if there is a special scout badge for wading through deeper mud than the rest of the troop.
In Harare, we are now a people who take pride in surviving harsher conditions, forgetting that living in an actual capital city of a peaceful nation, we should not have to go through such hardships in the first place.
This is what we have been reduced to – we make ourselves feel better by trivialising others’ suffering compared to our own, and puff our chests out at the misplaced notion that we must be better people, to go through much longer power cuts than the next guy from the next hood.
Instead of focusing on resolving our hardships through community action, or taking our elected representatives to task, we give ourselves kudos for “making a plan” in the face of trouble.