The year began with people flooding social media with messages wondering what 2016’s theme would be. Last year’s theme, gore rezvidzidzo (year of learning) – which spawned many memes and sarcastic comments – was all anyone with a mobile phone could talk about. For me, following on from last year what stuck in my head was ‘gore remibvunzo’ (the year of questions). This as it turns out, seemed to be reflected in the events that took place throughout 2016, most notably as Zimbabweans probed the government for answers on the economy, and social or political issues:
How are we going to revitalise the economy?
How are we going to curb the ripple effect it has had on everything?
Is anyone actually trying to fix this mess?
With these questions growing louder and louder, some individuals and groups were inspired to make a difference in the society we live in.
Harare up in arms: enough is enough
One of the most memorable happenings of 2016 was the rise of the #ThisFlag and Tajamuka/Sijikile movements. These movements which were started or amplified on social media spearheaded protests and demonstrations on the streets against corruption, financial mismanagement, human rights abuses and the general state of the nation. Beginning on 6 July, almost every other week teargas could be smelt in the air, and water cannons painted many walking through Harare’s city centre with their loathed, blue discharge. All of this was done to disperse people who were fed up, angry and standing up to social injustice.
The demonstrations exposed not only society’s discontent but also the police’s inability to handle protesters. Activists were injured. A baby in Mbare was tear gassed to death at home. The government tried to thwart these repeated demonstrations by inciting fear, abducting and torturing activists and journalists including renowned cameraman, James Jemwa, theatre practitioner Silvanos ‘Bhanditi’ Mudzvova and #ThisFlag pioneer Pastor Evan Mawarire.
At each protest, Hararians mostly stood together advocating for better living standards. A massive turnout at Mawarire’s trial and the success of the July 6 stay away stand out as major highlights of power in unity of purpose.
The city’s perennial water shortages got worse this year, even as millions of dollars were injected into the rehabilitation of the Morton Jaffray Water Treatment Plant. Reports of typhoid surfaced in November amid reports of alternative water sources such as boreholes and wells drying up due to drought and overuse.
In November, those who still had access to running water were all the same blindsided by the introduction of pre-paid water meters in a beat down economy that fails to employ over 90 percent of the population.
The annual Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) took a sabbatical for only the second time since its introduction 17 years ago. Organisers instead promoted a series of mini-festivals and different engagement programs as part of an all-year-round effort to make up for the missing traditional week long event. The organisers came up with HIFA theatre season at Reps in May, a music show at Spook House and a classical music event at St Georges College in April but failed to attract their famously high turnout. Although mini events had been scheduled to take place throughout the year, the HIFA organizers seemed to give up after these two failed attempts.
Fungisayi turns dancehall
In what many dubbed as a classic example of a ‘good girl gone bad’, gospel music sensation Fungisayi Mashavave turned to dancehall music in a bid to appeal to a younger audience. Her Dedzai Vakuru Vauye collaboration with Killer T and her hit single Amai Ndakanaka affirmed her versatility and polarised her fans, with some loving the new turn and others feeling betrayed by the gospel icon.
Unfortunately, this new turn combined with her rants about not only being a gospel artist shook her position in the gospel music world with the genres’ promoters dropping her from shows. Sadly for many, Fungisayi announced that she would retire from music at the end of the year.
Music that made us move
As is traditional, musicians such as Tuku, Freeman, Killer T, Seh Calaz, Obvious Mutani, Alick Macheso, Andy Muridzo, Winky D and Jah Prayzah took turns to release albums, fighting for relevance in a sector that has largely been affected by economic woes. Jah Prayzah won the battle this year with the epic sold-out album launch concert of his latest disc Mudhara Vachauya at HICC in August, followed by a road trip across the country. The album was very well received and helped earn him a regional MTV Music Award in the category, ‘Listener’s Choice’. His hit single Watora Mari which features Tanzanian star Diamond Platnumz, broke the Zimbabwean record and achieved over a million YouTube views in its first week.
Tytan and Ammara Brown’s hit single Mukoko was another outstanding musical production that also surpassed the one million views mark on YouTube.
Morgan Heritage finally joined the Jamaican artist ‘great trek’ to Harare after failing to come last year. They performed to a packed HICC crowd in October, thrilling their local fan base with a well-polished show that included songs from yesteryear’s hit album Strictly Roots. Other Jamaicans that came to Harare this year were, Christopher Martin, Dwayno, and Romain Virgo.
Other high profile international acts also invaded the city: South Africa’s AKA who performed at Shoko Festival in September; Nigeria’s gospel sensation Sinach at Celebration Centre in October: and Toya Delazy at Borrowdale Race Course, attracting only a handful of people for what many say was the biggest flop of the year.
Rugby World Cup
Harare successfully hosted this year’s Under 19 Rugby World Cup at Harare Sports Club this August. This was the biggest international rugby event the country has hosted since independence.
Pomona dump up in smoke (again)
The Pomona landfill went up in flames again, this time leading to horrific air pollution. This time around the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) fined City of Harare for the noxious fumes which severely affected neighbouring residents. The upshot of this potentially cancer-causing disaster is that there is once again talk of decommissioning the site with resident associations and environmental activists putting pressure on the City to act.
Mayor arrested (twice)
Harare Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni ended up in the clink, not once, but twice this year. The first time Manyenyeni was jailed for alleged criminal abuse of office at the end of June. The Mayor stood trial and was acquitted only to be arrested by the Anti-Corruption Commission on his way out of court. Once again, he was acquitted. Reading between the lines, this story illustrates the power struggle between the Mayor and the new Minister of Local Government, Saviour Kasukuwere.
After many threats and promises, bond notes are finally here
The country was rocked with a cash crisis that began earlier this year and lead to people sleeping in bank queues only to withdraw a meagre $20. To address the unavailability of US dollars, the Reserve Bank introduced bond notes on 28 November. In the months leading to their introduction, activists, lawyers and residents have protested against the ‘currency’ which many economists have said will all but ensure the economy plunges to new lows.
As gore remibvunzo comes to an end, residents are still sceptical of bond notes: will they revive the economy as preached by the government and its sympathisers? Its doubtful. Instead, we close 2016 with more questions than the ones we started with. Asking questions and accountability are crucial to our systems of governance. Whether corruption and its perpetrators are brought to justice or if bond notes are indeed the solution to all our problems, only 2017 will tell.
Photo: Kundai Marunya – Harare News’ journalist of the year for 2016.