Zimbabwe – the Stockholm syndrome capital of the world!

by Tendai Ruben Mbofana

This morning, my heart broke and fell straight into my guts!

I watched with utter dismay and sadness as hundreds of rural villagers in Muzarabani converged, in the sweltering sun, to sing, dance, and ululate for a borehole!

The guests were the first lady Auxillia Mnangagwa, obviously with a whole entourage of top government officials, together with a delegation from the Swedish embassy (who funded the project).

I could not help feeling so disheartened at the depths Zimbabweans have been forced to sink by their supposed leaders.

At what stage of our history did we begin celebrating mediocrity?

Of course, no one in their right mind can begrudge the drilling of a desperately needed borehole in an area where villagers had to travel four or so kilometres to the nearest water source.

I can empathize with these villagers, as I understand the pain, burden, and inconvenience caused by the lack of a readily available and easily accessible water supply.

I live in an urban area that has similarly been run down by opposition-led local authorities to the point that we now also need to fetch water from communal boreholes.

As such, indeed, the joy that comes with any measures aimed at alleviating these daily challenges is perfectly understandable.

I also can not wait for the day potable water returns to our home taps in the town of Redcliff – as we have now gone for nearly three years without the precious liquid.

However, when that day finally arrives – if it comes at all – one thing is certain… I will not be singing, dancing, and ululating for anyone or anything.

Why would I?

More so, when the same people who caused the water problem in the first place – through their incompetence, mismanagement, and corruption – want to be regarded as ‘knights in shining armour’.

I may have my own weaknesses and shortcomings, but I am definitely not a fool.

That is what made the entire Muzarabani scene more unsettling and disconcerting.

These are villagers who have been wilfully ignored and marginalized, for generations, by the ruling elite in Zimbabwe.

They have been viewed as second-class citizens in their own country, especially by a government that portrays itself as ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’.

Did the ZANU PF regime not come to power in 1980 – amidst much intimidation, violence, and controversy – on the back of a liberation struggle that was ostensibly meant to address historical injustices and discrimination of the majority?

Yet, 44 years later, the majority of Zimbabweans are still without safe, clean, potable water – particularly within their own homes.

In fact, today, more ordinary citizens face this crisis than was the case in 1980.

At least at independence, urban dwellers had access to water in their homes – but today, that population has become just as poverty-stricken and marginalized as their rural compatriots.

Over half the population of the country has been turned into poor people by a regime that only cares about looting national resources for their own enrichment.

In all this, what I find most troubling and incomprehensible is why we then praise and glorify the same individuals who have ruined our lives.

Why were villagers in Muzarabani singing, dancing, and ululating for the wife of the man who has presided over the mess in which they find themselves?

Was it not the same ZANU PF government, led by President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, that has forgotten them for the past 44 years?

Surely, for a country so richly endowed with some of the world’s most sought-after natural resources, should anyone still be walking kilometres to the nearest water source and even medical or learning institutions?

Does Zimbabwe not boast of the largest reserves of lithium in Africa, the second platinum deposits in the world, the seventh largest producer of diamonds, and the second largest gold reserves per square kilometre?

So, why are we suffering?

Would the normal thing not have been for these people to express their utter displeasure and disgruntlement at the ruling elite for authoring their misery and pain?

As I mentioned before, I also would never praise and glorify our opposition-led local authority even if today they suddenly fixed our perennial water challenges.

What I will do, which I do today, is continue demanding answers.

How did we end up in this water crisis in the first place?

Where have our bill payments been going?

What have our local resources been used for?

Those are the same questions every other Zimbabwean should be asking those in authority – whether at local or national government level.

When you let your family go hungry whilst you spend the money on yourself and your own pleasures – do not expect them to praise you the day you finally decide to feed them.

That will just be downright creepy!

I am actually reminded of the Stockholm syndrome.

This is a psychological response to being held captive, whereby people with Stockholm syndrome form a psychological connection with their captors and begin sympathizing with them.

Such a scenario usually happens when people who are placed under high duress by their captors become totally dependent on them for survival.

For instance, in Zimbabwe, over 3.5 million people (according to FAO) are faced with acute food insecurity this year.

This is on account of a devastating El Niño induced drought that gripped most of the southern African region.

Nonetheless, on top of this, Zimbabweans are in far greater danger due to a dysfunctional economy, whereby the vast majority can not even afford to purchase imported food.

Besides, that is how people who live in arid and semi-arid areas, particularly in the Middle East and Arab world, survive – whom we never read about as facing starvation.

Yet, in Zimbabwe, nearly half the population lives in extreme poverty, and over two-thirds of the workforce earn below the poverty datum line.

We have the highest food inflation in the world, in the same group as Venezuela, Lebanon, Argentina, Suriname, and Sierra Leon.

As a result, even if Zimbabwe were to import food, millions would still face hunger.

This is all about bad governance as opposed to a drought.

As such, those whose lives have been placed in this unenviable and cruel predicament by the people in power are now totally dependent on their ‘captors’

It will then not be shocking at all seeing images of these poor Zimbabweans singing, dancing, and ululating at being given food handouts by the same people who caused their poverty in the first place.

That is typical Stockholm syndrome.

We even witness this with free agricultural inputs that are given to these same poverty-stricken villagers.

During the war of independence, ZANU portrayed the equitable distribution of land as one of the main grievances of the struggle.

Yet, in spite of a chaotic, violent, and murderous hastily embarked land reform program at the turn of the millennium, millions of rural Zimbabweans still struggle to eke out a livelihood from the same dry infertile areas from the colonial era.

In all this, the ruling elite gave themselves the best and largest tracts of land – some, as former president Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s daughter, Bona, reportedly owning 21 farms.

This unmitigated failure to address these colonial injustices by the ZANU PF regime is why we find these villagers still struggling not only to feed themselves but also engage in any meaningful commercial agriculture.

Consequently, they become dependent on the same leaders who authored their sorrowful plight.

In so doing, when they are handed free agricultural inputs and food aid, they regard those in government as their saviours and heroes – marked with intense singing, dancing, and ululating.

We have people who will even praise and glorify Mnangagwa for allowing them to sell on the streets, or become touts (mahwindi), or undertake some mediocre ‘projects’.

For them, this shows a caring and loving president.

Yet they easily forget or simply choose not to realize that had the same government managed the country properly, they would be doing more dignified and much better paying work.

Indeed, Zimbabwe has become the Stockholm syndrome capital of the world.

Instead of praising and glorifying our captors and tormentors, we need to be holding them to account and demanding justice.

● Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email:, or visit website:

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button