Being Zimbabwean


SO sue me because until a few weeks ago I didn’t know who Pokello Nare was.

Cross Border Chronicles with Sukoluhle Nyathi

It’s only when the Big Brother show kicked off that I was introduced to her. Just for the record; I am no Big Brother fan. I have never followed the series for the mere fact that I’ve always felt it doesn’t add value to my viewing life.

Let’s just say if I had the luxury taking 91 days out of my life, I would not spend it chatting about farting or twerking in some bloke’s face. I would probably hibernate and write the greatest love story. This is not to say I’m one of those snooty-faced people who balk at Reality TV shows. Quite the contrary; sometimes I enjoy the frivolity of them.

The crazier the better, like those Atlanta Housewives with big hair and even bigger attitudes.

It’s perfect escapism especially after a tough day at work. Nonetheless, Big Brother has just never tickled my fancy. But the TV ratings speak for themselves and it is indeed a popular game show. Look, I must admit it takes a tenacity in character to live in a house with total strangers, survive the round of evictions week after week and walk away with the grand cash prize.

Moreover, a lot of television personalities can thank Big Brother for launching their fledgling careers and catapulting them into the limelight. So where am I going with this?

Well a few weeks ago I got caught up in a conversation on Twitter about the calibre of candidates on Big Brother show. A question was bandied about as to whether these two were worthy Zimbabwean representatives. Firstly, I don’t know how two people can be considered representative of an entire country.

This is not even statistically correct. However, the crux of the issue was really an indictment on Pokello and her infamous sex tape which has led to her questionability as the “right” ambassador for Zimbabwe on this show.

By strict definition, an ambassador is defined as an accredited person, with high credentials sent abroad to represent their country on official business.

So it made me wonder how contestants on a TV game show were representing the country on official business? Then someone declared that participants on Big Brother had the same mandates as Olympians. Are the two comparable, I ask? Athletes in the Olympics have to prove their prowess and mettle through participating through several rigorous competitions at local, provincial and national levels.

Having shown excellence at a national level, I can understand how someone can be selected as an ambassador to represent their country in that chosen sport.

I doubt this is the criteria that was used for Big Brother and I doubt it is the criteria needed. I would assume for a show of that nature a larger-than-life personality is what is required.

Still the debate raged on that as long as you are Zimbabwean, you have the onus to represent the country as a Zimbabwean. What does that mean?

How do we define being Zimbabwean? Is there a catalogue that lists the qualities that a Zimbabwean citizen must exhibit? I would like to think as a country we are not homogenous.

However, as different as we are on the outside, it appears that as Zimbabweans we need to demonstrate certain ideals which demonstrate our Zimbabweanness to the rest of the world. I remember in high school we were told repeatedly that as long as we were in our school uniform we represented the school and its ideals, which were to be upstanding young women of integrity. However, once you took off your uniform you could easily discard those ideals.

It would appear that by virtue of being born in a Zimbabwean skin, you need to exude certain qualities. What are those qualities? We have already established that having a sex tape is not considered Zimbabwean-like behaviour.

If anything, exhibiting one’s sexuality and proudly flaunting it is unZimbabwean. So what does being Zimbabwean entail?

Having a name like Letwin or Lovemore? Being able to speak English like the Queen of England, and if you can’t, faking it like your life depends on it?

Living in several countries outside your own? Being highly educated with a string of degrees to your name? Calling yourself a farmer, but having never tilled the soil? Making an annual pilgrimage to the rural areas to break bread with your grandparents? Being religious because God forbid if you decided to be an atheist or agnostic? Being heterosexual, as that is the only form of sexual orientation that is recognised at law?

Having bribed a policeman at least once in your life? I want to hear from you. Tell me: What does it mean to be Zimbabwean?

Sukoluhle Nyathi is the author of The Polygamist


  1. I think trying to describe the typical or sholud l say prototype Zimbabwean would almost be impossible due to many factors. Zimbabweans come from very varied backgrounds some in total contrast to each other such that trying to describe a typical Zimbabwean becomes almost impossible. The BBA contestants don’t even capture your average Zimbabwean, you mentioned the sex-tape incident which I really unZimbabwean if I may say. Then u have the names, these are probably the only times u will ever run into Zimbabweans named Hakeem and Pokello!

  2. Great article and an even better question Sue!
    I am in the diaspora now but for the first 24 years of my life lived in the land of my birth, Zimbabwe. I recall a feeling of not fitting in and even now when I am around my country folk outside Zimbabwe that feeling persists. My conclusion is that, as postulated in the post, there is a script to follow and when you do not conform to the precepts of that script you cease to be Zimbabwean. Success is defined by going to Uni and getting those degrees, owning a business, marriage, children and a healthy respect for going ekhaya/kumusha. Any “success” outside those parameters is unZimbabwean. We all have sex and some of us probably think we are pretty good at it. But the conservative, colonial mindset that was imposed on us well into the 1980s does not allow for non-conformist and non Christian values. Hence, the reason we extoll charlatan Christian religious leaders more than our traditional healers whose homeopathic remedies are the basis for modern medicine.

    Being Zimbabwean is to conform to a code that has been set by the elders who don’t live the everyday reality of the generation born from the 70s onwards.

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