Energy Maburutse is simply brilliant. Diagnosed at age 5 with brittle bone disease which has left him wheelchair bound, he attended high school in Zimbabwe and is currently enrolled a Lynn University in the United States. At 21, he is a true inspiration to Zimbabweans at home and abroad.
I read of his story in the New York Times but instead of feeling happy, my stomach flipped. Another American journalist, whose knowledge of Zimbabwe is most likely based on other articles he has read in foreign media, had a lot of disparaging things to say about the country – albeit by insinuation, cloaked in the beautiful tale of a disabled student. The article opened with the oblique dig at the fact that Energy had never before seen an air conditioner. Well, that’s because the weather in Zimbabwe is such that one does not normally need an air conditioner. Rarely do we experience extremes of heat or cold. When it does get uncomfortably hot, no sooner do the heavens quench the dry earth with rain, cooling everything down. The report went on to describe how Energy had never eaten frozen yoghurt, one reason why he had put on weight. Oh yes, and the mop that can be wrung using the sliding mechanism on the handle, as opposed to Zimbabwe where people perform the same function with their hands.
I accept that life is not perfect in Zimbabwe, much less so in rural Zimbabwe. But is there any need to be so condescending? Even under extremely difficult circumstances, Zimbabwean students, locally and abroad, work hard and succeed. If a disabled rural student can make it to a reputable college in the US, and thrive, what does it matter that he has never seen an air conditioner, has never eaten frozen yoghurt or knows a mop to operate differently? Must we be so petty? Why employ such deductive leaps in reasoning to insinuate that the country is a hole, dark and despondent? A more complete analysis of the Zimbabwean situation and interviewing a different sample of students may paint a very different picture. Not to mention that most students in local universities attended mission or rural high schools but go on to be leaders in industry, justice, medicine and science.
So proud am I to have grown up and studied in Zimbabwe that all I can do upon reading such a thinly veiled assault on a country that is so rich and full of potential is roll my eyes. My Zimbabwean education has taken me everywhere I have needed to go. And I remain rooted there. According to the article, upon completion of his studies, the prospect of returning to Zimbabwe is out of the question. He wants to be a human rights advocate — maybe with the United Nations, maybe with Unicef — and of some sort of arrangement by which “he can live in America or anywhere but Zimbabwe, where there are no ramps, astronomical unemployment and unfathomable poverty.” If all educated Zimbabweans adopt the same attitude, other rural students in Energy’s position may not be as lucky as he is.
Even so, few people who comment on Zimbabwe have ever visited the nation. Fewer people understand it. Things are sub-optimal but they will get better. In the meanwhile, all I can do is smirk and roll my eyes at another ‘we pity you’ article with perhaps more disdain for the New York Times than they show for Zimbabwe.