Zimbabwe, a tiny southern African that has endured almost two decades of a downward spiral, boasts of one quality – that of resilience.
In reality, the nation is seething with anger and simmering in pain but hiding behind humor while hemorrhaging within.
Once the envy of many African nations and touted as the bread basket of Africa at independence in 1980, the nation has experienced various crises since 2000 and is now ranked among the poorest countries in the world.
Throughout its descent from prosperity to poverty, Zimbabweans have remained strong and adjusted their lifestyles to suit their changing fortunes, thus earning the admirable quality of resilience.
Indeed Zimbabweans ought to be commended for their survival skills, not too many nations would survive this kind of trauma.
The question that comes to mind is: how have Zimbabweans been surviving in spite of all they have been through?
There are many answers to this question that are probably influenced by various factors. Whatever the answer, one must admit that in addition to all the other coping mechanisms, humor has also played a significant role in helping Zimbabweans to cope with the myriad of challenges that have affected the nation.
Over the last two decades, Zimbabweans have sought comfort in humor while veiling their pain and suffering. Although the methods of spreading jokes have changed over time with technology and sharing tools becoming more sophisticated, the strategy has remained pretty much the same (see http://bit.ly/2qswHHX).
While in the past, humor about current affairs was confined to cartoons in newspapers and satirists in the theatre, the advent of social media has made it possible to share information about current affairs in creative but humorous ways. The most popular current methods of sharing jokes in Zimbabwe at the moment include whatsapp, facebook, twitter and youtube.
Over the years, social media has been awash with jokes about various issues affecting the country, with the most recent being the goat for fees saga.
For example, The Sunday Mail of 16 April 2017 (see http://bit.ly/2p3LhIC) quoted Zimbabwe’s Education Minister, Lazarus Dokora saying parents who could not afford to pay school fees for their children could do so using goats or labor. The remarks were immediately rebuffed and became the butt of jokes. Admittedly, payment of fees through livestock and produce, has been done before in rural areas to accommodate students whose parents did not have cash, while in urban areas, parents who could not afford fees sometimes contributed their skills. Although the practice was not wide-spread, it was usually an informal arrangement between the school leadership and the affected parents based on their circumstances. However, in a country facing a cash crisis and a myriad of economic challenges with no tangible solution in sight, the suggestion did not settle well with the populace. It came across as yet another failure to address the country’s economic problems and a retrogressive step towards archaic barter trade, hence it was ridiculed. The minister later called a press conference to clarify the issue following the public outcry against his suggestion, which was expressed mostly through jokes
Why turn to humor?
There are varying reasons why people turn to humor instead of facing up to situations and this could, in part, explain why Zimbabweans have opted for humor as a coping mechanism.
Some psychologists have described the use of humor as a “mature defense mechanism – a primarily adaptive technique to help us to cope with tense or stressful situations. Looking for a funny aspect in an environment in which we lack control can help us to endure it, and can even be an altruistic act in helping others to better cope as well.” (See http://bit.ly/2pLuDyr).
Our social construct and the fear of the consequences revealing our vulnerability are among the many reasons we choose to lighten up situations rather than deal with them (See http://bit.ly/1FfWtpj).
Dangers of hiding behind humor
While humor is one of many normal coping mechanisms (See http://bit.ly/2pLuDyr) that help us to avoid embarrassment and confrontation, it has its dangers.
First and foremost, there is always the risk of trivializing a serious matter. Admittedly, by joking about some of these issues, Zimbabweans can better cope with them. However, the humor also dilutes the gravity of the situation. Matters that should be addressed are relegated to mere jokes, so we laugh and move on. Consequently, we all laugh about the situation and dismiss it without finding tangible solutions.
Secondly, while it helps us to avoid confrontation, the risk is that our point of view may not be taken seriously because we have chosen to reduce it to a joke. We create an excuse for those we should be confronting to disregard our concerns. We have all been in situations where we did not want to be confrontational, so we turned to humor, but what was the outcome? In the cases where I turned to humor, at some point, I still had to go back and address the issue more soberly because as long as I tried to be light hearted and joke about it, I was not taken seriously.
Thirdly, although it is a polite approach that prevents us from hurting other people’s feelings, we fail to communicate effectively. By turning a situation into a joke, we give the other party the option to dismiss our hurt and pain without addressing the matter at hand – after all, we have chosen to laugh about it so why should they take it seriously?
In the final analysis, hiding behind humor prevents both the aggrieved party and the perpetrator from taking action. Humor, while good, leads to a form of paralysis as no one is compelled to act. After all, it’s all a joke, right? So why should anyone take it seriously and act on it?
The painful truth
Zimbabweans have tried to deal with the issues affecting the country through various methods, with limited success. Indeed, the efforts of all the valiant women and men who have stood up against what they did not agree with regarding the economy, policy etc, should be acknowledged. However, such actions are often taken up by a brave few. The majority watch from the sidelines while joking about the various issues bedeviling the nation.
At some point, Zimbabweans will have to regroup, wake up to the reality that humor is not a strategy, and deal with issues. The country has been on a downward spiral for almost two decades. People have been assaulted with wave after wave of negative policies and economic decline, with each wave being more brutal than the previous one.
The painful truth is that the jokes will not bring a solution. They will not address the situation. They will simply bring temporary relief but at the end of the day, Zimbabweans remain in the same situation.
At some point, after the jokes have ceased and the sound of laughter has died down, Zimbabweans will have to get together and collectively address the issues confronting the nation. The country’s future and destiny are no longer a laughing matter.