Sometime early this year, a group of friends and I were discussing some of my work regarding our home country. They were all very kind and helpful. One suggested that it might be better to have a flagship column within the blog, one that would deal with issues at length and in some detail and then reserve shorter pieces for issues arising during the week. Another suggested it would be good to have the long article over a weekend and make it a regular affair, which subscribers can look forward to each week. Someone else suggested that it might be a good idea to find a nice name for the column, preferably one that would capture the imagination and distinguish it from others.
I went back and thought about it. These were all very good ideas. After a few days, I came up with the name “The Big Saturday Read” (BSR in short). I immediately started working on the first Big Saturday Read. These are the unremarkable circumstances of birth of The Big Saturday Read. The most important thing is that it is the product of collective imagination, even though participants in that process might have forgotten about it. The Big Saturday Read has grown during the course of the year and even I have been surprised by how much it has captured the attention of many people. In view of the weekly demand, it might now seem like an obligation, but in truth, writing it is both therapeutic and a pleasure, even though some of the subjects it has to deal with are less than pleasant. I have enjoyed the journey.
Nevertheless, the BSR is a part of a process of many years of writing on Zimbabwean and African affairs. When I first left Zimbabwe to study in the UK back in 1999, it was on the cusp of great political developments at home. The MDC had just been born. There was a constitutional reform process. Mugabe and ZANU PF were facing a stern political test. The land revolution was in its nascent stages. I was far away at a time when momentous things were happening back home. I felt a great yearning for home. I wanted to be part of these historic moments. Professor Welshman Ncube, one of my old law school teachers who had encouraged me to go and study abroad had told me that it was important to go and see the world, learn its ways and perhaps one day, with some acquired wisdom, I might be of use to Zimbabwe. Writing became my way of connecting with home and the struggle that was going on there. It was my way of being part of the historic processes. I thought I could use my space to provide some intellectual backup to the efforts of those who were busy in the trenches.
I saw how the regime liked to use law to complicate things, to obfuscate issues and confuse the people. My purpose has primarily been to demystify the law, to make it more accessible to the ordinary men and women who use it on a day to day basis. I try to explain legislation and why it is unconstitutional. I try to explain court judgments, and why they are flawed. I try to interrogate policy statements and demonstrate their weaknesses. Overall, I try to challenge propaganda, to unmask the myths that the government and ruling party create to advance their agenda. Politics is largely about myths – fictions that politicians develop and sell to the people. Those who can weave the most believable fictions, myths that are believed by a significant number of people usually succeed. If those who control myth-creating spaces are not challenged, they are likely to have their way all the time. ZANU PF and the government (or now, the more powerful political faction) have the advantage of controlling the dominant avenues of information and therefore, myth-creating spaces. If their myths are not challenged, they end up being believed by a significant number of people.
The Big Saturday Read has benefited from your loyal support and following. Running it has been a challenge. When I started, it was just a mere blog on a simple platform. I ran it by myself. But a rise in demand, especially on the day of publication, meant it was crashing a lot of times. This frustrated the readers and myself. A young man who started this journey with me a few years ago and volunteered to build the site and help with technical aspects was always on hand to help. We then moved to a new premium site and things improved. However, it was not cost-effective. I was investing time researching and writing the BSR and I was also paying quite a bit for the site to run smoothly. Readers were happy but it did not make economic sense for me.
Late November, with the help of another young man we invested in a new platform. It has had some teething challenges as some subscribers are unable to access it on occasions. Some say they miss the old platform, but they do not know that the old platform worked well because a lot more was paid for it! Someone has suggested that we make it a paid platform but that idea does not appeal to me because it would discriminate many who would not afford and defeat the whole purpose for which I write. This therefore presents a challenge to you, the subscribers and readers of The Big Saturday Read. You are the ones who make The Big Saturday Read great. And you can make it greater still. Your ideas and input would be most welcome. The Big Saturday Read needs a simple, user-friendly and easily-accessible platform, but it needs readers to support it.
Meanwhile, let me thank a few people who have provided incredible help during the course of the year. Patrick McKenna in Cape Town wrote one day volunteering to edit the BSR and he has done a wonderful job during the course of the year. Will Moyo, a young lady in the US, also wrote to me one day asking what she could do to help. Every week she is on hand to read through the BSR before most and comment. Taku, wrote and said, mukoma, we can do some audios for the articles and he did a fantastic job. Tirivashe has been part of the story from day one – his devotion to the project knows no bounds. There are many others who volunteered to translate the articles into vernacular languages and also offered to do audio versions. I have become acquainted with many people on social media through the BSR. And many who just wrote to say thank you for the BSR together with some words of encouragement. People might not realise it but it matters a great deal to read kind and encouraging words from those who read the work. It suggests to me that all is not in vain, that perhaps the work is making a difference to someone out there. I have not always been able to respond to each message or tweet, but I try, and where I have not I can only plead for your forgiveness. I also wish to acknowledge and thank those who have differed with me. I do not always get it right and I also learn from the contributions that people make in response to my work. Iron sharpens iron.
Finally, I wish you a beautiful New Year ahead. No year is ever wasted. The good that 2016 brought must be cherished, the bad must provide lessons. My great hope is that 2017 brings better fortunes for my country, Zimbabwe and its long-suffering citizens. Happy New Year!