This whole Zuma and The Spear debacle reminds me of a series of events that took place in Zimbabwe shortly after Independence. I was barely in my teens at the time, and my memory of it is hazy, but the story has always stayed with me. I always thought it would have made a great short film.
When the war ended, celebration kicked off in a major way, as it does. Down in Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, someone decided it would be a fine idea to erect a statue outside the city hall honoring the liberation fighters who had brought freedom to the country. That idea in itself didn’t seem so bad, but like with so many things in life, its failure would be in its execution.
One day the residents of Bulawayo arrived at city hall and looked up to see a very large cast bronze statue of a naked freedom fighter, armed with both an AK47 and a penis that can only be described as high-caliber. It did, quite literally, hang down to his knees, making Zuma’s spear seem much more like a cheese knife. The reaction by the general public was immediate. To the white residents of Bulawayo, it was insulting. By implication, the statue seemed to suggest that the freedom fighters were better equipped than the forces of the Rhodesian army. To others, having a naked man, regardless of race, with such a huge Johnson, went way too far beyond accepted norms of decency. The fact that this statue now stood in a very public place, towered over the many informal traders who sat at its base selling their crochet table cloths, beaded baskets and soap stone carvings, made it all the more inappropriate
Mothers who came to the hall to pay their TV licenses and parking fines found themselves averting their eyes and covering their children’s as they passed through its shadow. I have one blurry memory of a homeless lady standing beneath it pointing up at it with a toothless grin and no small amount of admiration. The ZanuPF’s emblem, The Cock, it seemed had been reinterpreted in spectacular fashion.
I don’t recall public reaction being quite as militant as it has been with the Spear, but I do remember a steady stream of letters to the local newspaper demanding that the statue be taken down. Radio stations were also abuzz as debate raged on for several months. The new ZanuPF government however stood firm (excuse the pun) as did the council, until it looked like debate was all going to peter out naturally. Then one night an extraordinary thing happened.
Under the cover of darkness someone climbed the statue and painted it white. Not the whole statue; just the penis. Why that seemed like a good idea I will never know. Maybe they were trying to put a condom on it. Maybe they were trying at least to make one part of the statue white. The end result was a rather spectacular figure of a black man with a John Holmes-style member.
Protest kicked off again in a whole new gear. Thousands who had tried to block the memory of the statue from their mind flooded to the city hall to see this new, improved version. Demands to take it down were renewed. Surely now, now that the statue was white in places that it shouldn’t be, it should be taken down? Again the city council defiantly disagreed. They had a plan.
The very next morning a city council work team arrived equipped with steel brushes and turpentine. And so they set off to work to restore our unsung hero to his former glory.
I doubt I need to paint a more detailed picture of what it must have looked like to have a team of men scrubbing furiously away at the poor guy’s privates, but suffice to say you can still hear the laughter reverberating through the Motopos Hills if you go there today. Gogo’s probably still tell their grandchildren what they saw. And those poor council workers no doubt still bear the emotional scars of what they were put through. Medical science may even have coined a phrase for this type of post-traumatic stress disorder. Such are the hazards of war. Sadly however, it was all in vain.
When all the bronze filings had settled and everyone stood back to admire the product of their hard labour, there it was, the world shiniest, polished penis on the world’s most embarrassed statue.
For better or worse, it was all too much for anyone to deal with. Ideas had run dry. No man, not even a government, knows how to hide a penis that large. Especially when it’s shining like a lighthouse. And so the statue came down. I often wonder where it is being stored today.
And here we are; 30 years later, having learned nothing. I only hope that our story ends with as much of a smile as the one I have just told.