Zimbabwean Humor Masks Deep Discontent
Zimbabweans are long-suffering people, but after three decades of dictatorship and mismanagment, their humor reveals deep anger and discontent.
Image by vige via Flickr
You can tell a lot about a culture from its humor. The people of Zimbabwe, having suffered despotism, political turmoil, and economic mismanagement for years – without taking to the streets as has happened in other African and Middle Eastern countries – have a reputation for being basically peaceful and accepting. If you listen to their jokes, though, you hear a lot of discontent buried there. I guess their philosophy is you have to laugh to keep from crying. In their humor there’s a lot about autocratic leaders, brutal military officers, and corrupt politicians; jokes delivered in a deadpan style that masks the underlying anger and frustration.
Here’s a small sampling of Zimbabwean humor that I’ve collected during my stay in the country.
Break a Leg
Three Zimbabwean men are out in a boat fishing in the river when President Mugabe’s motorcade drives by. Mugabe orders the procession to stop and he gets out on the bridge to see what the men are doing. He leans too far over the bridge railing and falls into the river. The three fishermen row over and fish him out of the water and take him to shore. As he’s drying off, he thanks them for saving him from drowning and says that he wants to reward them with anything they want. The first guy says, “I’m a soccer fan and want to see South Africa’s Bofana Bofana play.”
“No problem,” says Mugabe. “I’ll have Air Zimbabwe fly you to Johannesburg, put you up in the best hotel, and get you the best seat in the stadium.”
The second man says, “I love cricket. I want to see the world’s best cricket teams play.”
“That’s easy,” Mugabe responds. “Same thing as your friend, only you’ll be given tickets to all the best cricket matches.” Looking at the third man, he says, “And, what about you young man; what do you want?”
“I want a brand new Mercedes-Benz with controls for handicapped driving,” he says.
“You’re a healthy young man. Why do you need a car with handicap controls?” Mugabe asks.
“Because,” the young man replied. “When my father finds out who I helped save, he’ll break both my legs.”
A bus load of politicians was driving through the countryside and ran off the road into a farmer’s field, scattering bodies everywhere. Some were killed on impact, but most were just injured and dazed. The farmer came out and, seeing the bodies, ordered his workers to bury them all. When the police came to investigate the crash, they asked the farmer where the passengers in the bus were.
“Buried over there in the field,” the farmer said.
“Buried! Were they all dead?” The policeman asked.
“Oh, you know how politicians are,” the farmer replied.
A Zimbabwean man died and because he had led a bad life, went to hell. Upon arrival he asked the devil if he could make a few phone calls. The devil replied that of course he could.
“How much does it cost for me to call America?” The man asked.
“Three Dollars a minute,” the devil replied.
“How much to call South Africa?”
“Twenty Rand a minute,” the devil said.
“How much must I pay to call Zimbabwe?” The man wanted to know.
“Oh,” the devil said. “That one’s free, it’s a local call.”