Freedom Train

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From the Spring 2012 Speaking in Tongues issue. Watch the music video here.

By Outspoken

Still inside the station waiting on the Freedom Train

Its inspector came to check on our tickets if we had paid

Finally my people shall be home amongst their relatives and peers

They could hardly wait to see the city’s horizon slowly disappear into the distance!

It was one train with many classes … the luxurious was the first

Then came the second-class/middle-class citizens … then the economy … that is the worst

Not because of its occupants, but mainly their conditions,

Where they were packed like animals, sweating like the steam engines

“All aboard!” that was freedom’s last call

The destination was democracy, equality for all, but a few!

The few being the masses in the last

Who were disposable to benefit the upper class!

“Tickets! Tickets please! Amai, you did not pay!

Do you think you are going to get a free ride on the Freedom Train?”

He can clearly see that she is sick and in need of urgent assistance

“Amai, I am not a doctor, all I want from you is your ticket!”

So another passenger dies for she could not afford

The medication for her ailments, so she succumbed to her sores

Across the masses gathered was this hovering of pain

Another one of us departed from the Freedom Train

Mountains rolled and valleys passed the few that had the view

Aboard this runaway train of passengers without a crew, but the inspector!

They huddled praying, “justice would prevail”

But lived in the laws of physics, so they were destined to derail!

A pregnant mother squirmed as her water broke in panic

Hope was her unborn daughter, but her birth was none but tragic

She only saw the light of day minutes before the crash

Sucked back into a darkness with radiance everlasting

If only the inspector started checking on the drivers

There wouldn’t be this ugly scene of checking on survivors

18 April 1980 was the day we left the station Aboard The Freedom Train, but still haven’t reached our destination … Freedom!


Tongai Leslie Makawa, known throughout the rap world by his performance name Outspoken, is one of Zimbabwe’s leading spoken word poets. His poem “The Freedom Train” addresses the inaccurate use of the term “Freedom” in today’s Zimbabwe.

Historical or literary references to “The Freedom Train” or railroads more generally have highlighted issues of racial segregation across Africa. Cecil John Rhodes’ plan for a railroad stretching from Cape Town to Cairo was intended to be the great symbol of British colonization and control of Africa. Equally, much has been said of the racial segregation of railroad travelers, serving as a visible expression of racial and societal discrimination.

In his poem “The Freedom Train,” Outspoken uses the symbolism of the train to underscore the disparity between the discourse of the “freedom” that supposedly came with independence in post-colonial Zimbabwe. Verity Norman—a South African educator who graduated from classical violin to hip-hop and works with Outspoken and Nomadic Wax, which produced the video of this anthem to democracy at—talked recently with Outspoken for World Policy Journal:

VERITY NORMAN: Why did you choose the metaphor of the Freedom Train?

OUTSPOKEN: The Freedom Train represents so much in terms of past labors and progress at the expense of the masses. The railroad and the hard toil towards one’s need for emancipation is synonymous with places in Africa and beyond. The train itself moves in two distinct directions that can either be beneficial to the traveler or retrogressive. I found that duplicity, vague as it may be, to tie in perfectly with African politics, where progress and benefit are not always what they appear to be.

NORMAN: How is the term “freedom” used, or misused, in post-colonial Zimbabwe?

OUTSPOKEN:  The irony of the use of the term freedom is that it is now used to further enslave the masses. I am considered to be a “born-free”—someone born after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980—who should be grateful for our current state of governance. However the expression of “freedom” I have experienced is far from liberating and actually keeps the people in Zimbabwe (especially the younger generation) indebted to fighters of the war of independence who are still in control of Zimbabwean politics. In short, there is no better way to enslave a people than by giving them the illusion of freedom.

NORMAN: Can you elaborate on what you see as the difference between the words “independence” and “freedom?”

OUTSPOKEN: My take on the two terms is that “independence” is more of an event, while “freedom” represents a state of liberation in its true form. Freedom is the availability of opportunity and responsibility, equally distributed and administered.

Independence reads like a state of alienated development. Beyond independence lies interdependence. I believe that what the world really needs is a combination of self-identity and humility across a global plane where geographical boundaries do not contribute to our interactions.

NORMAN: As a spoken word poet, how do you think words can be used to gain freedom in today’s Zimbabwe?

OUTSPOKEN: The word exists the moment before any thought can take shape. The same power that lies in words that have imprisoned our political heroes and silenced our dreams and forced us to listen to, and watch the propaganda material designed by an elite few, can also be the ones to initiate the cleansing of our brains, which is the necessary first step.



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