Zimbabwe at 35: Time to stand on our own feet
By Tawanda Moyo | via TawandaMoyo.com |
This month marked 35 years since our Independence in 1980. We rightly celebrate, today and throughout the month, our Independence from colonial rule.
I was born a full eleven years after our Independence. I remember a panelist at a heated discussion last year reminding me that “Zimbabwe is much older than you”. Indeed, Zimbabwe is much older than me.
However I have an older brother born in 1980. He has a son of his own now, meaning that there are two generations of the so called “born frees” in the country now. I asked him how the country is doing he was not very optimistic.
I share his uncertainty, we celebrate Independence once more without great faith in our country and its leadership to take us into the future.
As we fittingly celebrate our independence day we should also take time to think about where our nation is going. Doing so need not be in the manner of the jingoistic balderdash coming out of the Herald in the form of the hashtag #1980SoFarSoGood. Neither must it be the cynical and self-defeating negativity which seeks to portray everything in the country as a failure.
Zimbabwe is a country of contradictions. On the one hand we have had our successes, exaggerated of course, by those in power who have forgotten Amilcar Cabral’s injunction to “claim no easy victory, and hide nothing from our masses.”
Our education system is better than most in Africa, at least for primary and secondary levels, our literacy rate is the highest on the continent.
We have been audacious enough to ask serious and pertinent questions about how we- as Africans and Zimbabweans- should develop post colonialism. As a result we embarked on programs to empower our people, to repossess and redistribute our resources and land.
The Zimbabwean land reform and indigenization programs are studied by other African states, both as models and lessons of how Africans can try to free themselves from the chains of colonialism.
The country is generally peaceful. There is virtually no organized crime to talk of and we are not fighting any wars within or outside our borders. There are no terrorists, no racial tension and no religious strife.
On the other hand our failures, again exaggerated by some, are glaring.
The much vaunted education system is only good to a certain level. Beyond secondary education it is exposed for what it is: a legacy of colonialism, an education that is so out of context with our needs and challenges, that it only equips us with reading skills but not much else.
Thus we produce graduates who are not worth much; graduates who are unable to rise to our challenges and provide solutions.
The economy is in regression, the country is in a $10 billion debt and there is shocking unemployment. Our industries are not producing anything and we have to import even toothpicks from China. 500 companies have shut down in the past two years and the “educated” young people of this country are reduced to vendors.
We have no currency of our own, we use the American dollar, rands and something called “bond coins”. If you so choose you can use the rupee, the Chinese yuan, the Pula and God knows whatever currency you have.
There are occasional human right abuses, violence during elections and shocking electoral irregularities. A journalist who opposed the government disappeared without a trace.
An estimated figure of over 3 million Zimbabweans has left the country to eke out livings in foreign lands. Our social fabric is torn, families are destroyed and our people are found doing menial jobs all over the globe. Right now, as I type, countless Zimbabweans living in South Africa fear for their lives in xenophobic attacks.
Corruption is rife. There is little accountability from the government and less from powerful politicians who grab companies and do as they please with impunity.
The well-publicized land reform fell victim to opportunistic and greedy politicians and the well connected, who carved up the most verdant parts for themselves and their cronies. The country, previously an agricultural powerhouse, now fails the basic test of self-sufficiency- the ability to feed itself.
The state unable or unwilling to rein in errant public officials and stop the rot, conjures enemies everywhere in the form of the West, “puppets of the West”, counter revolutionaries aided by a state media so biased it would make Goebbels proud.
This media polarizes Zimbabweans along political lines, and ruthlessly attacks those who do not agree with the ruling party and President Mugabe. Erstwhile allies are labeled sellouts and suddenly revealed to be very corrupt.
Yet despite all these contradictions we still celebrate our Independence because not to do so will be to dishonour those who sacrificed their time and those who gave up their lives in the war for independence.
Thousands of young men and women, supported by the masses of this land, were brave enough to stand up to the racist Rhodesian state and demand change. They demanded equality, they demanded to be treated as humans, with dignity and honour, to live as free men and women in the land of their forbearers, to have equal opportunities and to pursue those opportunities without impediments or fear.
The genuine liberators did not fight for self-enrichment, they fought for freedom and human dignity. Their struggles were not simply to remove the white Rhodesian government. They fought a greater struggle, unbound by the constraints of time or space- an eternal struggle for equality, fairness, and prosperity.
This struggle must go on.
We have reached a critical point where the vast majority of Zimbabweans- well over 65%- have never had any contact with colonialism. To this young demographic solutions are more important than history, and while it is obvious that life was much harder under Ian Smith, this does not resonate much with people whose only interaction with Smith and Rhodesia is in history books.
A man or woman born in 1980 is 35 and likely they have families of their own now. That means two generations of Zimbabweans who have known no other leader than Robert Mugabe and his endlessly recycled cabinet. Two generations of Zimbabweans subjected to the same old tired ideas and programs.
The majority of Zimbabweans were born after Independence and what they have observed, especially in the past two decades, is a loss of direction by the country’s leadership. They witnessed economic collapse caused by reckless economic decisions.
Three and half decades after Uhuru it is no longer sufficient to pile all the blame for our misfortunes on our former colonisers and the Americans. This blame shifting is not only wrong, it is also dangerous in that it belittles us as Africans. This kind of thinking suggests that we are at the mercy of our erstwhile colonisers. It suggests that we are not free at all.
Further when we make our people so desperate that they will endure unimaginable humiliation and hardships trying to reach foreign lands we concede that we have failed to run our own country.
When we make it seem like foreigners are supporting democracy in our own countries, fighting for our own people’s human rights we concede that we have failed to treat each other with dignity. We thus make them champions of human rights and lose the moral high ground.
It is time for Zimbabweans to abandon the counter-productive cold war mentality pushed by a tired and clueless gerontocracy whose belligerence and high sounding nothings have brought nothing but ruin to our land.
In an ever changing world we cannot hold on to outdated views which do not help us. We need to continuously reinvent ourselves and accept that we live in a global world where the most successful nations do business with all countries.
Indeed we have seen such changes in countries like Iran and Cuba, particularly Cuba, which were previously at loggerheads with the United States. Cuba has come to realize that there is nothing to be gained by being closed to such a powerful neighbor.
The historic talks between the Cubans and Americans must wake us up and point us in the right direction. A nation cannot be exist in isolation. We can learn from our Chinese friends who do trade all over the world.
This is not to say we should become pawns of powerful nations. What we need is to trade on an equal basis with different countries and then choose the deals with the most benefits to our country. This is in line with the ideals of the eminent Africa, Kwame Nkrumah who famously declared that : We face neither East nor West, but forward.
After 35 years of self -rule a nation must start to stand on its own feet. We are at a stage where we should have a common vision as a nation, a vision that unites us and goes beyond tribalism, regionalism, political affiliation or religion.
It is time to craft a national identity and to encourage national consciousness. We need to be united against our real enemies: poor leadership, cronyism, kleptocracy, corruption, cruelty, selective application of the law and the many vices beleaguering Zimbabwe. We should be championing unity, accountability, the sanctity of life, respect of national laws and good leadership.
35 years is a long time. The great Eric Blair (George Orwell) wrote that “At 50, every man has the face he deserves”. I think too a country after 35 years of self-rule must have an identity, national shared values and an inclusive national vision. Zimbabwe at 35 should be finding its feet.
I for one hope to be more organized than Zimbabwe when I turn 35.
Happy Independence Day to all Zimbabweans, home and abroad. Even as we celebrate this important day and remember those who liberated us, let us continue to fight for equality, justice and a prosperous society.