received by email from Prof. Ambrose B. Chimbganda – may be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org 23 September 2013
Two weeks after the last watershed general elections in Zimbabwe, I went back home on a pilgrimage. The journey was not for religious purposes or something of that sort but to connect myself with the people and the land of my birth where my umbilical cord lies entombed in the rich loam soils of my motherland.
The mood of the people, this time round, was in sharp contrast with the electric atmosphere and euphoria of 1980, when Zimbabweans ululated, sang and danced to the Chimurega war songs; united in purpose, proud, full of hope and a great sense of destiny. Zimbabwe had finally come.
The liberation war, which was essentially fought between blacks and whites, had been protracted, bitter, brutal, bloody and ferocious. Then, unexpectedly, the new Prime Minister, Mr Robert Gabriel Mugabe, made an amazing speech, pretty much in the mould of Martin Luther King’s 1963 famous speech: “I have a Dream”.
In his 4th of March 1980 inaugural speech the new premier eloquently, and like a pied piper, asked Zimbabweans of all races, creed and tribe to turn their swords into plough shares, to forgive one another and to forge ahead in unity so as to rebuild the country.
In the same speech, he humbly reminded Zimbabweans: “My party recognizes the fundamental principle that in constituting government, it is necessary to be guided by the national interest rather than by strictly party considerations”.
That was magnanimous, wasn’t it? And I can clearly remember a white neighbour of mine in Sunridge, Mabelreign, a suburb in Harare, remorsefully remarking: “If I had known that Mr Mugabe was such a gentleman and not the terrorist I had been made to believe he was, I would not have joined the Rhodesian army to fight my fellow citizens”.
That was then. But this time round when I went ‘home’ to see my kinsmen and folk, at least those who are still in the country, the mood was completely different. There was a muted and eerie silence. People spoke in clichés: “Let them rule”, “The Zim dollar is coming back”. “What can we do?” “SADC is useless”.
From Bulawayo, Gweru, Harare, Chiweshe, Oliver Mutukudzi’s Dande, Murehwa. Makoni, Mutare, Chipinge, Masvingo, Gwanda to Nyamandlovu, the mood was the same –somber. The voices were low and glum, reminiscent of the apathy of animals in George Orwell’s Animal Farm when the animals discovered that their cardinal rule “All animals are equal” had been altered to read: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. Because of their apathy, the animals did nothing to stop the fraud of their leaders, the pigs. They, especially Boxer the donkey who symbolizes the workers in the satirical novel, even promised to work harder than ever before.
In my quest to gauge the mood of the people on the ground, so to say, I went to a pub in Harare’s Mufakose Township, a political hot-bed, where I met Tafadzwa (Literally meaning ‘we have been made happy’), a cheerful and stocky young man with a rotund stomach, perhaps in his thirties. He did not hide his MDC affiliation. At the far end of the greasy counter where he sat surrounded by a group of his peers enjoying their beer, he scurrilously denounced the outcome of the elections: “ZANU PF stole the elections. These chaps are there simply to plunder our country. I don’t see how our country is ever going to improve with these people in power”.
I drew closer to this jaunty group of young men itching to join the discussion. But before I could open my mouth, a fairly old man with a seemingly emaciated body interjected. His porcupine-like mouth conferred on him some kind of political authority. In impeccable English which was tinged with a heavy accent, he rebuked the young man: “You young fellows who support the MDC, the problem with you is that you have no direction. This country was liberated with our blood, and we are not going to allow it to be re-colonized by the same settlers whom we fought before”.
“As for you (pointing at me menacingly) I can see you are driving a nice car with a foreign number. You are a sell-out. Why did you run away from the country?”
His un-called for attack made me boil inside with anger like a volcano. I could not allow this man to trample upon me. In my borrowed American accent, I retorted: “Brother man, what makes you think that I am a sell-out? Is working outside the country tantamount to un-patriotism?” And before he could answer back, I pulled out four ZANU PF cards, two in the seventies and two after independence. To nail his lie, I asked him what he had done which could prove that he had done more for the country or was a worthier citizen than any other Zimbabwean.
As I spoke, I quickly sensed that trouble was brewing, and so I darted to my car which was parked just a few meters away and sped off to the city centre.
And as I went round the country talking to different people, the same polarization was evident, especially between the privileged and the deprived. Like in Masvingo where I had gone to see an ailing friend of mine, a war veteran, comrade Santana, I met a boisterous group of youths at Mupandawana growth point, a small rural peri-urban settlement. They were pulling down MDC election campaign posters, contemptuously denouncing its members as traitors, losers and bugs who should be dealt with because they are puppets of the British and Americans.
As I watched these youths hurling insults at fellow Zimbabweans, I pondered over President Mugabe’s 17th of April 1980 independence speech. “Our majority rule could easily turn into inhuman rule if we oppressed, persecuted or harassed those who do not think like the majority of us. Democracy is never mob rule”.
The echo of these noble words reincarnated my memory of Malcolm X who maintained: “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom”. The timeless words of this revolutionary reverberated intensely the more I thought about what I was experiencing. Why was there so much mistrust and animosity?
And to dampen my spirit, Sihle a primary school teacher from Gwanda whom I had stumbled upon towards the end of my journey when I had gone to see my old friend, Dumiso, swore by her ancestors that no development had ever taken place in her district since independence. Instead, she lamented, her area had become a vast swath of wasteland. “Just go to my village over that hill. You will see old women and children trapped in poverty, wearing tattered clothes, starving, sitting idly and waiting for….”
The more I met fellow countrymen and women with almost the same harrowing tales of despair, pain and despondency, their devastating narratives began to prick my conscience. Oh, Zimbabwe, my home! And deep down in my heart and soul an inner voice kept on asking: “What needs to be done to make tomorrow a better day for Zimbabwe?
Upon my return to Gaborone, I went to Johannesburg to fix my car. As usual,
Egoli was hustling and bustling with sleek cars that continually honked their horns, a cacophony of them, plying the arteries of smooth and well-kept roads that lead to the heart of the golden city. The city’s sky-scrappers that pierce the sky defy the gods and goddesses that dwell in the firmament. Through the front screen of my car, I could see monster passenger planes, one after the other, descending to land at Oliver Tambo Airport.
For a moment, I slid back into memory lane. Oliver Tambo! Sure I met this great ANC leader at the Liberation Centre in Lusaka. Wasn’t that in 1970 or 71 when I was a young ZANU apparatchik?
Yes, I was introduced to him at the Liberation Centre by Comrade Hebert Chitepo who was the Chairman of Dare reChimurenga (The War Council). Oh…how cruel war can be! That gallant son of Zimbabwe was blown up on the 18th of March 1975 by a bomb placed under his VW beetle car at his home in Lusaka. The imperialists slew him. Did they? Wasn’t he slain by some ambitious rogue ‘comrades’ of his inner circle? The mystery of his gruesome death will be unraveled one day, will it not? The imponderable thing, though, is that would he have made a difference had he lived long after independence? I remember very well his promise: “Comrade, once we have liberated ourselves, Zimbabwe will become a free, democratic and just society”.
My mind rolled back to Oliver Tambo. Didn’t I see on television workers at Oliver Tambo Airport demonstrating, demanding higher wages? Oh, yes, I remember him. Those vertical marks on his cheeks and tiger-like whiskers gave him a kingly stature that distinguished him from the rest! I remember him well: a thoughtful and unassuming leader who remained as constant as the northern star in his political desire to emancipate South Africa. His eloquence charmed the Front Line Heads of State and the O.A.U. Yes, I remember that too. What a pity his life was snatched away from him at the dawn of freedom: the flames of the struggle had cruelly burned out his life! Did he leave a legacy?
But wait a minute, isn’t this the place I am supposed to service my car? Those thoughts about my political past quickly faded away as I drove into the service bay. And as I sat down on the steel chair waiting for my car to be attended to, I grabbed the Star newspaper and started flipping through the pages rather nonchalantly.
On the opposite end to my right sat two neatly dressed gentlemen. I could not clearly figure out who they were as they were partially obscured by the newspapers they were reading. I lost my interest in them and focused on the item I was reading regarding the disputed elections in Zimbabwe.
“Mr Ncube, can you come to the counter please. Your car is ready”. I was taken aback. Who is this Ncube? Could he be the one I was with when I was doing my undergraduate studies at the University of Zambia many years ago or was he the Zimbabwean politician of the MDC splinter group? I followed him to the counter. No, I was wrong. This is Obed Ncube, a Mathematics secondary school teacher I had known for many years in Zimbabwe.
We hugged each other emotionally and after exchanging a few pleasantries, he invited me to spend the knight with him at his home in Randburg. In the evening he invited a number of his friends many of whom, I figured out, were MDC activists.
As we sat down talking mainly about the last elections back home, I could not avoid asking him why he had left Zimbabwe where he had distinguished himself as a brilliant Maths teacher. His story was nerve-wrecking. “You see, my friend, I had been a Deputy Headmaster at Gokomere High School in Masvingo where I had been teaching ‘A’ level Maths. Nothing was working in Zimbabwe and corruption was rampant. I joined the MDC because I realized that we needed change in Zimbabwe. Then one night ZANU PF thugs came to my house in Mucheke Township and kidnapped me to their military base”.
At this juncture he stopped talking and began to sob incessantly. Turning, he took off his tweed jacket and cream-white shirt as if he wanted to fight: “You see what those bastards did to me”. Sure enough his body was heavily disfigured with one of his middle fingers severed. At his back he had sustained deep lacerations which gruesomely contorted his body. In the fluorescent light, I could see that the scars had run deep into his flesh making it difficult for him to maintain his usual upright posture.
“Is this democracy”? He sobbed uncontrollably. “Look at how they have rigged the elections? Can you believe that people in Matebeleland who were terrorized by Gukurahundi (the Zimbabwean North Korean trained fifth brigade) overwhelmingly voted for ZANU PF? They can steal the elections, all our diamonds, gold and platinum; but they will never be able to steal our indomitable spirit and resolve to be a free and democratic nation. Look at the millions of Zimbabweans who have fled the country. Here in South Africa alone we have about three million Zimbabweans. And how many do we have in Botswana, Namibia, UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand? Surely we have more than a quarter of the whole Zimbabwean population living in diaspora. The number is even more than those fleeing the Civil War in Syria and yet we do not have a war in Zimbabwe”.
Before he could continue, I stood up to console him. I hugged his shoulder firmly so that he would not collapse with emotion. We cried together. I was short of words. Here was a perfect human species, a highly intelligent professional and a political firebrand with a first class Honours degree in Mathematics. I could feel his anguish. Like many other Zimbabweans in exile, their lives were being wasted away, ridiculed and xenophobically defined by their host countries as ‘aliens’. And once again I heard an inner voice calling: “What needs to be done to make tomorrow a better day for Zimbabwe?”
My journey was a journey into the hearts of fellow citizens both within and out of Zimbabwe. When I entered their hearts I could see that behind an external façade of peace and tranquility, lies a tragic division foisted on them by their political circumstances. One could detect three configurations. The first is clustered around ZANU PF. This group loosely encompasses a residue of the older generation, the heroes of the liberation struggle, the army, those who control the levers of power, the ‘haves’ and a large segment of the peasants who are parasitically dependent on the system. This disparate group is held together by their ability to access the resources of the country, power and privilege.
The second grouping comprises a simmering cohort of MDC supporters, which brings together remnants of the trade union movement, a fickle young generation which is frustrated by the lack of jobs and opportunities, professionals whose esteem has been reduced to the lowest common denominator, urban people who toil to eke out a living, students whose future is bleak and the lumpen proletariat who have been permanently off-loaded from the labour market because the economy has tragically shrunk. These elements are drawn together by their common frustration with the system and a desire for change so that they can participate in the shaping of their country’s future.
The third are roughly 3 – 4 million Zimbabweans who have been driven out of the country by economic hardships, lack of job opportunities and political persecution. These are mostly young and middle-aged professionals, ranging from students, labourers, artisans, teachers, nurses, lawyers, doctors, university lecturers and business people. Many of them live in South Africa, other SADC countries, USA, Canada, UK and Australasia. Their political persuasion is divergent but many of them appear to support the MDC, while some of them are die-hard ZANU and ZAPU supporters.
This third group is incoherent, disenfranchised and stateless. Unlike at independence in 1980, they appear to have no immediate plans of going back home unless there is a ‘real change’ in the political and economic system. These disporans, as some would want to say, are almost a ‘state in exile’. Depending on how you look at them, they loom like an albatross around Zimbabwe’s neck which can easily pull the rug from under the feet of those in power. The money they send home fuels the economy, but their continued stay in exile has a macabre spectre.
And as my old weathered pal, comrade Santana, had previously confided in me: “comrade I have a broken heart because so many people have left Zimbabwe, including two of my children who are in South Africa. They have left the country, the country we dearly fought for. As you know, history shows that a country that has millions of its sons and daughters in exile will never be at peace with itself unless they come back home”.
As I sat down mulling over my journey, the inner voice in me once more whispered: “the elections in Zimbabwe have come and gone, what has not gone away is the stain of apathy and mistrust”. My sovereign conscience also told me that we the ‘victors’ and the ‘vanquished’ are one and the same people: we are like the tongue and cheek that need each other for survival. There are no winners or losers per se. The collective people of Zimbabwe are the ones who are either winners or losers.
While I was reflecting on the goings-on, I could not avoid wrestling with President Mugabe’s speech in 1980 when he declared that the future of Zimbabwe needs to be guided by “national rather than strictly party considerations”. Were these words empty as some critics would be quick to say? No, there is infinite wisdom in them.
But what are these ‘national considerations’ that we need to focus on in order to drive Zimbabwe forward? A perusal of the election manifestos of the main political parties shows that there is already some broad consensus. What needs to be done is to summon the collective wisdom of ‘all’ the people in order to write the final chapter of our destiny. The issues we need to focus on are:
- A marshal plan to direct the overall economic recovery of the country
- An urgent engagement with the western world so that our diplomatic relations can normalise
- The creation of massive employment for the majority of our people in the short, medium and long term
- An attraction of massive foreign and local investment into the mining sector, agriculture, industry, power and other infrastructural projects
- A modernization of our education system so that it can respond to the exigencies of our modern era
- A deliberate and vigorous policy of recruiting back home our professionals in diaspora to help drive the developmental process
- Establishing mechanisms which will allow fellow Zimbabweans to have lasting reconciliation, peace and freedom
In closing, allow me to share with you these poetic words:
Zimbabwe, unfurl your heart,
And the world will embrace you.
And you will stay alone.
Spite the world,
And you will be forsaken.
Rise up and sing a new song,
And the world will join in the chorus.
And the tune will be lost in the air.
And the world will conjugate and share its nectared love.
And you’ll taste a bitter pill.
Unleash your full potential and goodwill,
And the world will dine with you.
But decline and burden the world with your woes,
Alone you’ll drink life’s gall.