The betrayal of the nationalistic project

Source: The betrayal of the nationalistic project – NewsDay Zimbabwe July 26, 2017

The first week of the academic year in 1976 of the new University of Botswana had passed at a very sedate pace. On that first Saturday evening a small VW Beetle headed from campus to a meeting with the ubiquitous Vapositori from the then Rhodesia. At the wheel of the little car was an Economist lecturer from the University. The black, then Rhodesian lecturer, was to address the gathering to raise funds for the Zanla forces based in Mozambique, who were fighting for majority rule in Rhodesia. In the car with him were two fellow Rhodesians and United Nations-sponsored first year Bachelor of Science students.

guest column: TAPIWA NYANDORO

The senior Zanu cadre addressed the gathering, encouraging it to donate generously to the cause. The Vapositori listened intently, silently — no words spoken in reply. Slightly visible in the dark were their dark faces and beards, and crooks each one held. They were told of the houses they would get in then Salisbury, now Harare’s posh, low-density, leafy and then whites-only suburb of Mt Pleasant once the war was won. No comment from them. Just a fierce, palpable determination the war of liberation must be won.

Back at campus the two roommates and Mufakose boys chuckled about the outrageous promise of suburban life made to the gathering. But the war had to be fought and funded. It is not without reason that it has been said the first victim of war is the truth. The lecturer was to become Zimbabwe’s Finance minister later, living in Mt Pleasant, in the independent Republic. One of the students ended up as a Professor in Mathematics somewhere in Australia. As for the Vapositori, it is debatable, though unlikely, that even a few of them made it to Mt Pleasant in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city. Such is life.

The nationalistic project that gave birth to the war of liberation had one major flaw and a few minor ones. It was over-hyped and under-estimated. The power of capital to influence the vote once independent was ignored. The highly contagious disease called corruption was unknown then. The perception of an independent State was utopian: a land of milk and honey; one of little sweat, tears and blood, a nation of free healthcare, free education and free land.

Back then the belief was that it was taboo to steal; that “gold would not rust”. No more. All government assets, including land, are now fair game. The law is abused to ensure unfair gain. And the vote is manipulated by repugnant contracts, such as revocable farm land leases and command agriculture based on overpriced maize and deliberate loose controls as was the farm mechanisation programme. Such a scenario would only have appeared in the founding fathers’ worst nightmare.

The jobs, good life free from want and fear, equity and justice that were fought for are proving an illusion. Sir Winston Churchill’s “blood, sweat and tears” is the norm. Many have lost their lives in violent elections. Murder is a political tool. Voter registration is deliberately made cumbersome. Efforts are made to deny people the right to vote freely in fair elections. State institutions are weakened and abused. With that there may be no nationalistic project to talk about. It may be dead and buried.

That bleak conclusion may be shared by many Zimbabweans as Nkosana Moyo’s question in Harare recently, shows. He asked: “Those of us who are old enough will remember the abuse we suffered at the hands of Ian Smith’s soldiers, his police, judiciary and the general injustice that was the norm of that era — How can it be that in independent Zimbabwe, our people get subjected to the same?” Quoted in the same NewsDay [June 30, 2017]. Advocate Eric Matinenga, former Constitutional Affairs minister, speaking at the Sapes think-tank the previous night said: “Nothing was changing in the security sector because of greed, selfishness and fear.”

To be fair though some progress had been made, especially on access to education, healthcare services, jobs, housing and land in particular in the first 20 to 25 years when redistribution eroded national reserves and the upkeep and development of national infrastructure. This has led to a reversal of the initial socio-economic gains, propelled even further by the abandonment of key revolutionary values such as an abhorrence of racial discrimination or the use of violence in politics, as the quest for national healing testifies.

The evidence on the ground for the majority of the voters is one of enduring poverty, and not freedom from want and fear as the nationalistic project anticipated. The evidence further shows rising inequality, job losses and deterioration in the quality of education and skills acquired as the economy shrinks. Unheard of evils such as massive cholera and typhoid epidemics and hyper-inflation have visited the country post-independence. The question on many a tormented mind is: Can the project be resuscitated together with the “faith, hope and love” that gave it life?

History gives room for optimism. Tyranny comes and goes, as it did in East Germany and China. A Pan-African, in the mould of Deng Xiaoping or Abraham Lincoln, or Chancellor Helmut Kohl (who united Germany), with a bankable vision for lifting the masses from poverty and despair, restoring national pride, is needed. Deng, like the other two leaders, for example, is the consummate nationalistic project initiator. His vision powered China to the top of the world economically and militarily both within a short three decades. His is an example to copy for Southern Africa and Zimbabwe.

To that end, the region needs to summarise the project to “reforms (and innovation), opening up the markets and harnessing international co-operation”. In its latest meeting in Hamburg during the first week of July 2017, the G20 signalled its intention to assist and cooperate. The Vapositori and the nation pray in hope.

Tapiwa Nyandoro writes in his personal capacity.