Zimbabwe at 36 Years Old

36 years ago on the 18th April 1980, I sat next to the podium in Rufaro Stadium in Harare along with 25 000 people and watched as the old Rhodesian flag came down and the new Zimbabwe flag was raised. Just in front of me was the Prime Minister of India, Mrs Gandhi and just to her left was the Prince of Wales who was officiating for the British Government. Next to me was a journalist from the New York Times.

Source: Zimbabwe at 36 Years Old – The Zimbabwean 18/04/2016

Just 87 years before, a tiny group of white settlers had come to the country and taken occupation of what was to be called Southern Rhodesia after a short war with the indigenous people. This came to be known as the first Chimurenga. There were no roads, no railways, no means of communication except by a man on a horse or a runner. They had no international power behind them and their only source of funding was a coterie of remarkable eccentric magnates who had made their money on gold and diamonds in South Africa.

Never more than 4 per cent of the population, 40 per cent from Scotland and perhaps another 20 per cent of Dutch or Afrikaans origin, the settlers soon discovered that Rhodesia was not another gold or diamond rich State. They had to contend with diseases that had not been conquered anywhere else, they had to build roads and railways over tough terrain with their bare hands. They established a Police Force, the rule of Law and a Judicial system. Slowly they learned how to farm in this harsh environment. Couples staked out farms and lived in crude mud huts until the farm buildings were completed, they cleared virgin land and brought in crop varieties and trees and shrubs that gradually transformed the country.

In 1923 they opted to remain independent from the new Union of South African States, choose Dominion status under British tutelage and as an integral part of the Sterling zone; became a supply depot for Britain. Citrus, beef, maize and tobacco, chrome and gold, nickel and steel all became established industries under the cloak of incentives and free access to the UK market.

In the Great War and then in the Second World War, no country in the Commonwealth made a greater sacrifice for the Empire and for Britain than Rhodesia, it was the only country in the world that had to conscript men for essential duties at home, rather than volunteering to fight in Europe or North Africa.

At the end of the War a new wave of migration came out to the country. Many of the new settlers were highly qualified men and women who had fought in the War and now sought to make a new life far away from the hunger and depravation that gripped post war Europe. Then came the Federation and when, upon dissolution of the Federation, the UK failed to give independence to the country, the settlers simply took it themselves. This resulted in 15 years of UN sanctions and a second war that took tens of thousands of lives and led eventually to negotiations and Independence from Britain on the 18th April 1980.

But the sanctions era coupled to the entry of Britain into the European Union, finally cut the umbilical cord that had created the baby State of Rhodesia. Industry expanded until 95 per cent of what we bought in a supermarket was made locally, we drove locally made hybrid motor cars, we became the second largest exporter of white maize in the world, the second largest flue cured tobacco producer, the largest producer and exporter of cotton in Africa and self sufficient in just about everything except liquid fuels. At Independence in 1980, despite all the pressure and conflict, the local dollar would buy two US dollars.

If the birth of Zimbabwe, like all births, had been bloody, the new child was hardly ready for independent life and mistakes were inevitable. The first was the effort to deal with the Ndebele. Almost like a specter from the distant past, the Shona leadership, remembering the carnage wrought by Ndebele Impi’s in the years from 1835 to 1893 when they rampaged across the region killing all adult males and taking cattle and women at will and resenting their continued spirit of independence from the rest of the country, sought to crush their spirit and mounted a genocidal campaign they called the “storm that washes clean”. By 1987 that was achieved and a broken and humiliated Zapu bowed to mammon and accepted integration into the Zanu led State.

Although the white settlers had made the country their home, they seldom bothered to learn the local languages, did not understand the political and social cultures of the people among whom they lived and dominated. Instead they automatically took it that they were a superior race and that they had a divine right to rule.

So when the Shona leadership of Zanu PF took control of the country after independence, although they had been living together for 87 years, neither side really understood the other and deep seated hurts and legacies were never dealt with. Despite the savage liberation war there was no “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” and these painful legacies were left in the ground to fester.

On top of that, the short sighted white leadership had not prepared any sort of succession plan, they simply stuck to the outdated mantra that they knew best and would remain in charge despite their tiny minority status. As a result, men and women who had never managed anything more sophisticated than a cash box in a bush camp, suddenly found themselves in charge of a small, but quite sophisticated economy. Because of the harsh conditions imposed at the Lancaster House negotiations with the help of the “Front Line States” the new leadership had to compromise with the retreating white minority.

However as soon as this mantle had been thrown off by time and Mr. Mugabe was in firm control of all aspects of the State, the delinquency emerged; an unsustainable budget deficit was maintained, the State simply printed money to bridge the gap. Remaining white control of the private sector and especially commercial agriculture was left alone, the commercial farmers, thinking they were secure, kept to themselves, stayed out of politics and went on farming. For 20 years, the one sector that carried on growing on a consistent basis, was agriculture.

Then in 2000, the first real opposition emerged and said that the monopoly of power in the State was no longer acceptable. The people demanded real change and the fight with the MDC began. The Zanu PF leadership, knowing only that they had taken power by force of arms in 1980, reverted to the one game they knew well. In the subsequent 16 years, the country’s population has declined by a third, incomes have crashed to the lowest in Africa and malnutrition and poverty have become endemic. Thousands have died, millions have fled the conflict and the great majority of the white Rhodesians who had made the country their home, have emigrated to greener pastures. Many are destitute as all they owned was invested in the country of their birth.

But for me at Independence at 36, it has not all been negative. We have survived the holocaust, as a nation we have all suffered and in a very real sense have begun to feel and think like a nation – not whites and blacks, Shona and Ndebele, Ndau or Tonga. We now know what does not work and that is a great foundation for building the future. The past year has been the last year under Mr. Mugabe’s rule and hopefully we can at last start to rebuild our broken country with new, younger leadership no longer bound by the shackles of our past.


  • comment-avatar
    Piankhi 4 years ago

    I agree with most of what you are saying on the Independence of Zimbabwe for Indigenous Zimbabweans. But the issue of the whites that still remain is a non factor. If Zimbabwe wants true freedom you must leave behind the thought that white somehow brought change to Zimbabwe in terms of development. Whites developed nothing here. They used the free labor and torture of the native Zimbabweans Shona and Ndebele people for the own benefit. From 1980 until 2000 the white still had a free hand in land ownership and where the only people that profited again from the low cost labor of Zimbabweans who still received nothing major in terms of wages. The land reform was necessary as Britain lied and never honored the Lancaster Agreement Signed to compensate white farmers from Britain on what they had invested over time. They didn’t hold their end of the bargain. So what government did to take the land was necessary as common Zimbabwean still had nothing. Was the land reform done in a bad way? Yes.. But all the same it had to be done. Government did have a plan to keep the farms producing at the time and that was a mistake. But again, something is worth the struggle. You cannot say things are bad in Zimbabwe because the land was taken from the Whites. Blacks received nothing much from white farmer was really making on the export market. Yes the President made many mistakes, and corrupt came to play a role. But today to have ownership of your ancestors land is the most important. Zimbabwean will learn for them to survive. That is the struggle. And you never give up on your struggle as an oppressed people. I have no sympathy for any of the whites that remain here. You cannot take something from a group of people that stole it in the first place. Be clear about that. White people should have not options in this country. They are here out of the rape, robbery, and murder or the native black Zimbabweans. Our people have been oppressed for so long they have come to sympathize for their oppressor as if they are helpless to survive. This is the mindset that has been taught to all African people worldwide. They call it stock holms syndrome. The oppressed have been trained to sympathize with their former oppressors as for so long they depended on the crumbs that were given to them as normal. So our people today do not aspire to greater development because they are still taught their oppressors, culture, religions, system of government and schools. No African country on this continent will ever be free unless they do away with all what their oppressor left them. Back to our culture, listen to our ancestors, live the way of life that is in our DNA. I do not disregard how the government is being run today. It is only an extension of what the Smith regime left. That is the problem. Same government systems but just a black face on it today. We as African people still listen to the same people, who invaded our lands, kidnapped our people and shipped them worldwide for their benefit only and today now that they do not have physical control of African countries but they still have mental control through their political structures they left. It’s called a struggle for a reason. To get to a point where you no longer have to depend on your oppressor to survive. Life and death are a part of the struggle. But letting your enemy back in the door as if they have some kind of saving grace for your people is insane. How can a slave and a slave master, worship the same GOD. It is a fool that lets his oppressors teach his children. You are doing battle with your enemy. But yet you send your children to your enemies’ schools. They struggle we have as African worldwide is we will not let go of our enemies image. And as long as we consider everything great that is from our enemies we will stay in bondage to their every word. Live for something greater than what your enemy has tricked you to believe. Or die for nothing as we do every day. Forget Hope, Faith, and Belief, all of that was given to our people from their oppressors. But control our own FATE.

    • comment-avatar
      Roberta Mugarbage 4 years ago

      Your mindset is obsolete.
      Move on and get used to your brave new indigenised world.
      Western morals do not apply, economical chaos and corruption is part of what we expect from Africans.
      In Africa, lion hunt impala, crocodiles eat wildebeast, and given a chance, Shona will chase foreigners and Ndebele.

      • comment-avatar
        Piankhi 4 years ago

        Oh now it’s you foreigners and Ndebeles. You devils are so funny. You want to play the victim now. Seem there was a time when you white devils murdered as many Zulus as you could. Now they are your brothers in persecution. Oh my. Now your the victims. Wow. Your people go from demons to Angels. Here’s an ideal. Just go back the same route you came from to your homeland. And when your all back in your original home and house us blacks will come back to our home and house. Then we can call it even. You do not bother us in Africa and we surely will not bother you in your caves. Is that a deal? You have you land completely void of our people and the same for us blacks. We deal with our house and the same for you. You offer us no advice about what goes on in our house and we will do the same for you. Ok

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    Ralph Macleod 4 years ago

    You are a silly person who appears to continue to look backwards. The whites who originated from Rhodesia/Zimbabwe are now settled and living throughout the world and no longer wish to come back to a destroyed country they once knew. So do not worry yourself, Zimbabwe is all yours.

  • comment-avatar
    Joe Cool 4 years ago

    Anybody got a spare cage for this guy?

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    IAN SMITH 4 years ago

    So why is the indigenous unable to manufacture a bicycle in this day and age? With all the manuals out there even a wooden bike would be a break through.

    Does this have something to do with the in ability to think?

    Happy Zimbabwe Ruins Day.

  • comment-avatar
    IAN SMITH 4 years ago


    Sadly if you had a math lesson and understood the concept of doubling pennies which is exactly the same as human doubling.you would know that skin color is controlled by exposure to the sun and elements.

    How ever it is nice to see that you all dressed up in your loin skin from that lion you so bravely fought and ate. Though that head wound you sustained has messed up your brain.

    Your brothers and sisters living in UK given refuge by you fair skinned human kind, send their best wishes and a few English pounds so no need to run to catch your next meal just present it to the person in the strange square structure for some nyama

    Enjoy Human technology

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    Roberta Mugarbage 4 years ago

    So you have begun to think and feel like a nation?
    You do not have the right to speak in the name of the Ndebele or the former settlers.
    Do us a favour and keep your intelligence south of the equator.

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    Doris 4 years ago

    Interesting. It’s a fact that up to 1967 most white farmers employed their labor from Mozambique or Zambia or Malawi. Why? Because the locals didn’t want to work, especially in Mashonaland. They were known as the laziest and most inexperienced in Southern Africa. And furthermore blacks could, and indeed did, buy commercial farms during Smiths era. And just to really get up your nose, Piankhi, the white farmers all helped them in every aspect such as ploughing, getting irrigation running efficiently etc. Some of those black farmers have also had their farms stolen.
    Which shows you what a farce the so called land reform programme was.

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    Johnny B 4 years ago

    The whites had far more interest the culture of the blacks that Mugabe ever had, this can be confirmed all the way back in 1967 – New African Chief installed in Gutu – you can find a video on YouTube. A celebration by the Rhodesian forces honouring the new chief. The white always respected the culture of the people and did not interfere in tribal law unless in extreme cases. If you want to want to blame anyone for the loss of cultural rule, blame Boss Robert, he has taken everything away from the people of Zimbabwe. Pre 1980 all the workers on our farm use to grow their own crops and have animals for consumption. That all changed in 1980 as Bob had promised them the world. In that he took their culture away from them and made them dependent on the lies he had told them. If you want to say that whites did not make the effort to learn the language then why did the Shona not learn Ndebele and vice versa. I wish I learned more Shona growing up but that I the way it is and it was changing as all my younger cousins were spoken to in Shona by the people that that lived on the farm, their parents insisted on it.

    What people do not see most of all with the farm invasion and this so call land distribution. That was nothing to do with targeting the white people, it was all about hurting the black people. The farm workers voting was one of the main reason that Bob lost the referendum election in 2000. By getting rid of the white farmers he took away the security of the farm workers. The farmers who looked after them, who provided schools, medicine, transport, food etc. My dad had 1500 people living on the farm, of which 120 were employed full time. The remainder were extended family or people who had nowhere to go. Adding to that my dad never stole any land, he offered it to the government in 1984 and received a letter of no interest. The funny thing is that this so call stolen land was stolen before by the Shona that came from the North and the Ndebele that come from the South. Zimbabwe was occupied by the bushman who were chased from their lands which they hunted. Go on about stolen land and all you are is a hypocrite.

    Zimbabwe was better with white people, the country worked better, there was better education, medical treatment, jobs, industry, tourism and the list can go on and on. Most of all the people we looked after. I can guarantee you now that the white man treated the blacks in Zim far better than they are treated now.

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    Piankhi – you are still flogging a dead donkey.

    Racism like yours is what has destroyed the country. You know that which is why you write long diatribes without paragraphs or due consideration.

    I agree with the writer that it was an error not to teach local languages but unfortunately that was the mindset at the time.

    If Zim was free and prosperous maybe your racism could be excused. But it is nor, zimbabwe is a Failed State. It is not “white values” that make for success, it is “world values”