via Independence and Freedom in Zimbabwe: A King without a Crown May 1, 2014 by Prof Ambrose B. Chimbganda from ZimbabweSituation Facebook notes
Zimbabwe has just ‘celebrated’ its 34 years of independence, and perhaps this is the right time to reflect on the essence of our “independence” and “freedom”.
I say that this is the right time because we have just started our second generation of independence. In the first generation (1980 – 2010) we probably groped our way though the woods, mainly guided by the euphoria and excitement of independence, without asking probing questions about the true meaning of our independence and freedom.
When we got our independence after a protracted, bloody and vicious armed struggle that affected nearly every family in Zimbabwe, I remember very well those moments when many of our people danced, ululated and hugged each other for their achievement. We were comrades then who were bound together by the sacred blood of our martyrs –the fallen heroes and heroines of our struggle.
We had a good story to tell about our heroic struggle. And our independence in April 1980 marked the finest hour in our freedom march. The future looked bright and there was a lot of hope. A new era had dawned in which our people, Africa and the rest of the world had great expectations.
But did we seize this opportunity to bring about genuine political sovereignty? Here, I use the term ‘sovereignty’ to mean ‘self determination’ and ‘the right of the people’ to determine their own destiny through their involvement in decision making processes. As we all know, the right to decide what is best for the people was usurped by a small clique that used “war credentials” as their license to rule. This was an act of betrayal that has gravely damaged the trust and confidence of our people.
In pursuit of the narrow path, the ‘chefs’ have consistently chosen members of parliament and other key government functionaries from a rag-tag of those who supposedly participated in the liberation struggle, their relatives, off-springs and other hangers-on. Consequently, the idea of political independence, which is enshrined in the right of the people to be FULLY in charge of their own affairs, has now become a façade because sovereignty now means the will of an oligarchy, a small group of people who run the government as opposed to that of the vast majority of our people.
Some people might argue that Zimbabwe now has a new constitution that expresses the representative will of the people with a vibrant opposition which articulates the wishes of the disaffected. On the contrary, the changes are simply a perfume, a mere trickery. The fact of the matter is that political emancipation, that is, the process of transferring political rights and freedom to the majority is not yet achieved. The status quo still remains. The small ruling elite is still entrenched in power while the opposition is splitting further and further into factions that make it difficult to release our people from bondage.
To give you an example of how a constitution can be used to express the will of a few people, the constitution of the United States of America which starts with WE THE PEOPLE, was used for over two centuries to keep black people under slavery. Although blacks were part of “the people”, strictly speaking they were not. Because constitutions are superstructures, their implementation depends on the pressure exerted on those who wield political power. And this is why John F. Kennedy, through the unstoppable mass demonstrations of the people in the sixties, was forced to introduce legislation that removed the last vestiges of discrimination against black people.
In the context of Zimbabwe, the inalienable rights of the people, such as individual freedom, liberty, equality, fair and equitable social justice, the right to new economic opportunities, the pursuit of happiness and the right to govern through the consent and free will of the people remains a mirage.
Worse still, our people still do not have impartial law courts, a free press, free and fair elections. They still do not have the right to organize themselves in order to protest against social evils such as institutional corruption. Above all, the notion that government must offer a safety net that supports new ways of living and create opportunities for employment and enterprise are far away beyond the horizon. Is this independence?
Yet in spite of these deprivations, our people still have the crown in their hands: they have the power to change their destiny. The king may rule, but as long as the vast majority of our people have no faith and trust in the political system that governs them, the ultimate jewel of legitimacy will for ever elude the rulers.
One very critical factor that is closely related to political independence is economic control, which is the level of local ownership of the means of production and other major resources. In our context, there are seven key areas that determine the extent to which our people are economically independent. These are the ownership of land, mineral wealth, manufacturing industries, banking, transport and communication, tourism and the retail industry.
Sadly the government which has been in power for over a generation has not been able to bring about meaningful change in order to empower economically the vast majority of our people. Take for instance the land issue. At independence, much of the fertile land was owned by whites who produced the bulk of the food and agro-based raw materials for our industries.
For the first twenty years of our ‘independence’, the government pandered, perhaps rightly so, to the dictates of international parasitic capital and to the owners of the means of production, such as the owners of haciendas (large farms) and multinational companies. During this period, government’s decisions reflected the will of those who created wealth: the ones behind the curtain who had the crown.
And by implication, as Ernesto Che Guevara would argue, “those who control the wealth of the country also control the state”. Our country, therefore, could not let its will prevail because of the potential clash with the powerful interests of those who dominated the country economically. In this situation, the majority of our people remained captives of monopoly capitalism in their own country, except that they could only sell their labour. Could this have been considered genuine independence?
When the government finally decided to reverse the situation after 2000, by redistributing commercial farms owned by whites, the heart of the economy began to bleed. The main reason for this is that although many ordinary citizens benefited from the land seizures, there was no conscious plan for an agrarian reform which would have ensured increased productivity. It was simply a populist take-over with little or no long term economic benefit.
Up to now, many of the beneficiaries of the land seizures have no title deeds which would have made them proud owners of the land. In many ways, they are just glorified land tenants who, like their peasant counter parts in communal areas, cannot use their land as collateral for getting loans to make further developments.
In this land grab saga, the tragedy is that unlike in Cuba where Fidel Castro had the guts to take over the land owned by his father and distributed it among the landless, in our country powerful politicians and those who are well connected have amassed huge tracts of land, much of which sadly lies idle. Because of the government’s bankrupt land policy, we now import maize from Malawi and Zambia. Can we then proudly say we are economically independent? Are we not glorified kings without a crown?
Similarly, the ‘indigenization’ of our mines, banks and industries has had no significant economic benefit because it is not based on economic reality. In a global community where national economies are closely linked, isolating ourselves by forcing investors to cede part of their shares has the inescapable effect of chasing away foreign investment which is necessary for boosting our economy.
To show the emptiness of the policy, can we say we are indigenizing mines when two billion US dollars from the sale of our diamonds disappear without trace? Is indigenization worth-while when so many of our people are losing their jobs through the closure of many industries because no one wants to invest in a country where there is no conducive climate for private investment? As if this is not enough, is the shortage of liquidity not related to the fact that we have surrendered our independence by using the currencies of other countries?
And, if one may ask, is giving Chinese companies a free hand in our mining industry part of the indigenization agenda? Isn’t the Chinese dominance of our economy a form of neo-colonialism as predicted by Kwame Nkrumah? Are the Chinese not the ones who now have the kingly crown and not the quasi rulers of out country?
Without being weak or afraid to tell the truth, we should understand that the Chinese are not motivated by generosity or philanthropy. Like any other super power, their loans, grants or aid is motivated by cutthroat profit. In the case of China, which has the largest and insatiable population in the world, the danger is that we may end up in the jaws of the oriental monster from whose grip it will be difficult to unhinge. And worse still, by the time we realise it, it may be too late to cry freedom.
In an attempt to redeem our continent and achieve real independence, Nelson Mandela in 2000 humbly advises other African leaders that: “We have a limited time to stay on this earth, and as leaders we need to transform our societies so that they can be what we want them to be. We need to inspire our people from despair to hope, from fear to freedom and from wretchedness to dignity”.
Given the fact that our political, economic and social independence is weak and fragile and that the future is uncertain for the country, it is necessary that, as a first step, we, Zimbabweans, should be at peace with each other. We need to immediately open up dialogue among ourselves so that we can plan for the future recovery of our country, to restore our dignity, freedom, justice and establish lasting peace. Let us not fool ourselves by burying our heads in the sand. Zimbabwe is teetering on the brink. Neither ZANU (PF) nor the MDC or any other individual can rescue the country from a possible meltdown.
As a united people in diversity, we can openly engage the free world so that our relations can thaw, and be able to attract investment which will enable our economy to take off. By the same token, we need to issue a special clarion call to our brothers and sisters in diaspora so that they can return home to help drive the process of reconstruction.
This is not the time to dither. It is neither the time to adopt half-hearted measures on indigenization and land reform nor the time for vilification. Collectively, we need to bury our egos because we know that Zimbabwe is bigger than the heart of each one of us. We may have made some mistakes in the past, but we are encouraged by the fact that we can learn more from our failures than our successes.
For our dream to come true, the late president of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan, has precious little advice for us. “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same”.