via Independence — What Independence? April 16, 2014 by Jera for NewsDay
This week, Zimbabwe celebrates 34 years of freedom. Many Zimbabweans will be asking themselves if indeed they enjoy the liberties for which they fought. It is easy to deceive the world, but lying to oneself is near impossible.
The 1970s liberation war was primarily about freedom and equality. Upon attainment of independence, President Robert Mugabe received international accolades for his reconciliation speech: “Let us beat our weapons into plough shears.” The country recorded unprecedented growth in education, health, mining and agriculture. Zimbabwe was a land where children could have kicked about loaves of bread in the playgrounds.
In our joy, we neglected to create a nation where politicians are accountable to the electorate. While the majority celebrated the freedom to walk in First Street and to send their children to any school of their choice, Mugabe and Zanu PF were silently reshaping the country into one where their power was absolute.
Any persons with differing opinions were systematically silenced and, often, violently. The mass graves of Matabeleland prove it. Others mysteriously vanished and car accidents were orchestrated. Scandals were created to depose those in positions of power that held no Zanu PF membership cards. Soon, Mugabe had allies in all parastatals. Still, the masses continued with life as normal, either uncaring or blind to what was going on. People with full stomachs generally do not grumble. If ever they complain, their grievance is that of new toys. The Zim dollar at independence was as powerful as the American dollar.
Those that wished for trinkets simply imported. But near the turn of the century, something went wrong and it was not the Y2K computer crash. The war vets — the band of fighters who claim a monopoly over the achievement of independence — saw the lavish lives of their seniors. They too wanted a piece of the Zimbabwean pie — $50K gratuities were paid to each. The country’s economy shook like an earthquake.
Next, we went on a gem hunt in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Zim dollar nosedived on a day that shall always be remembered as “Black Friday”. Shoppers from neighbouring countries besieged our stores, taking everything in sight. The natives became restless. They organised themselves into a formidable resistance. From the offices in Rotten Row, came a collective cry of “Oh shucks!” Zanu PF, accustomed to guerilla tactics, sent militia onto the white-owned commercial farms, evicting 100 years of agricultural knowledge. Banks who were owed millions of dollars by the farmers creaked under the weight of bad debts.
In place of the capable farmers, came ministerial fatcats who farm only on weekends. After the fatcats had eaten their fill, they left the scraps to their cronies, who did not have two pennies to rub together. “We just put the seed into the ground. How hard can it be?” they thought. Farming, like all business, requires capital. Countries that once supported us folded their arms in silence. When asked for government-to-government assistance, they said these three biting words – rule of law.
What followed was 10 years of chaos. It has often been referred to as “the lost decade” — an inappropriate term, considering that the pain will never be lost to those that endured it.
To ensure political survival, a once colour-blind government hurled racial taunts. Attempts at civil disobedience were quashed by the brutal police and army, who beat up the very people they swore to protect. The oppressive ruling party mobilised itself behind a new mantra: “Zimbabwe will never be a colony again”.
They found labels to attach to the opposition — calling them puppets of the West and proponents of homosexuality, as if same-sex relations began in 1999. In the first 20 years of independence, nothing had been said about land redistribution.
Thirty-four years later, ordinary people can only whisper their complaints, while casting furtive glances over their shoulders. Thinking they would liberate themselves through the ballot box, they found that even with the highest literacy rate in Africa, there were agents of the State, ready to assist them in placing their X in the only acceptable spot.
Three decades post-uhuru, rural voters are still forced to attend Zanu PF rallies, which war vets leader Jabulani Sibanda calls “orientation” — a term used during the bush war. For years, it was compulsory for citizens to carry IDs, a law which smelt suspiciously like Rhodesia’s native pass laws. Recently, the Justice minister said the repressive Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act is still the law of the land and will remain in force until amended by Parliament, despite the Act being in conflict with the new Constitution. Zanu PF holds a two-thirds majority in Parliament, so the alignment of laws to the new Constitution will not be prioritised, especially when delays benefit the ruling party.
Whites have been barred from owning agricultural land, even if they hold Zimbabwean citizenship. At this point, it is necessary to restate that the war was about the removal of oppression. Oppression by any race is still oppression.
Beyond just the matter of civil liberties, Zimbabweans find themselves pining for a bygone era. Parents who thought their children had grown up now find themselves with their unemployed offspring as tenants.
Those that thought they had escaped Rhodesia’s litter-free ghettos now sit in silent introspection, surrounded by a nationwide slum where flies buzz over pools of raw sewage and mountains of uncollected garbage. After working 40 hours a week for a lifetime, pensions are only enough to buy a basket of groceries. Two million Zimbabweans face starvation while surrounded by arable land.
The country’s gross domestic product per person, $732 in 1974, was recorded at $344 last year, indicating lower income. With continuing business closures, the figure is likely to be lower in 2014.