Thirty years on

zim_flagAnyone over 40 will remember the excitement of the days surrounding 18 April 1980. We had waited so long that it seemed hard to grasp the truth of it when it came. It was a time marked by reconciliation and hope.

Thirty years on we know that these decades have not lived up to the hope we had then but this is no cause for despair. The title of a recent history of the country, Becoming Zimbabwe, A History from the pre-Colonial Period to 2008, edited by Brian Raftopoulos and Alois Mlambo and published by Weaver Press, expresses our situation precisely.

We are becoming Zimbabwe. The country may have been born during those salad days but like any infant it battles to become what it wants to be. And it is still searching for its identity, an identity which will only come through a social contract hammered out by governors and governed. We are not there yet.

In passing it is of interest to note that Poland, at present going through the trauma of burying its president and 95 other leading figures, is a country so sure of its identity that its people can tear each other apart verbally without in any way impinging on each others rights.

Commentators tell us that they have fierce wrangles in the Parliament there and bitter exchanges in the media about virtually everything. And the president himself was quite unpopular. But none of this is relevant to the present tragedy where the whole county comes together to mourn their loss.

The book has eight authors, each taking a section of our history reaching back to before there were written records. It does not claim to enter into detail. How could it in a mere 232 pages? But it does describe the main influences and events, especially of the past 120 years. For me the key to the book is page 95, where Mlambo describes the turning point in the mid 1950s:

The multiracial enterprise eventually collapsed when the African elite became frustrated by the unwillingness of the establishment to advance their interests beyond a certain point and they realised that they were being taken for a walk down the proverbial garden path It was then that they turned their backs on white liberals and joined hands with the masses that they had spurned in the past to build a militant African nationalist movement that was now demanding one man, one vote.

The rest, as they say, is history. Up to that point African leaders, such as Nathan Shamuyarira, Herbert Chitepo, Lawrence Vambe, Jasper Savanhu, Stanley Samkange, Enoch Dumbutshena and Charles Mzingeli, had tried to engage the colonial government in a gradual but substantial recognition of their aspirations. But the white government refused to listen and from that point on the lines were drawn in a divide that has cast its shadow right into the present.

African leaders felt they had no choice but to take an increasingly radical approach and in the process they learnt authoritarian ways. The word sell-out came into our vocabulary and anyone opposed to the leadership was labelled a puppet, an enemy, a totemless foreigner or simply a traitor. All this came in the 1960s and is still with us. We have still much work to do to become Zimbabwe.

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