Two weeks after the last watershed general elections in Zimbabwe, I went back home on a pilgrimage, to connect myself with the people and the land of my birth. The mood of the people, this time round, was in sharp contrast with the electric atmosphere and euphoria of 1980, when Zimbabweans ululated, sang and danced to the Chimurenga war songs; united in purpose, proud, full of hope and with a great sense of destiny.
The liberation war, which was essentially fought between blacks and whites, had been protracted, bitter, brutal and bloody. Then, unexpectedly, the new Prime Minister, Mr Robert Gabriel Mugabe, made an amazing speech, pretty much in the mould of Martin Luther King’s famous 1963 speech: “I have a dream”.
The new premier eloquently, and like a pied piper, asked Zimbabweans of all races, creeds and tribes to turn their swords into ploughshares, to forgive one another and to forge ahead in unity to rebuild the country.
In the same speech, he humbly reminded Zimbabweans: “My party recognises the fundamental principle that in constituting government, it is necessary to be guided by the national interest rather than by strictly party considerations.”
That was magnanimous, wasn’t it? That was then. But this time round when I went ‘home’ to see my kinsmen, at least those who are still in the country, the mood was completely different. There was a muted and eerie silence. People spoke in clichés: “Let them rule”, “The Zim dollar is coming back”. “What can we do?” “SADC is useless”.
Everywhere I went, the mood was the same – sombre. The voices were low and glum, reminiscent of the apathy of the animals in George Orwell’s Animal Farm when the animals discovered that their cardinal rule “All animals are equal” had been altered to read “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. Because of their apathy, the animals did nothing to stop the fraud of their leaders, the pigs. They even promised to work harder than ever before.
I went to a pub in Harare’s Mufakose Township, a political hot-bed, where I met Tafadzwa (literally meaning ‘we have been made happy’), a cheerful and stocky young man perhaps in his thirties. He did not hide his MDC affiliation. At the far end of the greasy counter where he sat surrounded by a group of his peers enjoying their beer, he scurrilously denounced the outcome of the elections: “Zanu (PF) stole the elections. These chaps are there simply to plunder our country. I don’t see how our country is ever going to improve with these people in power.”
A fairly old man interjected: “You young fellows who support the MDC, the problem with you is that you have no direction. This country was liberated with our blood, and we are not going to allow it to be re-colonised by the same settlers whom we fought before. As for you (pointing at me, menacingly) I can see you are driving a nice car with a foreign number. You are a sell-out. Why did you run away from the country?”
As I went round the country talking to different people, the same polarisation was evident, especially between the privileged and the deprived. Like in Masvingo where I had gone to see an ailing friend of mine. I met a boisterous group of youths at Mupandawana growth point. They were pulling down MDC election campaign posters, contemptuously denouncing its members as traitors who should be dealt with because they were puppets of the British and Americans.
Why was there now so much acrimony and antagonism? The more I met fellow countrymen and women with almost the same harrowing tales of despair, pain and despondency, their devastating narratives began to prick my conscience. An inner voice kept on asking: “What needs to be done to make tomorrow a better day for Zimbabwe?”
After returning to Gaborone, I went to Johannesburg to fix my car. As usual, Egoli was hustling and bustling with sleek cars that continually honked their horns, a cacophony of them, plying the arteries of smooth and well-kept roads that lead to the heart of the golden city. Monster passenger planes, one after the other, were descending to land at Oliver Tambo Airport.
Oliver Tambo! That gallant son of Zimbabwe was blown up on March 18, 1975. The imperialists slew him. Did they? Wasn’t he slain by some ambitious rogue ‘comrades’ of his inner circle? The mystery of his gruesome death will be unravelled one day, will it not? The imponderable thing, though, is whether he would have made a difference had he lived long after independence. I remember very well his promise: “Comrade, once we have liberated ourselves, Zimbabwe will become a free, democratic and just society.”
Back in the present. While I waited for my car to be attended to, I grabbed The Star newspaper and started flipping through the pages.
I couldn’t see the two neatly dressed gentlemen opposite me because of the papers they were reading, but then Mr Ncube was called to the counter. It was Obed Ncube, a secondary school maths teacher I had known for many years in Zimbabwe.
I asked him why he had left Zimbabwe where he had distinguished himself as a brilliant maths teacher.
“Nothing was working in Zimbabwe and corruption was rampant. I joined the MDC because I realised that we needed change in Zimbabwe. Then, one night, Zanu (PF) thugs came to my house in Mucheke Township and kidnapped me to their military base.”
He stopped talking and began to sob. He took off his tweed jacket and cream-white shirt. “You see what those bastards did to me?” His back was covered in lacerations and one of his fingers was missing. The scars were so deep, it was difficult to get him to maintain an upright posture.
“Is this democracy”? He sobbed uncontrollably. “Look at how they have rigged the elections? Can you believe that people in Matebeleland who were terrorised by Gukurahundi (the Zimbabwean North Korean trained fifth brigade) overwhelmingly voted for Zanu (PF)? They can steal the elections, all our diamonds, gold and platinum; but they will never be able to steal our indomitable spirit and resolve to be a free and democratic nation. Look at the millions of Zimbabweans who have fled the country.
Here in South Africa alone we have about three million Zimbabweans. The number is even more than those fleeing the civil war in Syria and yet we do not have a war in Zimbabwe.”
I could feel his anguish. Like many other Zimbabweans in exile, their lives were being wasted away. Once again, I heard an inner voice calling: “What needs to be done to make tomorrow a better day for Zimbabwe?”
My journey was a journey into the hearts of fellow citizens both within and outside Zimbabwe. I could see a tragic division foisted on them by their political circumstances. One could detect three configurations. The first clusters around Zanu (PF). This group loosely encompasses a residue of the older generation, the heroes of the liberation struggle, the army, those who control the levers of power, the ‘haves’ and a large segment of the peasants who are parasitically dependent on the system. This disparate group is held together by their ability to access the resources of the country, power and privilege.
The second grouping comprises a simmering cohort of MDC supporters, which brings together remnants of the trade union movement, a fickle young generation frustrated by the lack of jobs and opportunities, professionals whose esteem has been reduced to the lowest common denominator, urban people who toil to eke out a living, students whose future is bleak and the proletariat who have been permanently off-loaded from the labour market because the economy has tragically shrunk. These elements are drawn together by their common frustration with the system and a desire for change.
The third grouping is roughly three to four million Zimbabweans who have been driven out of the country by economic hardships, lack of job opportunities and political persecution.
These are mostly young and middle-aged professionals. This third group is incoherent, disenfranchised and stateless. Unlike at independence in 1980, they appear to have no immediate plans of going home unless there is a ‘real change’ in the political and economic system.
History shows that a country that has millions of its citizens forced to live in exile will never be at peace with itself unless the exiles come back ‘home’.
Although the elections in Zimbabwe have come and gone, there is still the stain of apathy and mistrust. My conscience tells me that we the ‘victors’ and the ‘vanquished’ are one and the same people.
The fact of the matter, still, is that for Zimbabwe to move forward she needs to focus on national rather than partisan interests. So, what are these ‘national considerations’? A perusal of the election manifestos of the main political parties shows that there is already some broad consensus. What needs to be done is to summon our collective wisdom in order to write the final chapter of our destiny. The issues we need to focus on immediately are:
• A plan to direct the overall economic recovery of the country
• An urgent engagement with the western world so that our diplomatic relations can normalise
• The creation of massive employment for the majority of our people in the short and long term
• Major foreign and local investment in the mining sector, agriculture, industry, power and other infrastructure projects
• Modernisation of our education system
• A deliberate and vigorous policy of recruiting back home our professionals in the diaspora to help drive development
• Establishing mechanisms that will allow all Zimbabweans to have lasting peace and freedom.Post published in: Analysis