The 1970s bush war was primarily about freedom and equality. Upon attainment of independence, 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, Robert 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 Matebeleland 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, Robert Mugabe had allies in all parastatals.
Uncaring or blind
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 Zimdollar at independence was twice 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 grants were paid to each. There were beerhall jokes about warvets who went to their rural homes and they capsized scotch-carts full of fresh cabbage into cattle kraals. They cattle mooed their appreciation. The country’s economy shook like an earthquake.
Next we went on a gem hunt in DRC. To conceal our agenda, we disguised the treasure hunters as soldiers. The pawns in our scheme – the foot soldiers – perished in their hundreds. We snuck their corpses into the country via the smaller airports, such as Vic Falls. The public, reading only the sanitized version of events in a government-run newspaper knew very little. On the only available TV station, images of our troops, engaging phantom enemy soldiers, were shown to create the picture of invincibility.
But in the hospitals, drug supplies began to dwindle, with medicine being diverted to the war effort. Numbers of course are difficult to contradict. The Zimdollar nosedived on a day that shall always be remembered as Black Friday. Shoppers from neighbouring countries besieged our stores, hoovering 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 guerrilla 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 fat cats who farm only on weekends. After the fat cats 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 3 biting words – ‘rule of law.’
The Lost Decade
What followed was 10 years of chaos. It has often been referred to as ‘the lost decade’ – an inappropriate name, 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.
34years 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 electorate is still forced to attend Zanu (PF) rallies, which war vet, Jabulani Sibanda calls ‘orientation’ – a term used during the bush war.
For years it was compulsory for citizens to carry IDs, a law which smelled suspiciously like Rhodesia’s native pass laws. Recently the justice minister said the repressive Criminal and Codification 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 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 – ‘ndayarutsa’ – now find themselves with their unemployed offspring as tenants. Millions living abroad fearing poverty and persecution for their opinions have only an illusion of liberty. Free to walk into Tesco, Walmart and Pick N Pay but not at all free to return home, where retribution or hunger awaits.
Those who thought they had escaped Rhodesia’s litter-free ghettos – from Mbare to Mabelreign, from Gwabalanda to Hillside – now sit in silent introspection, surrounded by a nationwide slum where flies buzz over pools of raw sewerage and mountains of uncollected garbage. After working 40 hours a week for a lifetime, pensions are only enough to buy a basket of groceries.
The foreign-based children they sent to school – hoping to escape poverty – are now mired in bankruptcy, as they support destitute parents. Two million Zimbabweans face starvation while surrounded by arable land.
The country’s GDP 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.
The people of Masvingo took it as an honour when the new country was named in their dialect – Zimbabwe, house of stones – but now all they have to eat is boulders as the flood waters rise. Not only is government too broke to assist them, but the state has in fact threatened to starve them if they do not move to a new settlement. Following threats to demolish houses in Chitungwiza, without providing alternative accommodation, the opposition party has labelled government as ‘worse than the Smith regime.’
At the country’s independence celebrations, a national event constantly hijacked by Zanu (PF), Happison Muchechetere’s $1M outside broadcast van will be in attendance, affording President Mugabe another opportunity to unleash his habitual and counterproductive vitriol onto Britain, homosexuals and the opposition. Face to face with our truthful conscience, many ask if, 34 years later, we are indeed free? – My pen is capped. Jera. Twitter: @JeraAfricaPost published in: Opinions & Analysis