ON Sunday, Zimbabweans will commemorate — and certainly not celebrate for the majority of impoverished citizens — the 41st anniversary of Independence from Britain in 1980.
Without a shadow of doubt, 18 April 1980 is an important date in the history of the nation. Its significance in a different context is similar to 12 September 1890 when the British colonial pioneer column – under the aegis of Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company – reached Harare from South Africa via Botswana and Matabeleland South province through Tuli.
Indeed, it is also as significant as 3 December 1893, the date of the famous Shangani Patrol – Alan Wilson’s Last Stand – the nerve-jangling historic battle in the jungles when a battalion of colonial troops faced the might of King Lobengula’s army. That marked the end of an era.
There are also many other defining anti-colonial battles that were fought during the protracted struggles, mainly in the 1890s and 1970s.
So 18 April 1980 remains etched in the minds of Zimbabweans. At the beginning it marked the end of a long anti-colonial struggle for self-rule. It also brought an end to concomitant bloodshed.
Above all, it signalled a new beginning. It was a big promise; embodied people’s hopes, aspirations and legitimate expectations of a new society and images of a new dream.
People hoped for better lives, that is to live in a country where the economy performed and offered jobs, good salaries, houses, transport and other critical social services.
Having sacrificed with blood, people expected to live in a reasonably democratic, free and progressive society whose nation-building project was underpinned by the constitution, rule of law, respect for human rights, equal opportunity, justice, freedom and empowerment.
These were some of the many expectations which people had and held.
Video footage of Zanu PF supporters celebrating the late former president (initially prime minister) Robert Mugabe’s victory in 1980 captures ordinary people running across the streets of Salisbury (later Harare) singing and dancing.
Interviews revealed what they expected from Mugabe and his Zanu PF government: jobs, houses, transport, social services and prosperity.
After initial promises of progress shown by some advances in education, health and human capital development, the dream soon turned into a nightmare as bad governance, mismanagement and corruption took root.
Soon after Independence, Mugabe embarked on a fierce campaign of repression and bloodshed that signalled disaster ahead. So from day one, nation-building was on quicksand as Mugabe failed to lay a democratic and sustainable foundation for the future.
What followed the Gukurahundi bloodbath was authoritarian consolidation, one-party state campaign, purges of opposition and civil society voices, relentless human rights abuses and establishment of a corrupt repressive state, ironically anchored on colonial autocratic structures and practices. Those still exist to this day.
This was worsened by leadership, governance and policy failures, as well as corruption and incompetence. Put together, this reduced Zimbabwe to a dystopia.
Founding nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo’s statement encapsulates what everyone now sees: that a nation can gain independence without being free. That is what happened. The country became independent, but not free.
Yet the liberation movement’s mission was to secure independence, free people from oppression and ensure freedom, as well as prosperity.
Judging them by their own objectives and goals, Zimbabwe’s nationalist leaders have been a huge failure and disappointment. They put their lives and those of the people in the line of danger only to end up with a country which in many respects is worse than Rhodesia – a great betrayal.
Those who sacrificed, fought selflessly and died in the struggle did so to free the country from colonial rule, free it from oppression and free it from poverty. But Zimbabwe remains imprisoned by relentless repression and poverty; with Independence just being a mere empty shell.
On Sunday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa will have nothing to offer to the nation as usual.
In fact, it is a scandal that Mnangagwa and Zanu PF leaders call themselves liberators.
They are not liberators or heroes. Definitely not. They simply replaced oppressors, hence they are also oppressors.
Fantz Fanon saw this tragedy from afar decades ago, well before Zimbabwe became independent.
“During the struggle for liberation the leader awakened the people and promised them a forward march, heroic and unmitigated. Today, he uses every means to put them to sleep, and three or four times a year asks them to remember the colonial period and to look back on the long way they have come since then,” Fanon observed.
That is what Mugabe used to do and Mnangagwa is now doing – he wants people to become “drunk on the remembrance of the epoch which led up to independence” and not ask for delivery on the botched promise of Independence.
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