Today, Zimbabwe celebrates 39 years of independence. For those who were old enough to witness the new national flag being hoisted amid euphoria and expectations, this could be the time to reflect on the country’s journey of self-rule and democracy. But for those born after 1980, April 18 has become a day where one has to look into the future.
The story of the country’s hard-won independence inspired many people in Africa and beyond. The message of reconciliation which was preached by founding Prime Minister Robert Mugabe (who later became the executive President of the Republic of Zimbabwe) charmed the international community.
This was a full 14 years before Nelson Mandela would invest in the same national reconciliation in South Africa. Interestingly, Mandela was seen as a saint to the end, while Mugabe was turned from a saint to a “sadist” by the same people who hailed him from abroad in 1980 when he launched his reconciliation programme. Mugabe’s crime was land reform in Zimbabwe while Mandela left land reform hanging in the air in South Africa.
Reggae icon Bob Marley was one of the major highlights on Zimbabwe’s special day – April 18, 1980. In the passage of time, the journey has not been a bed of roses. Success stories have been abundant, such as high literacy levels and improved healthcare. But as time lapsed some gains have been reversed and hope has turned to economic despair. Here economic and political sanctions imposed by the West on account of the land reform programme, have played a huge part.
Today, Zimbabwe’s Uhuru comes on the backdrop of rising prices, which have reduced purchasing power. The country’s statistical agency this week announced that annual inflation has increased to 66%, from a single digit in September 2018.
Unlike in other developed countries where the majority of the population is ageing, Zimbabwe has a vibrant youthful population anxiously waiting for a breakthrough.
Thousands have graduated from universities and other tertiary institutions and all they need is a government that facilitates the creation of jobs, or rather help their entrepreneurial dreams come true. Sadly, that has not been the case for many. Graduates have either fled this country to seek better opportunities elsewhere or have been turned into street vendors and hustlers who have to endure running battles with the city authorities just to eke out a living. Hospitals are under-stocked and diseases like cholera and typhoid have claimed lives.
When President Mugabe resigned on November 21, 2017, ending his 37- year rule, the young and old celebrated as there was renewed hope in a country that was once known as the Jewel of Africa. His successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, promised to break with the past and introduce wholesome reforms.
This is the journey that we are now on. The past two years have seen many tightening their belts as the economy floundered. Young adults are yearning to see a stable currency in their lifetime. and pensioners want their lifetime savings protected. All these, and more, are the challenges that confront Mnangagwa’s government.
As we salute those men and women who made this day possible, we also make a clarion call to the authorities to fulfil the promises they made when white minority rule ended. We also urge our rulers to be inclusive in their approach. In this same breath, we encourage full commitment to the letter and spirit of political dialogue in Zimbabwe. Both the government and the opposition should come out of their entrenched boxes and engage one another. Unless and until that can be done, independence celebrations can be seen as much ado about nothing.