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Revisiting the promise of independence

It is a day that reminds every Zimbabwean of the labour pangs that delivered our country, and birth a new promise for her people.

EACH year on the 18th of April, Zimbabwe celebrates her independence from the bitter 90-year colonial rule.

Made more bitter by the arrogance of Ian Smith that plunged the country into a 15-year armed struggle.

It is a day that reminds every Zimbabwean of the labour pangs that delivered our country, and birth a new promise for her people.

Cheers, chants, and rants

Each year grand speeches are made, hundreds of articles are written and thousands of conversations are held. Perhaps to fill the apprehensive sense of things gone wrong, the speeches, articles, and conversations are always punctuated by some cheers here, some chants there, and rants all over.

My writing today unpacks these cheers, chants, and rants and makes sense of them from a political lens. It also attempts to counsel our political elite on what independence means for the ‘proles’ – to borrow a Newspeak phrase from Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984.

I mischievously revisit then Prime Minister-elect Robert Mugabe’s speech on the eve of Independence to characterise independence not just as a triumph from colonialism, but most importantly as a Zimbabwean promise.

The ‘never again’ kind of promise. A promise of democracy whose national progress works for an ordinary citizen in Makorokoro. The promise of freedom.

No question about commemorating independence

There is no ambiguity in the minds and hearts of conscious citizens that we must commemorate Independence Day. It is not a proposition that must be subject to debate.

It is a patriotic duty that recognises and respects the national sacrifice that my mother and her peers made for me and you, my dear reader, to birth this beautiful country called Zimbabwe.

An end to the ‘long, arduous, and hazardous’ march as Mugabe aptly put it then, where, ‘Death and suffering have been the price we have been called upon to pay for the final priceless reward of freedom and national independence’.

While the performance of subsequent post-independence government must be questioned — as is the democratic right of every citizen — the delivery of our independence must not.

One’s fortune or lack of it in life is not a problem of one’s birth, it is a problem of one’s life choices, actions, and the system in which those choices and actions are made.

As such, Zimbabwe’s birthday must not be faulted but rather the subsequent actions, choices, commissions, and omissions in the delivery of the promise of independence by those in power.

The promise of progress ushered by independence, watered post-independence by empty rhetoric, policy conundrums, greed, and repression has wilted.

The wilted promise of progress

As I have intimated elsewhere in this write-up, independence was a gift wrap carrying a promise. A promise to address the vestiges of colonialism characterised by inequality, human rights violations, violent repression, poverty, land dispossession, unjust taxation, racism, and international isolation — at least a bad currency was not on the list. It carried with it the promise of progress for the masses.

I know even for the millennials and gen-z this sounds all too familiar but I am talking about colonial injustices here. Just reflecting on this gives a sense of fatalism better described by the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr 1849: “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, (the more things change, the more they remain the same.)

In Mugabe’s own words on the eve of independence, he captured the context well, as if for posterity. A baseline by which we would evaluate his and the subsequent governments.

He said: “There are people without land who need land, people without jobs who need jobs, children without schools who need schools, and patients without hospitals who need them. We are also fully aware of the need for increased wages in all sectors of employment.”

This would make for a great campaign speech for the 2028 elections almost a half century into our independence. It demonstrates how much the wheels have come off the promise of independence.

One does not have to be a malcontent to discern this, let alone articulate it. It is a fact of life that with time, political elites gravitate toward the very things they would have fought against. That is when the Independence Day chants become rants.

When liberators stare into the abyss

It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby becomes a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you”.

In many countries and different ages of civilisation — centuries apart, liberators have often morphed to resemble the oppressors they fought against.

This is the sad fact of many political transitions. They often come full circle. The gods of revolutions have a cynical sense of humour I imagine!

Mugabe’s speech again comes in handy here:

“Our independence must thus not be construed as an instrument vesting individuals or groups with the right to harass and intimidate others ... It is not the right to negate the freedom of others to think and act, as they desire.”

Yet he went on to personify the last line in Animal Farm, which reads: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.’

The sad consequence is that it unfairly dents and puts into question the triumph of independence. To think Ian Smith was better — though he was not — is not a sell-out tendency betraying ingratitude for the pain of liberation, but an expression of disappointment.

An expression of disappointment that liberators later adorn the same robes and wield the same instruments, which are relics of colonial injustice.

The liberation invoice

As our independence and its euphoria recede into the past, as does Mugabe’s speech on the eve of Independence Day, the ideals, hopes, aspirations, and promise of progress do not.

It remains alive now as it was then. Only now it has been convoluted by what I call the ‘liberation invoice’ which ordinary Zimbabweans and the born free generation are constantly presented with.

The debt is presented through such rhetoric as  ‘we died for this country’. The so-called born free generation, while grateful for the sacrifices of the liberation fighters begins to have a sense that they are trapped in a perpetual odious debt.

The ‘liberation invoice’ is a handy tool instrumentalized to silence those asking uncomfortable questions, to dismiss them as having no right to ask those questions. It manifests as arrogant entitlement to privileges, compensation, and rewards and everything Zimbabwe has to offer.

And each time, Zimbabweans have to pay it. ‘Banotisukisa debwe len’ombe yatisakadla’ as my Kalanga forebearers would say (they make us tan the hide of a cow whose beef we never ate.)

Our liberators sometimes sound and behave more like soldiers of fortune whose only interest is squandering the spoils of independence, at the expense of everyone and anything else and at whatever cost!

But when you come to think of it, maybe it is the born-free generation that has arrogant entitlement syndrome. What has it done to earn freedom for itself?

As Frantz Fannon charges, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it”.

The sober view

Since I am piggybacking on Mugabe’s oratory skills today, let me declare soberly through one of his quotes that, ‘Zimbabwe will never be a colony again’. There is no question about that.

All active citizens must vigilantly guard the gains of the liberation struggle given expression by our National Constitution and the definition of the national interest.

That is the patriotic duty of every Zimbabwean. And the gain of the liberation struggle is the promise of independence.

The promise of progress. The promise of freedom.

The ‘never again’ promise that people will not be dispossessed of their land and that they will not be asked to carry a burden of unjust taxation.

I do not need to go on and on about the promise of independence on education, health, jobs etc. Mugabe did a good job articulating that on 17th April 1980.

 We can do better.

This is my sober view; I take no prisoners.

  • Dumani is an independent political analyst, he writes in his personal capacity. X - @NtandoDumani.


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