By Alex Magaisa
IN the seemingly endless quest to define its future, Zimbabwe continues to be haunted by its difficult and traumatic past. Opinion is divided over the relevance of the past in the context of the present struggle to dislodge a tyrannical regime and establis
h a democracy.
In particular, the liberation struggle of the 60s and 70s remains hotly-contested territory as current political actors lay different claims and some question the necessity and relevance of these claims.
The question as to whether or not the liberation struggle is relevant in the current discourse, is one that invites deeply divided opinions and sometimes causes emotional tension depending on each person’s platform.
Should the liberation struggle feature at all in the current struggle for democracy? Or is it simply a thing of the past, irrelevant and ready to be buried in the archives? Is making reference to the liberation struggle a sheer waste of time representing nothing but misplaced priorities?
It is common cause that the liberation struggle paved the way for an Independent Zimbabwe. It may seem strange to some that people in Zimbabwe could question references to that important part of the country’s history. It is important therefore to put things into context, and understand why people in Zimbabwe have developed an indifferent attitude towards the liberation struggle and Pan-Africanism in general.
People who question the rhetoric in relation to the liberation struggle do so not because they disrespect the struggle itself or those who made sacrifices at the time, but because it has been trivialised by those who purport to be the exclusive custodians of its legacy.
It is the way the legacy of liberation has been handled that has caused people to view those who make references to it with considerable suspicion and at times even disdain.
The ruling party appears to have succeeded in monopolising ownership of the struggle, thereby alienating a large section of the population, now too embarrassed to be associated with anything to which Zanu PF lays claim.
Because of a band of selfish individuals Zimbabweans are no longer comfortable to identify with a defining process of their history. And with that the values and principles for which men and women sacrificed their lives, values and principles to which people should refer as they map their future, have been trivialised. But let us explore why people are no longer comfortable with this epic period.
The challenge for those who wish to use the liberation struggle within the current political landscape is to sell the idea differently and make it relevant to the struggle. The task is to differentiate the approach from that which has largely led to people’s indifference and dismissive attitude.
First, the liberation struggle has been largely privatised under the current regime. At each opportunity the history of the struggle has been represented through the lens of Zanu PF.
The lens permit only narrow and short-sighted vision, which is selective. An interesting and thorough assessment of the treatment of history and related issues has been given elsewhere by Professor Terry Ranger, eminent scholar on Zimbabwean history. The result however is that other participants have been deleted from the pages of history, their contribution downgraded not because they did anything wrong against the nation but because they fell out of line with the current Zanu PF regime.
Zanu PF has succeeded in making everyone believe that it is the rightful custodian of the liberation struggle legacy. This has fed into the perception that any person who speaks about the liberation struggle is therefore a Zanu PF sympathiser. Unsurprisingly, many people who should rightly take pride in the struggle have become disillusioned by what appears to have become a personal project of the few selected ones.
Second, the liberation struggle has been manipulated to justify monopolisation of political space. It has been argued that participation in the liberation struggle is a prerequisite for national leadership. For example, prior to the 2002 presidential election, the leadership of the military forces declared that they would only swear allegiance to a person who participated in the struggle, thereby tacitly disqualifying Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC candidate.
Indeed, in institutions and organs of the state including parastatals, liberation struggle credentials seem to take precedence over managerial ability. This monopolisation of political and economic space on the index of participation in the struggle has alienated those outside of the ruling party. Worse, it has alienated and sidelined the younger generation who were too young (and most were not born) to have participated in the struggle but are now eligible on other points of merit to take senior positions in the public sector.
Unsurprisingly, the young men and women see the liberation struggle as a tool that is used to deny them space by a selfish older generation. For them the liberation struggle has become a hindrance rather than opening gateways, hence the scepticism being expressed by the younger generation. Their energy and potential is lost in the process.
Third, the liberation struggle has been used as the basis of justifying some of the worst human rights violations in recent years. In order to claim legitimacy for their actions, Zanu PF has defined its agenda as a continuation of the liberation struggle.
In recent years this has been symbolised by identifying the chaotic and predictably destructive land invasions as the Third Chimurenga.
People complain that there is no democratic culture, no tolerance and the state is behaving worse than its colonial predecessor. The economy has never seen harder times. This has riled and alienated most people who have borne the brunt of the clampdown and economic deterioration. Indeed some people have begun to question the essence and purpose of the liberation struggle itself — even arguing that in economic terms, life was better before Independence.
Only a minority in political leadership has enjoyed the fruits of liberation, leaving the bulk of the suffering people to question whether it was worth the pain in the first place. Not surprisingly, many people feel less attachment to the liberation process, instead seeing themselves as being currently engaged in a liberation struggle of their own.
The same issues arise in relation to Pan-Africanism. It sounds right from a theoretical perspective. However, this concept has been much abused and has become meaningless to the majority of the people on the continent.
Various dictators have used it to justify their positions even if it meant sacrificing the rights of the people. Because of its tangled history and failure to make positive change to their lives, people tend to view it with distrust and are sceptical when someone uses the concept.
The cynical go on to say that they do not eat Pan-Africanism — they too need the bacon and sausages on the breakfast tables of those who pontificate about Pan-Africanism.
It is not because the concept is wrong on its own, but it has been tainted by association and is meaningless when it has not delivered people from their misery.
People see it as a way of justifying solidarity between the leadership of African countries, which does not translate to the people on the ground. It is seen as support between the leadership without the necessary accountability. It is worthless when Pan-Africanism excludes holding each other to account.
It is a shame that Zanu PF has succeeded in privatising the liberation struggle, which in truth was national effort, with different actors, each playing a crucial role. Did they not say that they were the fish and the people were the water?
It is a shame that people have been made to distrust anyone connected to, or who refers to a key period in our history. Each year across the world, nations gather to remember those who sacrificed their lives for liberation.
They never forget. They take pride in it. They recall the values and principles that made men and women leave the comfort of their homes and families to go into battle. Each year they gather as a constant reminder of the values that they should hold dear and safeguard.
Zimbabweans too must never forget. In that period lies the very key to freedom that everyone is looking for. They did not sacrifice their lives in vain. I do not think that we should succumb to the prevailing dictates and feel ashamed or embarrassed about the liberation struggle. It is a shame that we are now so embarrassed to talk publicly about the liberation struggle. It is a shame that we now treat with suspicion anyone who makes reference to the liberation struggle.
One of the key challenges for the future is to restore lost pride, to excavate the values now buried in the privatisation project and make them relevant for the future. The truth is that the story of the liberation struggle is not simply that of the lion alone but one in which all other animals, great and small, were participants.
The fact that the lion monopolises the story should not deter the other animals from claiming their spaces.
Whatever the difficulties, it is not right for people to give up their right to own what rightfully and legitimately belongs to them. It may have been trivialised and therefore appearing meaningless, but it is certainly not worthless.
The challenge for those who talk about it is to demonstrate its relevance and to differentiate it from the privatised commodity that has been created by the current system.
*Dr Magaisa can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.