ON Sunday Zimbabwe turns 24. But there
will be no fireworks this year. Independence Day, April 18, has lost the lustre it used to enjoy as narrow partisan interests now hold sway.
The government, in its quest for self-preservation and to ratchet up old revolutionary passion, has in the past two weeks used its media to subject the nation to a jack-hammer assault of propaganda which in some instances has proclaimed hateful messages against minorities and the opposition. As a result Zimbabwe remains polarised along party and social lines — even on a day where everyone should remember the sacrifices made for nationhood.
Political scientist and chairman of Crisis in Zimbabwe Brian Kagoro said there could be reason to celebrate this year.
“I think that we can celebrate,” he said, “that finally before our 24th birthday Mugabe has admitted that his own people have been looting the country,” — a reference to announcements by government that it would probe Zanu PF companies.
Kagoro said the admission by Zimbabwe’s “high priest of politics” was crucial as it marked the beginning of the dismantling of a system that had thrived on heaping blame for its shortcomings on the British.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) last year proclaimed there was nothing to celebrate when the nation was wallowing in poverty. The party said the original goals of liberation struggle — social equality, justice and the equitable utilisation of resources — had been negated by misgovernance and corruption.
In a statement this week MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said the situation on the ground had continued to degenerate. “Unfortunately the 24 years merely registered a period of sustained regression,” said Tsvangirai.
“We have nothing to show for it, except overwhelming poverty, economic decay, a systematic loss of our basic freedoms and a national crisis whose dimensions are mutating and fast becoming more pervasive in every facet of our political, economic and social life.
Millions returned home from exile (at Independence). Today the ordinary citizen is confused and shocked to live in a country where, once again, the forces of democracy are under siege. They are desperate to get out,” he said.
Mass Public Opinion Institute chairman and social scientist Professor Gordon Chavunduka said there was nothing to celebrate.
“There is nothing to celebrate because Independence has not brought happiness to our people,” said Chavunduka. “There is still oppression, there are too many economic problems and the people are not happy.”
“The people can only be happy if the country holds free and fair elections as soon as possible,” he said.
The Independence celebrations have become personal property of Zanu PF hence they have done little to bridge the political divide by advocating national unity and national development.
The celebrations have become uninspiring events where a torrent of official humbug and unfulfilled promises have done little to stir a restive population whose expectations are way beyond party slogans, speeches and food.
Political analysts have pointed out that the Zanu PF government has failed to transform itself from a guerilla movement into a modern political party. They say the party has remained entombed in the revolutionary mantra that it alone brought freedom and therefore it should be the custodian and dispenser of all freedoms and rights. Anyone demanding extra rights outside the prescribed ones is considered a counter-revolutionary and an enemy of the state.
Critics have said Independence Day only reveals the gap between the blessings the ruling elite enjoys and the deprivation of the commoners.
“The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and Independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me,” wrote a former American slave Frederick Douglass in 1852 of the white establishment.
“The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony,” he said.
Douglass’ lament mi-ght sound familiar to Zimbabweans today. The nation, prostrate in its fetters wrought by the Zanu PF government’s political intolerance and gross human rights violations, are being cajoled to fete their poverty.
President Mugabe has used the Independence Day celebrations in the past to cast blame on his adversaries. Mugabe’s main address to the nation on such occasions has criticised foreigners and the opposition for alleged sabotage. At the National Sports Stadium last year — as former minister and political heavyweight Eddison Zvobgo put it — Mugabe blamed “other people for each and every ill that befell” the nation.
Mugabe criticised the opposition for the political turbulence in the country. He blamed the outside world, especially former colonial power Britain, for interference thundering: “Mr Blair, hands off please.” He spoke highly of the controversial land reform, which he described as a success.
In the past Mugabe would use such occasions to espouse the country’s achievements in provision of social services like health and education, agricultural expansion and industrial advancement.
Mugabe’s script this year could be brightened up by his new-found status as a corruption buster. He will tell the nation that the economy is on the mend courtesy of Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono’s economic blueprint. He will once again parade himself as the emancipator of the black populace by singing the mantras of his “successful land reform programme”. Ironically, Mugabe has appointed a whole ministry led by John Nkomo to “correct” the successful land reform!
But with inflation — described by Finance minister Chris Kuruneri as the highest in the world — at 602,5%, a decline in exports by over 15% in the last 12 months, and a corresponding drop in the GDP, this year’s celebrations, like last year’s, should ring hollow. In the rural areas civil servants and poor villagers were asked to pay for the celebrations which they are forced to attend or face the wrath of Zanu PF hoodlums.
The villagers will be forced to celebrate better harvests which government will attribute to the land reform exercise. But production of major cash crops which bring in foreign currency has continued to drop. Chief among them is tobacco whose production has nose-dived from 236 million kg at the peak of production in the 1999/2000 season to 65 million kg expected to be delivered to the floors this year.
Estimates say more than three-quarters of the population live below the poverty datum line while about 70 % of the adult population is unemployed. HIV and Aids have continued to wreak havoc on a country with a collapsing if not non-existent social security system.
The presidential address should this year assume a more jingoistic tone as the country prepares for another blood-and-thunder general election next year. Mugabe’s mollifying words spoken last year during a flirtation with the idea of talks between the two parties will probably be abandoned for more militant phrases.
The attack on the MDC from the Zanu PF leadership has already started and should reach its peak after the festivities when Zanu PF is expected to officially launch its campaign. But Tsvangirai has promised to stand up to the bullying.
“We cannot allow this regime to impose its false supremacy over the people,” he said. “Only action and political pressure shall bring the desired results and lead us to resuscitate our failed state and all its institutions.”