IN the aftermath of the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement on December 21 1979 in London Bishop Abel Muzorewa is reported to have predicted that if by “some terrible miracle” his party lost, “Zimbabwe would be finished as far as freedom and democracy and economic development are concerned”.
A few months later, in March 1980, when the results of Zimbabwe’s first post-colonial election were announced, showing victory for Zanu PF, the late Joshua Nkomo expressed his disappointment thus:Â “You give them one man one vote and look what they do with it.” Â
One can easily tell that the veteran politician meant that the voters had blundered in voting into power the winning party.
Ian Smith, the last colonial ruler of the country, in part refused for a long time to hand over power to the black majority population on the argument that doing so would plunge the country into ruin due to bad governance.
Smith has been discredited on many fronts as a diehard racist, and dwelling on his argument might diminish the weight of the Muzorewa and Nkomo predictions.
African leaders in many other parts of the African continent have over the years illustrated that even black people can govern well.
There still will be a lot to say, even without making reference to Smith.Â One question that would however remain relevant notwithstanding its origin would be whether Zimbabwe prospered or plunged into dismal failure in the post-Independence era.Â The answer has nothing to do with race.
One could have argued at the time that the disparaging statements by Muzorewa and Nkomo were made out of frustration, and by people who had a bone to chew with Zanu PF.
Yet, looking at the mess that Zimbabwe finds herself in 29 years on, it is easy to decipher the prophetic tone in the subject statements.
Fortunately for some and unfortunately for others, the miracle did happen. Bishop Muzorewa lost the election. What followed is the subject of his prophecy.
As for freedom, the story was not so bad for most parts of the country in the early years of Independence.
In his first television address to the nation, the Prime Minister Robert Mugabe said: “There is no intention on our part to use our majority to victimise the minority.Â We will ensure there is a place for everyone in the country.”
Even the emblem of the new government included freedom as a basic tenet on the motto section:Â “unity, freedom, work.”Â Yes, we do now enjoy many freedoms that were hard to come by in the pre-Independence period.
Significantly, we can write critically in the opinion columns and for most of the times get away without any trouble. Once in a while, scribes and authors of opinion pieces do get into trouble, as was the case when Professor Arthur Mutambara, now deputy prime minister, was dragged to court along with the Standard newspaper over an opinion piece that he had written.
One of the freedoms often spoken about by local politicians is the freedom to walk in First Street in Harare and to drink bottled beer, which freedoms were largely absent in Salisbury for Africans.Â
The importance of such freedoms remains arguable, but the fact is that they are “new” freedoms that were brought about by the struggle for Independence, and they matter for a number of citizens.
Was Muzorewa wrong then in predicting the end of freedom?Â Well, notwithstanding the gains made, a lot remains unachieved in the field of freedom.
There are hundreds of citizens who endured physical harm, starvation, arrests and some even lost lives for belonging to the “wrong party” as recently as 2008.
Twenty-nine years on, the majority of Zimbabweans still do not have the freedom of choosing the television station they would like to watch, or the radio station to tune in to, thanks to the monopolies that have been maintained in the media sector over the three decades of post-colonial rule.
And as for democracy, the election reports about the last national election in Zimbabwe speak for themselves. The report of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on the June 2008 presidential election run-off is yet to be made public, but the stories about citizens whose arms were chopped off long-sleeve or short-sleeve style still haunt the memories of those “with hearts”.
The reason behind Morgan Tsvangirai’s withdrawal from the run-off election was in the main the violence that characterised the election campaign leading to the so-called election.
The basis for political power for any democratic government should be the unquestionable and clear mandate from the people governed, empowering that governed to rule. Â
Under the current regime, the Government of National Unity (GNU) that reigns, the exercise of political power is not derived from a democratic process. Zimbabweans have not voted for governance through a compromise arrangement.
Some of the political players holding the reins of power have created conditions that have made the holding of free and fair elections impossible.
The 1980 elections were held under the spotlight of international scrutiny, without limits as to who could, and who could not, monitor elections.
Yet Zimbabwe’s current electoral system has become so “African” it could not be subjected to the scrutiny of certain international bodies.Â
Zimbabwe has become so “African” even international figures like Koffi Annan, Jimmy Carter and Graca Machel are not welcome to carry out humanitarian work in the country.
Whereas the founding prime minister of the independent nation declared that there would be “a place for everyone in the country”, today white Zimbabweans and any other whites have no place on the farms.
One wonders about what the majority race, and the majority tribe have done to the minorities.
Then the third aspect of Muzorewa’s prophecy, the economy, is another painful subject to discuss. On April 18 1980 the Zimbabwean dollar was at par with the British pound, and twice as strong as the US dollar.Â The South African rand was outside the range of comparison. Â
Twenty-nine years later, just before Independence Day, the Sunday Mail carried the headline: “Zim dollar shelved”.
The lead story went on to state that: “The government has shelved plans to re-introduce the Zimbabwe dollar for at least a year to allow the use of multiple currencies to stabilise the local currency.”
This means that the local currency that was so strong at Independence has given up the ghost. The old bishop’s prophecy has been fulfilled.
The reasons behind the fulfilment of Muzorewa’s predictions make another whole different discussion.Â What we have done with the one man one vote that we earned in 1980, with the Independence that was won after such a bloody and gallant fight, is not something that we can quite be proud of as a nation.
Not many nations in their right mind would follow Zimbabwe’s example of governance, economics or politics.
If I must make my own prediction today, I should say: “If by some miracle the rulers of Zimbabwe were to restore the electoral practice of one man one vote in the strict and sincere sense, Zimbabweans would be wiser and restore the country to the place of pride that the nation once stood at on April 18 1980.”
Long live Zimbabwe!
*Chris Mhike is a lawyer practising in Harare.
BY CHRIS MHIKE