Anyone who was there in 1980 will remember the palpable euphoria that greeted the dawn of our Independence. It was the greatest day of our lives. Zimbabweans came from literally all over the world to celebrate. The previous decade had been most painful as the liberation war painfully played out.
With its back to the wall the Rhodesian military outfit, comprising professional soldiers, mercenaries and askaris, waged a war of attrition that is said to have claimed 200 000 lives. The guerrillas too were not saints in this. Tens of thousands of civilians died at their hands. Only those who were armed were safe; most of the civilian casualties were people caught in the crossfire.
Thousands of people had emigrated in search of refuge; lucky youths got scholarships to study abroad. But on the eve of Independence Day, thousands flooded the country as they came back to celebrate.
But what were we celebrating?
We celebrated the end of the war. We celebrated the end of colonial rule. We celebrated the prospect of freedom, peace and justice. We took for granted that under our own black government freedom, peace and justice were natural and prosperity would follow.
We celebrated our young leadership, which while executing the struggle, had also acquired knowledge. It was a cosmopolitan lot; some having studied at some of the best institutions in the Americas, in Europe and in Asia.
We had an intellectual for Prime Minister. Robert Mugabe boasted seven university degrees (none of which was in violence). He was erudite, charismatic and conciliatory. All permanent secretaries in our ministries had PhDs. Most ministers had doctorates too. There was no way this group of talented individuals could ever fail us. There was such a lot of international goodwill that aid poured in to rebuild the country.
Our economy was in the hands of a capable man, some said about the best on the globe. Bernard Chidzero (1927-2002) had worked for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) from 1968 to 1980, for the last three years as deputy secretary-general.
His UN career had begun in 1960 as an economic affairs officer in the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and afterwards as the first black African to be named UNDP resident representative (in Kenya, 1963-68).
When he returned to Zimbabwe at Independence in 1980, he became successively a member of parliament and Minister of Economic Planning and Development and later Senior Minister of Finance; he was still working as an adviser to the government when he died.
He presided over the Seventh Session of UNCTAD and chaired the Joint Ministerial Committee of the World Bank and the IMF (1986-99). He was educated at the University of South Africa, Ottawa and McGill Universities in Canada, and Oxford University.
There were many more illustrious sons and daughters of the soil who made up the inaugural government
So, when did the rain begin to beat us, so to speak?
The answer, unfortunately, is that the rain began to beat us right at the beginning!
We had emerged out of a painful war and we had a very hostile regime ruling the country to our south. South Africa was under apartheid and was staunchly fighting liberation movements not only on its own soil but also in the whole region. So there was a real reason in the new government of Zimbabwe to fear a reversal of our fortunes.
But that fear was transformed into a culture; the ruling elite became paranoid.
According to psychologists “paranoia is a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion. Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs concerning a perceived threat towards oneself. Historically, this characterisation was used to describe any delusional state.”
In 1980 it was clear that Zanu PF felt insecure on the throne. Moves towards a one-party state were attempts to bring security. It began to see threats all round it. The greatest of these it saw as coming from its partner in the unity government, PF-Zapu, led by liberation luminary Joshua Nkomo. Zanu PF then set on a path to crush it. What followed will remain one of the darkest periods in our country’s history.
Battered and humiliated PF-Zapu had to sign a unity accord in 1987 if for nothing else but to save the people of Matabeleland and the Midlands targeted as an ethnic group.
That Zanu PF “victory” did not cure the paranoia. People within Zanu PF itself were beginning to speak out on the evils of a one-party system. It was about this time that another liberation luminary Edgar Tekere, an ally of Mugabe, was to form the Zimbabwe Unity Movement, a political party he created singularly to halt Mugabe’s drive towards his greatest dream.
It must be at this sta-ge that Mugabe’s paranoia heightened. The revolutionary leadership was slowly purged from government to be replaced mainly with bootlickers who had no revolutionary history. The reason for their ascendency was simply that they promoted the leader’s dream. That was the birth of the cronyism that has bedevilled the country and has led us into the mess we find ourselves in.
The new leadership was of two types. The first comprised small but buccaneering business people who saw an opportunity to grow their businesses. They knew if they became part of government they would easily get government business by manipulating the tender system. In government they were also able to clinch big business deals with foreign companies.
The second comprised hungry individuals who had nothing to their name. They were mainly related to the head of state and saw the opportunity to make money through the clientelism that had taken root.
The paranoia intensified. The ruling elite saw enemies everywhere; in the West, in the Commonwealth and even in regional blocs such as the Southern African Development Community. We all remember the diplomatic tiff that arose when the chairmanship of the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security was taken away from Zimbabwe.
So, the events that have made Zimbabwe a pariah state characterised by political violence, electoral fraud and Machiavellian leadership are a manifestation of the paranoia in the country’s leadership. The freedom, peace, justice and prosperity we are supposed to celebrate each Independence Day have not materialised three decades down the line.