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Philip Barclay and Grace Mutandwa

Zimbabwe

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Tuesday 21 April, 2009

Only politicians find something to celebrate

On Saturday the 18th of April, Zimbabwe celebrated 29 years of self-rule. Politicians made a big deal of their newly found "inclusiveness".

To show that the Global Political Agreement between ZANU PF and the two MDCs was alive and well, we had various government ministers and officials bombard us on radio about the importance of us all celebrating our independence anniversary together as a people.

For the past 28 years, ZANU PF has commandeered national events and most Zimbabweans have stayed away because they felt unwanted and demonised. Now we are suddenly told we should all pretend we are one big happy family!

We had MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now Prime Minister, his two deputies and  ministers attending the main independence day celebrations alongside Robert Mugabe. The whole thing was simply a charade. It remained the ZANU PF leader's event. Tsvangirai was not even given the opportunity to address the people.

Twenty-nine years after attainment of majority rule, most Zimbabweans are living in abject poverty, unemployment continues to soar and basic human rights are trampled on.

A day before the celebrations, a journalist and two members of the main MDC were released from prison. They are being accused of banditry. I guess their release was something to celebrate.

In 1980 we gained independence from Britain. There was so much hope. We had such high expectations. We believed in our political leadership. There was so much goodwill and we believed nothing could go wrong. But we were wrong, we were so wrong.

We had a "people's government" and everything that could go wrong went wrong. Our government brooked no disagreement. Criticism was not tolerated. Refusing to be a  member of the ruling party meant your safety and freedoms were not guaranteed. Political detentions and persecution of the private media took a more sinister form. The people's government fought against its own people.

The shaky arrangement we have now does not inspire confidence in many people. And those  people are right to be skeptical. There is no evidence of genuine goodwill on the part of  ZANU PF. Agreements are not respected or honoured.

Zimbabweans are tired of empty promises. They are tired of listening to pompous politicians who think the world owes them a living. Independence is not just about raising a flag or singing a national anthem. It is not about a bunch of politicians agreeing to sit together for once. It should mean much more than that.

It should mean better education and health for all. It should mean employment opportunities. It should enable us to create opportunities for the whole nation and not just a select few. It should mean the respect of property and individual rights irrespective of race, colour or creed.

During the war of liberation we were told independence would bring milk and honey. To most Zimbabweans it has only brought pain and suffering. Politicians must be told that watching your people suffer is not a virtue, giving people a better life is. No one  should be proud of the fact that Zimbabweans have shown resilience in their day to day survival.

Leadership in this makeshift outfit that we call an inclusive government must be told that people cannot be taken for granted forever. The politicians must act in accordance  with expected norms of democracy and good governance. They must be told that there will be no free lunches. The international community will not give its money to people who do not respect their own nationals' property rights. No sane country will give money to a country that does not uphold the rule of law. You have to have a hole in the head to invest in a country where there are no guarantees and impunity is the order of the day.

We need the world. We cannot go it alone without the international community. Our politicians need to grow up and start proving that they are serious about getting this country working again. Beating our chests about our sovereignty will not create jobs or set our economy straight.

If we do not act in good faith, we will be celebrating our 30th independence  anniversary next year as a real failed state and we will have no one but ourselves to blame.

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A manifesto for a decent country.

Posted by OwenE2 on April 24, 2009 at 06:22 PM BST #

I don't know that you or Mr Barclay received my letter, but I too hope very much that Zimbabwe is able to claw back some of the stability is deserves in time for the 30th anniversary of independence. Though it does seem unfortunate that there are so few immediately apparent sources of hope.

Posted by Francis Osborn on April 25, 2009 at 08:54 AM BST #

It was sad to hear Sue LLoyd-Roberts on the World Service this evening saying how what struck her in Zimbabwe was just how thin everyone was.

Posted by OwenE2 on May 08, 2009 at 10:25 PM BST #

I think your insights are superb. 'No one should be proud of the fact that Zimbabweans have shown resilience in their day to day survival.' This makes me wonder why Zimbabweans have sat by and watched as things have become more and more wretched. Why was there no line which people said 'cross this line and we will take no more'? Back in 1999, the writing was on the wall. Ten years later, things are catastrophic. Do you think people will one day revolt?

Posted by Andrew Lale on May 16, 2009 at 12:56 AM BST #

Today is the first time I have read your blog, Grace. Thank you for a fresh view of Zim. May I reply to to Andrew Lale with some first-hand experience? Having spent some 14 years away from Zim, my wife and I moved back to Zim in mid-1997 when the economy seemed to be on the "up". We were not the only ones returning. We got to know of several other people - all of us professionals in various fields - who were heading home to start new lives, taking our skills with us. Friendships were re-established with folk we had known prior to leaving Zim. As events unfolded in late 1997 (with the publication of a list of farms for acquisition, payments to war vets and food riots), we began to question our move. We had been used to stability of government and economy, and these aspects were eroding. On questioning our Zim friends at the end of 1997, we were told in all faith that things will get better. How?, I asked The forex rate was Z$15 to £1 when we arrived, it's now 30:1, with a transitory peak of 60:1 in November 1997. "Yes, its better..... better than in November". We could see that all was not well - our friends could not. 1998 and 1999 were spent treading water and, in the best of Zimbabwean tradition, "making a plan". We voiced concern to our friends; they mocked our concern. We highlighted specific events and were told that these were transitory and that things would get better. How? Nothing has got better since the end of 1997. Where are the indicators of improvement? "Well...., yes...., you have a point...., but it's only temporary". In 2000 the plan that we had been making was carried out. Our line had been crossed. We left Zimbabwe. Our Zim friends mocked us when we told them of our move from Zim. Based on my family's experience, although the writing was on the wall in late 1997.... it's only visible to people who are prepared to look for it, it can only be read if you can understand a bigger picture beyond Zim, it can only be understood if you are prepared to accept the unknown outside of Zim. Maybe my wife and I saw, read and understood because we had had long-term experience of the First World. Our expectations were at a particular level. Erosion of standards takes time, and if that erosion is slow, the adjustments are taken on a day-to-day basis and are not noticed - they become the norm. Evetually too many erosions will have taken place for "normal" life to continue. Being aware of even the smallest change is essential, for life in Zim. Being prepared to act on the changes is the difficult part. After several years, virtually all of the friends who mocked our departure from Zim have now also left the country. As far as people revolting is concerned, no it will not happen. Too many opportunities for revolution have been lost. The Zim population has literally had the fight knocked out of them. There is no strength to mount a revolution. A hungry population is pliable, and hunger has been achieved by the Zim government over the past 9 years.

Posted by Gareth on August 21, 2009 at 08:04 AM BST #

Thanks very much Gareth. Excellent observations. You are absolutely right about the gradual changes slowly adding up to disaster. And how easy it is to deny the importance of the changes. I was in Zim in 2001, and was struck by a number of things. Virtually all the infrastructure was the same as when I lived in Zim, in the '70s- just twenty years older. Many people I spoke to said things were better under Ian Smith, especially Ndebele folks. Also, there was a thick atmosphere of fatalism, and hopelessness, even then. I was told by one college professor that most of the girls at the college paid their tuition by prostitution, and this was a Christian college. How such a naturally rich country to be driven into poverty and moral degradation so quickly is horrifying. The men responsible will have a lot to answer for on judgement day.

Posted by Andrew Lale on August 28, 2009 at 08:50 PM BST #

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