Happy 31st, Zimbabwe!

VANESSA SMEETS

bob marley rufaro

NO PROBLEMS, NO CRY: Bob Marley sings to a packed Rufaro Stadium during independence celebrations. PIC: Online

Independence Day

18 April, 1980. The ground shakes in Harare with stamping feet. Buildings tremble with jubilant voices. The crowds rush to see him speak. He is handsome, well educated and a great orator. A person for the people: calm and collected. Prime Minister Robert Mugabe is 56 years old when he is inaugurated, with Canaan Banana as president. But Mugabe is the stern favourite, speaking to the core of the masses.

“Long live our freedom!
Long live our sovereignty!
Long live our independence!”

Mugabe and Banana

CHEERS: Banana steps down as president in 1983, giving the reigns of power to Prime Minister Robert Mugabe. PIC: online

The Shona people claim Rhodesian soil is red with the bloodshed of civil war. They are tired of 16 years of fighting and tired of Ian Smith’s policies. Rufaro Stadium is packed to its maximum capacity. John Moyo*, a civil servant at the time, attended the celebrations. He claims the media went mad: “Long live Mugabe!” and “Good old Bob!” ran as headlines for days.  The Union Jack is lowered and the new Zimbabwean flag soars above the crowd. Zimbabwe means “house of stone” in Shona, with the bird representing a statuette found at the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.

rufaro stadium

PACKED: Rufaro Stadium in Harare is packed to its maximum capacity to celebrate Rhodesias transition into Zimbabwe. PIC: online

The atmosphere is electric. The new national anthem Ishe Komborere Afrika “God Bless Africa” echoes through the crowd, in homes and on television screens. Bob Marley sings as the crowd departs with eyes glistening with hope.Mugabe’s address to the nation on the eve of independence resounds today, thirty-one years later, as a haunting echo. Promises lay shattered besides potholes, beggars and hitch hikers. People are unable to read balanced stories, as the media today is constantly monitored by the government.

 Changing faces

From 1965 to 1980, there was a strong focus on the casualties of war, but those who reported on “classified information” had to face the Officials Secret Act and Law and Order Maintenance Act (LOMA) and twenty years of imprisonment. In 1980, Mugabe kept most of Ian Smith’s media policies, but added the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Act, which made it illegal for the media to report on debates in parliament.

The Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust (ZMMT) in 1981 aimed to “give back” the media to Zimbabweans, after being for years under foreign control.

Kariba

EMPTY PROMISES: Lake Kariba, once bustling with tourists, families and students, now stands most of the year empty. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Media and tourism

According to Cindy Hudson*, a travel agent in Harare, the tourism business is at its worst. She says:

“Thirty years ago, I would have told you all flights would be booked out to see the independence celebrations. Thirty years ago, I would have told you Zimbabwe would have been hosting the Soccer World Cup, not South Africa, its struggling neighbour. Thirty years ago, I would have told you Zimbabwe was a leading nation in African exports and imports. Today, I’m struggling to see the light.”

Embassies have closed down, yet Moyo claims things have improved since the US dollar was officially introduced in 2009. For two years, businesses were working in “units,” a code name for forex. But the cost of living has become very expensive. Petrol is now 1, 28 US$ a litre. The government has also changed the exchange rate at their leisure. 1 US$ = R10.

Empty promises

There are still water shortages and daily power cuts, with some people investing in generators. According to Moyo, Mugabe impressed the world with his “political maturity and statesmanship.”

If one looks back on his independence speech, the hopeful vision was potent: “Zimbabwe is now a free, independent and sovereign state, free to choose its own flight path and chart its own course to its chosen destiny.” Its destiny remains today in shackles, unable to perform with a lack of resources.

Mugabe continued:

“Tomorrow we are being born again; born again…as a viable nation of Zimbabweans. Tomorrow is thus our birthday, the birth of a great Zimbabwe, and the birth of its nation.”

Some will argue it was its death day. From 2000, when the ceasing of farms began and hundreds of farmers were massacred, the country began to fear and mistrust its media and government. Mugabe first turned the Shona people against the Ndebele and later white against black and black against white. So began the birth of a broken nation. In Mugabe’s haunting words: “An evil remains an evil whether practiced by white against black or black against white.”

In the speech, he also said: “Everyone should be a new man, with a new mind, new heart and new spirit.” Today, the majority like Dr Ray Burger* (73), who left the country just before independence, sees this replaced by an old man with a bitter spirit. Suicide of the elderly is a daily occurrence. Pensioners realise years later the pension they worked hard for all their lives is completely worthless through inflation.

Promises of infrastructure have been replaced by the reality of potholes and vacant municipalities. A lack of medical care has killed innocent individuals. Mr George Witman* (62) died last year, because the only cancer specialist left in the country performed the wrong operation. The specialist is 82 years old and removed a chicken-sized tumour before trying to shrink it through chemotherapy.

For Dan Tim,* his best friend, the hardest part to forget is the bulging stomach of his friend, puss oozing from his belly button. He did not get a chance to see Zimbabwe rise to her feet again. The Oncology Centre in Harare claims the cancer rate has increased by 55% since 2001.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai

PARTNERS? Many Zimbabwean people have questioned the coalition government between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Is the power truly balanced or will there always be an obstacle between them? PIC: Online

Petty partners

According to Moyo, the coalition government is the weak partner in the “all inclusive government.” Just recently, Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai flew in separate planes to Tanzania. The information was leaked to international media, while national media led everyone to believe “the coalition is going strong.”

But, locals claim things have been rocky in the partnership since ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema publicly rebuked the MDC at a press conference in Luthuli House. He also congratulated Mugabe on his land reform policies saying: “In Zimbabwe, you are already very far. In South Africa, we are just starting.”

Moyo claims there is a definite increase of Chinese traders in the country, forcing local factories to close down. He also claims local taxes at borders (a Visa tax, entry tax for national parks, river usage, road tax, toll gates, tourism levy) make it very hard for tourists to travel. Some hotels still charge three times the rate to foreigners through the two-tier system.

The travel agency claims locals are coming back in small numbers, but the new law on indigenisation has caused financial stress in many local companies. Companies with an asset value higher than 51% have to have a majority black Zimbabwean ownership, hindering the revival of the economy.

Thirty-one years after independence, press freedom comes and goes, according to the government’s temperament. Today, the BBC and CNN can report in certain areas, but are constantly monitored. The Herald, known for its government propaganda, still remains the locals’ favourite. Yet, it hardly speaks about the MDC partnership. It speaks of hope for a new generation, includes articles on music and movies and even has entertaining obituaries. The obituary for musician Sam Mtukudzi (17 March 2010) read: “Sam’s father’s right hand has been amputated and it’s not an easy thing to forget a hand.”

Zambezi river

DIVIDED: As beautiful as Zimbabwe is, it has failed to attract tourists like in the past. This years elections will determine whether things have changed. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Unwritten pages

In thirty-one years, locals have witnessed dozens of robberies and attacks on family members and friends. The media only reported on a small percentage. But, the media could not hide the facts: in July 2007, streets and shops stood empty. Harare became a ghost-town. Locals urged family members in South Africa to bring them food, but half the stock would be taken by police at the border. Still, local media reported on none of this.

Today, the country itself is hungry for change, for tourists and for action. According to Burger, it is an achievable dream:

“Once a Zimbabwean, always a Zimbabwean. The country has a special magic to it. It has the potential to be the best country in Africa, filled with a blessed climate, rich soil and natural wonders.”

Maybe one day the vision will return to a country blinded by bitter memories. The Shona people continue to pray for rain, believing it will wash away yesterday’s dried up hopes. The red dust settles at their ankles. For many, it stopped raining thirty-one years ago.


Current Zimbabwean flag

TALES OF COLOUR: The Rhodesian flag changed with political changes in the country. British colonial rule was extremely important in its founding years. In 1979, it adopted the Pan-African colours of white, red, black and green. In 1980, the Union Jack was lowered at the ceremony, replaced by the new Zimbabwean flag. PIC: Online

Tales of colour: Independence Flag

  • Yellow: the wealth of minerals in the country
  • Black: the heritage of the now combined Shona and Ndebele people
  • Green: the agriculture and rural areas of Zimbabwe
  • Red: the bloodshed during the first and second civilian wars
  • White triangle: peace
  • Zimbabwe Bird: the national symbol of Zimbabwe
  • Red Star: the nation’s hopes and aspirations for the future (as well as ZANU-PF’s socialist beliefs)

 Those who insult the flag face a fine of $1000 or two years imprisonment. 

SOURCES:

  • www.wikipedia.org
  • personal interviews
  • people from Human Rights Watch and ex-Zimbabwean journalists
  • Website: Lloyd Msipa’s blog (online Zimbabwean journalist)
  • Website: www.cpj.org – Committee for Protected Journalists

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