Independence: Was it worth the sacrifice?
Dr Alex T. Magaisa
In the beginning, it may have been a murmur. It might have been whispered in the security of private enclosures. It is the question that, 27 years ago might have been contemptuously dismissed, given the euphoric atmosphere attendant upon the advent of Uhuru in Zimbabwe.
But it has now become uncomfortably audible and fairly commonplace, a sad sign of a heartbroken nation beginning to doubt itself and the foundation of its existence. It has become like the pungent odour that slowly invades the trapped atmosphere of a small room, creating an enforced silence and imposing a sense of collective guilt.
Hard though you might try to pretend otherwise, it cannot be ignored, because it is so stubbornly and uncomfortably present.
It is, in our current circumstances, a question that is at once painful and pertinent, requiring the mind to enquire whether, given the physical decay that has been visited upon Zimbabwe, independence (and the struggle for it) has been worth the sacrifices that were made. Was it, after all, a lost cause?
It is painful because thousands of lives were sacrificed to achieve Uhuru. Indeed, some would consider such a question to be an insult to the memory of those who paid with their lives to displace the colonial system, arguing that they cannot be condemned for the gross failures of their compatriots who lived on to assume power and whose inept political and economic management has brought harsh consequences upon the country. But it might also be said that, the sacrificed souls must surely now rest rather uneasily given the manner in which the dreams for which they fought appear to have been jettisoned by their living comrades.
It is pertinent however because it goes to the very root of the nation’s existence, for the definition of Zimbabwe, as we now know it, is inextricably connected to the encounters, both harsh and sweet, between the peoples of different races and tribes who constitute it. Its future too, is dependent upon how these constituents are able to negotiate a reasonable co-existence and part of this process involves finding common ground and understanding on the key aspects that define the nation – among which include the liberation struggle, the contribution of the settler and immigrant communities and also overcoming the bitter and divisive aspects such as Gukurahundi.
Citizens are asking this and related questions more openly because of the physical degeneration of the country since independence and the negation of the idea and spirit of independence by those who led the fight for its achievement. The struggle after all, was meant to achieve freedom and lead to the improvement of their material conditions. Yet most people have become worse off materially, than they were at the time of independence in 1980 and the emasculation of the freedoms is no different from their position in colonial Rhodesia. In short, they have not seen the fruits of the struggle for freedom.
That notwithstanding, there is an important distinction that must be made between the ideals of the struggle for independence and the outcome of that process as seen today. It would, in my opinion, be unfortunate to nonchalantly dismiss the notion of independence on the basis of the failures of the leadership. Freedom is a natural right and to the extent that the colonial system deprived other people of that right and claims to allied rights, it was necessary to fight for independence. The post-independence regime appears to have failed dismally, to deliver what was envisaged in the struggle for independence but that cannot be used to detract from the notion of independence. It is important always, to distinguish Zanu PF’s failures and the idea of independence, which by all accounts, is still to be achieved.
A troubling trait of the debate about the value of independence is what appears to be an attempt, in some circles, to impose collective blame for the failures of Zanu PF, on the black people. Accusatory statements are sometimes recklessly thrown about, implying that the failures of Zanu PF provide conclusive proof that black people cannot govern. This has not been helped by the chaotic land reform programme, the poor implementation of which has caused a dramatic fall in agricultural productivity.
It is important, in my opinion, to avoid being unnecessarily divisive on racial or other grounds by denigrating a whole race or tribe on the basis of the incompetence of a particular regime. The generalisations have unwittingly turned otherwise well-meaning people into defenders of what is ordinarily indefensible, simply because the issue would have shifted from one about the incompetence of particular leaders, to one about racial or tribal responsibility.
It seems to me that the problem is that during both colonial Rhodesia and independent Zimbabwe, the political landscape has been dominated by extremists on either side and unfortunately those extremists have held positions of power to made key decisions that have sown the seeds of polarisation along racial and tribal lines. It is an historical fact that Zimbabwe has broadly speaking, both white and black people, among others and also people from various ethnic tribes.
The challenge has always been and remains achieving reasonable co-existence, respecting the dignity, equality and Zimbabweanness of every man and woman who claims it. You cannot blame every white person for the excesses of the Smith regime, no more than you can blame every black person for the excesses of the Mugabe regime. But this appears to happen with reckless abandon causing bitter but unproductive divisions in the communities.
Despite both colonial Rhodesia and independent Zimbabwe having the common denominator of pursuing unsatisfactory politics, the independence regime has the distinction of having performed dismally on the economic front. Their colonial predecessors appear to have fared better in economic management, which even when it guaranteed unequal treatment, still had some excess to cushion the marginalised. It is a fact of life that socio-economic conditions remain the core interests of citizens. There can be an unfavourable political system, but they will thrive so long as they can get by economically. Citizens who say they were better off before independence are not necessarily condoning the repressive political system of that time; they are simply confirming that they care more about their economic well-being.
This of course, is a lesson for any future government, that whatever you do, the most important aspect is the economy. It is also the same message to every politician that the key lies in finding a pragmatic solution that reverses the economic decline. They care less about who does it; they just want to see something done, by Zanu PF, MDC or whomsoever can deploy the necessary skills and resources towards that end.
The bitter lesson for Zimbabweans appears to be that regardless of their worthy efforts, liberators are not always the best governors. The science of leading a liberation struggle is significantly different from the science of governance. Experience has shown that the liberators lacked the transferable skills that could be deployed in the process of government. There has always been a militaristic approach in handling party and government affairs, which probably explains the frequent resort to military personnel and methods in governance matters. If there is any lesson to be learnt by those at the forefront of today’s liberation, it is that when the time comes, instead of clamouring for power and staying there until the end of time, they ought to defer to those of their own who have the skills to manage the economy.
But at the end of the day, it important to not let the understandable bitterness that people have against the current regime, to detract from the idea and struggle for independence, which was and remains a key ideal, because in an event true Uhuru is yet to be achieved. It is not about rhetoric and slogans – it constitutes finding ways of promoting coexistence of the people regardless of the bitter past and creating systems for the management of resources, both human and material, to improve the socio-economic well being of the people.
As we have seen, the erosion of socio-economic status of the people ha now caused people to openly question the whole idea of independence. It is sad because in some ways, it represents a decline in collective self-confidence; a psychological crisis that will drag down a whole nation. That collective mental fall will be harder to recover from than the rebuilding of the physical structures that have deteriorated.
Dr Magaisa can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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