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Why we must celebrate independence

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APRIL April 18th, 2017 marked Zimbabwe’s 37th independence anniversary.  Happy 37th birthday Zimbabwe.
I was born in the mid-1980s a few short years after independence. Most of the people I follow on social media were also born around the same time or a little later. Among them, the majority expressed disappointment in independence celebrations.
We are a generation that enjoyed Zimbabwe for a brief moment. For many of us, it feels as though others stole our dreams, there is a great sense of hopelessness and uncertainty about tomorrow. It is hard for most young people to imagine that there is anything worth celebrating about our country.
Much of our shared disappointment stems from watching our country’s economic failure. In our lifetime, we have watched Zimbabwe deteriorate from Africa’s breadbasket to Africa’s basket case. We cannot afford to survive, our education is worthless, and our bank accounts are empty. Our roads are death traps, and our hospitals are death traps. We are educated and yet we are unemployed.
We celebrate getting visas and passports because we understand that our only real chance for a better life is if we exit. Many of us exit with the good intentions of returning home but the burden of life, of living and of supporting those we left behind often keeps us stuck in our new home. The majorities of those of us who are abroad are living in a fragile state of illegality.
Very few of us share in the glorious memories of days spent at the University of Zimbabwe discussing poetry and philosophy while drinking alcohol purchased with funds from government grants. By the time we were old enough to go to university, government grants had been phased out leaving the most vulnerable among us exposed to dire poverty.
Many of us buried our parents who died from HIV. Many of us watched our friends die from HIV before they reached the prime of their lives. At face value the young Zimbabwean has nothing to celebrate.
Young people are not the only ones who are disappointed. People who lost their entire savings over night in 1997 and again in the 2000s are all too aware of the pain of working for nothing. Returned soldiers, many of whom lost their limbs or their minds carry the torture of fighting for unrealized hopes in their mind every-day. Parents watch in anguish as their children fail to secure employment.  It is every parent’s wish that their children excel and do better than they did. Young people do not have the monopoly on pain and regret.Advertisement

A simple google search “Africans disappointed with independence” yields hundreds of returns. Western scholars often write with glee about the strength of authoritarianism on the African continent. There is an inherent belief from others that Africa would have been better off had it remained under colonial rule. African academics and activists bemoan corruption and stolen dreams. There is an element of truth in all these writing BUT only an element.
As young people, we must understand the motivation for the liberation struggle. It was not simply to dispose of white rulers. The issue is not primarily that those who governed were white. The issue is that those who governed were not democratic instead they were authoritarian racists. We must also understand that those who fought for independence did not fight for a ZANU PF government they fought for a free and more equitable Zimbabwe.
The ZANU PF government as we know it today would emerge later in 1986 as the new leaders attempted to consolidate more power around themselves.  Across the continent, post-independence leaders have often used clandestine methods much like their predecessors to consolidate power and quiet the dissenting voices of those who disapprove of their rule.
When a generation disowns independence, we give ammunition to those whose interests are not governed by a passion for democracy and equality. Zimbabwe is not ZANU PF just as South Africa is not ANC, Mozambique is not FRELIMO, Zambia was not UNIP.
Every generation is tasked to fight impunity and authoritarianism because men are not angels. The biggest error that our parents made was born out of fatigue with war. They had seen fighting their entire lives and so after independence they relaxed and gave the reigns to a government that was tasked with governing for and yet without the people.
By the time the people – a small minority in 1992 – attempted to re-enter the conversation on democracy it was much too late. The undoing of our democracy had already begun. To stay in power, the elite manufactured divisions within the society that have furthered the deterioration of our democracy.
War veterans became the enemy of a people whom they fought for when they demanded what was rightfully theirs. Many of us only know that war veterans were given ZIM$50,000 payouts that resulted in the first economic crush. What we do not know is that their demand for reparations grew stronger after the excessive looting of the war veteran’s fund. It also grew out of their opposition to Zimbabwe’s involvement in the DRC war. Our lack of knowledge about our history and ourselves allowed those in power to divide us over faulty lines.
When young people choose not to celebrate the sacrifice of war veterans – those who are living and those who have gone to sleep – we give credence to a narrative that is untrue- that we need a party that hijacked the rhetoric of the liberation struggle to serve as guardians for our independence.