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Zimbabwe: The revolution eats its children

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PEOPLE like me tend to wear our political sentiments on our sleeves so to speak. It shouldn’t surprise anyone since we are the product of an education system that honed our skills in having a critical eye on everything around us.
At the University of Zimbabwe, in the mid 80’s, we used to chant the slogan forward ever, backward never! We were textbook revolutionaries, heavily schooled in Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba and Thomas Sankara, certainly not Mao. It did not take long for us to realise that that the ‘revolution,’ had indeed lost its way.
The student demos of that time were against corruption and conspicuous consumption. We felt we had a duty to speak for our parents in Tsholotsho, Muzarabani, Gokwe, Matshetsheni, Dema, Gutu, Marange and many other places. Parents who had sold bags of maize, groundnuts and cotton to send us to university. We had to speak out for they could not see the avarice that was unfolding in the city.
The people they had elected were doing them a great disservice, abusing the taxes by lining their pockets and those of their cronies. We were fed up by what we saw. Mansions springing up in the elite suburbs just a stone’s throw away from campus, and shiny Mercedes Benz that zipped past us while we walked to and from college in the blistering sun.
And yet throughout the countryside our parents and relatives wallowed in poverty and they still do to this day. Made to feed on empty political slogans each time an election loomed on the horizon yet back to business unusual when the promises and threats had died down. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
Initially the student demos were pro-government. We still had faith in the system, that it would somehow correct itself. But that soon became a pipe dream as impunity reigned supreme. The mantra of a one-party state rang louder and soon it became apparent that the revolution was in danger of regression.
Student politics are by nature a function of the prevailing environment. Students, by their nature verbose in discourse and energetic in deeds. Some of us, with the gift of the poison pen took our struggle to the manuscripts. Focus Magazine became a platform from where in-depth analysis and the somewhat acidic censure of the system took root.
It was no wonder it was proscribed by the university authorities, not once but several times. Its financial sources were blocked and distribution channels chocked. Yes, the writings of Tinoziva Bere, Moetsabi Titus Moetsabi, Laxton Tendai Biti, Lawrence Tshuma, Trevor Ncube, Tawana Kupe, and the cartoons of Lenox Mhlanga among others had become a threat to the establishment.Advertisement

I was reduced to pasting my caricatures on the door of my room in New Complex One. A name more appropriate for a factory than an academic residence. In fact they were, factories that unwittingly manufactured dissent. Student activism had taken a turn for the worst. The state panicked, and unleashed its machinery onto campus.
The entry of the riot police onto what we considered to be the hallowed ground of academic freedom was a signal that intolerance would be the default setting of the system from then on. The taunts the paramilitary endured about their level of education was just a contract of the frustrations that had been pent up over a long time.
The cops took it personally and they became willing tools of the kind of brutality that has become so synonymous with anything resembling crowd control. The revolution was eating its own children.
That a political movement would emerge from this was just a matter of time. Generations of student leaders had been put through the paces on campus, sharpening skills of debate, speech, negotiation and evading tear gas and rubber truncheons. The bitterness was palpable and the bravery sometimes bordered on suicidal.
There was bound to be a spill-over. The student leaders graduated and entered society at large. Still full of pent up emotions and lofty ideals. Some became unemployable because of their ‘dangerous and poisonous’ ideals. I was labelled rebellious at my first port of employment and promptly transferred to a frustratingly boring backwater. I am sure there are many who suffered the same fate.
It only served to add fuel to the fire burning inside us. The result was more dissent in various forms, some of which resulted the foundation of present day opposition politics. It was an outlet and an attempt at a lasting solution to a revolution that had convoluted its founding ideals. We have indeed come a long way, and the journey to a brighter future seems longer still.