President S M Nkomo8 Rudd Road, Northend, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Independence 2024: Zimbabwe's broken social contract

Fellow Zimbabweans, we once again commemorate the 44th anniversary of our hard-won independence. It has been 44 arduous years since the Union Jack was lowered and handed to the current King of England back in 1980, when he was a young prince.

The flag of Zimbabwe flew on April 18, 1980, marking the end of colonialism and paving the way for black majority rule. That was the plan but as fate would have it, shadowy men harbored different blueprints for a one-party state they would wantonly step on more than 20,000 bodies to establish.

The dust of our first Independence celebrations had hardly settled when the ZANU government led by Robert Gabriel Mugabe embarked on a genocidal, quasi-military operation that became known as Gukurahundi. From 1982 to 1987, hapless citizens were subjected to state sponsored violence that can only be compared to Pol Pot’s Cambodia in the 1970s. Our people suffered instead of enjoying the fruits of independence. Matabeleland and Midlands Provinces were cordoned off and turned into killing fields by the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade.

Gukurahundi was not a freak moment of madness as once claimed by its chief architect, the late Robert Mugabe, in a futile attempt to absolve himself of any wrongdoing. It was a well-planned and well-orchestrated system meant to subjugate and keep the people of Zimbabwe in constant and perpetual fear, bewilderment and docility. The intergenerational fear engendered by accounts of despicable atrocities that characterized Gukurahundi, has helped ZANU PF in its quest to establish a one-party state. To avoid regional and international isolation, Zimbabwe is governed through a hybrid system that promotes multi-party, political contestation within the confines of an uneven playing field.

The constitution is some inconvenient document to be endured and tempered with, to suit the narrow interests of the ruling party. To hide its true colors, ZANU PF sails a pirate ship under the false flag of constitutional democracy, holding regular but flawed elections. In reality, ZANU PF has established a competitive totalitarian regime. Genuine opposition parties are decimated using infiltration and outright capture where possible. Truly independent media outlets are also subjected to the same strategy. In a nutshell, ZANU PF has expropriated the independence project to patent Zimbabwe into its divinely bestowed domain. In its collective warped thinking, any opposition to ZANU PF rule is blasphemous. On a good day it is considered unpatriotic.

Many have surrendered their minds and souls to be at the full disposal of ZANU PF. State sponsored violence and enforced disappearances have been carried out by generations of men and women hired to put their fellow citizens in harm’s way. In our communities, we have state ordained murderers, rapists, ritualists and cannibals. Zimbabwe today is a far cry from the utopian society it could have easily established using its vast mineral wealth and homegrown economic strategies. Instead of prosperity, Zimbabwe is known for grinding poverty and mass exodus of its citizens. Out there, Zimbabweans are met with different fortunes. Some find sympathy and solidarity while others are subjected to hostile treatment and xenophobia.

The citizens who have stayed are robbed by the state through monetary policy inconsistency. In our 44 years of supposed independence, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has foisted 6 different currencies on the people, eroding savings and destroying livelihoods. The latest attempt to establish the Zimbabwe Gold (ZiG), touted as a structured currency, is yet another yawn in Zimbabwe's unending comedy of errors. Few economists in good standing are optimistic about the ability of the ZiG to become Zimbabwe’s lasting panacea. A large majority of economists are pessimistic, judging from the performance of past currency experiments. At street level, ordinary citizens are not keen to embrace what could turn out to be a stillborn currency, with its coins and small notes destined for rejection not long after they enter circulation at the end of April, 2024.

Zimbabwe's currency woes could not have come at a worse time. In the face of the El-Niño induced drought ravaging Zimbabwe and most parts of Southern Africa, 2024 is set to be a very difficult year for our people. Anyone who does not belong to ZANU PF is at the risk of starving as the ruling party is likely to use food aid in coercing people to support its ruinous policies. Some ZANU PF leaders are on record, publicly announcing that only ZANU PF members will be eligible for food aid. Other leaders have also stated in no uncertain terms, that only ZANU PF has the prerogative to distribute food aid to the hungry masses.

In spite of President Mnangagwa’s international appeal for US$ 2 billion worth of food aid, ZANU PF continues to view Non-Governmental Organizations and aid agencies with suspicion dipped in contempt. Despite its political rhetoric and self-defeating pronouncements, the government will require a substantial amount of local and international aid to avert a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions. Banking on mineral resources or excessive printing of the ZiG will not cut it. Aid is what is critically needed. Unfortunately, aid is normally attracted to humility — a word ZANU PF leaders can hardly spell. To them, everything hinges upon their version of sovereignty, measured in centuries.

Looking back to the promise held by our independence 44 years ago, we are dismayed by Zimbabwe's broken social contract. The gap between the elites living in opulence and the poor existing in abject poverty has widened further than it was even during colonialism. The ultimate sacrifices of our revolutionary forebears in ZPRA and ZANLA cannot be obliterated by the passage of time. The red segment of our flag will continue to remind us of their courage and genuine patriotism. The liberation struggle, up to our independence in 1980 was not in vain. The Zimbabwean social contract was broken after 1980, by individuals who cherished a criminal and tyrannical mindset. In hindsight, they clearly harbored such inclinations long before 1980.

Following Zimbabwe’s sham elections in August 2023, we are witnessing the empty shell of our independence growing paler each year. It appears our people are pining for a new day they can consider as their real Independence Day. Elections are normatively supposed to offer a chance for the people to determine a government of their own choice. That is why we are opposed to any machinations about postponing elections beyond 2028. The constitution is the supreme law of the land. Anyone who attempts to shred the constitution cannot be counted among patriots. The people of Zimbabwe deserve a chance to give their mandate to genuinely elected leaders.

Stolen elections go against the one-man-one-vote ideal of our protracted liberation struggle. Vote rigging also deflates any hopes for economic recovery. Unemployment, drug abuse and mental health challenges have woven a web around our youths, killing their dreams and putting the future of our country at risk. We cannot expect every generation to wage a liberation struggle to change the status quo. Elections exist to effect change without the loss of blood or property. When that avenue is effectively blocked, who can stop the youth from running amok to unshackle themselves from poverty and hopelessness?

Let us use this Independence Day, to reflect and take stock of our cumbersome journey since 1980. For how long shall we place our hopes in a dark cloud which does not bear any rain? The status quo is no longer sustainable. We call upon all patriotic citizens to put Zimbabwe first. Let us work in unity to extricate ourselves from the political quagmire we find ourselves stuck in. Truth be told, 44 years is as good as a lifetime, all things considered. We need national consensus to add freedom to our independence. Those who claim that the country is built by its owners do not make their mantras with the people of Zimbabwe in mind. Their mantra is premised on their belief that they are the bona fide owners of Zimbabwe.

The gallant sons and daughters of our country who laid down their lives for our independence will only be truly honored when we become free. Our children born after Independence will only accept to be labelled born-frees when true freedom is established in Zimbabwe. Despite the multiple challenges we face as a nation, let us not lose hope in the possibilities of change.

In the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Change is the only constant in the world.”