JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
WHEN I WAS A STUDENT IN college I encountered numerous Zimbabweans. Most of them were Shona, very intelligent, hard-working and focused. In my residence where I stayed, I was so fortunate to fraternize with guys who I could learn something from. Forming relationships with Zimbabweans in class was also advantageous because they were smart and very successful in their academic work. Frankly speaking, Zimbabweans were excelling in their courses, thanks largely to their education system, which I won’t delve into here. That’s how great these citizens are; great in a state that has brutalized its own people. Of course this is a minority, the majority still faces severe socio-economic challenges, but they are the face of Zimbabwe.
As great as Zimbabwe is, its reputation has been tarnished by its liberation movement, Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU- PF). In the past twelve years Zimbabweans have endured severe brutality from their government led by Robert Mugabe, the head of the ruling party. Here’s an excerpt from Amnesty International on the political violence of 2008:
“….The number of casualties has risen sharply since the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) called a general strike on Tuesday 15 April. Forty-two recorded cases were treated by doctors on 17 April alone. At least 150 people have been arrested since 14 April and on the morning of 18 April were detained in Harare Central police station alone. Violence appears to be targeted at active supporters of the MDC and their families, particularly those in rural areas and low income suburbs where the MDC appears to have gained more votes than the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party. Mashonaland East and West provinces have been particularly badly affected and numbers of reported incidents of violence are on the increase in Harare.”
Not only were they victims of their own liberation movement, they were also hammered by Mugabe’s barbaric policies that escalated poverty. The policy on land reform was one of the most calamitous. In the name of “anti-colonialism”, he viciously drove white farmers off their farms. Some of the best farmers in Africa left Zimbabwe. All those farms were given to his cronies. What were the repercussions? The economy went into recession, famine as food capacity fell, inflation soared to hyperinflation, and unemployment rose above 80%. In response to the capital flight that his policies prompted Mugabe printed more money – a sure recipe for inflation.
Zimbabwe shares the border with South Africa, Africa’s biggest economy and the world’s 29th largest economy. As stable as South Africa has been over the past twelve years, Zimbabwe has struggled dramatically. I partly blame the South African government for Zimbabwe’s collapse. They failed to condemn and pressure Mugabe to allow for a democratic process in his country. Our then president Thabo Mbeki echoed that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe. This is just one example of our typically weak foreign policy.
I’m very optimistic about Zimbabwe, which was a net food exporter less than forty years ago. This is an extraordinary country full of intellectuals. Although some left the country, I believe they’ll come back because this shall pass.
I’ve always argued that we need a new leadership, the leadership of this generation. Change will depend on the society, the people. They have the power to change all of this, and should coalesce behind those who advocate change. Mugabe destroyed Zimbabwe’s reputation as he abrogated human rights and civil liberties. We need not forget that this is a man who helms the liberation movement and who is himself a liberator. He’s now a liability, a dictator who cracks down on dissidents. The party itself, ZANU-PF, represents what Fareed Zakaria calls “the last hurrah of a dying world.” PM
© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI