Zimbabwe’s upcoming elections – scheduled to take place between mid-July and August – are in many ways a search for the “old normal”: that people, long-suffering citizens can have, on one hand, a sense of restoration; on another, a sense and a desire to move on from a dark, nightmarish night.
They ought to live like other citizens of the world.
So many things have gone wrong in Zimbabwe.
The reign of former president Robert Mugabe is this metaphor. (To be fair to him, there are many internal and extraneous factors that contributed to an abnormal situation in Zimbabwe since 2000.)
With many things going wrong, Zimbabwe had to embrace a “new normal”, itself a compound of many dubious “normals” that should be banished if a truly new dispensation is to be realised.
The elections, the first time Zimbabwe will not have Robert Mugabe as a major political player – the little colossus that he once was in our lives – give a chance for a fresh start.
Almost like a new republic.
Which is where the paradox lies.
Many of the things that ought to be made right are old, normal imperatives.
Like food on the table. Like money in the bank. Like healthcare, quality education, social safety nets, a growing economy, normal diplomatic relations, and so on.
Yet these things, unfortunately, may not come with the stroke of the (ballot) pen.
Authorities will need to work their socks off to see a turnaround in the fortunes of the country.
In this series of five articles, we seek to highlight some key fundamentals of “the old normal” that need to be restored and built on by whoever wins the next elections.
And this implies that some of these fundamentals need to find way in the discourse around elections.
Already, these pages, which bear the duty of leading thought, are getting filled with banter and politics of personalities, which for all the drama and entertainment value, are sure to leave us dissatisfied in the morning.
Like after a long night of bingeing.
There is no question that addressing the so-called “search for the old normal” requires one to look at the past in its very glory, and propose how a future in embracing the “old normal” ought to be, which in effect is anchored on restoration.
In this exercise, we have identified five themes, or some key “old normals” that will need to be restored and built on in a truly new dispensation in Zimbabwe.
These values of the “old normal”, which we shall tackle in turn are:
1. Restoration of a people’s dignity and national pride
2. Restoration of social services
3. Restoration of confidence in the economy
4. Restoration of faith in leaders and national processes
5. Restoration of international standing
Restoration of a people’s dignity, national pride
The multi-layered crisis in Zimbabwe – a complex mixture of economic, social and political issues – had the effect of pauperising, impoverishing, humiliating and isolating Zimbabwe both at personal and international levels.
It is not too much to ask that Zimbabweans at home should be able to enjoy a life free from poverty and want; have food on their table and enjoy the dignity of work and living.
Addressing the causes of indignity at home – within the multi-layered crisis that the country has experienced, means that people will not find cause to leave home for often elusive greener pastures abroad.
Over the years, many Zimbabweans, pauperised at home where there was not enough food or money to spend, travelled abroad to assume less glorious positions.
The exact figure of the Zimbabwean Diaspora has been subject to speculation with the more extravagant with numbers putting it to a quarter of the 15 million populace.
Perhaps the figure is symbolic.
However, it is not deniable that Zimbabwe has a sizeable number of people outside its borders, the main destinations of which include South Africa, Britain and the United States of America and anywhere in between, including some odd places that are at war and ravaged by famine.
The universal truth is that Zimbabweans in the Diaspora work hard but that sometimes does not qualify that they could be in social stations that they do deserve while others work dishonourably and outright criminally.
While the emigres could be saluted for their hard work and other redeeming attributes, they have also tended to suffer some real indignities such as being viewed as second-class citizens or slaves while everyone’s horror is the flare-up of xenophobic violence in South Africa.
Zimbabweans have been blamed for their poverty.
A common accusation during the later stages of Mugabe’s rule was that Zimbabweans were cowards who failed to remove the political source of their troubles.
The jibe stung – not least because it ignored certain fundamentals of the Zimbabwean story
Mugabe was not the sole reason for Zimbabwe’s woes.
But a cheap blow, all the same.
It goes without saying that following the events of November 2017 when the long ruling Mugabe was helped off the stage, Zimbabweans abroad got some unprecedented level of respect (in some weird sense, that is).
Yet with the situation at home not have been miraculously transfigured, Zimbabweans will have to endure some level of disrespect and indignity.
Spare a thought, for example, for travellers to South Africa who have to endure hours at Beitbridge Border Post not just because they have to make a living and migrate, but also that South African Home Affairs officials think that they are doing Zimbabweans a favour allowing them in their country and thus look down their noses while serving the travellers – some of whom are actually tourists and dignified workers in that country.
That has to be the worst treatment after (violent, necklacing) xenophobia!
But it tells us that there is a lot more still to be done so that Zimbabwe can restore its national dignity and pride.
It is also a fact that the multi-layered crisis has also affected some activities and endeavours such as sport that otherwise improve national standing, pride and dignity.
A certain level of national competitiveness in sport, for example, would allow a citizen to be granted a work permit or visa.
That is not the case with Zimbabwe’s impoverished sport.
It adds to the humiliation and indignities of her people.
Zimbabwe once had its shining moments, and it’s a “normal” that a truly new dispensation should restore.
In other words, the restoration of a people’s dignity and national pride will also be measured by the level to which Zimbabweans abroad are not only willing to embrace their Zimbabwean-ness but also return home to work for the country.
In the next instalment of the series, we challenge leaders to restore the “old normal” in areas such as orderliness of cities, service provision and dignity of such trades as teaching and health work.
We seek to recall how these areas were previously functional and how the present malaise can be remedied.