Many of us understand independence as freedom from outside control or support and some definitions have described independence as “the state of being independent” with others going a little further to describe it as “the fact or state of being independent”.
There are crucial nuances in these meanings.
It being April 18, the word and concept of independence assumes an even more significant meaning to Zimbabwe: independence refers to the sovereignty and self determination that the country achieved in 1980 marking the end of British colonial rule that had taken root from 1890.
British colonial rule came about through military conquest that was preceded by years of diplomacy and subterfuge that eventually saw Cecil John Rhodes, an expansionist megalomaniac who dreamed of colonising Africa from the Cape in South Africa to Cairo (Egypt), to establish a colony on behalf of the Queen of England and the British Crown.
The colonisation took place in the context of the poverty and greed of European countries that sought to exploit resources in Africa to feed their economies and people back home and, as any student of history would recall, this rush or scramble at some point threatened to degenerate into war among European powers.
Hence, the Berlin Conference held in Germany in 1884-5 that gave ground rules and provided for “spheres of influence” to powers such as Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain that assembled at that round table, conceiving Africa as some giant cake that needed to be carved out and shared among Europeans.
No African was present at that table.
And when the Europeans came down, they came rushing, clamorous, ravenous and competing among themselves. They used all sorts of devices to get what they wanted: from bribery and subterfuge to brute force, murder and rape.
That is how September 12, 1890 came to us, as the so-called Pioneer Column raised the British Flag, the Union Jack at Harare which they called Fort Salisbury.
It marked the beginning of woe: theft of land and resources beneath and above it; murder of black inhabitants of the land; exploitation of the same land and man as well as brutal repression through successive colonial administrations.
The land bled, hurt and groaned.
It took 110 years and various stages of fighting back — from the 1893 Ndebele “uprising” and the 1986 First Chimurenga — to the decisive Second Chimurenga of the period of 1966 to 1979, to overcome the overbearing monster of colonialism.
Of course most of our readers know this history. We paid a huge price for our freedom, and the ultimate sacrifice were the lives of thousands of people who perished at the hands of settlers from the Pioneer Column to Ian Smith, the Prime Minister of Rhodesia, as they misnamed our country. The country did not come cheap. Which, at the occasion of Independence 37 years later, leads us to re-examine the meaning of Independence.
We are experiencing the fact of independence: our fate is not being decided by some monarch in England or her representatives, or as latterly became of Smith, some rogue scions of the Empire. Zimbabwe is a sovereign country and political independence has been consolidated by economic independence as black people have taken ownership of resources such as the land and mines, primarily, as well as industry and banks.
These were some of the foremost demands of the war of independence, which also put primacy to self-determination that had root in universal suffrage and political participation. This is much as fact as well as a state. And we dare say, independence is also a state of the collective national mind.
Zimbabweans are proud of and cherish their independence and have defended, as previously with their blood, with the sweat and tears and vote. For at least 17 years past — which makes it almost half of the country’s Independence — Zimbabwe has endured sanctions imposed by former colonisers and their allies in a bid to reverse self-determination and set on our head puppets of the former master.
It has been resisted, happily. It will continue to be resisted. We may consider the conception of Independence not only as fact or state, but also a right in and of itself.
Independence entails freedom and liberty and it can be as useful and empowering as any right, especially to make choices.
We are thus independent to be independent!