By Seewell Mashizha
In something resembling a Hollywood movie, some shadowy persons recently tried to assassinate incumbent president Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa at White City Stadium in Bulawayo on Friday June 22. This cowardly and dastardly act stands condemned within and without Zimbabwe.
After years of uneasy politics, the country is showing robust signs of emerging from the shadows and fashioning a vibrant new democratic dispensation. The terror attack is therefore out of sync with public sentiment across the political divide.
Many a visitor has remarked about the remarkable calm in the country that makes it difficult to believe we are approaching Election Day and the second republic. Significantly, the liberation forces never ever tried to take out Ian Smith. In Fact, his old mother lived in a small house in Shurugwi town just across the road from Douglas School named after her husband. Someone is trying to poison the political atmosphere and spoil the peace and this should be resisted with all the might at our disposal. Zimbabwe deserves to be at peace to pursue her destiny.
After the huge gold findings on the Witwatersrand in 1886, it became logical to think in terms of a second Rand north of the Limpopo, that is, in Zimbabwe. The frantic rush to colonize the country using the charter granted to Cecil John Rhodes through his British South Africa Company and operationalized through the 1890 Pioneer column is what, willy-nilly, brought in our expanse of lengthy nightmares.
Zimbabwe was thought to be a possible Eldorado, and the location of the fabled King Solomon’s Mines. Writings by H. Rider Haggard including “Allan Quartermain”, “She” and “King Solomon’s Mines”, not only fuelled colonization but also justified it, as did Rudyard Kipling’s “great, grey, greasy, green Limpopo River” with its yawning hippos.
The Great Zimbabwe monument, inauspiciously labelled “the Zimbabwe Ruins” by bourgeois colonial writers was somewhat disconcerting for colonialism. Accordingly, attempts were made to re-write the history of the land and package it in such a way that evidence of a flourishing civilization in centuries gone by would thus be obliterated.
The unique architecture at Great Zimbabwe spoke of things that, if allowed scope, would make nonsense of the so-called civilizing mission of a ubiquitous kind of new imperialism that spread its tentacles across the globe on a scale hitherto unknown and did so with a disturbing level of alacrity and callousness.
In Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa were the places where colonists went to extremes in their brutalization of indigenous peoples. That, notwithstanding, they were granted responsible government. By 1923 the colony of Southern Rhodesia had a parliament and a prime minister. As might well have been expected, the native peoples of these areas did not take kindly to their subjugation.
To justify iniquitous political economies heinous doctrines such as the horse and rider partnership of Wellensky’s Central African Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland, and South Africa’s apartheid separate development were created. Consequently, Southern Rhodesia legislated into existence punitive land and animal husbandry configurations designed to impoverish indigenous Zimbabweans and thereby create a huge pool of cheap labour for the convenience of white capital. Until then the land and the resources in and on it, including large herds of cattle, were the people’s economy. The disaffection that ensued mothered Chimurenga 1 and 2.
Independence did not fully address the land question and the issue was always going to surface at some point as indeed it did. When the so-called land invasions came, the effect was profound in terms of the country’s politics and its production. Today, Zimbabwe’s neighbours are beginning to follow suit in wanting their own land questions decided once and for all.
There was always a simmering tension in Zimbabwe over the land issue. Inevitably, this poisoned the politics and had a negative impact on international relations. Locally, an unrepentant Ian Smith was at one point imprisoned though not for long. His Conservative Alliance formed to succeed the Rhodesia Front which would have been an anachronism was representative of white intransigence.
Whites tended to spurn the hand of reconciliation offered at independence. With time the schisms in the country became so aggravated that Zimbabwe became a global concern. Internally the polarization just went on and on to the extent of dividing families, churches and other institutions.
Labour organizations were not unscathed in all this. Workers concerns were often sacrificed to partisan politics. Even in the arts, the divisions were evident. Artistes like Simon Chimbetu and Andy Brown and Tambaoga being vocal on the side of the establishment lost some of their following. Thomas Mapfumo and Leonard Zhakata were some of the voices on the other side.
There was a rapid mushrooming of spoken word artists who were mostly anti-establishment. These included the likes of Chirikure Chirikure, Comrade Fatso (Farai Tsotsi) and others. These artistes patronized slam poetry competitions, festivals and HIFA. Some of them have since been published (Chirikure himself, Batsirai Chigama, Philani Nyoni and others).
Theatre was not to be outdone. Harare’s Theatre in the Park became the prime venue for theatre and a number of productions were staged there including plays by Cont Mhlanga, Raisedon Baya, Christopher Mlalazi and others. All in all, we had a country at war with itself.
The intention here is to show that the nation was so riven and polarized as to metaphorically become an active volcano likely to explode any time. Peace, therefore, was never in absolute terms. The volatile situation was very easy to ignite. We therefore had a situation of seething agitation that oft times became violent and further exacerbated things.
To make things worse the unofficial sanctions against the country so damaged the country’s economy that it practically ground to a halt. Inflation went through the roof and by the time we came to the 2008 elections a reversal of much of the liberation war agenda was increasingly becoming more and more possible. The depressed economy drove emigration and unprecedented numbers of Zimbabweans sought greener pastures outside the country’s borders and across the globe.
The 2008 elections led to the formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU) in 2009 with the three major political parties (ZANU-PF, the MDC and the MDC-T) reaching a compromise agreement to take the country forward. The GNU brought about a semblance of order and stability and also formulated a home-grown constitution that is still operational. What the GNU did not do was create the kind of peace and quiet that has become definitive of the country in recent times. Neither did it create the kind of optimism that is currently in the air.
On becoming President, Mnangagwa moved swiftly to engage friend and foe alike in the international world and to rebrand the country and declare it open for business. True to his word at inauguration, he hit the ground running and allowed political plurality to bloom. There is an undeniable new sense of freedom. Zimbabwe is once again courting the world’s capitals and its conglomerates. And she is getting a fair amount of attention which peaceful and credible elections are likely to enhance.
Zimbabweans agree that the country has not been this calm and peaceful for a very long time. Accordingly, the recent act of terror at White City Stadium in Bulawayo that injured 49 people continues to be roundly condemned. Two security details amongst the injured have since died.
Speaking in an interview on television recently, constitutional expert and presidential hopeful, Professor Lovemore Maduku observed that in terms of the country’s constitution if anything were to happen to any of the presidential candidates by way of death, the elections would have to stop and the processes would have to start anew. One wonders if that was the intention of the would-be assassins. Could it be that they foresee an outright Mnangagwa win or at any rate an outcome that is inimical to their interests?
The July 30 harmonized election campaigns are decidedly different because of the absence of the acrimony and the peculiarly personalized attacks that characterized previous campaigns. And the signing of the peace pledge by parties participating in the elections is a welcome development which must undergird the future.
Meanwhile, the security arms of state must work diligently to apprehend the culprits and protect presidential candidates. It is time Zimbabwe had a break, the malcontents notwithstanding.