“SURELY this is now the time to beat our swords into ploughshares, so we can attend to the problems of developing our economy and our society. My party recognises the fundamental principle that in constituting a government, it is necessary to be guided by the national interest, rather than by strictly party considerations. Whatever government I succeed in creating, we will certainly adhere to the letter and spirit of our Constitution, since that government will itself have been the product of such Constitution.
“Only a government that subjects itself to the rule of law has any moral right to demand of its citizens obedience to the rule of law. Our Constitution equally circumscribes the powers of the government by declaring certain civil rights and freedoms as fundamental. We intend to uphold these fundamental rights and freedoms to the full. We also do not intend to interfere unconstitutionally with the property rights of individuals.
“I urge you, whether you are black or white, to join me in a new pledge to forget our grim past, forgive others and forget. Join hands in a new amity and together as Zimbabweans trample upon racialism, tribalism and regionalism, and work hard to reconstruct and rehabilitate our society as we reinvigorate our economic machinery.”
These are excerpts from the famous speech delivered by the then Prime Minister, Robert Mugabe, shortly after his ZANU-PF party had resoundingly won the 1980 elections that brought Zimbabwe’s independence.
Coming as they were from a former no-nonsense guerrilla leader, who bad built a reputation of talking tough, the calming words took many by surprise, but what the Prime Minister was promising to do was exactly what the liberation war forces had been promising the masses throughout the brutal seven-year bush war that sought to liberate the country from a white minority rule.
A short 37-years later (according to African-American social reformer and writer, Frederick Douglass (1818-95) three score years and 10 is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands) the country marks its independence with the same swashbuckling heroes of the liberation war accusing the same leadership — who as fate would have it, is still in power — of not delivering on these war-time promises that they risked limb and life for.
In an acerbic communiqué issued in July last year, the war veterans expressed their unhappiness with their colleagues in government.
The war veterans, until now President Mugabe’s tried and trusted battle-axes, highlighted problems that the generality of Zimbabweans have been complaining for many decades.
Whereas in the memorable “ploughshares” speech, the PM promised that national interests would take precedence over ruling party interests, the exact opposite went on to become the reality in Zimbabwe.
This has resulted in the country pursuing some policies that have worked to the detriment of the economy and other facets of life as the ruling ZANU-PF government sought to perpetuate its stranglehold on power.
Where there were promises to “adhere to the letter and spirit of our Constitution”, whenever this “ceasefire document” appear to be a stumbling block, ZANU-PF has been quick to altered the same to bring it into line with what it wants.
This resulted in the Lancaster House Constitution being amended a record 19 times before it was eventually abandoned altogether when the country adopted a new Constitution in 2013.
It is proving very difficult for ZANU-PF to “adhere to the letter and spirit of our Constitution”, as vast swathes of the new document that cause discomfort have been ignored out of existence, while work has already started to amend it to bring it into line with the interests of the ruling party.
Right from its apprentice days in power, government has been accused of being law unto itself, resulting in it quickly squandering the goodwill it had in the first few years.
This was despite the fact that the former guerrilla fighters believed that only a government that subjects itself to the rule of law has any moral right to demand of its citizenry obedience to the rule of law.
The promise to uphold fundamental rights was not spared either… it was also trampled upon, the major highlight being the violent seizure of white-owned farms which violated universally respected property rights.
Instead of re-invigorating the economy, the past three and a half decades have seen Zimbabwe going through several cycles of severe economic crises as one economic policy failure was followed by another.
Whereas the object of the liberation struggle was to free Zimbabwe and make its people prosperous, what has emerged is a situation whereby economic failure, coupled with limited political freedom have forced an estimated third of the country’s 14 million population to emigrate to other countries in a desperate search of a better life.
What could have gone wrong with the Zimbabwean dream?
When asked what the country’s independence mean to her, veteran activist Judith Todd, whose family sacrificed all to fight white minority rule — only for her together with her late father, Garfield Todd (the former liberal Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia) to be stripped of their citizenship by the new black government — referred the Financial Gazette to the 1968 novel, The Beautyful Ones Not Yet Born, by Ghanaian writer, Ayi Kwei Armah, which she said summed up everything about this country.
In the book, everything that should never happen to a country happened in Ghana, the first African country to gain independence.
In the novel, the unnamed protagonist, referred to as “the man”, works at a railway station and is approached with a bribe; when he refuses, his wife is furious and he cannot help feeling guilty despite his innocence.
The novel expresses the frustration many citizens of the newly independent States in Africa felt after attaining political independence.
Many African States like Ghana followed similar paths in which corruption and the greed of African elites became rampant.
Corruption in turn filtered down to the rest of society.
Social justice activist, Farai Maguwu, who for years has been engaged in running battles with government to stop the abuse of the country’s resources, said the majority of Zimbabweans will be asking: “Independence from what and to what?”
One of those who were disillusioned by the state of affairs right from independence in 1980 was former ZANU-PF secretary general, the late Edgar Tekere.
Writing in his memoirs: A Lifetime of Struggle, the nationalist said the tragedy of Zimbabwe was that it had followed into the same trap in which many a liberated African country had fallen.
Wrote Tekere: “Against this background, the nation-state-in-the-making is lacking in the strength and self-confidence with which to promote democratic discourse and tolerance, not least when the leadership now accepts the State itself as its own, as the only means to defend itself against internal and external enemies. As such, the leadership becomes increasingly paranoid, and remote from the people; and, with the passage of time, relies almost directly on a combination of costly patronage, crude ethnic balancing, and even brute force, in order to keep things together.
“It is in such circumstances that the African nationalist dream and vision of an (economic) meritocracy and (political) democracy has become a nightmare of despair for the majority of the people,”
A nightmare of despair indeed!