The Independence Dividend

We are in a real state again. The economy is shrinking, confidence is below zero, business is closing down all over the country, there is little new investment, the Government cannot fund the budget and is near the end of its tether. Our social and economic institutions are all in a crisis caused by underfunding and we remain a pariah State. What is there to celebrate?

The skeptics of old all say “we told you so” and those of us who worked so hard and long for change up to Independence and then threw ourselves into building the new country in 1980, are deeply disappointed with our “Independence Government”. They make use of every opportunity to beat the drum and state that “we brought you freedom”, “we took our country back” and those who claim all this will not tolerate any view that things were better in the distant past.

Young people, the “born free’s” look at us mystified – they have no knowledge of the past, only the present and to them, comparing our situation to that in Zambia, South Africa and Botswana, is nothing short of a disaster. They cannot find work, job opportunities have shrunk from 1,2 million in 2000 to 500 000 today. Salaries are low and credit unobtainable so that they are unable to get a bond with which to buy a home or vehicle finance – something that is the norm in nearly every society on earth.

But sitting in a coffee shop in Harare today surrounded by people of every nationality and colour, I commented to a couple of friends that this is the dividend of Independence. What were we looking at? We had at our table a young man who was born after Independence and is now in investment banking – confident, erudite and well informed – worked in South Africa after University and now come “home” to have a go at making a living. My other colleague and I were products of the struggle – he had been detained until Independence.

I recalled a meeting of the Council of Churches in Harare in 1974, addressed by Ndabaningi Sithole – the first leader of Zanu in Zimbabwe. He had just been released from detention after 10 years. He had been taken from his prison in the Midlands and flown to Zambia in the Presidential Jet and then flown home and now he was talking to us about his vision for the future. He talked about his experience of visiting an Independent African State (Zambia) and of being flown by a wholly black crew to Lusaka.

One elderly Pastor in the meeting asked him, “What qualifications does a boy have to have to fly a jet airplane?” Ndaba looked at him for a moment and then replied “Mdara; Independence!”. I was stunned at the brilliance of his response – it said everything that needed to be said.

We may not like it, but the majority ethnic groups in this country had to go to war to secure their rights. There was no other way. At the same time that I was attending that Church gathering, I took a little known Nationalist Leader out to lunch with a colleague to the 12000 Horsemen at the Monomatapa Hotel. At that meeting Robert Mugabe told me that he did not want a negotiated deal, he was glad to have a stubborn, unflinching opponent to fight like Ian Smith. He wanted a military victory that would give him unfettered grasp of the State so that he could deal with the whites and entrenched capitalism.

So here we are 34 years later, still operating under a Government that was trained in bush camps to fight a guerilla war and little else. They had no experience of Government, were ill prepared and had an ideology that was engineered in another century and no longer has any relevance to the world in which we live today. Like the South African Communist Party, listening to their rhetoric, you can easily imagine you are in the old Soviet Union.

Here our institutions were not strong enough to resist the erosion of values and governance that came with the change of Government in 1980 and the overwhelming sense of entitlement that came with the victory at Lancaster House has remained. Until this generation dies and clears the decks for a new generation of leaders, we are stuck with our past and our generation has to accept that we are responsible.

But despite the failure of government over the past 34 years, there are dividends from the struggle for Independence in Zimbabwe. Our failure to bring development and growth to the country has meant that several million people have had to leave the country to make a living. They send home about $200 million a month to support their families here and this is one of the largest sources of income in the country and explains how many – even the majority, of people are able to survive. At the same time we are reaping the dividend of education and life experience that those millions of young people are gaining in foreign lands.

When finally we get a decent government here and the rule of law is returned, economic growth resumed and our international relations normalized, then many of those young people will come home and they will transform our society and economy. I have no doubt at all, that we will become the fastest growing economy in the world. These young people will not recognise race, or tribe as a significant distinguishing feature, for the first time we will be able to accept that we are all Zimbabweans.

The second dividend that I have in mind is the simple sense of worth and dignity that we have been able to bring to our younger generation. When I see hundreds of young people – 98 per cent of them black, confident, well educated, holding positions of responsibility and doing a good job, I am looking at the generation we created after Independence. I am not disparaging the elite that was educated and produced by the Rhodesian era, but simply saying that that generation has deep flaws that have resulted in our fractured and broken economy and society today.

My friend at coffee on Friday said that he went along to watch the Australia/South Africa cricket match on Wednesday at Harare Sports Ground. He (the former detainee) said he was astonished and moved at the sight of many thousands of young black Zimbabweans at the game – many rooting for Australia. He was sure that the Australian team would go back to Sydney with a new view of what Zimbabwe is all about. Goodness knows what the South African team felt when every boundary was greeted with a roar of approval.

Then there is the impact of the Christian revival that has been underway here for the past 20 years. Today our Churches are full; people walk to Church on Sundays carrying their Bibles. In Parliament every meeting starts and ends with prayer and it’s not superficial, it’s real faith. These are the real foundations of our future.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 29th August 2014