Sometimes I get quite disturbed by issues outside of my jurisdiction but which continue to violate my peace of mind. Which reminds me of some time ago when I was still a learner and saw in the staff room a poster which encouraged us to stomach things that we can’t change.
I know I can’t change the situation in Zimbabwe but I refuse to stomach the status quo. Truth is that Zimbabwe is spoken about in the past tense. People discuss its glory as if it was sixty years ago. Truth be told, it’s not long ago when it was termed ‘the bread basket of Africa’. As a literature fundi I was intrigued by tales of the Harare Book Fair which was said to be the biggest in Africa and attracted luminaries such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o and other respected African thinkers and scholars.
Zimbabwe was everything we wished post’ apartheid South Africa to be. The colonialists such as Ian Smith continued to live and cause noise in parliament. Thousands of English continued to farm the fertile, which to a certain extent was the reason it was the bread basket.
But as we all know Zimbabwe did experience an economic slump, half brought about by economic sanctions imposed by the West and half by economic mismanagement by the ruling party. The West’s sanctions worked because Zanu-PF did not device a plan over so many years to run own affairs in the absence of the English.
What I mean by this is that President Robert Mugabe, in his hundreds of international visits did not tag along enough experienced indigenous entrepreneurs to help in diversifying the economy of his country. The import/export/distribution/retail connections and contracts remained with the same colonists.
Thus, when Zanu-PF implemented its controversial land redistribution plan it had figured out how to take a farm but not where/how to sell the produce to the international market. As a result fresh produce rot in storage, resulting in low sales and a domino effect of retrenchment which led to unemployment, poverty and the economic meltdown that saw millions cross borders to neighbouring countries.
It can still be argued that the land redistribution programme was a super nationalist project. I went to Zimbabwe last year and spoke to journalists, NGO people and ordinary people and what I found was that it was good programme mismanaged for party political benefits.
Sources told me that scores and scores of untrained Zanu-PF senior members were the real beneficiaries of the land process. Some were given farms they didn’t even have an intention of staying in. they continued to live in cities while owning vast tracts of land they didn’t farm; or couldn’t since the overheads were not circumvented by government.
I was told that when hunger crept in and the public raised their concern they were silenced through secret police and Zanu-PF loyalists scattered in rural areas. That’s when the exodus started; no wonder it coincided with the rise of the Movement for Democratic Change. The more the MDC accelerated the more the iron grip intensified. Zanu-PF could see its sell-by date.
That’s what I was told last year as I travelled to Mashonaland Central and past vast tracts of farmland some rumoured to be owned by Vice President Joyce Mujuru. I went past a mine, an army school, an intelligence centre, rural communities and fertile land which lay fallow.
I revisited the Zimbabwe of my dreams again last week through a Skype conversation with progressive Zimbabwean journalist Robert Tapfumaneyi. We discussed how things were, how they are and how they can be.
Well, I’m not a scholar on Zimbabwe so I posed my questions and listened as I was briefed on the status quo. Tapfumaneyi disputed my assertion that maybe the current regime in Zimbabwe can be instrumental in the solution of the problem given that the conditions of the lifting of economic and targeted sanctions was that the country should hold a free and fair elections. Tapfumaneyi argued that Zanu-PF created the disaster in the first place and there’s no way it can suddenly pull a rabbit from its hat.
He was adamant that the political leadership in Africa has had a tendency to create problems for expediency objectives and then argue that they should be left alone to solve Africa’s problems.
Responding to my observation that the reason why Zimbabwe’s solution remains elusive is because of the tribal make-up of the country whereby the Shona have been at the top of the feeding order for ages. He explained that when one looks at the MDC as it was when founded and even when it went to the elections last year there were skills from both tribes and such faultlines never showed up during electioneering, even on the MDC-N’s side, the faction led by Ndebele Welsh Ncube.
My experience of Zimbabwe has been very much like that of Kenya whereby the moment you mention a person’s name; depending on the tribal identity of the person spoken to, they are quick to mention the tribe. It reminded me of the time I was in Kenya and I mentioned someone’s name and someone suddenly said, ‘oh, Kikuyu’. When I enquired after arriving back home I was told it’s because the Kikuyu are accused of being thieves. “They stole the whole Kenya, from Jomo Kenyatta to Uhuru Kenyatta”. Now, that’s not Africa for you, that’s paranoia and relic of colonial thought right there.
Tapfumaneyi argues that not even assumed pragmatists such as Simba Makoni and Jonathan Moyo are not the solution. Makoni left Zanu-PF but some people believes he remains a party person through and through. His DNA is Zanu-PF. Moyo left and later returned to Uncle Bob’s party. Maybe his was a strategy that worked such as that of the young Zanu-PF motormouth Psychology.
It seems the solution to Zim’s problem lies in opposition parties uniting to confront Zanu-PF like a scourge. There can’t be talk of business as usual while Zimbabwe does not have its own currency but transacts on USDollars and ZARands. Tapfumaneyi sees the meltdown as having started when NGOs where suddenly closed to centralise civil service responsibilities to government. In that context such services could be used to recruit Zanu-PF members and the much feared Green Bombers.
Mugabe sent young Zimbabweans into a war for diamonds in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He then allowed the situation to degenerate into a situation whereby the security architecture was made up of the army, police, Green Bombers and the unofficial magumaguma at the border who raped and killed those fleeing.
In this chaos diamonds around Marange were stolen and lined pockets of party leaders. Finances from the Central Bank were looted to benefit the first family and close officials. These were allegations that the government couldn’t refute with facts. Spokesperson Brian Matongo, good at spinning was failing at spin.
Tapfumaneyi sees the current debacle inside MDC not as an internal problem capable of disorganising the opposition but as a process that will separate the boys from the men.
According to my source things have not improved since the elections. We all know the economic sanction are still to be lifted by the West that imposed them. Mugabe is old and tiring fast. Mujuru could contest the presidency but she has to win the party ticket.
During my last visit to Zimbabwe some activists said Zanu-PF’s trump card of discrediting other political opponents by questioning their struggle credentials is getting tired. Tapfumaneyi also concurs that that chimurenga argument is becoming obsolete. “Chimurenga played its part but now we have people with a political understanding to can take this country forward”, I paraphrase. It’s something said by one 30-years old activist last year; “I’m thirty years old this year, this republic is thirty years old, where does Mugabe expect me to have fought the colonists?”
I will provide another update someday soon. For now there are millions of Zimbabweans outside its borders who cannot go back because as Tapfumaneyi says, the situation does not inspire confidence