There is hope for both SA and Zimbabwe

Janet Heard
Janet Heard

The packed vehicles queueing to cross the Beit Bridge border post from apartheid South Africa into liberated Zimbabwe stretched for more than 2km.

The seven-hour delay would equal the length of Amnesty International’s human rights concert the following afternoon – October 7 1988.

The concert was worth the border post wait.

Seven hours: the perfect time to shake loose from the oppressive, censored environment of South Africa.

As a cadet at The Star that year, I was initiated as a reporter during a perilous state of emergency, exposed to the divide of extreme white privilege and black poverty.

Across the border at the concert I spent seven hours among a crowd of about 70 000.

Captured in a cacophony of defiance and hope, I listened to group artist renditions of Get Up, Stand Up and solo performances by the likes of Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Oliver Mtukudzi.

The moments that really got me soaring were seeing the diminutive Tracy Chapman on the giant stage with her guitar, strumming while she was “Talking about a Revolution” and the slow drumming through Peter Gabriel’s haunting singing of Biko.

I was reminded of these emotional flashes of idealism as the dramatic “non-coup” unfolded in Zimbabwe this week, signalling change – an opportunity for a new beginning.

Back in 1988, Zimbabwe was a beacon of hope and inspiration, just eight years after independence.

An intensive teacher training scheme was introduced to fast-track teaching.

Education was now free at primary school level and heavily subsidised at secondary school level – a sea change from the Ian Smith era when an estimated two-thirds of black pupils were excluded, yet whites enjoyed 11 years’ compulsory education, as reported in The New York Times.

“Our majority rule could easily turn into inhuman rule if we oppressed, persecuted or harassed those who do not look or think like the majority of us.

"Democracy is never mob rule,” warned Mugabe in his early years as a post-liberation leader.

As South Africa earned rock-star status for its progressive Constitution and commitment to reconciliation and forgiveness post-1994, so Zimbabwe plummeted to the bottom of the charts.

Mugabe’s self-serving grip on power deferred the dream of Zimbabwean citizens, who had anticipated a brighter tomorrow.

As 2017 draws to a close, South Africa is on the skids, thanks to spectacular leadership failures and traits akin with our northern neighbour’s.

The vultures are circling – at home and in Zimbabwe.

South Africa is at a crossroads, as is Zimbabwe.

At this crucial time, it is easy for citizens to become cynical, to retreat, to feel powerless, or worse, to join the greedy maul.

Yet now is the time for renewal. As was demonstrated in the defiant 1980s in South Africa, good can emerge out of extreme evil.

There is hope.

Follow me on Twitter @janetheard

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