How Zim ‘bunked’ independence classes

By Bill Saidi


IF Zimbabwe had attended all the “classes” on how to succeed as an independent African country, it would not be in the political and economic mess that it is now. That, according to a liberal interpretation of what Joshua Nkomo said on the subjec

t, has to be the conclusion of many objective analysts.

An estimated 45 countries were independent in Africa before Zimbabwe gained its own from the British in 1980.

Among the oldest were Liberia and Ethiopia, the newest Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde and Sao Tomé and Principe.

The last were handed their independence by the Portuguese after a military coup in Lisbon in 1974.

Ghana gained independence from the British in 1957. In 1966, Kwame Nkrumah was toppled by the army, plunging the country into a long period of instability. After its independence, again from the British, in 1960, Nigeria faced a long period of coups and counter-coups after the assassination of its first federal prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

There were lessons nearer home which the Zimbabwean politicians didn’t bother to attend. Just before its independence in 1964, Zambia sent its soldiers into battle with a fanatical religious sect, the Lumpa church of Alice Lenshina.

Lenshina was from Chinsali in the Northern province which had given the country its first black prime minister and later president, Kenneth Kaunda.

“She was not always like this,” Kaunda was quoted as saying about Alice, with whom he had either attended school or knew as a little girl.

Zimbabwean leaders also bunked a class in which they would have learnt of Malawi’s birth pains in 1964. The autocratic Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the leader of the small poor country which, with the two Rhodesias, had formed the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, refused to listen to criticism from his cabinet colleagues on the way he was running the country.

The dissidents were led by Henry Chipembere and Orton Chirwa.

The dissenting cabinet ministers would not bend to the doctor’s whims and fled the country. They launched a guerilla war which cost many lives and disrupted the economic development which the country would have enjoyed had there been political stability.

But even more salutary lessons were provided by a country which helped Zimbabwe fight a racist regime — Mozambique. Its independence in 1975 was rendered utterly meaningless as soon as the civil war erupted with the dissident Renamo group, aided and abetted by the South African apartheid regime, for its own purposes.

Angola, on the other side of the continent, plunged into its own civil war with Jonas Savimbi, backed by both the South Africans and the United States, struggling to defeat the government set up by the MPLA, led by Agostinho Neto.

The cause of all these conflicts was greed and an insatiable hunger for power. Clearly, the sinister hand of the former colonial masters or their sympathisers could be discerned in all instances. What has not been sufficiently debated is the spinelessness with which the leaders succumbed to the blandishments of the pro-colonial plotters.

Was independence of such little value and meaning to them? The same question could be asked of the people who were in power: would dialogue have harmed their cause, specifically the cause of the country’s political unity and stability? Were they too not blinded by greed and the hunger for power to hang on until their opponents had been vanquished?

What would Jonas Savimbi have lost if he had, right from the beginning, allowed for a dialogue with Neto, to bring shame to the Portuguese, some of whom had plotted against granting the African colonies independence right from the beginning?

For that matter, what would the Marxist Neto have lost if he had accommodated Savimbi’s ambitions?

Which brings us, neatly, to Joshua Nkomo’s thoughts on the lessons Zimbabwe ought to have learnt to avoid messing up independence.

Nkomo, according to some of his followers, decided not to be a “Savimbi” after the outbreak of violence in Matabelaland and the Midlands involving the so-called dissidents or bandits, depending on who you chose to believe at the time.

Nkomo returned from exile in the United Kingdom for this reason, according to sources. “Father Zimbabwe” would not conclude an illustrious liberation struggle career as a renegade, hunted day and night by government soldiers, some of whom had been inspired to join the struggle by his own example.

Recently, the government TV has been showing clips of Nkomo speaking of how Zimbabwe had many “lessons” to learn from countries which gained independence before us. Some of them had made serious mistakes, which Zimbabwe would be mindful of avoiding as it consolidated its own independence.

Nkomo spent much time in Zambia, from which his forces launched the struggle. He was very close to Kaunda, whose role in the struggle earned him an accolade in the Silver Jubilee celebrations last year.

What seems baffling is that neither Nkomo nor Robert Mugabe, whose Zanla forces fought the war from Mozambique, appear to have taken to heart the lessons they must have gleaned from observing at close hand the mistakes that both Kaunda and Samora Machel made.

Not until Joachim Chissano came on the scene did Mozambique’s economy begin to perform as robustly as it was entitled to. Under Machel’s flirtation with Marxism, it had simply stagnated.

Kaunda’s nationalisation of the mines in 1968 was to say the least ill-advised, economically. 

Similarly, in Zimbabwe, the atmosphere which had, in the early days of independence, attracted foreign investors, was poisoned, almost fatally, by Mugabe’s pursuit of political and economic policies steeped in acrimony and intolerance.

The most glaring example of politicians bunking the lessons on independence “mistakes” made by other countries was the Gukurahundi massacres.

All attempts at promoting a dialogue failed. It seems that, for their own reasons, certain politicians believed that a dialogue would rob them of their chances of rising to the pinnacle of political success.

The hopes of a revival of tolerance and amity between the political parties were raised by the so-called Unity Accord of 1987.

But intolerance crept in again, so that by 1990 Edgar Tekere, who some likened to what Simon Kapwepwe was to Kenneth Kaunda before they fell out over the thrust of the Zambian economy, was speaking publicly of “democracy” in Zimbabwe being in the intensive care unit.

Nkomo constantly spoke of Zimbabweans being “one people”, black, white and of all ethnic groups.

For the government to believe, seriously, that the slogan “Sisonke” will attract Ndebele-speaking citizens to join Zanu PF, rather than any other party, demonstrates most eloquently just how many lessons that party has missed in learning how to consolidate our Independence.


* Bill Saidi is editor of the banned Daily News on Sunday.

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