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Candid Comment

There is a limit to propaganda

By Joram Nyathi

TUESDAY this week was a day like no other. Early in the morning as I was getting into town I was touched by the sight of hundreds of youths heading for the giant National Sp

orts Stadium. Herein lay the future of Zimbabwe. This was our Independence anniversary and they were ready for the celebrations.

All these positive thoughts were quickly dispelled. Most of those youths wore all manner of tattered pieces of clothing and footwear. I had no doubt most of them had been mobilised to make up the numbers. The police escort duly confirmed my suspicions. One also couldn’t miss the waving of the trademark fists at passing motorists.

I quickly recollected all this as I listened to President Robert Mugabe addressing the crowd later in the stadium. He was at pains to stress that this was a national occasion — not a Zanu PF function — but there was nothing to excite people. I was left wondering if most of them understood what he was talking about. The few instances he got a round of applause was when he made gratuitous attacks against Morgan Tsvangirai in Shona.

The crowd was made up of mostly students or school-leavers desperate for entertainment or the supporters of Caps United and Masvingo United football clubs. Most poor Harare residents were elsewhere fighting for survival.

The only group that appeared solidly represented were members of an apostolic sect resplendent in their white regalia in a corner of the stadium. Members of the Zanu PF Women’s League always take it as a party event. For the uniformed forces it is a national duty.

This is a major shift. In the past it was elders who attended such occasions. The youths were left out or did not see what was in it for them. They were accused of lacking patriotism or an appreciation of the liberation history of this country — hence the much derided “born-free” brigade that needed political orientation. Perhaps that is how the idea of a national youth service was conceived.

That notwithstanding, there is no denying that there has been a rupture between the ordinary citizen and the Zanu PF political leadership. It is more than a few opposition rebels weighing what Mugabe is saying against what is on the ground just to score points. There is palpable incongruity between what political leaders say and what people are experiencing for themselves. It is naïve to imagine that people still buy into empty slogans about the success of the land reform when they can’t afford the staple maize meal and the prices of basic commodities skyrocket every day.

People have stopped believing the sincerity of Operation Garikai as most of the 700 000 left in the open since May last year by the ill-conceived Operation Murambatsvana destroyed their homes are still stranded. Hundreds lost their shelter and sources of livelihood after their informal businesses were destroyed. Promises of a new beginning have largely remained a mirage.

Some left for their rural homes in despair while those with nowhere to go have been reduced to destitution in towns. They can’t run the old-fashioned tuckshops and are not allowed to sell their wares in public places.

The trouble is that President Mugabe has become so far removed from the reality of our daily lives one wonders how far he is misinformed about the state of the nation. This is evident in the way he harps on about the schools and hospitals and clinics government constructed soon after Independence.

A fleeting tour of the countryside would show him that most of that infrastructure has collapsed. He will be shocked to discover that classroom blocks either don’t have windows or roofing sheets. A majority of the schools don’t have desks, books, piped water or qualified teachers. Instead of a consolidation of the early gains, there has either been stagnation or deterioration all around.

Vice-President Joice Mujuru was shocked after a recent tour of what was touted as a major irrigation project in Masvingo and what has become of Kondozi Estate in Manicaland. Instead of which Mugabe predicts 9% growth in agriculture this year!

Equally misplaced is Mugabe’s anger directed at people perceived as less patriotic or Zimbabwean than those who died for the liberation of this country. Few need to be reminded of those sacrifices. The disillusionment comes from worsening poverty and quality of life for both those born before or after Independence.

After the “golden era” of the past few still have faith in Mugabe positively changing their fortunes, hence his own preoccupation with liberation war credentials. All that people can see around them are mounting problems, from food to transport and accommodation.

Life expectancy has almost halved from 67 years at Independence in 1980 to 37 years today. Aids is seen as only accelerating what was already a steady decline in the quality of life. For the first time perhaps since Independence a majority of parents can’t afford the fees for their children at secondary schools. The cost of university and tertiary education has turned it into an elitist pursuit like a game of golf. This is a betrayal of the ideals of the liberation struggle.

You then ask yourself as you watch these poor and hungry children trooping into the National Sports Stadium whether they carry the future of the country on their emaciated limbs and tattered dreams. Are these the leaders of tomorrow?

Tafataona Mahoso would do well to examine the quality of our education each time he talks about mission schools which produced the intellectuals who spearheaded the liberation war. Most of those leaders did not need lessons in patriotism. What has gone
wrong? Independence Day celebrations should not be merely a time for self-adulation about past achievements but also a time to reflect seriously about where we are going.

There is a limit to what propaganda can do.

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