Zimbabwe celebrated 32 years of independence from Britain on Wednesday. President Robert Mugabe addressed the main event at the National Sports stadium in Harare. His 1 745-word speech — long in words but very short in substance — was predictably soporific and incoherent, harking back to the history of colonialism and the liberation struggle, but saying precious little about the present and future.
Instead of using the opportunity to reflect on the past and present, and also think about the future, it was used as a drum-beating occasion to remind people about his liberation struggle heroics and bravery.
Every time Mugabe speaks he recalls his supposedly heroic life, the struggles he has led and victories achieved in the name of the people, in so doing tacitly demanding to rule for life. He always falls short of openly demanding ruling till the end of time.
I always like reading Franzt Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, especially around Independence Day. I will return to Fanon later after asking a few questions and making observations about Zimbabwe’s post-colonial reality.
In the meantime, we need to ask: Have we realised the cherished dreams of our freedom fighters and independence? In the past 32 years what have been our significant achievements? What are the failures? What lessons are we to learn? What is to be done going forward? What does the future hold for Zimbabwe?
When our freedom fighters took up arms to dislodge the colonial system, they wanted democracy, freedom, development and prosperity. They envisaged a new country in which Zimbabweans in their diversity live together in peace and harmony in a thriving economy.
They also imagined a democracy based on the constitution in which fundamental rights, civil and political liberties, the rule of law and human rights are upheld. Freedom fighters would have envisioned that if government could not build the future for their children then it would surely build their children for the future.
After independence, Mugabe’s government started off well. It expanded social services, buildings schools, clinics, houses, roads and utility infrastructure. It also ran the economy relatively well, hence Zimbabweans’ standards of living by African benchmarks were relatively high.
But even then signs that the country was heading for disaster were there. Soon after coming into office, Mugabe — who wanted to establish a one-party state and a command economy — quickly resorted to systematic repression, using the colonial apparatus and methods, to consolidate and maintain power. The country soon became an outpost tyranny as he ruthlessly embarked on an authoritarian project which has left the nation in ruins.
As Fanon would say, due to inevitable economic decline, unemployment and poverty, mainly caused by leadership and policy failures, people began to sulk. “From time to time, however, the leader makes an effort; he speaks on the radio or makes a tour of the country to pacify the people. The leader is all the more necessary as the party collapses,” he says.
“This party has sadly disintegrated; nothing is left but the shell of a party, the name, the emblem and the motto. Today, the party’s mission is to deliver to the people the instructions issued from the summit. There no longer exists the fruitful give-and-take from the bottom to the top and vice-versa which creates and guarantees democracy.”
Fanon says the leader and his party become feared by his own people who harbour “bitter disappointment” and live in despair, simmering with “unceasing anger”.
“This party, which used to call itself the servant of the people, hastens to send the people back to their caves. The party, which of its own will proclaims that it is a national party, and which claims to speak in the name of the totality of the people, secretly, sometimes even openly organises an authentic ethnical dictatorship.”
As the situation further deteriorates, the party “sinks into an extraordinary lethargy”. Its members are only summoned when so-called popular manifestations are afoot, or international conferences, or independence celebrations.
In the end, Fanon concludes, the leader and his party become the “true traitors in Africa, for they sell their own country to the most terrifying of all its enemies: stupidity”. Need we say more? It’s as if Fanon had Zanu PF and Zimbabwe in mind when he wrote his book in 1961.