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Zim @ 33: What Independence means to others

“IT is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Opinion by Chris Mhike

While that opening line is drawn from the scriptures, this piece is neither a sermon nor a theological pontification on the subject matter — just a reflection on the meaning of Zimbabwe’s Independence as we celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the country’s liberation from colonial rule.

As most Zimbabwean leaders claim to be Christian, a religious introduction might help drive the point home. That preliminary idiom from St Paul as he writes to the Galatians, is remarkably striking in its elucidation on the purpose of freedom, at least from a Christian perspective.

The pronouncement might sound rather obvious to many readers, perhaps too obvious to the extent of superfluity. Indeed, even in non-religious spheres, people are ordinarily set free to freedom, just as doors are opened so that they are open, taps turned on so that water flows out, and fire set alight for light.

One might understandably argue that to save breath, to save space in newspaper columns, or preserve airtime in the broadcast media, the obvious does not have to be said.

However, from time to time it is important to re-state or clarify motive.  Or, put differently, to inquire into the motive for actions.

There will be times when doors are opened only to get someone or something out, and therefore opened for purposes of shutting out; times when taps are opened only to check if water runs in the pipes, or fire set alight for heat — not light.

Things are not always what they obviously or subtly seem to be.

It is therefore perhaps appropriate that as we commemorate Zimbabwe’s Independence this year, we collectively ask the question — yet again: for what purpose was the struggle for Zimbabwe waged?  What is the Independence that we gained 33 years ago in 1980 all about?

Because the war for Zimbabwe’s liberation was, and remains essential — precious lives were lost — it is only proper that the discussion proceeds from the premise that the struggle for Independence was precisely for the attainment of freedom for Zimbabweans, that is, liberation from colonial subjugation, personal liberty for any and all citizens from the repression of rulers (of any race or tribe).

This reminder is necessary today because the perspectives of rulers are not always synonymous with those of the ruled. Besides those wielding and exercising power, there are also political parties and politicians who are promising to deliver Zimbabweans from what they say is a repressive regime.

They promise to usher in a new and better Zimbabwe. The subject reminder or reflection applies to these aspirants too.

The thinking of Zimbabwean rulers today is perhaps best reflected in the official theme for this year’s Independence celebrations:  “Zim @ 33 — Peace, Prosperity and Economic Empowerment for National Development”.

Indigenisation and economic empowerment have certainly dominated discussions at governmental, political party and other platforms of national discourse in recent months and years.

These topics are now being specifically linked to the Independence celebrations.

While the seemingly obvious reason for the liberation struggle of the 1970s might be “liberation” or “freedom”, a reading of the words of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe (as he then was), authored in September 1981, further illustrates the fact that the understanding of ordinary citizens on the subjects of liberation and Independence might at times differ from that of the ruling elite.

“The antagonism that expressed itself finally in the form of a liberation war had been nurtured by a host of ever-growing grievances, chief among which was that of land-hunger.

It was mainly on the principle of the recovery of the fatherland that the armed struggle was built,” wrote Mugabe in the aftermath of Independence, in a foreword to the book titled The Struggle for Zimbabwe.

While the premier of the day understood land — “recovery of the fatherland” to be the chief grievance in the struggle for Independence — thousands or millions of other citizens probably had liberation and freedom in their most basic form in mind on top of grievances besides land and empowerment.

Today, on the one hand, there are thousands, perhaps millions of Zimbabweans, who are still pre-occupied with the idea of re-claiming land.  Many are so passionate about the “fatherland” agenda they have transformed from the humble and simple comrades they were in 1980, into land barons for whom multiple farm ownership and extreme wealth from proceeds of the land is now an acceptable station.

The view that the national leadership should stick to the original principles of the struggle is currently held by many, and should be spelt out here.

The disjuncture between the ruler’s perspective from the understanding of the ruled, on liberty, freedom, happiness and other related issues, is an old problem.

Even the colonial ruler thought the oppressed African was happy in that oppression. Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith is quoted as having expressed his confidence about the happiness of the subjugated African.

Addressing the Rotary Club in Salisbury (now Harare) on December 21 1972, Smith is reported to have said: “I have been taken to task in certain quarters for describing our Africans (black Zimbabweans) as the happiest Africans in the world, but nobody has yet been able to tell me where there are Africans who are happier — or, for that matter, better off — than in Rhodesia.”

Yet only a few hours after Smith’s address to the Rotarians, a military communiqué from the Rhodesian security forces reported that guerillas (freedom fighters) had attacked a white owned property — Altena Farm in the north-eastern Zambezi Valley area. Africans were not so happy after all. They wanted Independence, freedom and liberty.

As confirmed by this year’s official Independence theme, political elites today are firmly focused on economic empowerment. This empowerment is widely understood in local economics, law and politics to mean enrichment through the forced appropriation of shares from foreign-owned companies to locals or crudely from whites to blacks.

But there are also thousands, perhaps millions other Zimbabweans, who do not necessarily aspire to be farmers and are therefore not absorbed by the “fatherland” reclamation agenda.  There are multitudes without the ambition to be employers, shareholders or company directors — they need equal opportunities, jobs, freedom and happiness.

Besides material things, there is a deep hunger in many communities for greater levels of free speech, community radio stations, free media, free movement, free association, equality before the law, fair and sensible application of just laws and humane treatment at police stations or other public spaces.

People out there want many other things besides land and companies. Some care a lot about the basics — shelter, clean water, education, health, transport and food — before we even start talking about issues like land, indigenisation and other such objectives.

Freedom stands in stark opposition to repression. Independence contrasts with dependence.

So, if it wasn’t for freedom, in the basic sense understood by millions of ordinary Zimbabweans, that Zimbabwe’s liberators set us free, then let the message ring clear today — at 33, that for Zimbabwe’s Independence to remain meaningful and relevant to the majority we must be independent for Independence, liberated for liberty, and freed for freedom.

Mhike is a local lawyer practicing in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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