I AM one of many Zimbabweans who witnessed the birth of an independent Zimbabwe 39 years ago.
Apart from my own modest participation in the struggle for our independence, I do have a vivid memory of what the struggle was about then. We sought to restore the dignity and self-worth of the majority of our people who happened to be black.
My understanding of this restoration of dignity was that the economy — which in that period gave the minority a decent quality of life — would do the same for the majority black Zimbabweans. Unfortunately it has not done so for the past 39 years except for the handful of previously disadvantaged blacks who can now buy a Lamborghini for cash.
Two incidents that I witnessed recently distress me immensely. I live in a resettlement area called Enyandeni, 29 kilometres from Gwanda town. Six months ago, I witnessed a 17-year-old girl that had walked 14km to and from a clinic to get her three-day-old baby administered an injection. On her way from the clinic she fainted.
Her teenage cousin, who had her “own” one-year-old baby on her back, took the three-day-old infant in her arms and was walking to the village, now 5km away, to get a scotch cart for purposes of collecting the fainted mother. I just appeared, fortunately, on the scene, and helped give a lift to these young mothers. These two teenage mothers are part of the thousands of teenage girls who drop out of school and face a daunting future of parenting at that age.
The fate of children born under these circumstances should be a concern to us as citizens of our country. That a 17-year-old girl is willing to walk 14km to a clinic, three days after giving birth, to give her baby an opportunity to survive, should move us all.
The question that we should ask ourselves as a country is: “Why does a woman have to walk 14 kilometres to a clinic 39 years after independence?” This happens in Matabeleland South, a province with an abundance of mineral and other resources.
Two months ago, my 84-year-old neighbour visited me at my homestead for a chat. This was on Saturday at 4pm and we had tea under a tree. My neighbour was alone in his homestead as his wife was away visiting their sons and two daughters in Johannesburg.
Like most Zimbabweans, these children are in South Africa trying to make a living under difficult conditions. The following day, on Sunday at 10am, my neighbour was found dead alone in his poor kitchen. The post-mortem indicates that he died of exposure to severe cold weather.
On being informed, to their credit, the police hitch hiked, one from Gwanda and the other from Mtshabezi police post. They did not have the usual aluminium box that the police use to store corpses. The police requested some old vehicle that fortunately had five litres petrol in it, to take the body to Gwanda mortuary. They wrapped the body in a blanket and placed it in the back of the truck and drove off to Gwanda mortuary. This man has been my neighbour for the past 20 years. All I know about him is that he lived and died a degraded lifestyle 39 years after independence.
Do those who claim to rule us care about these things? Of course, they do not; if they did, none of those two incidents would have happened in a country whose birth had aimed at enhancing the quality of life of those previously disadvantaged.
We can fix our country so that it ceases to be such a source of pain for its citizens. We can do this despite President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s strange declaration that he is not in power to please the people of Zimbabwe.
Mr President, you have no other cause to be in power than to please the people of Zimbabwe as you Mr President usually put it, “the voice of the people is the voice of God”.
This is how we fix our country:
The President should seek an accommodation with his former colleagues in G40. That factional division continues to be a source of instability for our country. I suspect that enormous resources are being spent managing the G40 element on the part of the state. The suspicion and animosity stemming from this division means our country cannot effectively deal with the past and turn its back on all those ugly things that have happened in the past. The G40 debacle has to be acknowledged, charity begins at home.
The President has to read the submission by the chiefs and immediately hold a follow-up meeting with them where he presents each chief with a medal of valour. Chiefs, who for 39 years have been coerced into drowning the voices of their own people, have at last given the President the opportunity to address fundamental issues that have been ignored for too long, thus rendering our country a painful place to be. The chiefs might be from Matabeleland and the Midlands, but their pleas for justice, fairness and equity are sentiments that are representative of the whole country.
The President should seek accommodation with opposition leader Nelson Chamisa and together, hand-in-hand, they should summon the people of Zimbabwe to a nation-building indaba. These things are not easy to do but they are necessary. This is what leadership is about. The easiest thing to do is to be angry and threaten retribution for real or perceived infractions. Our leaders, particularly the President, need to take bold and difficult decisions for this country to move forward. The President, in particular, ought to know that in a bid to resolve a problem one does not speak to those it is easy to talk to but one speaks to perceived enemies. Engaging one’s adversaries is a sure sign of leadership.
We as a country need to look very closely at how our neighbours have conducted their affairs, particularly in areas of leadership renewal.
For instance, our neighbour South Africa, in 25 years of independence have had five presidents; two of Xhosa ethnicity, one Sotho, one Zulu and one Venda giving testimony to the fact that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. We have to ask ourselves what it is about us that in 39 years we have had only two changes, one effected with a force of arms, much as we seek to deny it because it must be embarrassing.
This is the only country we have, it deserves better than what we have done so far. I am sure we can do it.
Paul Themba Nyathi is the director of Masakhaneni Project Trust, a peace-building organisation, he writes in his own capacity.