April 18: Five unhelpful things, five to aspire to

BY MUSA KIKA

Without renewed relevance and meaning, the day may soon be just a holiday celebrated by the ruling elite and a meaningless non-work day for the rest.

Independence Day is supposed to be one of those milestone markers in the timeline of our nation. The actual festivities of April 18, 1980 were pure celebrations of victory from colonial rule, and hope for the future. But today, April 18 ought to be a mark of progress, and what we have done with our independence.

In this piece, I outline five preoccupations that will depreciate April 18 as a milestone marker, and five aspirations that could help turn the tide.

War

Those who did not go to war will not be saluted? 30 years from now, when all who fought the liberation battles are no more, shall we be ineligible to elect a president? Or should we then fight another war to have electable people? Should our April 18 highlight be blasting liberation war songs on our national broadcaster as our mark of celebration? Nostalgia and psychological conditioning as strategies have limits.

Politics

I learnt in my Gender and the Law class that all is political; even the personal. I also learnt that he who does not participate in political processes surrenders his destiny to the participants. Yet the true import of this seems distorted.

Forty-one years into independence, political identity seems to be the dominant identifier in Zimbabwe. With it, the political party dichotomy has defined our very existence: from who gets a sack of maize in Gutu to who is eligible for a job. We have mutated otherness from blank and native pre-1980, to political party identity in 2021. It is almost as if the independence is not meant for all.

Ceremonies

Last week I attended a meeting that had some government officials. One official said the leadership of their Ministry may not be able to attend to the issues we needed to be attended to timeously, as they were all busy with preparations for Independence Day celebrations. Lavish, costly and attention distracting ceremonies! Are they the focus?

Political independence

The first is attainment of political independence, which enables control of the means of production. Then economic emancipation. Preoccupation with celebrating a 1980 political victory, and indifference to the many victories yet to be won, is retrogressive. Independence is incremental. Forty-one years later, it is now past opportune to ask: are our people now economically independent?

The glory of yesteryear

No doubt Zimbabwe’s immediate post-independence approach of reconciliation is commendable, and defines the very ethos of coexistence, which the liberators were fighting for.

The global attention and significance were encouraging. Investment in education paid off. How short-lived that was! Now the fellow citizen is the enemy. Do we ignore the injustice of the now and celebrate the glory of yesteryear?

So those five are unhelpful. What must we aspire to?

Nation building and vision-setting

Collective ownership of a country and processes is a supreme aspiration. But what is it that makes Zimbabweans proud to be? What is it that brings us together?

Nationhood means shared vision. Vision setting is not document setting; it is the visions ingrained in the hearts and minds of each Zimbabwean. It is that vision that permeates our private individual work, and our work at organised society level. It is an attitude; it is a mind-set. This, we must aspire to.

National identity

That 41 years into independence we are talking about defining patriotism, means we are far from defining a national identity and nationhood. The distorted version of patriotism that is now being shoved down our throats, including through a patriotism law, is not what builds a nation. Neither is national identity railroaded through a superficial national dress.

Robert Mugabe focused on building power and idolising himself. The news bulletins would religiously start with “The President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, and the First Secretary of ZANU-PF”.

Michela Wrong in her It’s Our Turn to Eat captures this of Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi under whom in the 1980s, every bulletin on the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, would start with news of the president: “Today, His Excellency the President Daniel arap Moi (…) We would then be told about what the president had been up to”, writes Ferdinand Omondi.

George Ogola writes: “The Sunday broadcast news in the 1980s and 1990s was a familiar ritual of Moi’s diary. (…). He populated every public space like a fetish. His omnipresence was felt across newsrooms, all of which had his framed picture strategically placed to ensure journalists were aware he was watching them”.

This cultism permeated the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation news bulletins — a tried and tested autocratic practice. Idolism is one thing we really hoped would fall with Robert Mugabe. Unfortunately, the same air of cultism and idolatry surrounds Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidency, like we learnt nothing from our past.

Economic independence

What does independence mean to Patrick, the cart-pushing fruit vendor at corner Robert Mugabe Road and Rezende Street, who has now mastered the art of sporting plainclothes Harare City Council policemen and sprinting with his merchandise, as his life depends on it?

The social justice lawyers would rightly take a swipe at the colonial era laws that criminalise vagrancy and poverty in the era of independence, but beyond elimination of barriers, the focus should be on proactively working towards extricating the many like Patrick from poverty. Yet the latest Labour Force Survey puts our informal economy workers at 74% of our working population, a staggering figure for a 41-year-old developing country! The inequality can almost be touched.

Building on the legacy

But who are the true heirs and heiresses of the liberation struggle? Those for justice, equality and freedom are. So we must not be forced to celebrate yesteryear’s heroes who have gone rogue. Today’s context requires today’s heroes. That is not to shun our history — quite the contrary.

Next generation leadership

“The fact that you are a good freedom fighter does not mean you will be a good president. One must come, serve then go,” says former Ghanaian President John Mahama. Equally, being a freedom fighter is not an entitlement to leadership. This is how one destroys their own legacy.

The time is nigh for the next generation leader to occupy both the public and private space. Our challenges of today and tomorrow need leaders of today and tomorrow.

Zimbabwe can still be saved. A nation in which all belong can still be built. And as we interrogate these issues, the need to preserve for posterity should not be lost to us.

George Ogola writes: “The Sunday broadcast news in the 1980s and 1990s was a familiar ritual of Moi’s diary. (…). He populated every public space like a fetish. His omnipresence was felt across newsrooms, all of which had his framed picture strategically placed to ensure journalists were aware he was watching them”.

This cultism permeated the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation news bulletins — a tried and tested autocratic practice. Idolism is one thing we really hoped would fall with Robert Mugabe. Unfortunately, the same air of cultism and idolatry surrounds Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidency, like we learnt nothing from our past.

Economic independence

What does independence mean to Patrick, the cart-pushing fruit vendor at corner Robert Mugabe Road and Rezende Street, who has now mastered the art of sporting plainclothes Harare City Council policemen and sprinting with his merchandise, as his life depends on it?

The social justice lawyers would rightly take a swipe at the colonial era laws that criminalise vagrancy and poverty in the era of independence, but beyond elimination of barriers, the focus should be on proactively working towards extricating the many like Patrick from poverty. Yet the latest Labour Force Survey puts our informal economy workers at 74% of our working population, a staggering figure for a 41-year-old developing country! The inequality can almost be touched.

Building on the legacy

But who are the true heirs and heiresses of the liberation struggle? Those for justice, equality and freedom are. So we must not be forced to celebrate yesteryear’s heroes who have gone rogue. Today’s context requires today’s heroes. That is not to shun our history — quite the contrary.

Next generation leadership

“The fact that you are a good freedom fighter does not mean you will be a good president. One must come, serve then go,” says former Ghanaian President John Mahama. Equally, being a freedom fighter is not an entitlement to leadership. This is how one destroys their own legacy.

The time is nigh for the next generation leader to occupy both the public and private space. Our challenges of today and tomorrow need leaders of today and tomorrow.

Zimbabwe can still be saved. A nation in which all belong can still be built. And as we interrogate these issues, the need to preserve for posterity should not be lost to us.

Kika is a human rights and constitutional lawyer.