BY BRIAN CHITEMBA
By this time 41 years ago, the late former president Robert Mugabe had been elected prime minister following a protracted guerrilla war between black nationalists’ military wings — Zipra and Zanla — against the colonial master’s Rhodesia Security Forces.
The war was waged by blacks to dismantle colonial injustices around universal suffrage (one-person one-vote), land ownership and economic independence. After the war in which thousands of people died, a negotiated settlement was reached at the Lancaster House conference on December 21, 1979. The majority black rule was birthed and people had expectations in a post-colonial Zimbabwe.
But 41 years later, questions have been raised if Zimbabwe is free indeed? Leta Mbuli’s 1996 hit song Not Yet Uhuru answers this debatable question. Uhuru is a Swahili word for freedom and independence.
Freedoms are multi-faceted as they stride across social, economic and political spheres. On the political front, Zimbabwe was freed from the colonial yoke in 1980, but Zanu PF has been strongly criticised over how it handles the democratic space, especially in the post-2000 era.
Of course, there has to be unconditional gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives for the independence of Zimbabwe, but the heavy handedness of the state against dissenting voices is something that needs to be resolved to nourish the democratic space.
Structural political and electoral reforms should be implemented to create a level playing field. Political tolerance is still a missing link. Draconian laws and Bills are sailing through parliament. This just makes Mbuli’s song prophetic — Not Yet Uhuru!
Economically, Zimbabweans have had a tough ride. The Zanu PF government, in power for 41 years, has written a plethora of economic blueprints to stir economic growth and alleviate poverty. On paper, the economic plans are attractive, but lack of political will to judiciously implement changes continues to stall growth.
Even 41 years after Independence, our leaders are shamelessly trapped in excessive political expediency as Zimbabwe is in perpetual electoral mode. Lack of opportunities, especially since the turn of the millennium, has led to a mass exodus of Zimbabweans in pursuit of economic freedom.
What is disappointing is that the country is endowed with vast mineral resources — diamonds, platinum, chrome and gold, but the levels of extreme poverty are astounding. The World Bank estimates that the number of extremely poor is around 7,9 million as of December 2020 — almost half the population. When then will we be free from poverty?
Access to education has been positive in raising high human capital indicators. However, thousands of graduates from universities struggle to get jobs with the independent unemployment rate estimated to be above 90%. The economy is highly informal with graduates turning to vending and other small hustles for survival.
To attain economic independence, key issues related to transparency, accountability, increased investment and public financing cannot be ignored.