I RECALL a story I was told by my parents when I was still a child.
There was a ruling Zanu PF meeting at our plush local sporting facility, “Zisco Club”, in the early 1980s which at the time was, offering every sporting activity one could imagine.
Of course, before independence in 1980, the place, located in the low-density suburb of Redcliff, was exclusively for whites.
Nonetheless, the ruling party meeting was to be held at that venue, which had been desegregated in new Zimbabwe.
There happened to be an individual who, upon entering the Zisco Club theatre, began wiping her dirty shoes on the immaculately clean carpet.
When my mother rebuked her for soiling the carpet, her rude response was: “We’re now free, so we can do whatever we want!”
As expected, my mother was horrified as to why anyone would assume that independence meant being free to destroy our own property and infrastructure.
Should the logical thing not have been to take exceptional care of whatever we owned — whether inherited from the colonial era or had always been in our possession?
- Community Builder:Chako doing more than just business
- Community Builder:Chako doing more than just business
- Zim's 2023 elections: How to judge candidates' social protection promises
- Govt admits letting down new settlements
In fact, did independence not mean we were now free to develop our motherland so that every citizen of Zimbabwe could enjoy the standard of life that had previously been the preserve of only one race?
However, for some strange reason, there were those of us who believed independence was a licence to destroy everything — just because the country was now all ours.
Unfortunately, this is precisely what we have been witnessing in the country for the past 43 years.
We have a ruling elite that is actually convinced that it has the right to plunder every resource that Zimbabwe is blessed with regardless of the concomitant ruination of the economy and the lives of ordinary citizens.
Indeed, we are now masters of our country and all it contains.
At least on paper!
Nevertheless, this does not mean exploiting these riches for the sole benefit of those in power while everyone else languishes in poverty.
What good is this “independence” to the nation when lives of schoolchildren are placed in grave danger simply because there are those who feel entitled to the gold underneath their classrooms, which is not only mined illegally, but recklessly, with the blessing of those in power.
Is this not what happened at Globe and Phoenix Primary School in Kwekwe a few weeks ago, when several pupils were injured when their classroom block caved in?
Are these the “fruits of independence” when thousands of employees and their families are left to suffer in perpetual poverty just because the ruling elite feels that this Uhuru gives them the right to loot from State-owned enterprises while appointing their underqualified or even unqualified relatives and comrades to run these companies?
Did we not witness this with the demise of the former iron and steel making giant ZiscoSteel, whose closure in 2008 left thousands of people without means of earning a living, mostly in the small town of Redcliff?
Furthermore, former workers have not received their terminal benefits, with some still owed outstanding salaries from more than a decade ago.
This has been a common trend across Zimbabwe as countless companies, owned by the government, have been reduced to mere shells after being looted by those holding public office.
As a result, the country has lost billions of dollars in export proceeds of those companies, as well as revenue through taxes.
Let us remember that at its peak, ZiscoSteel produced an impressive one million tonnes of steel a year, not to mention downstream industries that profoundly benefited through the production of machinery, tools, and equipment of various types.
We can move on to the US$3 billion a year that the country is being prejudiced via illicit cross-border financial transactions, with more billions lost through gold and diamond smuggling, and half the value of our GDP (currently standing at US$21,4 billion) to corrupt economic activities.
Is that what we call being “independent”?
Is this the freedom we won, after a harrowing protracted liberation struggle meant for politically-connected cartels and mafia bosses to freely pillage our national resources (which should be equitably shared among the population) — but end up in the hands of a few?
When these well-connected criminals smuggle our gold and diamonds, will this be viewed in terms of “independence and freedom” despite millions of ordinary citizens not enjoying even a single cent of that money?
When we talk of over US$100 million of the gold disappearing from our country every month, as well as an estimated US$25 billion in diamond revenue said to have never reached State coffers in the past 18 years, who is benefiting?
In fact, in 2022, our mining sector officially generated about US$8 billion.
Who is benefiting when half the population is living in extreme poverty, with two-thirds of the workforce earning below the poverty datum line, and 60% of our population reportedly failing to access nutritious foods?
What is happening to this money when rural areas still resemble war-torn zones since the 1960s without any meaningful development having taken place, even after attainment of independence in 1980?
The majority of rural folk have no electricity and potable water, are still packed on infertile dry land, with their children without decent schools.
The “lucky ones” are restricted to subsistence farming, through such programmes as Pfumvudza, without sufficient land for commercial agriculture, despite that those in power own huge tracts of farmland they grabbed from white farmers.
Some of these rural areas are located atop vast deposits of precious minerals which are mortgaged to foreign entities for no benefit to local communities, save for token “development” such as menial jobs and mediocre trinkets in the form of one or two classroom blocks.
In fact, these villagers are being forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands by mining companies and moved to undeveloped areas that are not fit for human habitation.
Furthermore, irrigation projects established during the colonial era to, at least, give the rural folk a semblance of decency have been lying idle, having not been repaired since breaking down eons ago.
With a GDP of US$21,4 billion, why are our healthcare institutions lacking basics such as antibiotics, paracetamol, antiseptics, anaesthetics and the much-needed radiotherapy machines for cancer patients?
Why are our elderly earning paltry pensions, especially under the National Social Security Authority, that are not even enough to pay for a loaf of bread, let alone covering their medical and household expenses?
Be that as it may, the country is flooded with endless reports about those in charge of this social security authority plundering millions of dollars through devious schemes with hardly anyone being thrown in prison.
Is this the freedom we won via the blood and sweat of our forebearers?
Does our independence mean the freedom to loot our national resources while destroying the country and the lives of ordinary citizens?
Is this what thousands died for during the liberation struggle?
- Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and political commentator