Zimbabwe @ 43: In Pursuit of the Elusive Independence Promise
Today, ZimRights joins the rest of the nation in commemorating 43 years of independence.
43 years ago, the Union Jack was lowered while the colourful Zimbabwean flag took to the skies, representing the great independence promise. This was a moment of pride, hope and inspiration. Every child looked up to a great future in a new Zimbabwe. The nation was engulfed in jubilation and nations looked upon Zimbabwe with great expectations. This was our moment as a people to reset and rebuild a great nation in which everyone was equal and the majority government would work for us all.
Speaking to the nation, the then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe said, “Our Constitution equally circumscribes the powers of the government by declaring certain civil rights and freedoms as fundamental. We intend to uphold these fundamental rights and freedoms to the full.”
Years down the line, the nation has confronted many other successive struggles. The Zimbabwean nation born of the liberation war still struggles to heal and overcome the liberation war trauma and legacy. As early as 1982, the majority government turned the same colonial infrastructure of violence against its own people, mainly in the Midlands and Matebeleland, killing over 20 000 civilians in an atrocity that continues to haunt the nation. The 1980 promise of a free nation was quick to collapse. The commitment to the rule of law and respect for human rights was forgotten. And the nation, once born with great promise has ones again become a nightmare to its people. In 2005, the church leaders under the banner of the Heads of Christian Denominations (HOCD), bemoaned this situation and wrote;
“All this we have lived each day, like prisoners in a concentration camp from the Zambezi to the Limpopo.”
This is the situation of Zimbabwe and its people, 43 years after independence.
The government has failed to uphold the independence promise.
Over 4,5 million Zimbabweans have left the country in pursuit of a better life elsewhere. Those who remain at home are struggling every day to put food on the table, to have a roof over their heads, to keep their children in school, to keep the lights on in their homes, and they have no idea when they will ever see running water in their homes.
The independence flame, lit 43 years ago, has since been extinguished by the greediness of the few, which consumes and consumes, leaving nothing for the people. Corruption has reached new levels with recent revelations from the Al Jazeera Gold Mafia documentary showing unprecedented plunder of the country’s natural resources. Zimbabwe now ranks as number 157 out of 180 on the Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index. It is in the top 20 of the world’s most corrupt countries with a score of 23 out of 100.
The international community that used to have so much respect in our potential has lost all confidence and we have been reduced to a pariah state. The Economist’s Democracy Index has classified Zimbabwe as authoritarian. Freedom House’s 2023 Freedom in the World report classifies Zimbabwe as ‘unfree’. In September 2022, Civicus put Zimbabwe on the Watchlist of countries that have seen a decline in civic freedoms, with civic space classified as ‘repressed’, the last stage before closure.
In all this, the government has continued putting in place laws that do not help the situation but rather make it worse. The Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill (PVO Bill), the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill (a.k.a. the Patriot Bill) among others represent a nation that is fast walking back on the liberation promise and driving its citizens into one big concentration camp, the complete opposite of the independence promise of freedom and prosperity.
ZimRights believes that it is not too late to halt the current trajectory. There is hope and resilience in the people. A people who fought against the colonial establishment to gain their independence in 1980 remain resolute to fight for their rights and regain their dignity.
ZimRights calls upon the government of Zimbabwe to reflect on the independence promise and align its policies in line with that promise. Laws like the PVO Bill and the Patriot Bill do not represent the Zimbabwe that Zimbabweans embraced in 1980, but rather the Rhodesia that the people rejected. Such laws must be withdrawn and an all-inclusive dialogue process must be started to address the concerns raised on the operation of civil society organisations.
The corruption exposed in the Gold Mafia does not represent the prosperity and leadership ethos that the people celebrated in 1980 but rather the selfishness and ruthlessness of the elite that the people rejected. A thorough investigation must be commissioned urgently into allegations of corruption and perpetrators must be held accountable.
And finally, the upcoming elections remain a cause of concern due to the increase in cases of violence, persecution of the opposition and the capture of key state institutions for partisan political objectives. The attitudes of political leaders, trying to use perishable goods to buy the elections goes against the spirit of people-centred politics that the independence promise represents. Elections must be about delivering on bread and butter issues, and not gaining power at all costs. ZimRights presents the People’s Human Rights Manifesto, launched on 12 April 2023, inviting all political candidates in the upcoming elections to sign up and make human rights the centre of their policies. The Manifesto further invites the people of Zimbabwe to reject the old politics of bribery, violence and cultism and focus on ensuring that leaders commit to and deliver on their human rights obligations, and that they are ready to be held to account.
ZimRights wishes the people of Zimbabwe a hopeful independence commemoration. Never ever give up on the independence promise.