by Tendai Ruben Mbofana
One of the greatest human traits, especially when confronted with unsavoury circumstances, is the irresistible desire to look back into the annuls of their history for comparisons – possibly, as a form of strength, comfort, direction, or guidance.
I am not exactly sure why we do it, but all I know is that, all of us – as human beings – are drawn to such comparisons, at some point in our lives – it is simply unavoidable. How many times have we complained over the poor standards of today’s products and goods, as compared to those of yesteryear? …or, how today’s youth are so disrespectful and undisciplined, as opposed to past generations?
This is human nature at its best…or worst! However, there are times when the comparisons become a bit more tricky and complex, as the situations being compared both seem unenviable – as this may end up being reduced to a case of ‘the better evil’. One may have to compare two catastrophic situations that they had to endure, for instance, a traumatic and terrifying accident, and the death of a loved one.
Both these scenarios are horrific, but if one is faced with the death of a loved one, then the horrid accident – which, probably, left them terribly paralysed, and traumatized – would suddenly, not appear so bad afterall. This is the sinister and paradoxical predicament that the ever-suffering people of Zimbabwe find themselves in this day and age.
After braving decades of horrendous oppression and subjugation at the hands of the brutal Rhodesia government, the country’s majority would be excused for thinking that things could not possibly get any worse, and that independent Zimbabwe would usher in the well-deserved respite.
What else were they to expect after facing years and years of racially skewed political, economic, and social policies – having their land expropriated, denied equal access to quality education and health, awarded racially-prejudiced salaries, being restricted to certain residential areas, denied their right to vote, and basically treated as second class citizens in their own country?
The only sane recource for such injustices was the liberation struggle, which led to the country’s independence, and huge expectations for the majority to be finally freed from the overbearing shackles of oppression. Nonetheless, years down the ‘independence road’, that same majority could sense that their joy had been misplaced, and their ‘liberators’ were no better that their erstwhile enslavers.
The land of milk and honey that they had been promised, turned out to be nothing more than a land of ‘pee and pooh’, a sad country where the same brutal repression and oppression persisted, with lack of any meaningful source of livelihood, where university graduates were reduced to street vendors, and hospitals and schools degraded to dying places and rooms where our children were turned into zombies. As is the norm, as human nature dictates, when confronted with such dire circumstances, the people can not help, but look back into the past for comparisons.
This is obviously such a painful task, as it is a journey that can be very traumatic, since the only other situation most, especially older Zimbabweans, can relate to is with Rhodesia. Again, it is akin to comparing a debilitating and traumatic accident, and the death of a loved one – but, it can not be avoided. Immediately after independence, Zimbabwe, led by then Prime Minister, and subsequently first executive president Robert Gabriel Mugabe – in a government that he was with current president Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, as security minister – embarked on a destructive policy of annihilating a whole tribe of the country’s population, by launching what observers regard as brazen ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of mostly Ndebele-speakers of the Midlands and Matebeleland provinces.
When compared to Rhodesia, as much as there was systematic racial segregation, and a tribally-based ‘divide and rule’ tactic, there was hardly any ethnic cleansing of such a magnitude, outside of a war zone. In fact, the most notable acts of tribal violence in Rhodesia were at the instigation of Mugabe’s party ZANU, after its break away from ZAPU.
Any other deliberate mass killing of the people of this country during Rhodesia was during war time – however, the Mugabe and Mnangagwa dispensation’s decision to massacre people enmass was during ‘peace time’ – save for one of two isolates cases of insurgence, which could never be rightly termed as acts of war.
Another major comparison that Zimbabweans find themselves making is with economic prosperity, or lack of, especially during alleged or real sanctions. After the Ian Douglas Smith Rhodesian regime decided on a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), in 1965, the United Nations (UN), at the instigation of the colonial power Britain, imposed comprehensive economic sanctions on the country.
Vital products, trade, and services were cut off from and to Rhodesia, and it was virtually reduced to an island of isolation – its only friend, albeit, cautiously, was apartheid South Africa. As Rhodesia became more and more isolated, and blocked – especially, after the independence of its neighbours – it had to come up with innovative and ingenious ways to survive.
Although, it was very difficult, they managed to make record-breaking and impressive achievements – even by international standards – such as, the construction of a new railway line to South African ports, in order to avoid the now closed-off Mozambique.
Rhodesia continued to make magnificent inroads in massive domestic industrial and agricultural investments – in spite of, the UN sanctions – resulting in the country becoming a global leader in those areas. In 1979, Rhodesia had some of the biggest industries in the world, and was a leader in agricultural production. As much as the country was also secluded in the areas of sport and culture, its continued global prowess was exhibited when, soon after independence, the women’s hockey team landed a gold medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
However, in the Mugabe and Mnangagwa dispensation, amidst dubious sanctions – which at most, were nothing but targeted at certain individuals and regime-aligned companies – Zimbabwe become the laughing stock of the world, as it dismally failed at every corner.Zimbabwe became well-known for whining and whinging, being the cry-baby of the world – blaming its pathetic failures on flimsy sanctions.
Zimbabwe could not even sustain the economy that it had inherited, resulting in massive company closures, with multitudes fleeing the country in search of sustenance, those still in employment not being paid their salaries. …let alone, winning any significant sporting accolades at any international grandstage – save for Kirstey Coventry, and the Black siblings, whose achievements had nothing to do with Zimbabwe’s sporting policies.
In fact, in Rhodesia, a Standard Six (possibly, the equivalent of today’s Grade 7), as could easily access tertiary education, for
instance, my mother who trained as a general nurse – however, the same could not be said for independent Zimbabwe. For someone to be enrolled in nursing school today, they would need at least 5 Ordinary Level passes – and even armed with that certificate, their acceptance is not guaranteed, leading to some despicable acts, as bribery.
By the way, the increase in enrollment qualifications had nothing to do with any sort of improvement in the quality of the training, as my mother – who still works today on locum tenens basis – is highly regarded over the younger Zimbabwean-trained nurses.
Soon after graduation, employment was readily available in Rhodesia, as even my mother was immediately scooped up by the then giant Rhodesia Iron and Steel Company (Risco), which paid her well and regularly – a company that the independent Zimbabwe regime destroyed after nationalizing it, and then running it into the ground through mismanagement and rampant corruption.
Rhodesia companies not only paid their workers on time every time, but also provided them with varied social amenities, such as sports clubs – which have since been turned into jungles under the Mugabe and Mnangagwa dispensation. Zimbabwe can not even construct a high standard road and rail network – actually, in all my life, I have never witnessed the construction of
a railway line in this country.
All the major sporting facilities, except two or three, were constructed under Rhodesian rule – most of which are now laying in
ruin. As much as Rhodesia was under UN devastating sanctions, hospitals and schools, even in those segregated Black areas were well-stocked with the most essential medication, equipment, textbooks, and all the necessary stationary.
In stark contrast to the Mugabe and Mnangagwa dispensation, whereby, even the most vulnerable in our society, such as the elderly, poor,and disabled, are still required to purchase expensive medication from private pharmacies – as government health institutions lack the very basics. As the two presidents of Zimbabwe, Mugabe and Mnangagwa – the latter having always being in government since independence in 1980, and being an integral part of the decision making – should equally be held
responsible and answerable for the divisions, atrocities, and meltdown that Zimbabwe has been subjected to.
Thus, Mugabe and Mnangagwa can never be separated as the two men are the most responsible for the chaos and demise of Zimbabwe – and, for the latter to attempt to dissociate himself from that dispensation is futile and deceptive.
The two walked together, agreed together, destroyed together, and no coup d’etat, or any other shenanigans can ever manage to pull wool over the eyes of Zimbabweans.
° Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. He is the Programmes Director with the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice). Please call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, or (calls ONLY) +263715667700, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also ‘Like’ the ‘ ZimJustice’ page on Face