I recall a story I was told by my parents when I was still a little child. There was a ruling ZANU PF meeting at our local sporting facility, named ‘Zisco Club’, in the early 1980s – which at the time, was a plush place, offering every sports activity one could imagine.
Of course, before independence in 1980, the place – located in the low density suburb of Redcliff – was exclusively for white folk.
Nonetheless, this ruling party meeting was to be held at this venue – which had recently been desegregated in the new Zimbabwe.
There happened to be a delegate who, upon entering the Zisco Club theatre, began wiping her dirty muddy shoes on the immaculately clean carpet.
When my mother rebuked her for soiling and damaging the carpet, her rude response was an obstinate, “We’re now free, so we can do whatever we want!”
To be expected, my mother was horrified as to why anyone would assume that independence meant being free to damage and destroy our own properties and infrastructure.
Should the logical thing not have been to take diligent and exceptional care of whatever we owned – whether inherited from the colonial era, or had always been in our possession?
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 license to destroy everything – just because it was now all ours.
Unfortunately, this is precisely what we have been witnessing in the country for the past 43 years.
Nothing has changed at all!
We have a ruling elite that is actually convinced that they have the right to plunder every resource that Zimbabwe is blessed with – regardless of the subsequent ruination of the economy and the lives of ordinary citizens.
Indeed, we are now masters of our country and all that it contains.
At least on paper!
Nevertheless, this can never translate into ‘exploiting’ these riches for the sole benefit of those in power – whilst, everyone else languishes in poverty.
At the same time, what good is this ‘independence’ when lives of school children 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 blessings of those in power.
Is this not what happened at Globe and Phoenix Primary School, in the city of Kwekwe, a few months ago, when several pupils were injured when their classroom block caved in?
Are those the ‘fruits of independence’ when thousands of employees and their families are abandoned to suffer – just because the ruling elite felt that this uhuru now gave them the right to loot from state-owned enterprises – whilst, appointing their underqualified or even unqualified relatives and comrades to run these companies?
Did we not witness this with the inevitable demise of the former iron and steel making giant ZISCOSTEEL – whose closure in 2008 left thousands and thousands of people without a source of income and a 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, predominantly owned by the government, have been reduced to ashes – at the thieving hands of those holding high office.
As a result the country has lost billions of dollars – largely from exports of goods produced by those companies, as well as revenue through taxes.
Let us remember that, at its peak, ZISCOSTEEL produced an impressive 1 million tones 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 annual 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 – so that politically-connected cartel and Mafia bosses freely pillage our national resources (which should be equitably shared amongst the population) – yet, end up in the hands of a few?
When these well-connected criminals are busy smuggling our gold and diamonds – would this be viewed in terms of ‘independence and freedom’ – despite, millions of ordinary citizens not seeing even a single cent of that money?
When we talk of over US$100 million of our 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 earned Zimbabwe 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 per cent of our people reportedly failing to access nutritional food?
What is happening to this money when rural areas still appear as if were in stunted growth since the 1960s and 1970s – without any meaningful development having taken place, even with the coming in of independence in 1980?
The majority of rural folk have no electricity and potable water reaching their homes, are still packed on infertile dry land, with their children without any decent schools.
The ‘lucky ones’ are restricted to subsistence farming, through such programs as ‘Pfumvudza’ – never being provided sufficient land for real commercial agriculture – in spite of those in power owning gigantic tracts of farms they took from white farmers.
Yet, some of these rural areas are located atop vast deposits of precious minerals – which are mortgaged to foreign entities, as the Chinese, for no apparent 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 these 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 these rural folk a semblance of decency – have been lying idle, having never been repaired since breaking down eons ago.
There are not even the only things inherited from Rhodesia that now either lie ruins, or in a near state of dilapidation – such as schools, hospitals, highways and urban roads, bridges, and functional water and sewer systems.
With a GDP of US$21.4 billion, why are our health care institutions lacking the bare basics as antibiotics, paracetamol, antiseptic, anesthetic, and much-needed radiotherapy machines for cancer patients?
Why are our elderly earning paltry pensions, especially NSSA beneficiaries, that are not even enough for a loaf of bread a day – let alone, covering their medical and household expenses?
Be that as it may, the country is flooded with endless reports of those given charge over 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 country attaining independence?
Does our independence mean the freedom to loot our national resources – whilst, destroying the country and lives of ordinary citizens?
Is that what thousands died for during the liberation struggle?
• Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate, writer, researcher, and social commentator. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975