Africa

Zimbabwe at 34: Freedom must still be realised

Takura Zhangazha

Is there reason to assume that Zimbabwe's independence was ever as fundamental a revolution as it has been popularly envisioned?

Supporters cheer for Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe during celebrations marking his 90th birthday in Marondera on February 23. (Reuters)

Commemorating 34 years of Zimbabwe’s independence raises more historical questions than answers, largely because, by now, Zimbabwe should be an "arrived society" – a society that is comfortable with itself, its democratic values, its culture and the general legitimacy of its state institutions; a society that understands its past but, more importantly, its future.

It was the academic Andre Astrow who was probably the first to ask a key question in his book, Zimbabwe: A Revolution that Lost its Way?

First published in 1983, it posed the largely ideological question of whether the socialist intentions of the liberation struggle were circumvented by those of state capitalism in the first two years of independence. 

When we assess Zimbabwe now, the same question can be paraphrased and asked, though in a less ideological fashion, mainly because the question of a lost revolution has been a common thread in every Independence Day commemoration.

In fact, the further the country has moved from its independence in 1980, the more anxious the questions have become about whether the dream of the revolution is being fulfilled or betrayed in terms of economic justice and in relation to human rights and good governance.

Taking the cue from Astrow, a matter that must be considered is whether there is even reason to assume that Zimbabwe’s independence was ever as fundamental a revolution as it has been popularly envisioned.

Third Chimurenga
This is pertinent, especially since the ruling party announced and implemented its Third Chimurenga, or revolution, which was ostensibly to restructure land ownership by ­taking land from the minority white farmers and giving it to the landless black majority. 

The Third Chimurenga, in the view of Zanu-PF, was supposed to redress the outstanding issue of land inequality on the basis of race.

Although the land reform process has been lauded as a fulfilment of a key intention of the liberation struggle and independence, it is increasingly turning out to be a farce, specifically with respect to the fact that it was undertaken on the basis of popular politics without attendant structural changes in the patterns of land ownership and usage.

This is most likely the reason why 34 years after independence, the media remains awash with stories of multiple farm ownership, evictions of peasants and under-utilisation of land by new farm owners. This includes reports that the first family may have been complicit in the eviction of hundreds of families from lands close to its dairy project. 

In exploring the meaning of this year’s independence celebrations, it is also important to acknowledge the highly politicised drafting of a new Constitution that was endorsed by a national referendum in March 2013. Few citizens are unfortunately familiar with its content. 

National independence project
Furthermore, the harmonised elections that resulted in a two-thirds majority for the ruling Zanu-PF party was indicative, as far as the ruling party was concerned, of a return to the historical nuances of the first years of independence when it was in electoral ascendancy.

Apart from the assumed historicity of the recent elections, key questions about the significance of the national independence project have not been conclusively answered.

In this sense, Zimbabwe’s independence commemorations must be viewed from the perspective of the contemporary political, socio-economic importance of those questions. Historically it matters, but the question must be: Does it still weave its way into the country’s lived realities in terms of the values and ­principles of the liberation struggle and independence?

There has been a clear shift from the heady idealism of the initial years of independence to its contemporary symbolic consideration. Independence Day has become an event more than it is a reflection of our society’s pragmatic achievements or indicators of an organic democratic arrival.

As a result, the Zimbabwean state is no longer sensitive to the lived realties of its inhabitants. Instead, it is more keen on its own "state capitalism" where, politically, it gives the impression of being historically grounded, while pursuing a socioeconomic path that has bred endemic corruption, poor or nonexistent social service delivery, high unemployment and the perpetuation of the structural tenets of the settler state.

It is perhaps the latter point that must seriously be taken into account. For all the claims made by Zanu-PF, our state’s legal, political and economic fundamentals have not changed as much as was anticipated. Certainly it is not for a lack of trying. But the attempts were motivated more from populist or contingency perspectives to the extent that, even when an initially noble attempt at land reform was begun, it turned out to be more for political expediency than as the fulfilment of the aspirations of the liberation struggle.

That is why we have a state that remains encumbered with elitist understandings of progress. This includes political leaders who cannot think beyond the next rally or the next election, as though the country is always primed for their materialistic contestations for votes.

None of them asks about the structural questions of independence or its meaning, let alone about its departure from the vicissitudes and perpetuation of the undemocratic character of the settler, colonial state.

Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity.

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