Only a third way will fix Zimbabwe

A full-blown nation-building effort informed by the people’s agenda must get underway if we are to build the Zimbabwe we want. (Howard Burditt, Reuters)

A full-blown nation-building effort informed by the people’s agenda must get underway if we are to build the Zimbabwe we want. (Howard Burditt, Reuters)

For those who are still in denial, it is worth restating: Zimbabwe is broken. Its people are broken. Their minds and spirits are broken. The infrastructure is broken – rotting, in fact. And, unsurprisingly, the image of the country is in tatters.

It is reckless to have any faith that a political stalwart will emerge from the shadows of Zanu-PF and fix Zimbabwe. Such faith underestimates just how hopelessly out of touch the generation of liberators is. As for the opposition, they have no idea how to fix Zimbabwe either.

Only a tough realism can help to fix Zimbabwe. A part of me believes it should be easy to fix – despite decades of neglect, the country’s infrastructure and economy are still better than many in Africa. But this can only happen with no-nonsense, principled, visionary leadership; the old patronage politicians have to give way to an accountable political class.

We need a plan that ends the sense of paralysis that has turned the hopes of so many Zimbabweans into a living nightmare.

I have argued before for a “third way” in Zimbabwean politics. Today I am more convinced than ever that this is what the country badly needs: a third way, representing a rejection of Zanu-PF’s politics of corruption and murder, and a rejection of pedestrian opposition politics. Nothing less will fix our broken society.

It is understandable that most of the blame for what has gone wrong is directed at Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. He was once the darling of pan-Africanists, but Mugabe has ruined his legacy.

It is telling that Mugabe and his Zanu-PF blame everybody else but themselves. For them, the West is mostly to blame for the misery faced by Zimbabweans. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the inner circles of Zanu-PF who admits that their own violent and chaotic land reform programme has accelerated Zimbabwe’s decline. Of course, when it is not the West being blamed, it’s the opposition parties.

It is heartbreaking to watch this theatre of blame paralyse a once-great political party. And now that the focus of blame has shifted inward, it’s threatening to tear Zanu-PF apart.

As the end of Mugabe’s reign looms, once-tight comrades are turning on each other. Sadly, none of their gargantuan battles is about saving Zimbabwe; rather, they are aimed at securing the keys to State House and with them the kind of power, wealth and privilege Mugabe has amassed over three decades of tyranny.

One cannot downplay the immense role Mugabe’s generation played in the fight against the brutal, racist, settler regime led by Ian Smith. But, once in office, Mugabe and company squandered their liberation goodwill. They made it clear that their liberation-war credentials gave them the right to do as they pleased.

My own generation, and those who have followed, have been guilty, at various levels of commission and omission, of allowing Zanu-PF to loot from the state and abuse society. We watched, at first in disbelief and later in horror, as Mugabe’s regime became increasingly repressive and violent. We should never have been so silent. Yes, those who spoke out were harassed, detained and even killed. But such is the price of freedom.

Millions left Zimbabwe after the regime murdered thousands. It was not simply to seek greener pastures elsewhere, but because many were afraid of Mugabe’s secret service.

Zimbabweans seem to be in agreement about what has happened. Economic mismanagement, greed, corruption and the absolute breakdown of law and order have brought us to this point. Mugabe has run Zimbabwe like a private fiefdom. National institutions have been personalised, captured and pillaged with impunity. The needs of society have been secondary to the elite’s rapacious desires.

Over this period, the national conversation, in hushed voices and whispers, has been about what has happened and who is to blame, rather than what we need to do to get out of this mess. What noise we have heard from opposition political parties has largely been about how bad the current government is. Little space has been given to any inspiring articulation of an alternative future.

It may seem odd, then, for me to say that I still have hope for Zimbabwe. But I do see in the country’s young people a growing impatience with the ageing generation that got us into this situation. This new generation owes no debt of political or economic loyalty to the current crop of leaders. They are fearless and they have the numbers.

Fresh faces, untainted by the shenanigans of the past, are Zimbabwe’s only hope if the country is to dream and believe again. Personally, I am exhausted by what we have had to endure for 36 years. I yearn for the promise offered by an independent Zimbabwe in 1980.

I am not alone in dreaming of this fresh start. The majority of Zimbabweans are fed up. The fatigue is palpable, yet they have nothing to turn to. This is why peace-loving, progressive citizens should work towards building a new political vehicle that is transformative and capable of taking Zimbabwe forward.

We need men and women, mostly young, who want to give to the nation and not take from it. They could get the counsel of seasoned Zimbabweans who have never stolen from the people nor shed a drop of blood. They would be untainted by the past and willing to make sacrifices for the sake of a new society.

This is what Zimbabwe needs: a political collective with clean hands, people who subscribe to the principles of an inclusive society that serves the majority. On the sidelines of the universities, state institutions, the diaspora, and even within Zanu-PF, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) factions, the military, police and intelligence services, there are such people –  decent people who want to work hard, educate their children, take care of their families and contribute to a vibrant society.

After years of being abused and terrorised, we have stopped believing we have the power to change our destiny. It is hard to dream of a new future when you are struggling for the basics of life, but dream we must, for the sake of posterity.

At the heart of our desires is the hunger for freedom – to think, speak, create, choose and move. Such basic freedoms have all been stunted over the past three decades. Yet history shows that freedom is the catalyst for real change. Until Zimbabwe harnesses this freedom, this bounty of creativity and ingenuity, our nation can only perform at the lowest levels of achievement.

Zimbabwe also needs a new Constitution. It must be the genuine product of a national dialogue that embodies our hopes and aspirations, unconstrained by our fears; it must be founded on a strong Bill of Rights and elicit the best in all of us. The current document is the outcome of horse trading between Zanu-PF and the two MDC factions. It fails to lay a strong foundation for the rule of law, national institutions, transparency and accountability. And, of course, the sanctity of life and respect for private property must find full expression.

We have been traumatised for too long to remember what “normal” looks like. A new beginning must develop a new way of doing things, across the whole social fabric. We need to agree on new norms and values, based on an empowering political culture that is tolerant and fully utilises our diversity.

We must remember our rights and claim them back. We must find our collective voice. We must learn that a vibrant society is built by active citizens and civil society, not bystanders and whiners.

The greatest damage Zanu-PF has inflicted is on our minds, our national psyche. We have few role models. Life has been cheapened. Like all wounded and abused people, we have lost respect for ourselves and each other. We routinely take out our frustration on each other. Self-doubt pervades our endeavours and mediocrity has become the national standard.

My greatest hope for Zimbabwe lies in our young people, who seem not to have been contaminated by our limiting politics and debilitating milieu. My sagging spirits have been lifted by this new generation, one unburdened by colonial baggage.

This is a can-do generation that could catapult us into our future if it is empowered. Our mothers, sisters and daughters have not been empowered to participate in all sectors of society, and this is also true of minorities. We will never realise our potential as a nation if these key constituencies remain marginalised.

A full-blown nation-building effort informed by the people’s agenda must get underway if we are to build the Zimbabwe we want.

The people’s agenda has to focus on everything to do with human progress: empowering people with the relevant education and skills, investing in a robust health infrastructure, plus water, power, transport, housing and communications. Central to this agenda is the efficient and prudent use of the nation’s financial resources. Power must once again belong to the people.

The task at hand is daunting. It involves no less of a sense of purpose than that which propelled the freedom fighters to overcome the seemingly all-powerful colonial regime. They were not deterred when doubters said it is the natural order of things for the white man to have everything. Now this generation has to dream of a renewed Zimbabwe.

There is a chance for a new set of actors to emerge. It is their fate to grab our imagination, free us from this post-independence bondage and allow us to dream big once more. Only then will Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Masvingo glow with the hope that once made Zimbabwe one of the most promising young nations on Earth.

Trevor Ncube is the publisher of the Mail & Guardian.

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