An open letter to Zimbabwe: shake off the rut

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Dear Zimbabwe.

Before I unload my vitriol on you, I should let you know that I am a South African. I have never stepped foot in Zim, and all my efforts to visit your iconic country have been frustrated by minor incidents. Yet, I don’t feel any less Zimbabwean than people with a natural (or some other) connection to your country.

I must also make it clear that I write this letter not from a position of privilege or out of narcissism, which we South Africans are now popular for; I write out of brotherly concern. As an African, your crisis is mine too.

I have a responsibility as free citizen of this continent to speak to you, my brothers and sisters, frankly.

Over the past decade Zimbabwe has undergone an incredible transformation. If you look even further back, say three and a half decades, the transformation is unimaginable.

Zimbabwe emerged from colonial oppression and from imperialists relentlessly pillaging its mineral wealth and agricultural resources, to the “Breadbasket of Africa” – as it was once fondly known.

Your country also emerged from regrettable ethnic conflict of the late-80s to early-90s to become a revolutionary, democratic powerhouse.

Your country learned very quickly to do a lot of things excellently. You learned to harness your natural and agricultural resources to grow a sizeable economy. You then funneled the revenue into a first-class education system that produced highly-skilled youth. Many of them went on to compete in the global economy, growing a formidable Zimbabwean diaspora.

In many ways, Zimbabwe was the poster child for African revolutionaries.

The turn of the century howled a storm at you. Angry youths, tired of waiting at the altar for the promise of land reform and equitable distribution of natural resources, staged the so-called ‘jambanja’ – and claimed land from beneficiaries of imperialism by force. They also threatened the ruling party’s power hegemony. This is where your crisis of leadership began.

To preserve its hegemony and its status at the “Revolutionary Party”, the Zanu-PF government opted for a number of shoddy non-solutions, which further exacerbated the crisis. These shoddy non-solutions ranged from alleged sponsoring of human rights abuses, to impunity, forced disappearance, brutal force against all opposition, to a full-out war of words with the international community.

While I do not question Zimbabwe’s hardened response to neo-imperialists, I do question the way you treated your own people. If the allegations are true, then Zimbabweans have a lot to talk about and resolve amongst themselves.

This letter, however, is not about your contentious past. It is about your foggy future.

Despite the sanction that clasped on your necks like a noose, Zimbabwe soldiered on. The people somehow found ways to navigate through the conflict. And with minor interventions by the region, some normality was restored.

Even at face of bubbling civil unrest and recalcitrance, greed and power-mongering, all of which threatened the very fabric of your nation, you, people of Zimbabwe, soldiered on.

You sat down and zealously drew up a progressive constitution with a revolutionary Charter of Rights. You sealed up many of the undemocratic loopholes in your institutions of government. These leaps of faith were a flickering light at the end of your decade-long dark tunnel.

Yet, despite the strides you have made, you face new challenges that threaten your hope. Allegations of undemocratic government practices, threatening and isolating the opposition, allegation of pillaging of state coffers and a new sway towards industrial protectionism are all hands that will smolder your flickering light.

Recently, part of the international community which marvels at your failure has been sniggering and smirking as one of your own opted for self-exile among fears of alleged victimization by your government.

Your government murmured incongruent utterances but gave no finite assurance that she could return home safely. While it may have been a political choice not to respond to ‘nonsensical allegations’, such a choice was a bad one.

The same is true of your depressed economy. Investors are shying away from your country because there is little indication that your government is genuinely committed to a constitutional democracy. The never-ending war of words between the ruling party and the opposition is damaging to your country, to you as a people!

A few weeks back The Zimbabwean carried a story saying legal practitioners in Zimbabwe are questioning the independence of the judiciary. This is in spite of the constitutionally entrenched guarantees of judicial independence and reign of the rule of law.

What must happen?

Ultimately, power, all political power, vests not with the politicians who are cushioned by tall walls in mansions, it vests with the people.

You are an educated society, so act like one!

Zimbabweans must demand good governance. You must make your new Constitution the yardstick in all debates about your past and your future. And your leaders must be subject to the rule of law!

You must make a clarion call to all your elected leaders, even the president himself, to commit himself to democracy, and you must accept no excuse, not even the fight against neo-imperialism.

There must be urgent reform of public institutions to align them with your new Constitution. Transparency, accountability, fairness and responsiveness must become the new buzzwords in Zimbabwe’s public discourse.

Only a few African countries boast Zimbabwe’s potential. We, as children of resistance and revolutions, look up to you. You are a point of reference for an uncertain African future. Please do not let us down.


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