The 18th of April is the official birthday of our great nation, the day when, thirty three years ago, we finally freed ourselves from colonial rule. As we celebrate independence I for one do so with great unease, because I think our great nation, particularly its leaders and our revolution, has lost its sense of direction.
This feeling is informed by several things: the gradual decline of the rule of law, the gradual increase of the impunity of those in power, the misuse of national resources by a few to enrich themselves and the occasional disrespect of essential freedom and human dignity.
There is also great uncertainty about the economic and political future of our nation. This is further exacerbated by the fact that there will be elections this year, elections which may very well be bloodier than the last ones.
Thirty three years after attaining independence, elections, which ideally should be times for people’s votes to be counted and to count, are now dreaded events in which people are maimed, displaced and killed. Beyond the problems of violence, our elections are marred by allegations of irregularities such as gerrymandering, disputed tallying and institutional interference.
Thirty three years after independence, our ministers and government officials have become wealthy enough to own small towns, banks and mines whilst the majority have to do with very low salaries. Others have embarked on disastrous economic programs which at some point turned us into a country of billionaires who could not buy a loaf.
After more than three decades of independence our institutions of higher learning are famous for victimizing, suspending and expelling dissenting voices. Our own black led tertiary institutions in a free Zimbabwe have expelled more black students than the racist Smith regime ever did.
Corruption is rampant, with the board set up to investigate corruption being called corrupt itself in a case widely regarded as political bullying by the accused. Instead of taking the opportunity to exonerate themselves those who were accused of corruption stopped the investigations.
So, with all these problems, all the corruption, greed, harassment, incompetence and intimidation is there anything at all to celebrate as Zimbabwe turns thirty three?
Yes, despite the disappointments and our sometimes colossal failures, Zimbabwe is a long way from Smith’s Rhodesia.
For a start, I am typing this sitting on a stone bench in First Street, an area previously off-limits to blacks. I can travel freely without fearing arrest because of my race, religion or tribe.
Though some draconian laws such as POSA still exist, there is some kind of freedom of expression.
More importantly, the government has made great strides in the areas of health, basic health is available to most people.
Our education system, despite reduced funding and the continued expulsions of tertiary students, remains one of, if not, the best on the continent. Our Universities and Polytechnics have grown larger and more numerous ensuring a steady flow of quality professionals who unfortunately may have to work elsewhere because of our economic problems.
Our country is also very peaceful, and I can confidently say I will never fear walking the streets of Harare because of robbers, drug lords or armed gangs. Organised crime, sabotage and terrorism are unheard of.
Moreover despite the controversies surrounding the land reform and Indeginisation and Empowerment programs, there have been many genuine beneficiaries whose lives were changed for the better.
Zimbabwe has also made great strides technologically and we have not been left behind in the Information Age. Mobile phones are now ubiquitous and internet connection, though still expensive, is being made available to more people. This is an especially good development because as information dissemination becomes easier, those who seek to stifle free expression and stop the free flow of ideas find it harder to do so.
Even though it is not yet Uhuru, in the strict sense of the word, we still live in a beautiful country with a rich and proud past. Our country is blessed with a rich and diverse ecosystem, vast mineral resources and an educated system. With responsible and able leadership I believe that we can change our fortunes in a short space of time.
Therefore for these reasons and despite my own personal experiences including arrests, intimidation and harassment I will celebrate Independence. I will celebrate the sacrifices of the gallant sons of the soil who lost their lives so that we could be born and live free.
This Independence I will celebrate our progress thus far, our heroes and their sacrifices and as always I will continue to believe in our ability as a nation to better ourselves.
Happy 33rd birthday Zimbabwe. Long live a just, free and fair Zimbabwe!
May God bless our beautiful country.