Of late I have been feeling very much like one of the Chilean miners before the rescue. I am trying desperately to hold onto something that was very present with the trapped miners all those 68 days underground.
My favourite tale within that miraculous story is about a woman giving birth to a daughter during the time that the husband was still down in the pits, unsure if he would ever come out alive.
Now wife and husband had initially agreed to name the baby Carolina but without consulting each other they both arrived at a new name: Esparanza (Hope).
And so it was with a feeling of esparanza that I found myself at the launch of a new initiative called the Development Foundation for Zimbabwe (DFZ) on Friday October 29 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rosebank, Johannesburg.
One of the speakers at the launch, Deprose Muchena of Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa, captured the essence of my current preoccupation, history, memory, democracy and development, when he stated:
“The past is our heritage, the present our challenge and the future our responsibility.”
He spoke of this in the context of a need for renewal of hope and self-belief and how a remittance economy could play a major role in financing Zimbabwe’s development.
Having seen the launch of many things over the past three decades (anyone remember Health for All by 2000?) and having had to deal with my own case of schizophrenia over Zimbabwe, I quizzed Alex Magaisa, one of the trustees of the DFZ:
Q: Please break down for me the stated vision of the DFZ : “to foster, encourage and facilitate the building of an informed and organised Diaspora to become a key stakeholder in the development of Zimbabwe”.
A: The DFZ views the Diaspora as a key resource for development but we recognise that the Diaspora needs to be organised and more informed about opportunities in the country.
We refuse to accept the view that the Diaspora represents a loss to the country. Rather, the Diaspora shows the competitiveness of Zimbabwe’s human capital on the global landscape and the challenge is to find the best ways to harness the competitiveness for the country’s benefit.
The DFZ is hosting a series of conferences in the coming year which will bring together Zimbabwean opinion leaders that represent key political formations and social sectors, both from within Zimbabwe and the Diaspora, business leaders and Zimbabweans in the Diaspora.
The first in this series of conferences takes places in Victoria Falls from December 16 to 18 2010.
Q: Why the focus on the Diaspora?
A: The sheer numbers under consideration demand that serious attention be paid to Zimbabweans in the Diaspora. Available data estimates the population of Zimbabweans resident outside the country to be between 3 and 4.5 million. This group is therefore impossible to ignore.
The Zimbabwean Diaspora has been shown to be willing to contribute towards processes such as constitution–making; increased investment; the promotion of transparent channels to remit transfers; national healing and reconciliation; and the recapitalisation of the private and public sector through human capital development.
The Zimbabwean Diaspora is a unique human resource with a wealth of skills, and a qualified workforce able and willing to contribute to current efforts.
Q: Is there any latent tension between the Diaspora and the political formations in Zimbabwe?
A: There has been some tension between the Diaspora and politicians but we at DFZ believe there is an increasing desire by all parties to re-engage for the good of the country.
Discussions that will take place in the coming months, we believe, will help build trust and dismantle prejudices.
Q: What will this initiative do that has not been tried before?
A: We believe this initiative will facilitate a more inclusive discussion on Zimbabwe’s reconstruction by bringing together various sectors and interested parties. We are seeking to create a more efficient platform to channel the Diaspora towards a developmental agenda in Zimbabwe.
We realise there is a huge reservoir of willingness but the channels have so far been limited or not operating to full efficiency.
Q: What are your short-term and medium-term plans for Diaspora engagement in Zimbabwe?
A: In the short–term we intend to facilitate dialogue and build trust. In the medium term we have a series of initiatives which we will be working on hopefully with the support and buy-in of government to encourage Diaspora participation, skills transfer, and other investment initiatives that will help grow the economy.
Q: How would you respond to the usual hysterical charge that a formation like yours is foreign-funded and is focused on regime change?
A: The DFZ is not a political formation and any talk of the organisation focusing on regime change would be unfortunate and misplaced.
We know that politics has dominated discourse on Zimbabwe but it is important to recognise that there are many more people out there who have been dissuaded from participating in development issues simply because they fear being tainted by the politics of the day.
This is a loss to the country and we are saying we need to create non-political platforms where people can participate in key development issues without fear or prejudice.
Our trustees have no political agenda whatsoever. There are many other channels to participate in politics but the DFZ is not one of them.
Chris Kabwato is publisher of zimbabweinpictures.com