Claudius Chirume spent the greater part of the day on April 18 at his “workstation” at Zengeza 4 shops among the clutter of leather, glue, twine, needles and old broken shoes crying out to be patched up.
The 48-year-old cobbler could have joined others that decided to go to the National Sports Stadium to attend the official Independence Day celebrations marking 31 years of Zimbabwe’s freedom from colonial bondage.
But he is one of those that stayed away, opting to do what would put food on the table for his family than to go and “chant empty slogans”.
Chirume says with every Independence Day celebration he has taken part in since 1980, life seemed to be getting tougher, leaving him, together with many others, with very little to celebrate.
“It’s really tragic. Things are hard and I never thought we would get to this point.”
The country’s economy has over the years taken a serious knock from corruption and mismanagement, although President Robert Mugabe and his coterie in the Government of National Unity (GNU) blame the West, which imposed targeted sanctions in protest against the regime’s blood-spattered human rights record.
Casper Marimbe (37), a moulder with an indigenous brick-manufacturing concern in Chitungwiza, also spent the day at work and paid no attention to celebrations held around the country.
It was, however, not that he disregarded the country’s hard-won independence.
“We had an order of bricks that we had to meet because the customer wanted them collected today,” he said as his colleagues were busy loading bricks onto a truck.
The Chitungwiza municipality has been selling stands in most empty spaces in the dormitory town, particularly in Zengeza, to home seekers, creating a massive opportunity for brick moulders and other businesses feeding into the construction business.
Marimbe however says he has long since stopped attending the official function or even watching it live on local television after having been nauseated by what he described as “biased propaganda” against parties other than Zanu PF.
Collins Makaya from Warren Park D says he lost an uncle during the liberation struggle, and April 18 had always had a special place in his heart.
He however said it was tragic that the Independence Day celebrations had become too partisan for his taste.
“I don’t think the people who went to war went to fight for a single party but for every Zimbabwean,” he says. “That is the spirit we must keep. Now I no longer attend the national celebrations.”
Since the arrival of the Movement for Democratic Change on the political scene, almost all national celebrations have been marked by hate speech targeted at the Morgan Tsvangirai-led party, which, according to the Zanu PF discourse, is a stooge of Western powers bent on ejecting President Mugabe from power.
In a statement to mark the all-important day, Tsvangirai said despite the great strides made since the inception of the GNU, a lot more still needed to be done.
“But I also acknowledge that we still have a hard road to travel before we reach the ultimate goal of a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe. What we have learnt over the past three decades is that there are some among us who are determined to make this country slide back to the dark years of repression, violence and intimidation,” the Prime Minister said.
He added that the coming year would also hold many challenges and dangers and difficult choices would have to be made.
“But we have already shown that we have the conviction, the courage and the belief in our own capacity to overcome any hurdles and to build the society that we want,” he said.
“As we enter our 32nd year of liberation, there will be many treacherous voices trying to convince you to shed away your determination for a new and democratic Zimbabwe. All I ask you is to trust in your heart and to embrace the democratic ideals of our fallen heroes and to remain steadfast in your dedication to building a truly free society.”
The PM added that it was important for the nation not to be “distracted by empty rhetoric” from “individuals driven by partisan political motives and personal greed”.
Over the past 10 years, celebrations to mark the Independence Day have for many become a moment of reflecting on the political and economic challenges confronting the nation. For them, it is now a sad tale of betrayal of the hope of independence.