As Zimbabwe celebrates 33 years of independence today, Newsday takes you through the history of the country under self-rule.
Report by Tapiwa Zivira and Cynthia Matonhodze, Online reporters
In 1980, President Robert Mugabe took the reins, starting off as a Prime Minister and later elevating himself to executive president, a post that he has held to this day.
His 33-year grip on the country has been mired by controversial political developments where in some quarters he is seen as a hero while others see him as a power hungry despot who has ruined the country’s fortunes.
In 1976, Mugabe, then a guerilla war leader, said he wished for a non-racialised independent Zimbabwe where there would be equal distribution of wealth and resources. This was at a time when the liberation war was towards its end and a new Zimbabwe was in the horizon.
In 1980, in his Independence Day and inauguration speech, Mugabe as the new Prime Minister said, “Our new nation requires of every one of us to be a new man, with a new mind, a new heart and a new spirit. Our new mind must have a new vision and our new hearts a new love that spurns hate, and a new spirit that must unite and not divide. . . Our majority rule could easily turn into inhuman rule if we oppressed, persecuted or harassed those who do not look or think like the majority of us. Democracy is never mob-rule. It is and should remain disciplined rule requiring compliance with the law and social rules. Our independence must thus not be construed as an instrument vesting individuals or groups with the right to harass and intimidate others into acting against their will. It is not the right to negate the freedom of others to think and act, as they desire.”
In 1982 Mugabe sacked the then Home Affairs Minister and leader of Zapu Joshua Nkomo from government, accusing him of preparing to overthrow the government. A year later Nkomo was to flee the country to a self-imposed exile to London after illegally crossing the Botswana frontier disguised as a woman, claiming that his life was in danger and that he was going to look for “solutions” to Zimbabwean problems abroad.
Below is his interview in exile.
It was during the height of Mugabe’s fallout with Nkomo that the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade branch of the army was deployed under the pretext of going to crush a rebellion by pro-Nkomo ex-guerrillas in Midlands and Matabeleland provinces. Under the operation, known as Gukurahundi (the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains), it is reported that an estimated 20,000 unarmed civilians died in the hands of the government forces. Senior Zapu officials, Dumiso Dabengwa, and Lookout Masuku were charged with treason and were detained without trial for four years.
In 1987 Mugabe and Nkomo merged their parties to form Zanu-PF, ending the violence in Matabeleland. In the same year Mugabe changed the constitution and became executive president, a post that gave him sweeping powers that he was to use to change the constitution and sway government in favour of his party
The 90s saw the Mugabe government instituting policies that led to the country’s economy declining dramatically. Policies such as the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), the deployment of Zimbabwean soldiers to help Laurent Kabila in the DRC war, and the dishing out of heavy perks to liberation war veterans led to a virtual collapse of the economy. This led to high unemployment levels, company shutdowns and hyper-infaltion of the country’s currency. Riots and strikes became the order of the day, necessitating the rise of opposition to government in the form of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions led by Morgan Tsvangirai who was to form the Movement for Democratic Change to challenge Mugabe.The crisis reached its peak when Mugabe’s supporters started grabbing white owned farms in 2000.
The turn of the new millennium witnessed continued economic decline and government repression. Thousands fled the country and the value of the Zimbabwean Dollar was further weakened by an economy that was burdened by low agricultural and industrial production. Companies closed down, supermarket shelves went empty , fuel stations ran dry, schools lost teachers and hospitals could not restock medicines. Zimbabwe went from being the bread basket of Southern Africa to being a basket case.
To add to the ordinary citizens woes, government embarked on a large-scale campaign to forcibly clear slum areas across the country. The campaign started in 2005 and the United Nations estimates that at least 700,000 people were directly affected through loss of their homes or sources of livelihood.
The situation in the country became so desperate that people in gold rich areas began to exchange the mineral for basic commodities. See video below
In 2008, the country held elections in which Tsvangirai and his party were ahead of Mugabe’s Zanu PF, which led to a power sharing arrangement with Tsvangirai becoming Prime Minister and Mugabe remaining as president.
The unity government, whose life ends this year, has largely been characterised by incessant power struggles and one of its few successes is the drafting of a new constitution.
It is with this new constitution that the country is expected to move towards elections whose outcome will shape the future of the country.