In 1980, President Robert Mugabe was only 56 years old and now he is 89. The last 33 years have been spent in government residences.
Mutumwa on Tuesday with Mutumwa Mawere
He was acutely aware on 17 April 17, 1980 that the people who had voted his party to lead the first administration of an independent Zimbabwe wanted a new flight course and a pilot who understood and was up to the challenge of leading a divided nation.
So when he chose the words: “free to choose its own flight path and chart its own course to its chosen destiny” to describe the journey that lay ahead for Zimbabwe, he must have known that the flight he was to captain needed a defined and confused path and destination.
What then did the people of Zimbabwe expect from the journey of independence?
The people of Zimbabwe wanted and deserved a government that would protect their right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
They knew as President Mugabe must have known that the march to independence had been painful and long and nothing could be done to restore the lost lives and injuries inflicted.
President Mugabe said “death and suffering have been the prize we have been called upon to pay for the final priceless reward of freedom and national independence” to highlight the critical importance of freedom and independence.
He cannot, therefore, after 33 years at the helm not expect to be judged on his record as people of Zimbabwe make their choice in the forthcoming elections.
The record that is relevant is the experience of the flight that he took several oaths to lead during the last 33 years.
The record of President Mugabe’s administration in protecting the priceless reward of freedom and national independence necessarily has to be part of the conversation leading up to the elections.
The record of the colonial administration spoke for itself hence its removal in 1980.
People were yearning for freedom and voted a new administration in the hope that it would advance their cause.
Do the people of Zimbabwe feel freer in 2013 than they felt in 1980? This question can only be answered by people who are older than 33 years.
For the born-frees, the answer lies in the dreams and aspirations of this generation.
The number of people who have chosen to leave the plane captained by President Mugabe for external destinations speaks volumes about the confidence they have with the stewardship of the post-colonial dispensation.
President Mugabe said “may I thank all of you who had to suffer and sacrifice for the reward we are now getting”, but now ironically finds himself having to thank the people of Zimbabwe for enduring the pain and suffering under his watch for a reward that has proved elusive leading many to question whether independence was worth it.
He proceeded to say “tomorrow we shall be celebrating the historic event, which our people have striven for nearly a century to achieve. Our people, young and old, men and women, black and white, living and dead, are, on this occasion, being brought together in a new form of national unity that makes them all Zimbabweans”, the same words he regrettably has to repeat because under his stewardship, the people of Zimbabwe are more divided along racial, class and even tribal lines.
President Mugabe understood then, as he must now, that his mandate included uniting Zimbabweans and that he was elected to lead the nation and not members of his party who after 33 years in State power believe that they have a divine right to govern.
Indeed, the historic event was celebrated and everybody was euphoric about the future under the stewardship of President Mugabe.
A new Zimbabwe identity was supposed to be in the making. In hindsight, the 1980 independence day and the speech that proceeded have turned out to be just events in the nation’s story.
The words used were so profound, but the proof of the pudding has to be in the eating.
After 33 years of independence, words cannot substitute the need to put food on the table let alone the need for action.
President Mugabe undertook to lead the nation by bringing together “young and old, men and women, black and white, living and dead in a new form of national unity” that ought to be evident in 2013.
The statement above came from a statesman committed to constructing a new nation and after 33 years of independence, one must ask whether the people of Zimbabwe have the sense of the kind of identity that President Mugabe sought to achieve.
President Mugabe has to be judged by his ability to bring the people of Zimbabwe together through his actions and choices.
The impact of history on the majority of Zimbabweans was well established at independence and so was the hegemony of whites over the economy.
The white people who chose to make Zimbabwe their permanent home did so encouraged by the words of the President and so a new covenant was forged that sought to connect all the people who chose to be part of the new contract with a common thread called Zimbabwe.
What has happened to the thread? It cannot be said that the people of Zimbabwe are united on shared values and principles. There is no consensus how the nation’s character should be designed and implemented.
After 33 years of independence, there are some Zimbabweans who believe that they have a better claim on the resources generously given by God and more importantly that to be Zimbabwean means something different from what President Mugabe generously proclaimed the day before the independence of Zimbabwe.
In stating that “independence will bestow on us a new personality, a new sovereignty, a new future and perspective, and indeed a new history and a new past”, after he knew or ought to have known that the new history was to be authored by the people of Zimbabwe under his leadership.
It is that history that must inform choices now whether the next five years will be different if the last 33 years have failed to produce the difference that President Mugabe spoke of at independence.
The personality of Zimbabwe inherited from the colonial order remains intact. The racial and class differences remain pronounced.
Indeed, independence was meant to bestow on Zimbabwe a new personality and the question that has to be asked legitimately is what has happened over the years to make the desired personality different from what the pilot sought to achieve.
Sovereignty brings with it responsibility on the part of the governors and the governed. What is sovereignty worth in 2013 when Zimbabwe has to borrow funds from its neighbours to fund a constitutional obligation? We now learn that without the revenue from diamonds, the country’s budget has to be adjusted.
Mutumwa Mawere is a businessman based in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.