BY PAIDAMOYO MUZULU
“Thoughts like cattle scattered
On barren parched fields
Spinning backwards my vehicled feelings speeding
Forwards to Raffingora –
“Clear sunlit conceptions leap
Out of deft brushstroke; landscapes
Within. On film, on canvas, on drawing board
Trees grass flowers boulder on boulder
In the shadow of Flamboyant elegance –”
The above lines come from Dambudzo Marechera’s poem — Sunday It’s Raffingora — written around 1983. It is a poem about Marechera’s feelings and perception of what a farm was when he visited famous paint artist and potter Daryl Nero for lunch.
Raffingora was one and half hours from Harare then. It was some exotic farm land and particularly BallyMakosa, the farm Nero rented a farmhouse to do his painting and pottery project. Thirty-eight years later, many things have changed — some for the better and many for the worst.
Where in the past BallyMakosa was owned by a white family with freehold title, it is now national land and several black families now proudly have leases to the land. They may not have title, but they are now proud land owners and no longer just a cheap form of labour.
The land reform embarked on in 1999 might have been chaotic and violent in some instances, but the fact remains it changed land ownership patterns for good. Indigenous blacks now control the land. They now have capital and can be producers.
However, Raffingora is now some three hours if not four from Harare by the same road Marechera used. The road from Banket to Raffingora is a mere 46km, but one needs two hours because you cannot drive at more than 20km/hour most parts of the road. The tarred road is gone, it is now some dirty gravel road with gullies.
There used to be schools, farm schools, all along the way and they produced top pupils who went on to pass secondary school examinations and studied trades at tertiary institutions. Schools that were supported by the State with grants and the farmers and parents with development fees.
Pupils received exercise books at school for “free” and they shared a text book in pairs. Teachers had enough chalks and counterbooks to do their scheming and other things. They earned modest salaries and was one of the cherished noble professions in the community.
The same Raffingora had a district hospital with a maternity ward in addition to male and female wards for those who were too infirm to be assisted as outpatients. The hospital had a well-stocked pharmacy that had all the essential drugs. Residents simply had to pay a nominal fee and they would receive all the other services. The hospital had an ambulance on standby to transfer seriously ill patients to either Banket or Chinhoyi where doctors were available.
The farm workers had, in many instances, stable and consistent salaries. They had access to clean borehole water and, in some instances, connected to electricity. Life was relatively better and predictable for them. Today, while some may have gotten pieces of land, the majority remain workers and in a worse-off position as salaries are now erratic and job security non-existent.
Raffingora is a microcosm of the macrocosm in Zimbabwe 41 years after independence. Many things have stopped working, communities and families are broken as slowly citizens are becoming attuned to neoliberalism — public services are given by private capital. Health, education, roads, water access and salaries are now a function of market forces.
Where did it all go wrong? Like what Chinua Achebe says, “We have to know where the rains started beating us.” It is important to understand that Zimbabwe has been under the administration of Zanu PF since 1980. So, the question can be inversely asked — where did Zanu PF change?
This is a poignant question and unfortunately, it can only be answered in the affirmative. Zanu PF changed course the day they thrashed the leadership code. This was a document that regulated what private wealth party leaders could amass. It became a free for all. And culminated in the first big scandal — Willowgate — where ministers behaved like car dealers, according to Justice Wilson Sandura.
This mentality of greed has manifested itself many times through successive scandals like the War Victims Compensation Fund looting, the senior Civil Servants Housing Scheme abuse, the central bank Farm Mechanisation Programme and the systematic multiple farm allocations. These involved both senior Zanu PF leaders and civil servants.
The Zanu PF administration, despite its avowed scientific socialism or Marxism, had embraced capital and implemented the International Monetary Fund economic structural adjustment programme. The gist of the programme was privatisation, lean governments, less public service expenditure and deregulation.
Since then, Zanu PF has privatised education, essential public services, health and opened the deregulation floodgates. The results are there for everyone to see. Poor public health and education system, poor infrastructure and capital flight as all forex is shipped out to safe havens. Industries that used to be protected are now exposed and many have folded, reducing the country to a supermarket economy.
Can Zanu PF press the reset button? After the November 2017 military coup, Zanu PF failed to renew itself ideologically — different faces, but same modus operandi. There was no Thomas Sankara in the army. Can the party members reclaim their power and hold their leaders accountable? Or now the opposition has to offer better ideologically than the oversold neoliberal policies of privatisation, deregulation and cuts in social spending?
As we walk the last week to celebrating the 41st Independence Day, the aforementioned questions are becoming critical and have to be answered urgently.
Otherwise, independence and its attendant benefits can be conclusively said they are being enjoyed by a few while the majority are wallowing in a sea of abject poverty.
National development can only be driven by a government and those in government have to raise up their hands and be counted.
- Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.