Mt Darwin: ‘The owners of the country have come and gone’

The sleepy town of Mt Darwin came to life as the rich and powerful flaunted their wealth, and as shown by the Al Jazeera investigative documentary on illegal gold exports and money laundering, some of it ill-gotten.

MT DARWIN district in Mashonaland Central province was the venue of this year’s main Independence Day celebrations and played host to thousands of guests invited to witness the historic event.

It was the first time since the country gained independence from British colonial rule in 1980 that the celebrations were held in a rural setting.

The sleepy town of Mt Darwin came to life as the rich and powerful flaunted their wealth, and as shown by the Al Jazeera investigative documentary on illegal gold exports and money laundering, some of it ill-gotten.

Slick brand-new powerful fuel-guzzling SUVs snaked their way from the leafy suburbs of Harare and plush government offices in the capital to Mt Darwin where the majority survive from hand to mouth.

For two days, Mt Darwin was the home of the “Who is Who” of Zimbabwe as the show of State power and wealth was on display to the awestruck locals.

On the dusty path leading to Pfura Stadium, Taurai Mahweni, a local, who was wearing a brown suit showing signs of sun-burn, remarked “vene vayeni vauya,” loosely translated to mean the owners of the country are here.

He was coming from one of the nearby villages, standing tall and proud of living in a free Zimbabwe. However, he could not hide his disappointment over widespread poverty and suffering faced by many locals.

 “My son, life is difficult. We find it hard to send kids to school. We see officials here flaunting their wealth in a sea of poverty,” Mahweni said.

The rural folk wore what appeared to be their “Sunday” best for the Independence Day celebrations, mostly second-hand clothes.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa took to the podium and pledged that his government would leave no one and no place behind, his now familiar refrain where he promises a middle-income economy by 2030.

“Sombre memories of the immense suffering of our people in suffering sillages under the brutal colonial administration, embolden us to stand firm, defiant and confident that never, never again shall our people live as slaves in their own motherland, Zimbabwe,” Mnangagwa bellowed.

Opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader, Nelson Chamisa, however, said it was not yet Uhuru for the majority of the country’s poor citizens.

Chamisa said Zanu PF, in power since 1980, has betrayed the aspirations of the liberation struggle.

“If (the late former colonial leader Ian) Smith was to resurrect today, he would not even get lost,” Chamisa told NewsDay.

“The same ‘reserves’ that he left are still there yet the poverty of our people, the majority in the rural areas, is shocking and heart-breaking. Yes, we got independence but it’s not showing in our pockets, in our stomachs,”

Helicopters, last seen during the liberation struggle and briefly during the burial of the late music superstar Oliver Mtukudzi in 2019, made entertaining appearances for the villagers for a week ahead of the main celebrations.

For a government which has always cried rivers over sanctions and a shortage of resources as infrastructure collapses, Mt Darwin showed that it had plenty to shout about.

A few weeks before the event, government departments from various ministries dispatched earthmoving equipment and poured resources towards the construction of facilities which would facelift the forgotten town some 157 km outside Harare.

The facelift was only on facilities which were to be used by the VVIP, most of whom avoided the bad roads and flew to the venue.

From where they landed, their cars drove on recently resurfaced roads, while water tanks and stadium lights were set up overnight.

The rest of Mt Darwin was untouched, left as it had been, untouched, unchanged and unmolested since time immemorial.

A huge generator was on standby to keep the public address system running so that the President’s speech would not be interrupted by a power outage.

Guest Lodges were fully booked and many enterprising residents turned their homes into overnight lodgings for security agents who populated most of the public spaces ahead of Mnangagwa’s visit.

Rooms were going for almost US$$20 per night as the woke capitalised on the once in a lifetime opportunity. Ladies of the night also did not miss the opportunity to increase their rates.

Villagers were made to stampede for pieces of roast chicken supplied by a prominent restaurant operator based in Harare, while neatly-packed food transported all the way from the capital was served to the media, diplomats and other dignitaries.

In 2024, the celebrations shift to another province to keep in line with Mnangagwa’s mantra — leaving no one and no place behind.

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