People born after 1980 when the country gained its independence from the colonial British government are commonly referred to as “Born-frees.”
But while turning 30 years is generally regarded as a milestone, many of these “Born-frees” have nothing to show for it. Instead some call them a lost generation because they are growing up in foreign lands.
“I never thought I will at any given point consider leaving Zimbabwe but here I am in South Africa where I am picking up life from the jaws of death,” says Tafara Mashoko. He turns 30 on April 24.
Mashoko, should be counted among the adults to lead the country’s next generation and under normal circumstances he should be starting a family. But for him the idea of a family still remains far-fetched.
“I can’t start a family. I am not sure about my future,” he says. “South Africa is the last place I thought I will be at this time,” says Mashoko, pushing a trolley cart full of long distance traveller’s luggage at Johannesburg’s Park Station.
Mashoko and many young Zimbabweans are now commonly referred to as the lost generation because they have left their motherland in their numbers in search of a better life in foreign countries particularly South Africa.
More than three million Zimbabweans have left the country in search of greener pastures and the majority of these are believed to be staying in South Africa and UK.
Mashoko, like many people of his age, trying to survive in foreign countries, sometimes feel hopeless and helpless.
“I see no future for me in Zimbabwe,” he says.
Zimbabwe has a unemployment rate of over 80 percent while the economy, which although showing signs of improvement, is now under threat due to the enactment of the controversial Indigenisation Law.
“For now Zimbabwe is out of my mind,” says Mashoko adding, “I struggle here, I live with the crime, I see it everyday. I wish I could be home contributing to the growth of my country but for now I just can’t.”
“To be honest, Independence means nothing to me. There isn’t much to celebrate,” says Mashoko, a graduate primary school teacher from Bondolfi Teachers College.
“There is nothing to celebrate,” concurs Prince Rera. “If I can’t still look after myself at 30, shelter myself, buy myself food, it means the country is not yet independent. We are still waiting for our independence.”
Zimbabwe, which was a net exporter at independence in 1980, is sadly now a net importer of food and has turned into a nation of beggars.
Wellington Dhlamini who turns 27 is a vegetable vendor and a school drop out after his parents could not afford to pay his school fees.
“There is nothing to celebrate, I have no proper job. I do not hate my country, I am proud to be Zimbabwean because of the people who sacrificed their lives to fight for independence, but there just isn’t work.”
He says independence should just not be for Zanu (PF) alone.
“We have been used by the political parties to beat up people and we did it out of desperation because we have no jobs. We knew it was bad but if you refused you would be in trouble,” says Dhlamini.
Cephas Mrewa (28), who stays in Harare’s Budiriro Suburb says: “Independence means that I know I am no longer under the colonial rule of the racist white regime and the black man is in rule.”
“The challenge now is to correct the colonial past of colonisation, instead of sweeping it under the carpet and also to make sure that the present regime doesn’t oppress it’s people like we are witnessing now.”
“Attending independence celebrations should be voluntary, no -one should be forced to assemble or contribute money or anything for the event. People should not be forced to make contributions for independence celebrations.”
However, Mrewa adds that every generation has to fight for their rights or problems affecting them and says the generation of the ‘born frees’ must find ways of ending ‘injustices’ of today.
“There is a war that every generation has to fight. We the so called born frees , we have our struggle we have to fight, for example corruption, and to make sure we get control of our natural resources and make sure that there is the rule of law and free and fair elections.”
“We have to see that there is real democracy, no oppression and an end to political violence. We also need jobs. We see what our leaders are doing , plundering resources, amassing wealth and failing to address the problems affecting the ordinary person. That must end.”
To Sitabile Dewah (25), an Information Officer with the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu), independence is supposed to bring freedom of association ,freedom of assembly, equal opportunities for everyone.
“ I am yet to see the fruits of independence,” Dewah says. “It feels like a crime to be a born free because we did not participate in the liberation struggle.”