By Tendai Ruben Mbofana
Ever since I started writing current affairs and social justice newspaper articles in 1989 – at the age of 16 years, whilst still doing Form Three at Kwekwe High School in Zimbabwe – this is probably the most painful, frank and heartfelt piece I have ever authored, as it comes from a place of deep anguish, regret, and hopelessness of having grown up in a country that held so much hope for its citizens, yet turned out to be nothing, but the centre of broken dreams, and unparalleled dejection and misery.
As part of the group of Zimbabweans – mostly born in 1973 and 1974 – privileged enough to have started off their educational journeys at the very dawn of the country’s independence from Britain in 1980, there was so much hope and expectation placed upon us, and our futures, by our parents – and ourselves, as we grew older, and realized just how blessed we were – yet, all those dreams and aspirations were soon to fizzle out and die, right in front of our tearful and tormented eyes – as that once prosperous nation turned into a pathetic old wreck.
I personally do not have much of a recollection of my seven year life in Rhodesia – as the country was called during the colonial era – as I was obviously too young, nonetheless, based on the little information still in my memory, stories told by my parents (and others who were already grown ups in those days), and numerous research material – a large section of the population had a far better life in that seemingly dark period of our country’s history, than what is currently pertaining.
Before anyone rushes to collect their torches and pitchforks, whilst baying for my blood – accused of playing down the genuine suffering, subjugation, and brutality meted upon the black population by the Rhodesia administration – let me hasten to mention that, as such callous political and economic repression is certainly true, no one can deny that life in ‘independent’ Zimbabwe has proven not to be any better for the vast majority.
When I was born on 12 July 1973, my mother was a general nurse, whilst my father was a trained teacher – although, not gainfully employed, as he had been blacklisted by the Rhodesian regime for his nationalist and revolutionary activism, without necessarily joining the liberation war, but operated within his community – both, having only attained a Standard Six, and Form Two education, respectively.
In fact, when I started writing articles for local newspapers in Form Three, I was already ‘more educated’ than both my parents – yet, their ‘little education’ had not only enabled them to become first-class and respectable professionals, but had also provided them with a very decent and dignified lifestyle – which today’s nurses and teachers in ‘independent’ Zimbabwe, with their much more sophisticated and advanced education, can only dream of.
In those Rhodesian days, my parents had a stately home in an equally genteel neighbourhood – albeit, in a so-called ‘native township’ – similarly, they never had any headaches as to how to afford basic commodities – in fact, they had the privilege to indulge in certain luxuries, outings and vacationing, and purchasing of several motorcars – all this predominantly on a nurse’s salary.
Our ‘township’, named Torwood, in Redcliff, had most amenities – such as, world-class sporting facilities, including, a football stadium, tennis and basketball courts, a hotel, concert hall, and others – as well as a state of the art hospital, well-equipped and properly managed primary and secondary schools, well-stocked shopping centres that catered for our every need, at reasonable and affordable prices, and so much more.
The company that my mother worked for – the Rhodesia Iron and Steel Company, RISCO – which, established and operated the ‘black township’, also catered for its employees very well, with livable and timely salaries, bonuses, and pension benefits – which were aptly referred to as ‘mudyandigere’ (Shona for ‘a comfortable livelihood, whilst one is relaxing), since a worker could hope to finally fulfill their life-long dreams and ambitions on these retirement monies.
As my nationalist and revolutionary father would later testify and confess – this lifestyle during the colonial Rhodesia years, that appeared truly repulsive and pitiful, due to the segregatory nature of the country, which the population could not wait to destroy for a more equitable and equal society, where everyone was treated as a worthy citizen, and all their rights respected – looked like somewhat of a ‘heaven on Earth’, years into ‘independence’.
That is why he was one of the numerous people who loudly and boldly stood up against the heinous Rhodesia regime, in demanding a just society – based on the concept of ‘one man, one vote’, and ‘majority rule’, considering that most black people were not permitted to vote, and their voices counted for naught – thereby, earning himself a blacklisting by the administration.
However, after a bloody protracted liberation struggle in the 1960s and 70s – which resulted in the loss of life of thousands upon thousands of the country’s citizenry, mostly of the gallant men and women who sacrificed their own blood, in the hope of a better, more prosperous, and dignified livelihood for all the people of this great land – an ‘independent’ Zimbabwe proved to be nothing more than an abject failure, and tragic dashing of the majority’s aspirations.
What started off with unlimited and endless joy and excitement for the previously marginalized, segregated, and oppressed people of Zimbabwe, with the advent of ‘independence’ on 18 April 1980 – whereby, my own father was reinstated to his passion of the teaching profession, and we moved to the leafy and more spacious formerly ‘white suburb’ of Redcliff, and I began my Grade One at a similarly former ‘white school’, with its more advanced facilities and standards – soon, transformed into a demonic nightmare.
As much as life, and the prospects of a much brighter future, for most black Zimbabweans could have never looked rosier – since the new ZANU ‘black administration’ sought to immediately correct historical injustices, and uplift the lives of all the citizenry, with universal suffrage, increased access to education and health care, indigenisation of the economy, equal pay for equal work, removal of gender barriers to success, the introduction of electric trains, and so much more – it did not take our former liberators too long before they morphed into a far much worse version of the erstwhile colonial master.
In typical ‘Animal Farm’ fashion – that would have undoubtedly made George Orwell eager to write a sequel to his much acclaimed book – the Zimbabwe regime wasted no time in unleashing a unit of the military, which was specially trained by North Korea in mass killings, to commit some of the most heinous crimes against humanity, on the Ndebele speaking section of the population – whereby, over 20,000 innocent men, women, and children (including unborn fetuses, gouged out of their pregnant mothers’ wombs with bayonets) were massacred, in an evil attempt to wipe out the main opposition ZAPU party, that was widely believed to enjoy the support of that ethnic group, and thereby, establish a one party state.
As if that was not gruesome enough, the dawn of a new millennium was marked by the savage murder of hundreds of white farmers and their workers, in an apparent move to repossess land for redistribution to the ‘black majority’ – yet, only ended up largely in the hands of the ruling elite.
Furthermore, hundreds of opposition supporters have been cold-bloodedly butchered, abducted, beaten up, and had their properties razed to the ground, as well as elections rigged, in the past 20 years, as the military-backed ruling junta has sought to entrench and fortify its corrupt, incompetent, and oppressive dispensation with impunity.
Meanwhile, the once rosy economic prospects for the majority of the country’s black population were abruptly cut short, as millions upon millions were thrown into an unbearable abyss of untold poverty and suffering – with multitudes forced to seek ‘greener pastures’ in foreign lands, where they have been met with xenophobic attacks and hatred, whilst those who stayed behind exist from hand to mouth on the brink of starvation, as most have resorted to unsustainable vending.
All this, for a population that is touted as one of the most highly literate and educated in the world.
In Rhodesia, people like my Standard Six, and Form Two educated parents, were able to become successful nurses and teachers, with their own properties, and a significant middle class standard of life – yet, today, a university-trained nurse or teacher can not even afford to rent a two-roomed cottage, whilst other equally highly educated citizens are relegated to selling tomatoes, vegetables, mobile phone airtime vouchers, and snacks for school children, on the streets.
On the other hand, those in the ruling class – and their cronies, which they protect, and favoured onto the gravy train – are flooded in incalculable and immeasurable wealth – largely, ill-gotten through corrupt means, and looting of the nation’s magnificent resources.
The company of which my dear mother worked for since 1964, renamed ZISCOSTEEL after 1980, has since collapsed, due to massive and rampant corruption and mismanagement – as with most other state-owned enterprises – a fact, that was confirmed by a government instituted commission of inquiry, yet none of the mentioned high profile political gurus were ever brought to book.
Nonetheless, my mother – and so many others like her – have not received even a single cent in pension benefits, since the time she finally retired in 2010 – regardless of her lifetime contribution to this company, community, and country.
Having endured the torture of colon cancer, and now riddled with other infirmities associated with old age, she barely can afford to sustain any meaningful livelihood.
My own son is even perplexed seeing all those disused railway lines criss-crossing our city’s industrial area – as I struggle to convince him that goods trains used to service a vibrant industrial sector, which no longer exists.
When I showed him my photographs taken at the schools I attended in the 1980s and 90s, he understandably erroneously concluded that I had learned at some prestigious foreign institutions – as, it was nearly impossible for him to accept that these were the same dilapidated schools in the neighborhood he also grew up.
Similarly, whilst the majority of Zimbabweans can not afford the most basic of commodities – including, the staple mealie meal, vegetables, rentals, electricity, medication, school fees for their children, and so much more that any normal human being would be expected to at least have access to – those in power can manage to live lavishly, in a life only comparable to Hollywood movie stars, and monarchs.
Zimbabweans have to make do with schools that do not have books, hospitals and clinics that have no medication and other essential equipment and materials, towns and cities which have been reduced to rural areas – as they do not have potable water, constant and reliable electricity supply, and fuel stations that are usually dry.
Virtually all the social amenities in the country are dysfunctional, and rendered unusable – with the recent condemnation of all our football stadia as not meeting international standards, being the latest humiliation.
The question then is: “Which life was better for the majority of the ordinary citizenry – ‘colonial Rhodesia’, or ‘independent Zimbabwe’?
Of course, this ruthless and cold-hearted oppressive regime has never been short of excuses to justify their failures in fulfilling the long-held aspirations of the majority – ranging from alleged economic sabotage by disgruntled former Rhodesians, and crude machinations by apartheid South Africa in the 1980s and early 90s, to targeted sanctions by the United States of America (USA), and the European Union (EU), ostensibly invited by the main opposition MDC party, in the 2000s.
Nonetheless, without proffering a shred of evidence for any of these lame excuses.
However, Rhodesia was not only under comprehensive United Nations economic, political, and social sanctions – imposed at the instigation of Britain, after unilaterally declaring its independence from the colonial power on 11 November 1965 – but, also witnessed a bruising protracted war of liberation, yet, its economy was relatively intact throughout this ordeal… until independence in 1980.
I wonder just how catastrophically this ZANU PF regime would have fared, had ‘independent’ Zimbabwe been subjected to a similar fate and aggression – but, it does not need much imagination to have some idea of the magnitude of such a tragedy, as already exhibited by its profound ineptitude at the hands of only peripheral adversities.
We have had enough of this suffering, and no amount of invoking colonial emotions, or whitewashing the current administration’s mismanagement and corruption, or glossing over its dismal and pathetic failures, whilst disingenuously exaggerating its successes, could ever pacify the gravely aggrieved people of Zimbabwe.
We are sick and tired of all these unfulfilled promises. We have been subjected to unending matras since 1980, none of which ever came to fruition. From ‘Five Year Development Plans’, ‘Education and Health for All by the Year 2000’, to ‘Vision 2020’, and now ‘Upper Middle Income Economy by the Year 2030’.
This is no longer the time for promises, but for a completely new administration and dispensation – completely divorced from this kleptomaniac and despotic rulers.
Why did my father spend all those years in economic limbo, due to his blacklisting by the Rhodesia regime, for his nationalist and revolutionary activities? In fact, painful as it was, when he finally passed away on 31 August 2000, he was a bitter man, full of regret for having wasted nearly 20 years of his life – fighting for an equitable, equal, and prosperous life for all children of Zimbabwe – yet, as it turned out, he went through all that suffering for only a few people to live like kings and queens, whilst the majority were even worse off than in Rhodesia.
Never did he once imagine that his own beloved son – whom he and my mother, sacrificed so much to give a very good and high education – would end up, like so many other Zimbabweans, worse off than a Standard Six, and Form Two educated nurse and teacher.
In spite of all our suffering, if there is one thing I am, however, exceedingly grateful for, is having at least experienced a bit of Rhodesia – albeit, only for the first seven years of my life – as I had a taste of just how enjoyable and comfortable life could be, under a competent and proficient leadership.
Yet, the other of my 40 years of existence have been relegated to untold suffering and pain.
I even shudder to think the life my own beloved teenage son is awaiting him.
© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263733399640 / +263715667700, or Calls Only: +263782283975 / +263788897936, or email: mbofana.tendairuben73@gmail.