The dilemma over Zimbabwe independence celebrations

Image credit: BBC. The remains of Julius Mvulo Nyathi – killed in 1984 at the age of 52.

We shall not dignify mediocrity; we refuse to participate in political hypocrisy. Instead of celebrating the 18th of April this year, we will heed the lessons of the failure of Zimbabwe’s independence. We shall collectively commemorate the loss of independence for our people, degradation of human decency, violation and loss of rights and individual liberties for ethnic minorities. We shall not debase ourselves and join a wealthy elite celebrate state capture. It would be self-deprecating to hold a celebratory party with a group of people who retain the philosophy that holds one tribe superior and others inferior.

It is a bitter acknowledgement that for 42 years Matabeleland society has emphasised dialogue and co-operation with ZANU-PF and ZANU PF-led institutional provisions that include the Dumbutshena and Chihambakwe Commissions of inquiry and other measures, now we have to recognise this has not worked.

We have to accept that the people who took over state power in 1980 were great debasers of decency who immediately started shredding human dignity through a systemic dehumanisation of some tribes, races and oversaw a politically motivated military operation that killed and maimed tens of thousands of Ndebele people for what they represented to them.

First thing the ZANU leadership did was to include and use an ethnic Ndebele member (Enos Nkala) to orchestrate a negative media campaign to convince their ethnic Shona base that independence and their safety were at risk from ethnic Ndebele rebels and government needed to act quickly to preserve safety and security. Next, they stripped Ndebeles of human value, they reduced the population group down to cockroaches and with that removed all that remained of emotional feeling toward Ndebele people from the Mashonaland constituency while it carried out a genocide in Matabeleland. Mashonaland became an emotional support hub for the Gukurahundi operation; ethnic Shona media personnel and ordinary citizens supported the intervention in its entirety with some even calling Joshua Nkomo (an Ndebele and leader of the opposition) a dissident who deserved to be hanged.

The ZANU government misled the public and the international community into believing that in its operation codenamed Gukurahundi it was carrying out a legitimate security operation to filter out dissidents in the region. Although there were red flags raised about the operation, British authorities ignored the 5th Brigade brutality because the intervention coincided with security improvement for the white community. Although the US authorities questioned the British position and judgement of what appeared to be extreme measures being carried by Mugabe’s regime, they were cautious not to upset their major political ally.

ZANU-PF has yet to justify the use of an exclusively Shona military unit with communication systems detached from the rest of the national army. While it is true that at the time there were security disturbances in Matabeleland in the form of criminal attacks on white commercial farmers and their property, the evidence linking the crimes to organised dissident activity beyond criminal activity is not unequivocal.

The use of the 5th Brigade instead of the regular army was both an unnecessary and disproportionate measure; this intervention has never been justified by government or ZANU PF officials. When Joshua Nkomo raised his concerns about the use of the 5th Brigade and argued that the state had adequate security provision to deal with the criminal activities, Mugabe’s only response was a dismissive, ‘Dissidents must watch out…’

It has to be recognised that Mugabe later referred to the Gukurahundi operation as ‘…a moment of madness…’, but who was mad? He and/ or his government have yet to provide tangible evidence of the presence of dissidents they were fighting. While we await a response from Harare what Matabeleland remains with is a traumatised, hopeless, fearful, untrusting population with no prospect of a legal recourse.

What then are we to celebrate? The demise of our people, our culture, our individuality? There are many Matabeleland children of that time who do not have birth certificates, were denied opportunities in Zimbabwe and many had to go to South Africa and in recent days they have become a target of hate crime driven by a toxic anti-foreigners movement in that country. I go back to that question: What are we meant to celebrate on the 18th of April in Zimbabwe?

It is inaccurate to say that people of Matabeleland are tribalists or hate everything Zimbabwean. We are strongly in favour of common sense, common truth, common decency and mutual respect. If demanding equal treatment, equal access to opportunity, having locals running local government makes us unpatriotic and unfit for public office in Zimbabwe, so be it.

The questions I pose today about Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations are a realistic inquisition of the reasons for absence of freedom in the country. True freedom will require several corrective constitutional amendments, and those amendments should speak to a sense of decency and fairness that all citizens identify with and will collectively cherish.

In any society when the norm is indecency, other virtues collapse in response: integrity, honesty, compassion, kindness, and trust are all lost. Until we are truly independent we will not recognise the 18th of April as a day of independence, but a day our systemic demise began. Ask yourself how are you independent when you are more dependent on handouts and more disconnected from global activity than you were in 1979? When you are fearful of your government and you cannot safely convey alternate views from the official position, where are your liberties? We shall not cry like cowards but will fight till we are truly free.

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