Ever since I started writing current affairs and social justice newspaper articles in 1989, at the age of 16 years, this is probably the most painful, frank and heartfelt piece I have ever authored.
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.
We also, as we grew older, realized just how blessed we were to be part of a group that had the opportunity of commencing our life journeys with privileges of an independent Zimbabwe – which our parents never enjoyed under a racially segregated colonial system.
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 – since I was obviously too young.
Nonetheless, based on the little information still in my memory, stories told by my parents (as well as others who were already grown ups in those days), and numerous research material – a large section of the population had a far better standard of 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 – accusing me of playing down the genuine suffering, subjugation, and brutality meted upon the black population by the Rhodesia administration – let me hasten to mention a brutal truth.
As much as the colonial establishment was undeniably downright callous – with political and economic repression an everyday gruesome reality for blacks – no one, nevertheless, 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 – 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 what they perceived as ‘meagre salaries’ at that time.
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.
In addition, there was 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, RISCO (Rhodesia Iron and Steel Company) – which, established and operated the ‘black township’ – also catered for its employees exceptionally well.
They were awarded decent wages 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 fulfil their life-long dreams and ambitions on these retirement monies.
This lifestyle, of course, at that time appeared truly unbearable – due to the racially segregatory and oppressive nature of the country.
The population, thus, could not wait for a more equitable and equal society, where everyone was treated as an equal citizen.
As such, it bleeds and breaks my heart (and, those of numerous other Zimbabweans) when, today, this dark painful past now looks somewhat like ‘heaven on Earth’ – in comparison to the pain, suffering and poverty we now experience under an ‘independent’ Zimbabwe.
After a bloody protracted liberation struggle in the 1960s and 70s – which resulted in the loss of life of thousands of the country’s citizenry, mostly of the gallant men and women who sacrificed their own lives – there was so much hope for a better, more prosperous, and dignified livelihood for all the people of this great land.
However, an ‘independent’ Zimbabwe has since proven to be nothing more than an abject failure, and tragic dashing of the majority’s aspirations.
What started off with unbridled overwhelming joy and excitement on the part of the previously marginalized, segregated, and oppressed people of Zimbabwe, with the advent of ‘independence’ on 18 April 1980 – soon turned into a horrifying nightmare.
None of us could have ever imagined that after moving to the leafy and more spacious formerly ‘white suburb’ of Redcliff, and I transferring to a similarly former ‘white school’ (with its more advanced facilities and standards) – today, we would be wallowing in poverty and finding each day a horrid struggle.
Indeed, at independence in 1980, prospects of a much brighter future for most Zimbabweans could have never looked rosier.
The new ZANU ‘black administration’ sought to immediately correct historical injustices, and uplift the lives of all the citizenry.
There was universal suffrage, increased access to education and health care, indigenization of the economy, equal pay for equal work, removal of gender barriers to success, the introduction of electric trains, and so much more.
Nonetheless, 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 harrowing brutal reign of terror upon its own people – massacring over 30,000 innocent unarmed civilians in the Midlands and Matebeleland provinces between 1982 and 1987.
This is a traumatizing period, whose most tragic scenes I watched in utter horror, and certainly will never forget any time soon (whilst still a mere eleven year old) – as my friends and fellow neighbours were ruthlessly beaten to a pulp (and left for dead), and their homes razed to the ground.
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 – under the pretext of redistributing land to the ‘black majority’.
Yet, these vast tracts of land only ended up largely in the hands of the ruling elite – whilst, the ‘black majority’ remain on their dry infertile ‘reserves’, where they are expected to continue with subsistence farming.
Furthermore, hundreds of opposition supporters have been cold-bloodedly butchered, abducted, beaten up, and arrested on spurious charges – as the military-backed ruling junta seeks 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 have been thrown into an unbearable abyss of untold poverty and suffering.
Multitudes have been 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 street 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, which is largely ill-gotten, through the looting of the nation’s magnificent resources.
Who can easily forget the stunning revelations we watched in the Al Jazeera ‘Gold Mafia’ documentary – whereby, some of those involved in the plundering of our gold and money laundering, openly bragged about their dirty deeds (even naming the highest office in the land) to undercover journalists?
These people do not know what suffering or going hungry means – in spite of this being the norm of the millions of ordinary Zimbabweans.
The state-owned company, for which my dear mother worked for from 1964 (renamed ZISCOSTEEL after 1980) has since collapsed – due to massive and rampant corruption and mismanagement, at the hands of those in power.
In fact, this disturbing fact was confirmed by a government instituted commission of inquiry in 2006 – yet, not a single one, of the named high profile political figures, 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 described to him the standards at schools I attended in the 1980s and 90s, I am sure he erroneous concluded that I had learned at some prestigious private institutions.
It is completely understandable that it is nearly impossible for him (or any of this young generation) to believe that such standards ever existed in this country – what with the disgraceful dilapidated schools they had to attend.
Similarly, 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.
However, 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.
Our towns and cities have been reduced to rural areas – as they do not have potable water, or constant and reliable electricity supply.
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.
Yet, when these were constructed during the colonial era, they were of outstanding standards – which hosted some of the biggest matches ever seen.
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.
From the moment this country gained independence, we were told of the alleged economic sabotage by disgruntled former Rhodesians, and crude machinations by apartheid South Africa to bring down the ‘black government’.
Today, we are told of targeted sanctions by the US, UK and the EU.
Of course, those propagating this narrative have never been able to satisfactorily prove how exactly travel and financial restrictions on a handful of individuals and entities have brought an country endowed with abundant mineral wealth to its knees.
Let us not forget that none of our minerals – or, other economic contributors to our GDP, such as agricultural produce and tourism – are under any trade embargo.
This is a fact even our RBZ (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) governor John Pasipanodya Mangudya made unambiguously clear – in his response to allegations made in the Al Jazeera ‘Gold Mafia’ documentary – although, most Zimbabweans already knew that.
However, Rhodesia was not only under comprehensive UN 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 remained relatively intact throughout this ordeal.
The Rhodesian currency was, in fact, stronger than the US dollar at independence.
I wonder just how catastrophically this ZANU PF regime would have fared, had ‘independent’ Zimbabwe been subjected to a similar fate and aggression as Rhodesia.
There would have been no country to talk about today!
We have had enough of this suffering!
No amount of invoking colonial emotions, or whitewashing the current administration’s mismanagement and corruption could ever pacify the gravely aggrieved people of Zimbabwe.
We are sick and tired of all these unfulfilled promises.
We no longer have the patience for any more promises – but, all we want now is a completely new administration and dispensation – far divorced from this kleptomaniac and despotic rulers.
Why did thousands of people die in the 1960s and 70s?
For what reason did our intrepid freedom fighters sacrifice their lives?
Surely, did they go through all that suffering, only for a few people to live like kings and queens, whilst the majority are now even worse off than in Rhodesia?
Never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever imagine that I would end up this – whereby, I am even worse off than my standard six, and form two educated mother and father.
In spite of all our suffering, if there is one thing I am, however, exceedingly grateful for, is having experienced a bit of life in Rhodesia – albeit, only for the first seven years of my life.
At least, I had a taste of just how enjoyable and comfortable life could be, under a competent and proficient leadership.
I even shudder to imagine the kind of life awaiting my own son.
© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please visit his website/blog on www.mbofanatendairuben.news.blog, or join WhatsApp group on https://chat.whatsapp.com/CBQVPGODBPQG969OBVLyeT for regular articles