The Struggle for a Free Zimbabwe: Whose Freedom Is It, Anyway?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

By Rejoice Ngwenya, Harare, Zimbabwe.

It is the morning after Robert Mugabe’s wasteful pomp and ceremony disguised as ‘independence celebration’ when the music has died down, euphoria subsided and the stately wine glasses are dry. ZANU-PF fat cats have retired to their expropriated farms while their famished supporters ponder over the source of the next free meal.

The Zimbabwean media, as usual saw things differently. The ZANU-PF Herald, as expected, is singing the praises of Mugabe, claiming he received a resounding welcome at the citadel of celebrations, Harare’s Chinese-built second grade National Sports Stadium. In the rest of its editorials, there is no reference to the fact that Zimbabweans have wasted thirty years of their lives in search of true freedom. As with tradition, The Herald sees no evil in Mugabe except portraying him as a victim of ‘illegal Western sanctions’; choosing to ignore that his party is globally known as a purveyor of violence and merchant of death.

Thanks to advances in technology, there is more objective news than The Herald can offer in a lifetime. Mugabe’s self-praises of freedom ring hollow when one considers that thirty years on, his government presides over some of the harshest media laws in the world. What this actually means is the man has no morsel of a clue in the difference between ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’. For a man who spent eleven years in detention, he should know better. While in custody, he was independent enough to do his own things – bath, eat, exercise and even study, but he was not a free man. That is my point. I may be independent from British colonial rule, but definitely not free from Mugabe’s fascist dictatorship, usually legitimized by, in addition to the dysfunctional SADC, five-year fake elections.

Both ZANU-PF and fellow liberators ZAPU did most in bringing independence to Zimbabwe, but Zimbabweans are still not free to assembly, associate and express themselves. Journalists who work in the only three ‘free’ newspapers – Standard, Independent and Zimbabwean – are routinely arrested and intimidated. MDC and civil society still need police permission to hold public meetings. Thirty years after ‘independence’, there is only one state-controlled broadcaster in Zimbabwe. The media graveyard is teeming with publications and broadcasters that were bullied into closure by Mugabe’s secret service. Those who are brave enough to broadcast from abroad are branded pirates, as if ZANU-PF owns the atmosphere. Show me the freedom, Mr. Mugabe!

In pursuit of more news, I also come across pro-freedom activities by the restive Zimbabwean Diaspora in England. Political activist Gabriel Shumba is then quoted as having ‘advised the Diaspora that there must be rule of law in Zimbabwe before they could safely go home – so they would be free from harassment, torture and intimidation. …. [He] said that people could not go home to Zimbabwe to find the perpetrators of the violence against them were still in place.” My question: if Mugabe has for the past thirty years subjected Zimbabwe citizens to both independence and misery, whose responsibility is it to create an environment “free from harassment, torture and intimidation”?

Unsubstantiated reports are that there are no less than a million ‘productive’ Zimbabwean citizens in the Diaspora. The bulk of this number is in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Ironically, only thirty thousand guerrillas combined efforts with villagers to wage a war of political independence between 1965 and 1979. The reality that should confront Mr. Shumba and his fellow activists is that there is no freedom that will come to Zimbabwe through lofty statements and wishful thinking. Harassment, torture, violence and intimidation are being perpetrated by Mugabe and ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe, so this institution will remain intact until someone in Zimbabwe participates in reversing the trend. And who does Mr. Shumba assign that responsibility – to the elderly parents that he and his fellow Diasporas left in Zimbabwe?

In many ways, this shows the vast difference between pre-independence ‘hands-on activism’ and Mr Shumba’s post independence ‘megaphone’ liberation tactics. Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe put together a system where fighters actually crossed into Zimbabwe and motivated villagers to struggle for their rights. I am not so sure how vigils and candles in London, thirteen thousand kilometres away can possibly evict Mugabe from state house on Seventh Street, Harare!

My humble submission is that Zimbabweans should forfeit their luxury at Tottenham Court road London, Bree street Johannesburg and come home to wage a sustainable struggle for freedom on Seventh Street in Harare. Just like the red shirts of Bangkok, we want to see clouds of tear gas and body bags as Zimbabweans fight to reclaim their freedom from misguided ZANU-PF zealots. There should be no illusion that freedom comes cheap. We will have to be prepared to starve, get arrested and possibly die.

It is too late to start blaming Morgan Tsvangirayi and Arthur Mutambara for ‘defeating the course of freedom in participating in the government of national unity’. They only did what seemed to be right then. The forces of emancipation have one foot in the chariot. Imagine how much critical advantage the movement would have if Mr. Shumba and the other one million citizens in the Diaspora directly confronted ZANU-PF this year! Not even talking about mass demonstrations, just the ballot box itself would give our thirty-year oppressors a fatal blow. It is a fact that our country’s weak commercial and industrial base cannot absorb one million citizens all at once, but the longer Mr Shumba and his colleagues play ‘safe’ vigil, the more difficult it will be to unseat ZANU-PF. It is better to run the trenches on empty stomachs for now in preparation for the good times in future. Freedom is, after all not for so free.

Rejoice Ngwenya is President of Harare-based Coalition for Liberal Market Solutions and an affiliate of