For me Independence day started with the drudgery of bucket filling because, perhaps as an Independence present, there was water coming out of the taps. It was the first time in three days we had had water.
It was neither clean nor clear but it was water and the fear that it wouldn’t last long became reality when the taps had already run dry before midday.
The second Independence day present was electricity. Amazingly we had woken up to find the power on and this meant chores: ironing, cooking, charging batteries, catching up on computer work. Like the surprise appearance of water in the taps, we knew the electricity probably wouldn’t last long but at least it stayed on until sunset that day.
For the rest of the week we paid the price, only getting electricity in the middle of the night.
The third Independence day present came with two young men walking down the road. Both were black Zimbabweans and both far too young to have been born before independence in 1980. Friendly greetings were exchanged; “Happy Independence,” I said to them and they echoed my words, big smiles on their faces. For most Zimbabweans, on most days, this is the real face of Zimbabwe, 32 years after Independence because, despite the past and despite our different skin colours, we are all Zimbabweans and all living the same struggle of not enough electricity, water, jobs or money and corrupt officials lording it over a decaying infrastructure. The brief but cheerful exchange with the two young men lifted my spirits after a week of vitriolic, racist statements by senior government ministers who provide little example to the new generation of Zimbabweans.
Then came the biggest surprise of Zimbabwe’s 32nd Independence Day.
A cup of tea made with real electricity, a TV being powered by real electricity and ZBC were showing live coverage of President Mugabe’s Independence Day speech. After three weeks of rumours of a leader on his deathbed, there was no sign of frailty or ill health whatsoever.
Inspecting the forces, walking completely surrounded by 9 dark suited bodyguards my eyes were glued to one man in a dark suit who walked slightly apart from the pack and he carried a small black briefcase.
We could only imagine what might have been in that briefcase. Mr Mugabe spoke for almost an hour and his words came as a big surprise.
Instead of the usual, fist clenched, anti west rhetoric, he spoke at length about peace, tolerance, freedom of choice and association and non violence. He said: “the fights of yesterday are left in the past,” and said people should be free to choose whichever party they wanted to belong to and whoever they wanted to vote for.
Gob smacked is perhaps the best way to describe the national reaction to this Independence speech. It comes after years of brutal crackdown; laws which curtail free speech and publication; legislation which allows seizure of land and Title Deeds and prohibits redress from the courts; thousands of people raped, tortured, beaten and murdered and a quarter of our population living outside the country. Now suddenly comes talk of peace, tolerance of peoples differences and freedom of choice. How can we suddenly believe this spectacular change of attitude? How do the same leaders eradicate the political violence, racial and political intolerance that they themselves have encouraged with 32 years of clenched fist slogans of “Pasi na.” (Down with) Is it really possible to put this demon back in its box?
I will be taking a short break for the next few weeks so until next time, thanks for caring about Zimbabwe,
21st April 2012.