Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Reflections from a 'born free' child of Zimbabwean Independence

Please note - This article is a reflection through the eyes of my life and experiences and is in no way meant to be an accurate historical or political discussion.

A 'born free' is a child who was born in Zimbabwe post the 1980 independence victory over Ian Smith's government [Initially a British colonial government until Ian Smith declared a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom on November 11th 1965].
This is me at age 2 or 3 
 My earliest memory of being a part of the 'born free' generation was when I was in primary school. I do not remember the exact age I was but I do remember it was during an Independence day celebration at the State House in Harare to which my parents and I had been invited to attend. I vividly recall meeting President Robert Mugabe and shacking his hand, even curtsying in front of him...I remember being so proud to be a part of the celebration, to be in the presence of the author of my free world and to be Zimbabwean. I did not know then of the heroic feats my own father had performed in his pursuit of liberation, democracy and freedom for his people. As I was so young I guess my parents did not think it appropriate to share the tales of Kamuzu Banda's secret service sending my father letter bombs in Zambia and harassing the rest of my family back in Malawi so Mugabe got to be the warrior in my world, the fearless lion who fought and won almost single handed it seemed and I was in awe... I remember when his first wife Sally passed away, it was like the mother of our nation had left us, a gaping hole left in our hearts and a broken leader inconsolable seemingly aged overnight. I stood with him then in grieving, not fully understanding the ramifications of Sally Mugabe's death in relation to how it changed him and the course of Zimbabwe's history as a result...

As I grew in thriving Zimbabwe at that time, I became ever more so proud of our fearless leader, and country and the way Zimbabwe never broke down into civil war post colonialism but how Shona and Ndebele came together, shoulder to shoulder, side by side and declared peace and brought about prosperity to all the peoples of Zimbabwe. Seeing that time through my childish eyes I believed that anything was possible like Mugabe would say in his speeches and more importantly I believed that we were now free and equal peoples.  I was part of the 'born free' generation! I could do anything! the sky was the limit! I really did feel free and grew up free and without inhibitions aiming high and excited about life, a state of being I imagine many born during the time of the liberation struggle could only dream of. 

The cracks in the walls that held up the freedom and democracy of the nation started to become apparent to me when Joshua Nkomo,  the leader and founder of the opposing Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) passed away. I remember it was in my final year of high school and he was vice president at the time. My school was torn apart in anger, pain and mourning. For the first time in my life I saw Shona and Ndebele people my age  fighting about the genuine discrepancies between what is reported to be the freedom story of Zimbabwe and what really happened. It was the first time I heard the stories of the Matabeleland massacres and mass graves where it is alleged that the leading party members had conflict with some  Nebele peoples. These accounts caused such bitterness and resentment amongst the born free generation and more so in the generations that went before us. 'Poison in the pot' of the nation which seemed in the mind of this fearless leader, from the outside looking in, a reasonable price to secure power and be afforded  the privilege of  boasting of his orchestration of the 'born free' generation. This all started to become apparent to me during the days leading up to Nkomo's funeral, a period that left me ashamed of my country for the first time in the 18 years of my life. 

During one of those heated debates between a group of Shona vs. Nbebele students, I tried to reason with them when one student turned to me and retorted to my comment, 'who are you to say anything you're not even Zimbabwean, this has nothing to do with you!'. Stunned I walked away confused more than anything, thinking how I was born in Mbuya Nehanda Hospital in Harare and grew up in the city, how could I not be Zimbabwean? I dismissed this notion as words spoken in anger and went on with my life. It was not until 2001 when Mugabe's government was in the early stages of land reform that I discovered that the student who made that statement back in 1999 was not far from the truth in the governments definition of a Zimbabwean. 

What I did not realise until then was that in order to be secure in your Zimbabwean citizenship your father had to come from a village in Zimbabwe signified on your identity card. Those whose father's did not come from a village in Zimbabwe, regardless of where they were born, had the number 61 on their ID card in the space where your father's village / district number would be. 61 signifies a person with no village or district (which is another way of determining one's tribe) and that is how the Zimbabwean government recognised me. So as many white farmers were forced to forsake their dual citizenship in an attempt to make them leave Zimbabwe, all the 61 people, like my family were being forced to choose too. My father is Malawian yet we have lived in Zimbabwe for decades and at that point in my life I suddenly lost the right to call myself a Zimbabwean. 

The once thriving Zimbabwe had begun to crumble as the leader I had looked up to and seen as the hero of my free world, adorning me as one of his born free generation had rejected me as a foreigner in the space of two decades. Needless to say that my heart shuddered and my spirit was temporarily broken, a sense of belonging which is a fundamental need for every human being had gone...From that point onwards Zimbabwe as I knew it, my home, my people, where my heart was, began a process of metamorphosis from the crown jewel, golden example of African democracy in practice to what can only be describe as an Aids victim in their final days...riddled with the diseases of corruption, tribalism, nepotism and hatred. Stricken by the cancer of dictatorship, humbled by the chains of oppression...a man who once openly and frequently boasted of his 'born free' generations, seemingly overnight had stripped it of its apparel and bound it with the chains of oppression far superior than that of the colonial masters he had fought to free Zimbabwe from initially. 

So as I sit and reflect on what it means to me to be 'born free' I realise that the illusion of freedom was so much sweeter than the reality that lurked beneath and is visible today...that of dictatorship, segregation and oppression by a liberation war hero and his government that is tribalist and almost communist in nature...In my mind now Mugabe stands so far removed from the hero of the free world of my childhood, his government barley recognisable to its former self, a shining hope of freedom and democracy...a legacy lost...a land left desolate... a people left diseased, raped and pillaged...a little girl's heart broken...the last nail hovering over the coffin of my free world...Zimbabwe. 

The shack...

This is a picture I took of a dilapidated old barn  
I came across in the English countryside.

Looking upon this desolate empty place, a structure that was once but is no more an inhabitance an eerie silence fills the air. It's only comfort is in the partaking of daily rituals with its surrounding, the rising of the sun, rustling of the wind, the cooing of birds, the marching of ants and crafting of spiders as they construct their webs. Small things that one often takes for granted, things that could easily be missed in the hassle and bustle of everyday life are the hope and lifeline of this otherwise lifeless empty shell. 

The day before it was brand new, cement wet upon the bricks, wooden planks resonating from its introduction to the nails creating a union that would outlast its use. Solid and secure it stood tall and proud, daring the forces of nature to test its fa├žade. Its manicured lawns and floral array spread across the landscape inviting the eye to wonder at its beauty. 

Like the lines upon a tree, marking its age, time marks this space with abandonment, wearing away by nature, and eroding effect spreading like an unquenchable fire across its frame, rotting away the promise of yesterday, taking away the hope of tomorrow. The wilderness that grows around it confirming its abandonment by the world, its emptiness evidence that love indeed has moved on... though it may have once lived here, it lives here no more... 


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