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Did the emergence of a strong opposition extinguish the revolutionary spirit in Zimbabweans?

02 Feb 2023 at 19:27hrs | Views
To me, those where the good old days - when Zimbabweans were a people of valor, who did not brook any nonsense from their government and never wasted any time in courageously standing up for themselves.

I remember that period in our country's post-independence history with deep fondness, since this was the time Zimbabweans made things happen - always keeping the ruling elite on their toes, and fully aware of who were the real bosses in the country.

The people acted as one forced, never divided or polarized along any political, tribal or racial lines - but, spoke with one voice, and stood together as one nation.

In so doing, those in power listened to what the citizenry wanted, and yielded to the people's demands, with little hesitation or resistance - as they knew very well who held the real power in the country.

Those were the 1990s!

During that time, I was stationed in the capital Harare, doing my tertiary education - and, literally, being in the front row seats of all the action.

This is when civil society groups began forcefully agitating for their rights - which had been severely eroded under ESAP (Economic Structural Adjustment Program) - whereby, the interests of corporates and businesses were placed ahead those of ordinary citizens and workers, who were placed on the back burner of the country's economy, leading many into financial struggles.

In so doing, the people of Zimbabwe, at this stage, had had enough, and could not take the suffering anymore - after which, they finally bravery decided to take the bull by its horns, by confronting the ruling establishment head-on, through massive protests.

It is believed that in 1997 alone, 232 strikes were recorded, the largest number in any year since the attainment of independence in 1980 - most of which were over poor salaries, that workers could not accept anymore; coupled with university students demanding their academic rights.

This was the same year that veterans of the liberation struggle finally developed some guts - thereby, staging protests against the Robert Gabriel Mugabe administration, demanding meaningful recognition for their war efforts - resulting in the government paying once-off gratuities of ZW$50,000, and monthly pensions of ZW$2,000.

Of course, as these monies had not been budgeted for, the regime decided to introduce a ‘war veterans levy' on workers' salaries to finance this huge expenditure - but, again, public protests forced an immediate change of mind - subsequently, leading authorities to fund these obligations through borrowing.

The following year, 1998, prices of Zimbabweans' staple food, mealie meal, skyrocketed by 24 percent - pushing the basic commodity out of the reach of many - thereby, again, resulting in public outrage, and triggering nationwide riots.

The government responded by introducing price controls on all basic commodities.

In this discourse, I am not trying to evaluate and analyse whether the various responses by the government where appropriate or wise - since, some of these decisions directly ignited the subsequent massive depreciation of the local currency - marking the genesis of the economic meltdown that gripped Zimbabwe from the start of the new millennium.

What I am more interested in is how the people of Zimbabwe acting together as one united force - in fearlessly taking on the ruling establishment - managed to force change in the country.

It was clear that, when the citizenry did not merely sit on their laurels - simply complaining in their homes or workplaces, over how horrible the situation had become - but instead, going out there and courageously standing up for themselves, those in office listened and heeded the people's voices.

The people showed who, without a shadow of doubt, had the real power in the country - and, the government took notice.

Nevertheless, Zimbabweans suddenly, as if cast some dark spell - lost their backbone at the turn of the new millennium - a tragic state we, unfortunately, still find ourselves trapped in today.

From the early 2000s, the people of Zimbabwe have been maliciously oppressed, and faced untold economic suffering - going through some of the most shocking periods, with record-breaking hyperinflation - yet, never have we ever lifted a finger, as we endured unprecedented poverty and misery.

It never mattered if the price of mealie meal reached an unbelievable ZW$10 billion - yet, unavailable in any shop, and leading to major queues, characterized by pushing and shoving when the scarce commodity somehow turned up - we still simply watched, in inexplicable docility, as if crippled by some unseen force.

This, despite the fact that, only a few years earlier we brought the entire country to a standstill after the price of our staple food went up by only 24 percent - with the resultant government intervention.

In spite of the unofficial exchange rate reaching a staggering ZW$500 billion to US$1 in July 2008, and the annual inflation rate alarmingly at 89.7 sextillion percent in November 2008 - we remained as if nothing was amiss.

Today, the picture sadly remains unchanged.

Like puppets in a show - the government does pretty much what they want with our lives - and, we just lamely sit there, choosing rather to vent our anger on social media - an ineffectual tool in forcing any regime, especially an arrogant stubborn one, into taking any real action to improve the citizenry's livelihoods.

With nearly half the country's population (7.1 million) living in extreme poverty, two thirds of the workforce (the less than ten percent still formally employed) earning below the poverty datum line, and 3 million Zimbabweans reported to be food insecure - we act as if everything is normal and alright.

We have everyone, including university graduates, forced into street vending or artisanal gold mining - on account of huge unemployment levels of over 90 percent - yet, we seem to regard this as acceptable.

The local currency presently hovers around ZW$1,000 to the greenback, with food inflation amongst the highest in the world - but, that does not appear to faze us.

Even as we head for crucial elections mid-2023 - with a heavily skewed and unfavourable electoral environment, totally not conducive for the conducting of any free, fair and credible polls - we still have those blindly, and seemingly brimming with confidence, actually believing they will win.

We have an opposition that appears to genuinely see themselves winning elections under such deplorable and untenable conditions - without ever taking any concrete action to force the government to implement real reforms.

Maybe, therein lies the problem with Zimbabweans!

It is definitely not by coincidence that the revolutionary spirit within the ordinary citizenry came to an abrupt end at the same time as the formation of the most powerful opposition party since the country gained independence.

On 11 September 1999, the strongest and largest labour movement (ZCTU), with a host of other civil society groups, established the Movement of Democratic Change (MDC) - led by Morgan Richard Tsvangirai.

This political formation posed a real challenge to the ruling ZANU PF - losing the June 2000 general elections just slightly, and Tsvangirai actually beating Mugabe in 2008 - although, he was never given that victory, after Mugabe unleashed a ruthless savage reign of terror, massacring hundreds of opposition supporters.

How, then, did the advent of a strong opposition extinguish Zimbabweans' fire to stand up against the government in the only language it understood, and the only one that had actually yielded any tangible results before?

I honestly believe that we became complacent in the deluded conviction that real improvement in the citizenry's livelihoods would now come through the ballot box, and a change of government.

In so doing, Zimbabweans chose to merely sit back, and hope for the best.

However, as the past two decades have proven - as long as there is no real push for meaningful electoral reforms - nothing will change any time soon for the suffering millions.

Indeed, in a normal country, elections would be the permanent solution - but, Zimbabwe is nowhere near normal - and, only when the political environment is fixed, can we ever hope for the desired change.

Nevertheless, this entails Zimbabweans themselves forcing these reforms - which means going back to the days of the 1990s - where, we fearlessly stood for our rights, in oneness and unity.

We have to adamantly reject and refuse to be divided along partisan lines - an art the ruling establishment has perfected over the course of time - but, as in the 1990s, realize that our economic misery knows no political party membership, as such we stand together as one people and one nation.

If we continue dreaming of ‘winning elections' - a delusion that is likely not to happen in the foreseeable future, as long as the current unfair and uneven conditions persist - our suffering and poverty will only worsen.

It is time that Zimbabweans rekindled their lost 1990s revolutionary spirit - especially now that we have the 2013 Constitution - which provides for numerous rights to peaceful demonstration, petitioning, stay aways, and strikes.

With a toolbox full of options - most of which do not even require us to be confrontational, in the face of a brutal heinous regime - why are we not using them?

They worked quite exceptionally in the 1990s - when the powers-that-be were forced to admit who the real powers were in Zimbabwe - and, yielded to most demands by the people.

In the absence of such a revolutionary spirit, we really have no legitimate reason for us to keep complaining - if we are not prepared to stand up for ourselves.

The 1990s should not be the last time Zimbabweans had any real guts!

- Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate, writer, researcher, and social commentator. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email:

Source - Tendai Ruben Mbofana
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