38 years after Independence, I choose to hope

18 April 1980 looked like one big party. In fact, from the video footage that’s played on repeat as Independence Day draws closer, 1980 in general looked like one big party. It’s understandable: after almost a century of colonial rule and war, majority rule was reality. Even Bob Marley came to celebrate with us! Which other country can say that the reggae legend penned and performed a whole song for them?

I often wonder about the people captured in those videos. Their carefree smiles, the way they walked down the street in confidence – streets that they weren’t able to walk down before. What happened to them? When did that exuberance become despair, anger, then resignation? After all, they’re the generation that witnessed everything: Ian Smith’s government, the Second Chimurenga, Independence Day, then the slow descent into the Zimbabwe of 2018.

It’s painful to watch those videos from 1980, seeing such hope for a brighter future, only to arrive at that future and find their dreams turn to dust.

As a country, we’ve been through the highs and the lows. Colonisation. Oppressive racial rule. Struggle. Liberation. Freedom. Black empowerment. Censorship. Fear. No money. No jobs. It’s painful to watch those videos from 1980, seeing such hope for a brighter future, only to arrive at that future and find their dreams turn to dust.

Daring to hope

But here’s the funny thing about hope: it’s incredibly difficult to shake off. Even when there seem to be no prospects on the horizon, hope sneaks up on you and takes hold. And so even now, after over 20 years of countrywide decline, I have hope. I have hope because I think of the people in those videos. They were young, in their 20s – just like I am. They’d hoped and prayed for a day where freedom would come. At times it must have felt like it would never come. They were fighting against near impossible odds, against a system that resisted change. They were fighting to reclaim their future and the opportunity to build a life for themselves in their country.

Sound familiar?

Hope assures me that this is not the only Zimbabwe I will ever know

They had hope, and on 18 April 1980, their hopes were realised. It was not an easy or short journey to Independence, but it happened. So I have hope and faith that one day, Zimbabwe will get back on its feet. Hope is powerful because it’s a rejection of present circumstances. It lets you look beyond the despair of the present and envision a better reality. Hope assures me that this is not the only Zimbabwe I will ever know. That’s what Independence Day should symbolise: not grandstanding or political rhetoric, but a validation and realisation of hope. Because if no one back then had hope that independence from colonial rule would become reality, where would Zimbabwe be now?

Header image sourced from John Mauluka

Photos in collage sourced from NewZimbabawe and Stan Winer.

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So far so good? Young Zimbabwean identity in 2016

36 years ago, Southern Rhodesia was wiped from existence and Zimbabwe was born. Great pomp and ceremony ensued as the populace celebrated the end of a long guerrilla and the establishment of majority rule. Bob Marley even wrote a song for us, and he came down and performed, free of charge, at the official Independence Day celebrations:

In 2016, things are different.  Zimbabweans are scattered across the globe. Many people have left for their studies or employment. There is a generation of people with Zimbabwean heritage who have not set foot in the country.  And for a born-free generation, navigating their Zimbabwean identity is a chore in itself. Four such Zimbabweans, all studying at Rhodes University in South Africa, speak of what it means to be Zimbabwean, 36 years after Independence.

Marshall, 23

“Being Zimbabwean in 2016 comes with many arduous challenges and a lot of hard work in the quest to get opportunity and recognition necessary for the meaningful success in the global village we live in today.

As a young Zimbabwean, I find it hard to break barriers no matter how good I am – barriers that, if broken, will propel my career to dizzy heights. This is largely due to negative political connotations that come with being from Zimbabwe.”

Perpetual, 23

“Being a Zimbabwean youth is tough. Particularly a patriotic youth. You yourself fail to explain where you draw your strong allegiance to the country from.

It’s quite an amazing phenomenon really. I can rave and curse about the situation in Zimbabwe but dare someone else do it. So what does it mean to be a Zimbabwean in 2016, 36 years after independence? It’s a myriad of emotions. Love. Hate. Love. Hate even more.”

Mholiwethu, 21

“My Zimbabwean identity means being resilient in the face of all adversities and having faith and hope as strong a mustard seed.”

Varaidzo, 18

“I like that Zimbabweans, we’re peaceful people. Yeah our country’s messed up, but we’re survivors. It hasn’t broken us.  If you’re outside of the country, you know you’re not alone. You’ve got a community of Zimbabweans there with you.”

Zimbabwean Identity, 36 years on

So what does it mean to be a young Zimbabwean in 2016? There isn’t a straightforward answer to that. There’s a constant tug of war in establishing your identity.  Inheriting the past, surviving the present, building for the future – often times, it can be suffocating to live such an existence. Nevertheless, for many of the young Zimbabweans out there, their national heritage and identity is a badge they wear with pride.

Simudzai mureza wedu weZimbabwe
Yakazvarwa nomoto wechimurenga;
Neropa zhinji ramagamba
Tiidzivirire kumhandu dzose;
Ngaikomborerwe nyika yeZimbabwe.

Phakamisan iflegi yethu yeZimbabwe
Eyazalwa yimpi yenkululeko;
Legaz’ elinengi lamaqhawe ethu
Silivikele ezithan izonke;
Kalibusisiwe ilizwe leZimbabwe.

1980 to 2015: Independence for young Zimbabweans

35 years ago, we collectively said goodbye to Rhodesia and introduced a new, independent country into the world – Zimbabwe.  The joy, hope and positivity of a peoples who finally had achieved majority rule was palpable.  From the stories I’ve heard from my parents and older relatives, it was the zenith of their national pride and patriotism.  For them, 1980 will forever remain a beautiful memory, that moment when we hoisted the Zimbabwe flag for the first time.  Bob Marley even celebrated with us – how many countries can say that the great reggae legend wrote a song for them?

 

More than three decades later, and that  flag is still up high.  However, with a large percentage of Zimbabweans under the age of 30, does Independence resonate with them?  Not having gone through the experience of the liberation wars, not witnessing the country transform into a republic, could colour their perceptions of Independence Day, and whether it’s really anything to celebrate.   For a young Zimbabwean living outside the country, what does Independence mean?

Tatenda

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As a Law student at Rhodes University, Tatenda feels now more than ever, Zimbabwe is a presence in Africa and the world.  “We’re everywhere”, she says, as Zimbabweans have spread all over the world, leaving their mark.  And it’s thanks to Independence that many people like her have the chance to pursue their dreams, get an education, and be proud of Zimbabwe’s history, resilience, and determination.

 

Sarah

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Half Ndebele and half Shona, Sarah has a deep connection to her country and its culture.  She is proud that 35 years on Zimbabwe is still independent, but that there hasn’t been much progress.  “I don’t know if we’re moving forward or backward.”  Sarah is fiercely patriotic, with a large Zimbabwe flag hanging over her bed, but is unsure as to what exactly victories gained in 1980 have improved life in 2015.

 

Richard

 

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Richard is currently studying for his third degree, a Masters degree in Business.  For him, he couldn’t be where he is now were it not for the sacrifices that people before him made.  He’s grateful for the men and women that decided to change an unjust system to provide equal opportunities for all, without discrimination.  “The life that I have now, the opportunities that I have now, have been secured for.”

 

Rangarirai

 

ranga

 

As a young Zimbabwean studying outside of the country, Rangarirai is well aware that were it not for Independence, he wouldn’t be where he is now.  He has nothing but absolute respect for the people that fought for liberation, and hopes that Independence Day is never devalued or unappreciated.  “We have been uplifted by our forefathers, and we’re really grateful for that.”

 

There are many other young Zimbabweans out there, with views, opinions and criticism of Independence.  Nonetheless, they are proud of their country, and proud to be called Zimbabwean.  So as we celebrate 35 years of Independence, let us recall what it took for us to get here, and what we can learn from Independence to shape our future.