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Divided Zimbabweans mark 35th independence anniversary

Today, while the independence celebrations are being held under the theme "Consolidating Unity, Peace and Economic Sovereignty," Zimbabweans no longer speak with one voice and the country is divided and politically polarized.

18.04.2015
Divided Zimbabweans mark 35th independence anniversary

By John Cassim

HARARE 

Thirty five years ago, Zimbabwe won independence from the British colonial rule and the black majority was overwhelmed with joy and had high hopes.

Today, while the independence celebrations are being held under the theme "Consolidating Unity, Peace and Economic Sovereignty," Zimbabweans no longer speak with one voice and the country is divided and politically polarized.

Supporters of the ruling ZANU–PF party are rejoicing and identifying with the twitter harshtag #1980 SO FAR SO GOOD as a reflection of achievements since independence.

"There is every reason for me to celebrate Independence Day," Simbarashe Ngarande, 36, told The Anadolu Agency.

"I am an entrepreneur who owns a fleet of commuter omnibuses plying several routes in Harare," he explained. "So, to me indeed it is so far so good."

Soon after independence, the ZANU–PF embarked on an exercise that empowered Zimbabwean citizens in terms of quality health and education.

The ruling party introduced an "education for all" policy which resulted in Zimbabwe only second to Tunisia with a literacy rate of more than 90 percent of the population.

More schools, tertiary colleges and universities were built and the country presently has 11 universities.

In terms of health, the government made sure through donor funds that each district had a major hospital.

This is in addition to other liberties such as freedom of movement and association, which were not supported under the colonial regime.

"Apart from economic empowerment and land that we got through our leader President Robert Mugabe, we have stability in Zimbabwe," Wellington Peyama, a staunch ZANU–PF supporter, told AA.

He insists that Zimbabwe is one of the few countries led by a liberation movement that has not witness a military coup.

Challenges

But other Zimbabweans are not so impressed by what the country has achieved 35 years since independence.

"There is nothing to celebrate because of the economic hardships people are facing at the moment," Rashid Mahiya, who is based in capital Harare, told AA.

"Jobs are scarce, companies are closing and the cost of living is very high," he lamented.

Zimbabwe currently uses a multicurrency system, which is dominated by the U.S. dollar and the South African rand.

Introduction of the system was necessitated by hyperinflation – estimated at more than 500 billion percent – that eroded the value of the Zimbabwe dollar a few years back, forcing citizens to abandon the local currency.

The runaway inflation had caused severe hardships for everyday Zimbabweans. At the time, supermarkets stood empty and food availability became a major concern.

Many Zimbabweans – seeking greener pastures – crossed the border into neighboring Botswana and South Africa.

"I think the government has just managed to expose its nakedness and they should be reminded that poverty is the mother of all revolutions," Maureen Kademaunga, 32, told AA.

Stabile Dewa, 29, has two degrees and still cannot find a job.

"Zimbabwe's unemployment rate is more than 90 percent and I am one of those affected," she told AA.

"This is the reason why we find millions of Zimbabweans in diaspora, especially South Africa where they are experiencing xenophobic attacks," lamented Dewa.

Zimbabwe used to be known as a regional "breadbasket" before embarking on a controversial land redistribution program in 2000.

Mugabe defended the policy, saying it had been meant to redress the British seizure of fertile farmland in the late 19th century.

The country's agricultural production has since slumped to its lowest level since it won independence.

Zimbabwe has ended up importing grain from neighboring countries – including South Africa, Zambia and Malawi – to meet domestic demand.

At one point, UN development agencies began providing assistance, including technical agricultural support.

Political Violence

Many also cite restrictions on political freedoms, and argue that peace and stability in the country are the result of fear and intimidation.

"We cannot say we have independence in Zimbabwe when one of us is missing," Simba Makoni, a former ruling party member and now an opposition leader, told AA.

"Those who are supposed to maintain peace are the ones perpetrating violence against ordinary citizens," h charged.

Makoni was referring to the abductions of opposition members in Zimbabwe, the latest victim being journalist and activist Itai Dzamara.

Dzamara – the leader of a pressure group called "Occupy Africa Unity Square Gardens," which calls for the resignation of 91-year-old Mugabe – was abducted while having his hair cut near his home.

The country's opposition and civic organizations believe the abductors were state security agents, which the government denies.

In 2008, 21 activists were abducted in different parts of Zimbabwe.

Weeks after their initial disappearance, they were brought to court, where they were charged with plotting to depose Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence.

The courts refused to prosecute the activists, however, saying their rights had been violated, noting that they had been denied access to medicine, food and legal representation while in custody.

"Actually there is nothing to celebrate on Independence Day because most of those in ZANU–PF are there to suppress others through unlawful means such as abductions and violence," Claris Madhuku, the director of Platform for Youth Development, a local NGO, told AA.

Opposition leader and former premier Morgan Tsvangirai said there was little to celebrate on Independence Day.

"The tragedy of our liberation is that only political independence came, without the basic freedoms that many had fought and died for," he said in a statement.

The EU suspended aid to Zimbabwe in 2002 following reports of human rights abuses, election rigging and voter intimidation by the ZANU–PF government.

It resumed direct engagement with Zimbabwe in November of last year.

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