In three days time Zimbabwe celebrates 36 years of Independence. Take a ride with me and see what I see in typical small town Zimbabwe.
It’s been over ten years since the local council did any maintenance to the road I live on despite repeated written and verbal requests. The gullies are deep, storm drains swallowed, corners buried in sand. One block along, the road sides are littered with piles of dumped garbage: disposable nappies, bottles, tins, bags, glass. Repeated written and verbal requests to the local council to clear the garbage have yielded nothing. I venture onto the main road with my heart in my mouth. The grass is over two metres tall on the corner and it is impossible to see if anyone is coming. The tar is a maze of potholes and so you weave, swerve and zig zag, often driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid the holes and save your tyres.
The banks have run out of cash and outside the Post Office Savings Bank where many pensioners and civil servants have accounts, at least a hundred people stand in a winding queue across the car park. They are waiting to try and withdraw their own money from the bank but every day they are told: try tomorrow, the same thing all the banks are saying. 36 years after Independence Zimbabwe doesn’t even have its own currency and now we’ve run out of real US dollar bank notes: our own US dollar bank notes that we deposited in our own accounts. Everyone’s asking: where’s our money gone?
Outside the supermarket dozens of people stand in a queue, not for food but to try and withdraw cash by using their bank swipe cards. There are more people outside than inside the supermarkets where the shelves are groaning but wait, look closer: 36 years after Independence 80% of the food we eat is imported from South Africa. Some is repackaged into Zimbabwean bags but no one is fooled.
On the pavements people with O Levels, A levels and University degrees sell tomatoes, onions, bananas, air time, clothes, cell phones, watches and more. They don’t do it because they want to but because there are no jobs. 36 years after Independence an estimated 90% of Zimbabweans are unemployed.
I meet a friend and he shows me the demands being made by the crèche his four year old son attends. When schools re-open in a fortnight the fees have gone up by 150% and along with the money he must also bring: 2kgs of rice; 2 litres of cooking oil; 4kgs of sugar; 1 packet of toilet paper; 500g of sweetened coffee creamer powder. 36 years after Independence in a the country where the President promised free education for all, this is the reality on the ground.
In the newspaper is the report that Mr Mugabe’s daughter, Bona, has gone to Singapore to have her baby. 36 years after Independence it seems Zimbabwe’s hospitals, schools and universities are not good enough for our leaders and their families.
Also in the news we hear that government has just released US 6.4 million dollars for school fees for the children of Zimbabwe’s war veterans. But wait, veterans of a war that ended 38 years ago still have children at school people ask. Is it possible?
36 years after Independence Zimbabwe has a 92 year old President who has been in power for 36 years.
Despite it all, however, there is hope because three days before our 36th anniversary of Independence thousands of people took the streets in Harare to express their dissatisfaction at the state of our nation. Speaking at the demonstration Morgan Tsvangirai said: “We are here to tell Mugabe and his regime that you have failed. We are not demanding an overthrow of the government. We are demanding a dignified exit for the tired Mugabe. It’s time Mugabe listens to the voice of the people. The people shall liberate themselves.”
Is Zimbabwe finally coming of age on the 36th anniversary of Independence?