Today Zimbabwe commemorates Unity Day, in recognition of the Unity Accord signed between ZANU and PF ZAPU in December 1987.
The concept of national unity is pivotal for social cohesion and national development. However there are some fatal errors in the conceptualization of Zimbabwe’s Unity Day. To narrow such an important theme to two political parties is a misnomer. Even back to the 80s, there were millions of Zimbabweans who neither belonged to ZANU nor ZAPU. We must also add that not all Shona speaking pple belonged to ZANU and not all Ndebele speaking Zimbabweans belonged to ZAPU. Then and now, there are many Zimbabweans who fall outside dominant political parties for one reason or another.
There are regions and tribes that do not feel recognized and included in Zimbabwe. A lot of people have grievances of being dominated by elites from other provinces. This is more glaring in the extractive sector where mineral wealth in various parts of the country are serving a small political-security elite in Harare. Today we remind ourselves that Zimbabwe is not Harare and Harare is not Zimbabwe. These forgotten regions are denied the right to use their resources to develop themselves. They watch their resources being looted by people they do not know. Their pot-bellied barefooted children grow up with many unanswered questions about their misery.
Last week I met an old friend in Mutare who asked my why Manicaland is not fighting to break away from Zimbabwe. I have come across many young people in Matebelenand who feel they are not part of this country. They think Zimbabwe is just a geographical space but not a country. They too, talk of breaking away. Millions have fled to the diaspora and many will never come back.
I have been to Mutoko, Shurugwi, Masvingo, Chimanimani, Dotito, Hwange, Darwendale, Gweru etc. I have talked to chiefs and headman in private. The grievance is the same: we are not benefitting from our resources. They all feel the country has been stolen by a few greedy individuals with levers of state power. They are angry that they are forced to live with foreign looters in their communities who enjoy state protection.
The infrastructure in Zimbabwe resembles a country that has been at war for more than 2 decades. 95% of our roads are in a state of disaster. Government has no money for service delivery but the ruling elites are keeping tens of billions of dollars in their homes and foreign banks.
Government workers, including the security sector, earn a pittance. Most have declared incapacitation. Teachers can barely afford bus fare to go to work. We have failed to invest in decent homes for government workers and Zimbabweans at large. We have soldiers and Police officers renting a 1 room or 2 in ghettos. They cannot afford to buy even a used car and yet they have been in service for many years.
We also have race issues to deal with. Right from the beginning of colonialism, Zimbabwe has had very serious racial tensions which escalated during the liberation struggle. It is also a historical fact that the white people immensely contributed to the development of the country. Their grievances / concerns must be listened to. They should not be seen as criminals. It takes leadership to create room for dialogue. As the old adage goes, we are stronger together. Every Zimbabwean, regardless of gender, race, tribe, age or geographical location, wants to be given room to pursue their dreams whilst contributing to the development of their country.
How we must commemorate Unity Day
The Unity Day must be a day of reflection. The commemorations must focus on practical things that must be done to heal the nation and bring people together. It is not about speeches and big ceremonies / feasts. The focus of the day must not be the rich and powerful but the weak, the wounded, the vulnerable members of our society. It is day to bring the people in Magunje, Chiredzi, Gwanda, Filabusi, Tsholotsho, Hwange, Binga, Honde Valley, Chimanimani into the national discourse. How do they feel about the way they have been governed? Have we been just and fair to them?
On this day the President must not surround himself with familiar faces who tell him what he wants to hear. Instead he and his Cabinet team must be meeting various leaders – political parties, traditional leaders, civil society, churches, trade unions, youths, women’s groups, disabled persons etc listening to submissions on what needs to be done to create an inclusive society where all Zimbabweans feel their concerns and grievances matter. We need to introspect on things that are tearing us apart. As stated above, each region has its own grievances and these must be listened to and addressed. We must face these difficulties with a mentality that says there is no problem too big for us to solve! Where there is a will there is always a way
The devolution agenda must not be merely rhetorical or ceremonial. Provinces must have greater autonomy over their affairs. National budget must be distributed to provinces – each province must have a budgetary allocation. It must decide the KMs of roads to be tarred each year, drugs to acquire, classroom blocks to be built, clinics etc. It is a waste of tax payers money to have Provincial Ministers without a provincial budget. This is the only way by which provinces begin to prosper. Further, provinces must be empowered to engage investors who want to extract their natural resources. There must be a win-win situation between central government and provinces.
Such conversations will not only unite people, but will also ensure Zimbabwe develops faster than we ever thought.