On Saturday. Zimbabwe celebrated her 40 years of independence from British rule. Normally, tens of thousands of people traditionally flock to independence day festivities around the country on April 18 to honour the struggle that freed Zimbabwe from colonial rule in 1980. At the main ceremony, the so-called eternal flame of independence is lit each year for good wishes for the nation’s future.
This year, it was marked amid mixed feelings. Because of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, Zimbabwe had canceled what would have been its 40th celebration. The coronavirus crisis aside, a growing number of Zimbabweans don’t believe they have that much to celebrate on the day.
The majority of Zimbabweans had high hopes when their country declared independence from the British, who ruled Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, from 1890 to 1979.
The early years of independence were positive, seeing a vibrant economy, political tolerance, participatory democracy, justice, peace and reconciliation.
Under the early rule of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s first prime minister and a liberation hero who would later become its long-running president, the country built an excellent education and health-care system that were the envy of the continent.
But over the decades, this has drastically changed.
Zimbabwe’s economy is now run down, its citizens struggling to make ends meet, despite the country having abundant natural resources including gold, diamonds and iron ore.
“There has not been a sense of urgency by government to rectify certain errors. You cannot talk about independence that does not go beyond a national anthem and flag,” political analyst Alexander Rusero told DW.
But the ruling ZANU PF party, which has been in power for the past 40 years, believes freedom from white minority rule is reason enough to celebrate.
“There has been a fair share of internal problems but it is the triumph that we have registered against both internal and external threats which has made this 40th anniversary a milestone,” said ZANU PF’s director of information, Tafadzwa Mugwadi.
Zimbabwe’s liberation war heroes, like elsewhere on the continent, often have an entrenched sense of entitlement that has led to an authoritarian political culture, critics say.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, who succeeded Mugabe as President in 2018, is also a veteran of Zimbabwe’s liberation guerrilla war. War veterans also hold key positions in the army, the police, the air force, key government institutions and the ruling party.
The country’s main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa tweeted that Zimbabwe’s 40th independence day celebrates a “shattered” dream.
“Life begins at 40. On 18 April Zimbabwe turns 40. It’s a milestone with a dream shattered by the hurt and pain from tyranny, violence, corruption and stolen elections,” main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa said in a tweet.
Reconciliation and addressing past hurts and injustices could help Zimbabwe move forward and achieve dreams of the younger generations.
“The country needs to heal and enforce unity. There is a lot of polarization that has worked against nationhood. There is a need to think hard about future generations and put away selfishness,” said 30-year-old digital content creator Alexander Gusha in Harare.