INTERROGATING THE MEANING OF HEROES DAY

Between 1940 and 1945, Winston Churchill was the most popular Prime Minister ever. After the second World War in 1945, his approval rating was 83%. Many politicians and commentators were convinced that he would win the 1945 elections and continue as Prime Minister. He was a hero who had mobilised countries and resources to defeat Hitler.

What materialised is that he led the conservatives to their worst defeat ever. He was blamed for the defeat on the grounds that the very qualities that made him a great war leader were not suited to domestic politics in peacetime. After the herculean task of winning a World War, he became redundant.

Imagine if Churchill had refused to accept the results on account of his achievements in the second World War? Imagine if he had conjured up some bizarre idea that he should be allowed to rebuild the country before another leader could replace him? Imagine if he had instructed the army to intervene and make the elections of no effect so that he could carry on as Prime Minister?

Judging by standards in failed countries, Churchill would have been justified in causing havoc on the basis that the people were not appreciative of his sacrifices in the World War. This is what separates functional democracies and failed states. The people who voted him out of power in 1945 after the World War victory, were grateful for his efforts. However, they felt he was not the right leader to take the country forward after the war.

Heroes Day

Almost every country in the world has a special day dedicated to honouring all those who sacrificed their lives while fighting in wars and conflicts. The freedoms enjoyed by many countries today came at a price. A blood price.

Today, Zimbabwe is remembering its heroes who fought in the liberation war against colonisation. The fighters who survived this war, tell us every day about how they suffered in pursuit of our freedoms. Some spent more than a decade in prison. Some were tortured badly. Some were hanged. Many fighters who could have contributed positively to a free Zimbabwe paid the ultimate price. It’s right that they should be remembered and honoured.

Fighting Oppression

Josiah Tongogara, one of the heroes who died during the liberation war said, “the fight was to remove the oppressive system so that everyone could enjoy the new Zimbabwe.” Unfortunately, the opposite is true. 42 years after independence, people don’t feel liberated. The new government meant to be for the people continued with the oppression of its people.

There is a class system in Zimbabwe in which those who claim to have fought for the country are at the top while majority are in the lower class. The ruling class monopolised all the resources and opportunities in the country while majority of people struggled to make ends meet. This ruling class has more rights than most people.

There are Zimbabweans who are questioning whether the sacrifices made by those who fought in the war have done them any good at all. This may seem like an offensive inquiry, but Zimbabweans are referencing the state of the country after 42 years while considering reasons submitted for fighting colonisation.   

What Does Heroes Day Mean To You?

Zimbabweans were asked to respond to the above question and none of the responses were positive. One submitted that “Majority of Zimbabweans are living in abject poverty while millions left the country in search of better opportunities. So, when there is a call to celebrate Heroes and Independence Day, what exactly are we celebrating?” The same person went further and said “if you live in Zim with no access to clean fresh water every day, no decent wage/income, no access to a well equipped public health facility, or you left Zim in search of better opportunities, just park for now celebrating anything associated with liberation struggle.”

A reference point was made about heroes in other countries and how they fought for something tangible while Zimbabweans find the benefits of freedom elusive. Another added that “if the fighters who died during the war were to come back, they would be hugely disappointed that their sacrifices are only benefiting just a handful of thieves”

Romeo Romulus was of the view that “independence connotes absence of rule of law, systemic corruption, dysfunctional governance, and infrastructure.” There are no fruits of a free country he added. 

Bruce Dormice submitted that Heroes Day means nothing to him. He said “I feel angry on behalf of those who made ultimate sacrifices, The Chinhoyi 7, Tongogara, Chitepo. He went further and said, many who fought and are alive today have lost the ethos of liberation war. He added greed and looting is the order of the day and the liberation war has been personalised in a bad way.”

Most people highlighted that Heroes Day used to mean something but not anymore. They see it as another day they don’t have to go to work. Proud-africa weighed in and said “our heroes must be turning in their graves, their hard-earned efforts to liberate the country have turned into a murdering and looting spree by monsters in Zanu PF. There is a general feeling that the country must be liberated from its own liberators.

One man, one vote

The first President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe said repeatedly that he went to war for “one man one vote.” If one man, one vote was real in Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai would have been president in 2002, 2008 and 2013 but the ruling party would not let power transfer peacefully.

The humiliation and utter powerlessness of the people to choose a governing party or president of their choice must be the worst betrayal of the ethos of liberation war. The leaders who fought the Rhodesian government for their dignity are now refusing to extend the same dignity to their own people. The country is effectively governed like someone’s private property.

When people demonstrate or highlight how difficult life is, those in authority respond by deploying the police or army as if the people are trespassing. There is a disconnection between the people and the leaders, and it is pushing the country backwards. When leaders refuse to observe straight forward principles like fair play and rising on merit, they choke the country from making the essential progress it needs. Refusing people their rights is not only detrimental to them, but it affects the country in lost investments and opportunities.

Betrayal of the Liberation War Legacy

The two worst events that our heroes gave the country were the Gukurahundi genocide and the 2017 coup which kicked the former President Robert Mugabe out of power.

The Gukurahundi genocide massacred more than 20 000 people and no one has been held accountable for it. The idea that the government could deploy the army on its people a few years after independence is unacceptable in all the circumstances. This was an early warning that the leadership was operating contrary to the interest of the people. This event makes it impossible for people who lost loved ones to celebrate Heroes Day. No leader has uttered a word about it or how it should be addressed.

Another event that shook the world and potentially brought more problems for the country is the coup that was carried out by the army in 2017. In this coup, President Mugabe was forcefully removed from power which brought in the current President Emerson Mnangagwa. In response to his critics, President Mnangagwa once said, “we are the prisons, we are the judiciary, we are the army, we are the armed forces and no one can do anything to us.” This statement shows that his faith in governing is not in his leadership skills but in using force to govern. Again, this is contrary to the reasons given by Tongogara on why they went to war.

All the sons and daughters who died for Zimbabwe would be horrified by the lack of discipline in government. Leaders who should know better and lead by example behave in the most reckless and irresponsible way. The late Vice President Joshua Nkomo once said “what Zimbabwe fought for was peace, progress, love, respect, justice, equality, not the opposite and one of the worst evils we see today is corruption. The country bleeds today because of corruption.”

Conclusion

Heroes Day is a very important day, but it has been rendered meaningless by leaders who lead contrary to values expected of leaders running a country. Not all leaders who fought in the liberation war have the credentials to lead in domestic politics. As Churchill found out at his expense that his war time leadership qualities were not suited to domestic politics.

Zimbabwe needs a new political system so that common sense can prevail in government. Liberation war politics cannot address matters that require different expertise and technical skills. The world is constantly changing that holding on to one strategy on modern challenges is a futile exercise. There should be room to accommodate fresh blood and new ideas. That is the way of the world. Holding on to a system that manifest as an obstacle to political and economic transformation shows leaders are out of touch with modern realities.

Thoughts On Building A New Zim

In the natural course of things, a 42-year-old country should have some reasonable accomplishments under its belt. They don’t have to be extraordinary, but they should show signs of progress, improvement in people’s lifestyle and a sense of order. If the country is in a worse situation than when it started, it will raise questions about the quality of leadership governing the country.

Zimbabwe’s 42 years as a free country is essentially a story of two halves. It inherited a fully functional country and economy in 1980 and was struggling by the year 2000. The second half from 2000 to 2022 saw the manifestation of bad leadership, corruption, and lack of accountability. The effects of this are a dysfunctional country and breakdown of trust between leaders and the governed. The premise on which the country became free is detached from the reality on the ground. Clearly, the country has been going in the wrong direction. What Zimbabwe needs is to go back to the drawing board and start afresh.

Constitution

Before any country can select who will govern, it’s expedient to build a foundation on which the country is built upon. The foundation will determine whether the country can navigate the vicissitudes of politics and government. A weak foundation could lead to horrendous experiences as is the case in Zimbabwe.

The mistake that Zimbabwe made when it became independent in 1980, was not constructing a constitution right away. This could have clearly defined who Zimbabweans are and what they stand for. It seems with hindsight that the leaders had no intention of accommodating everyone in the new country. The country was theirs and their few friends. Governing the country without a constitution and for the few, meant the seeds of Zimbabwe’s dysfunction were sown at inception. These seeds, from the year 2000 up to now, have been producing a harvest of thorns.

The current constitution was made 9 years ago, and it has not been fully ratified. There are elements within the constitution that the governing party (Zanu PF) had problems with even though they were vital for governance purposes. Drawing inferences from their reluctance, it appears as if the governing party did not want to be restricted by constitutional provisions they did not adhere to before. Presidential term limits were an issue that the previous president Robert Mugabe struggled with. At the time he had been president for 33 years. He could not see the logic of term limits while professing the country to be sovereign and democratic.

The current president Emmerson Mnangagwa who became president in 2017, told the country he’ll still be president in 2030 contrary to the term limits provided by the constitution. He has already contradicted the constitution by extending the Chief Justice’s tenure beyond retirement age. He intends to grab more power and extend his own time in power. In 42 years, Zimbabwe had 2 presidents. In functional democracies, they normally have 4 presidents in the same period.

The way constitutionalism is currently structured in Zimbabwe is detrimental to the country. It allows personal ambition to override the interest of the country. The term limit provision must be written in stone for it allows fresh blood to come in regularly as compared to the damage caused by one unaccountable person, with the intention of ruling forever.

Individual Rights

It is not a coincidence that countries that give their people real freedom, tend to do well. Humans are born with a sense of freedom, a desire to live life without restrictions. The idea that you can do whatever you want, dream big, pursue your goals and be as ambitious as you want is a powerful driving force for the advancement of a country.

Zimbabweans don’t really experience freedom in its pure sense. They exemplify the saying that they are “born free but everywhere else they are in chains.” Many countries are reaping the rewards of talented Zimbabweans who cannot fathom living in a country that stifles their aspirations. Many gifted Zimbabweans are seen as a threat by their own government. How is it that a country can create a system where the least competent, can rise to the top and dominate while the gifted are chased out?

Zimbabwe must respect its people’s rights and stop using the legal system to persecute them. Sending people to prison without trial in 2022 shows how backwards the country has gone. Leaders who find pleasure in the misery of their own people should never be close to power. The number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in jail shows how intolerant the government is of different views. Government is about ideas and freedom to express those idea.

The government should bring people together. The country has not been united in a long time. There is a sense of one man for himself. There is no sense of community anymore. The village does not raise children anymore. People have been pushed to be selfish by the government’s dividing strategy. This needs to stop. Other countries are flying high by uniting and empowering their people and giving them incentives to be innovative.

Zimbabwe needs human rights grounded in the constitution and all the leaders must uphold them and respect them. A country cannot achieve anything of significance when its people are not free. It’s impossible.

Checks and Balances

It is well known that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There is enough evidence from the last 42 years that giving one person too much power is not a good idea, especially in the absence of a strong constitution. There should be checks and balances that ensure the president is not operating above the law. Power has a way of revealing who people really are. It’s better to be cautious, put safe mechanisms in place than to experience the effects of a president who cannot be challenged.

In this light, separation of powers is paramount. Power should never be entrenched in one person. It’s a recipe for disaster. Julius Caesar wanted to change Rome from a republic to a monarch so he could become King. His trusted colleagues felt it would be detrimental for the country. Sadly, they assassinated him. Brutus justified the assassination by saying “Not that I loved Caesar less, but I love Rome more.” He thought absolute power in one person would lead to wars, confusion and he was not prepared to lose his country.  

It’s vital that state institutions should function independently without the influence of the president. The Judiciary should be able to make decisions in furtherance of its constitutional obligations, not to harm the constitution. When a president or government makes unlawful decisions, the Judicial should be prepared to challenge the government. That is its duty. When election results are disputed in the Constitutional Court, people expect Judges to be guided by their expertise, moral courage, and duty to the constitution. A compromised Judiciary is a threat to democracy. The independence of the Judiciary must be put in its right place. This is essential in rebuilding a functional country.  

At the moment, the president has controversial powers to make laws through Statutory Instruments. Almost every week, the president is producing these instruments to dictate the price of goods in the marketplace. Instead of consulting parliament for the purpose of making laws, the president prefers to make laws on his own. The Judiciary should challenge this illegal law-making process.

Clearly, the president has no regard for both the Judiciary and Parliament. He never goes to parliament to answer questions. To him, Parliament is practically dead. It’s important that those in parliament should respect parliament and honour what it represents. In addition, those in parliament should endeavour to exhibit standards and behaviour worthy of parliament.

The Police and the Army should not be deployed to stop people from demonstrating. The police should rightly focus on law and order. What we see now is the police force is captured by the governing party and hamstrung by corruption. People can get away with crimes if they are able to pay a bribe.

The army should be used strictly for protecting the country and fighting wars. It should not be used in domestic politics especially when people are challenging rigged elections. The constitution should make it crystal clear that the army should not be seen to favour one political party or be an instrument of the president.

When Donald Trump challenged the results of the US 2020 elections, the army and former Defence Ministers refused to get involved on the basis that it was not constitutional. The reason why Trump did not continue as president is simply because strong state institutions stopped him. They all had a duty and they refused to be compromised. If Trump were in most African countries, he would still be president.

Social Contract

One of the biggest problems in Zimbabwe is leaders who don’t understand the purpose of power. They see power as an opportunity to dominate their people. The idea of an empowered people is alien to them. Zimbabwe needs space for people to speak and debate freely. In debates, people learn from each other and expand their perspectives. Competition should be encouraged, free and fair competition where people rise on merit not bribing their way to the top.

What leaders don’t realise is, it’s better to work in partnership with the people. In an ideal situation, people would choose a government of their choice in return for good governance of the country. This is a sensible approach that works in normal countries. That is how normal countries cause “brain drain” from failed states. They are attractive to talented people who feel they deserve better or those who fear being persecuted for their gifts.

What Zimbabwe has failed to do over and again is provide an economic system that allows people to take a chance on starting a small business or pursing their dreams. The economic system is restrictive and designed to empower those who don’t play by the rules. If an economic system is not designed to empower its people, then it’s not fit for purpose and those governing under such a system must not be in power. 90% unemployment is a frightening statistic.

The ideal situation is for a fully functional economy where people have a choice to get a job or go into self-employment. A high number of employed people, means more tax payments that the government can use to upgrade the country’s infrastructure, roads, sewage, water, electricity etc.

Conclusion

Zimbabwe needs a brand-new country, but it can’t happen without a strong constitution. The seeds of dysfunction that were planted at inception must be removed, and they should be replaced by seeds of separation of powers, rule of law, democracy, human rights, checks and balances and a strong constitution.

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