Zimbabwe’s present and aspiring politicians would do well to take note of events over our southern border, not only because that’s where an estimated three million Zimbabweans live and work but because that’s where we get 80 percent of all the food we eat.
South Africa’s newly-launched Agang party whose name means “build,” is making ripples that are undoubtedly being noticed by Zimbabweans living and working there.
These are the same Zimbabweans who may be heading home to vote in our elections later this year and whose votes are much sought after by all political parties.
These Zimbabweans have come of age and won’t easily be bought or intimidated after living in a functional democracy for much of the last decade.
The Agang leader, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, is a well known anti-apartheid activist in South Africa and her entry into politics is being welcomed by such icons as Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Ramphele has broken ranks with the old boys club and is openly critical of ANC governance.
One of her early messages as she launched her new party was for South Africa to stop living in the past and stop blaming past rulers for present problems in the country.
Ramphele says South Africa must “own the future and stop focussing on the past.”
You can almost see three million exiled Zimbabweans nodding their heads in agreement with that sentiment as they look homewards.
Quoted in the press a few days ago, Ramphele said: “It is nearly 20 years since freedom and people have told me that they have waited too long for decent jobs, education, safe and secure places to live and an economy that creates opportunities for all.
“We didn’t fight and die in the struggle against apartheid so that millions of South Africans should still be living like forgotten people,” Ramphele’s words shout a very familiar echo to us over the border don’t they?
The only difference is that in Zimbabwe we’ve been practising — living in the past for 33 years.
Looking at South Africa, 20 years after the end of apartheid is like looking into the rear view mirror of Zimbabwe’s history.
The only problem is that we are still living in that past and haven’t yet found the maturity to stop blaming the wrongs of colonial rulers on everything that’s wrong in Zimbabwe today.
Can we really blame colonialists for our present corruption, decaying infrastructure, 80 percent food imports and over 80 percent unemployment?
It is a tragedy, and to our national shame, that 33 years after independence there are millions of Zimbabweans who are still living like “forgotten people.”
Millions of Zimbabweans continue to live in crippling poverty in rural areas, without running water or electricity, they exist in primitive conditions that have hardly changed at all since independence.
In rural areas, everywhere the roads leading to village homesteads leave even sturdy four-wheel-drive vehicles struggling to negotiate deep gullies and eroded tracks that once were roads.
Rural clinics are understaffed and ill-equipped, leaving people having to travel long distances to main towns to get simple medication such as antibiotics.
In high density urban areas, people crowd ten to a room, without running water while huge garbage mountains lie on the verges and sewage rivers trickle along pot-holed streets.
Women carrying water and firewood on their heads is hardly an acceptable image for a country three decades after independence.
These are our “forgotten people,” the same ones that Ramphele sees across the border and yet they are the ones whose votes the politicians clamour to get.