One of my friends from another African country just asked me what I want to be in the “new” Zimbabwe. I said I will remain who I am, contributing what I have always contributed to the best of my ability; taking every opportunity to contribute more. He also wanted to know whether, I have no close enough affiliation to gain from the new dispensation to get a high post. I said, I still hold the same qualifications and experience that he knows and they are very relevant in Zimbabwe and I will use them effectively. I knew his questions were in jest but they prompted me to think more about what I have always worried about in terms of Governance practices in Africa. My first-hand experience of this is of course in my motherland, Zimbabwe. I have a passion for rural development and perhaps it is the right place to start my blog.
The complexities of the African economic models are intriguing if not maddening. There is an oft repeated truism that Africa is not poor; it is rich in resources but its people are poor. This structural poverty would not be much of a tragedy if practical steps were being taken over the years to address it. But having lived under a settler regime for the first 17 years of my life and 37 years in an independent Zimbabwe, I am experiencing that despair of seeing myself leaving this world with evidence that my country is in a worse state than I found it when I was born. My despair is not about personalities, regimes and allegiances. It is my personal experience of watching things deteriorate at all levels of life; sometimes a complete stop and even a reversal of all progress being made over the years.
In a basic rural family like the one I grew up in the arid Chivi District, which is in what is called region 5, meaning the least climatically and agriculturally endowed area of Zimbabwe, food self-sufficiency was taken for granted. Indeed, we never received food aid from anyone during our youths. We grew our food and our parents sold the surplus to send us to school including relatively expensive secondary boarding schools. There were many lean years where the rain may not have been enough as well as real drought years, but we would be having some grain reserves from previous season and also sell livestock to buy some. Our food self-sufficiency status was shared by at least 70% of the population. The families that did not have enough food were either plain lazy while others were vulnerable people due to old age, or being widows. There were able bodied people who did not have draught power for tillage but I must emphasise people really cared for each other. It was common for those without cattle for tillage draught power to be assisted by relatives or to be given animals to look after and use by those who had excess. So the safety nets from starvation were there and the solutions were local. No-one came to feed us from overseas. We had enough not only for ourselves but even to feed battalions of freedom fighters that lived with us for the last 5 years of settler rule leading to independence.
I was reminded about the promise of independence by one ex-fighter I met. We were reminiscing of the war-time exploits and adventures. It was not because I had forgotten about the promises of independence; I have always kept them dear to my heart and have cried over how the dream is being trampled upon by selfish individuals, some of whom, sacrificed nothing for its attainment. This, can be saved for another day. What has happened to our food self-sufficiency?
The most immediate excuse is climate change! Yes, we have had really bad rainy seasons especially in the region I am writing about. But mark my words, as I grew up, I saw a strategy against this unfolding although I had no clue what it was all about. In those days, Government people who came with machines and stood in our fields one at each end mapping how contours should shape to form a single unit of a tillage area. Once the mapping was done our parents were shown how to dig ridges, drainages and water reservoirs that shielded rain water from running down slopes without downward sippage. Our parents were literally forced to dig and shape these drains by the colonial masters. They called them makandiwa, a localisation for the word contours. The whole concept was forced and apparently misunderstood by locals and they coined a song they sang during community work gatherings. The song was called Nhamo yamakadiwa, or the bother of (being forced to dig) contours. Besides preventing runoff, contour ridges stored water for a considerable period. This allowed fast growing crops t to withstand longer periods of absence of rain. This is my layman understanding of it but there is more to it if experts care to explain further. It was one way that was effective in getting at least some agricultural produce in these arid areas. Perhaps also the colonialist’s way of making sure we forget about the more fertile land that had been snatched from us, as our harvests improved; but today it falls under climate smart agriculture. This needs a lot of attention from government; get people to practice this type of agriculture for basic food security.
There were also, in the same district, a few irrigation schemes for supplementary cropping with massive plans for new dams over the years. In my area one huge dam was completed about 10 years after independence but the irrigation scheme planned with it has had several false starts and promises during election times until recently when some work started on it with donor funding. It is now functional. In the same district again, the Tokwe –Mukorsi Dam took forever to complete with one excuse after another while people were queuing for donor food like paupers in their own rich motherland. Surely there are several ways to fight climate change at both micro and macro level and whining and blaming are not the best of them.
Is there a way back to food self-sufficiency? Yes, and the first step is for communities to be allowed to take full responsibility of their development, of course with central government support. Government support does not mean donating or mobilising donor community, hell no! Government support means progressive policies, efficient support structures such as extension services, research, farmer education and leaving people free to pursue their dreams without dragooning them into (often violent) party politics. We need rule of law in these communities where people realise fruits of their sweat without being forced to “donate” to leadership that is bringing nothing to them.
Communities have always been known to donate to celebrate births, to manage funerals or simply to help the vulnerable. We are seeing too much coercion towards “donating” unaccounted for monies. We are also seeing too much patronising of able-bodied people by both Government, political parties and NGOs offering the “relief” food even under the slightest hint of an emergency thereby completely killing initiative amongst people who were food self-sufficient less than 37 years ago. People had cohesive safety nets against hunger in my home area.
It is lamentable that I have to say the way education and industry were arranged gave more opportunities to the villagers in my area than it is now. The school system had bottlenecks. Besides those who dropped school without primary school certificates, there was a strict bottleneck at the last primary grade. Less than a tenth of our generation proceeded to secondary school, not only because of the bottleneck but also due to lack of school fees or the general apathy towards education by some of the parents.
Most dropout boys from our village ended up joining the nearby asbestos mines of Mashaba and Shabani, initially as ‘garden boys’. They would graduate into various menial roles in the mines as they grow up. More adventurous ones would move to garment factories in Bulawayo and metal factories in Gweru. The employed family members also became part of the safety nets during lean years. Of course those who did not make it to town became master farmers sometimes. The working boys always invested in livestock which became good savings used when they grow up and retire. The veterinary systems were efficient enough to dip cattle as regularly as was required. The main roads were fenced and there was no unnecessary loss of livestock to road traffic accidents like what happens today in the nearby Masvingo-Beit Bridge Road.
Today, most school leavers, who now have secondary and tertiary level education, queue and fight for relief food. They are also available for hire by unscrupulous politicians to visit the mother of all violence upon their own neighbours during election periods. Surely, can we not make our young people productive again? Can we not be food self-sufficient again? This takes me back to my encounter with my wartime comrade which I referred to earlier.
He was an armed combatant trained in Mozambique and a sub-commander; I was a collaborator or mujibha, a local boy available for errands and reconnaissance. There were many of us and I was very young and actually not supposed to be a mujibha although I enjoyed spending time with the fighters. This time I gave him a lift from Chiredzi and we did not remember each other until we started to talk about our homes and I discovered that he operated in mine during the war. Once we remembered each other we started to reminisce.
We talked about one incident that he had to hijack a bus to escape Rhodesian forces that were pursuing him. Almost as if talking to himself afterwards, he said words to this effect, “Imagine I was doing all that for the love of my country and people. The promise was for a better Zimbabwe for all, not for us the fighters only. I never thought one day I will receive privileges over others just for volunteering to fight for justice. Now all I hear is mawarvet want this mawarvet that. Always talking of things which were not on our agenda. Our agenda was for everyone; not for us only!” We were silent for a moment. I did not want to comment. I wanted to ask a question but I did not know how to frame it. His thinking was too reasonable and unconventional for someone who is receiving benefits. But I think he said it out of real conviction and was not apologetic about it. We talked about other issues but what he said has remained in my mind as one of the developmental issues the Government we got after independence missed in a big way. Inclusivity! I am not sure how, we as a society have compartmentalised ourselves so much from village level to national level, because inclusivity is a vital cog of development. And, diversity is a great asset for any society!
It is not a secret that the war veterans themselves have felt, justifiably, that they have been victims of exclusion by politicians in independent Zimbabwe. Besides the demobilisation pay, there was no post-war rehabilitation and re-integration into society. Parents and relatives were left to deal with the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) of their children while some politicians enjoyed the fruits of the newly independent Zimbabwe. Rhodesians and nationalist politicians had caused the war by failing to reach some majority rule settlements on countless opportunities. The young combatants fought valiantly for their country but once freedom was attained they were also left out by politician. It took real threat of opposition, 17 years after independence for the war vets to be remembered but only as storm troopers who could be enticed with rewards of largesse. Unfortunately, they also quickly forgot who had cared for their PTSD and started terror against their relatives and actively participated in exclusion of the so-called opposition supporters; actually, fellow countrymen who happened to think differently.
It was never conceivable that the people who galvanised the rural people to take the highest risks for their country will be the same people who will divide them for personal gain of selfish politicians. I am a firm believer of the freedom we fought for. People and groupings of people should be left to pursue their legitimate economic and social endeavours without anyone forcing divisive ideologies on them. We had our own way of relating in the village where it was possible to exchange and spread cohesion through, family, totem, marriage, neighbourhood and simple camaraderie. But all what divides us now is politics of the stomach; that is who gets what freebie from passing politicians and irresponsible NGOs driven by their employees’ self-interest. We had character and I know it can be restored if we are freed to pursue our life endeavours. We have always been hardworking survivors, loyal to each other and patriotic to our country. We are being divided by a few overfed politicians for their self-interest. We can be productive again even in our arid region. All we want is the infrastructural support that Government has an obligation to provide using our taxes. We need security that ensures that the criminals among us are apprehended to face justice; not impunity.
My vision is of a society where people are free to pursue their life endeavours. A society with basic local solutions and safety nets to poverty. Donating for consumption must only be contemplated in exceptional circumstances of natural disasters. We cannot celebrate being charity cases. Over the years Zimbabwe invested in education and skills training at levels unparalleled in the whole of Africa. This is one of our independences’ enduring legacy. We have also achieved very admirable work ethics that are lauded all over the world where Zimbabweans have scattered to due to economic hardships. The challenge is, can we have the best among us take the post they are most qualified to deliver? Can we ride the bane of nepotism? If we properly place our manpower according to talent and ability the dividend will accrue to everyone. It is no use allocating huge resources under that stewardship of people who are not qualified to manage them simply because they are related to powerful people. Nepotism is a huge drawback in African economies. My really hope for Zimbabwe is that we see merit and exploit it of r the benefit of all.
Let us get on track by starting with the basic things such as food self-sufficiency. Let us empower ourselves. It is possible. We have been there before!
Pedzisai Mufara firstname.lastname@example.org