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African viewpoint: House of Stone at 30

18 April 10 14:28 GMT

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Zimbabwean filmmaker and columnist Farai Sevenzo asks what a nation does at 30, after times of relentless pain.

Zimbabwe, the House of Stone, is 30 years old. April 18 1980 seems a lifetime away.

This nation's tale has constantly divided opinion and people, creating new histories and revisionist ones that say I told you so - but the umbilical cord for Zimbabweans remains attached and pulsing.

At 30 a man or a woman may be feeling broody, that it is time to have some children, set down some roots, leave a legacy.

What does a nation do?


I have no old men memories of the liberation struggle to offer you - like crossing into Mozambique to fight, dismantling Rhodesia's apartheid, educating a country, forging a peace and moving from prime minister to president and holding on as those around me die off.

Instead, my own personal memories are filled with ghosts - the kind of ghosts only a reporter would bother to give head space to.

For just over a decade now I have been reporting on Zimbabwe on camera, radio, print and on the internet; and my ghosts are the kind of characters only people like me get to meet.

And, unlike many a reporter whose reports are prefaced with, "the BBC is banned from reporting in Zimbabwe," I have never suffered those restrictions.

There was Chenjerai Hitler Hunzvi, the doctor and war veteran leader, who, after kicking out my white cameraman from his office on Rezende Street, told me the revolution had started and I should come home and claim my land.

There was former governor Border Gezi, bearded and sharply focused, meeting me at dawn in the town of Bindura to declare his allegiance to, "our father, Comrade RG[Robert Mugabe]."

Both Hitler and Border have moved on to the great green farm in the sky, as have others to whom the revolution was the very purpose of life.

There were images too of burning farmhouses, of marauding youths stoning farm dogs to death, of battering rams and thousands of farm workers wandering the dusty roads, homeless and jobless.

At the Commercial Farmer's Union offices in Marlborough, the siege mentality was whole and awesome to behold, of farmers battling through the courts to hold onto their century-old inheritance, and others who wanted to protect their post-independence purchases.

Shrinking and wilting

Perhaps 30 years from now, historians in Harare be applauding a new economic class of freshly empowered black Zimbabweans.

But I am getting ahead of myself, there was more to come in the relentless pain of our times.

Thousands more lost their homes in the great sweep out of "filth" in 2005, and the urban voters of a rising opposition known as the Movement for Democratic Change found themselves homeless and beached on the sands of political expediency.

Meanwhile the land, famed for its stunning beauty and green acres, was shrinking and wilting like the skin of a dying man.

It is the drought, cried the politicians, we cannot farm when there is no rain.

And no-one mentioned the departed farmers but everything was done to help the new ones - free fertiliser, brand new tractors - and still this fertile land failed to yield its once bountiful produce to previous levels.

Swept away

Then came the Age of Inflation, when billion dollar banknotes mingled with waste on rubbish dumps and those scouring for food preferred to pick up anything but those notes.

And the politics remained bloody. The art of persuasion which politics can be was diminished to the swollen and battered limbs of the opposition leaders, of trade union leaders, troublesome priests, those stubborn farmers and hundreds of poor activists who were swept away in the storm after the calm of the 2008 elections.

By the time a kind of peace was achieved, with a new prime minister in this nation's 29th year, reporters had had their fill of the drama in the House of Stone.

So what can this compressed history tell us?

A history such as this has many truths, and seems to say that the righting of colonial wrongs can take up to 30 years to complete and do more harm to those a revolution seeks to protect.

Other lands, other cities, other lives

Of course much of this history, by open agreement between the feuding parties, is no longer of any relevance to the bright new future.

Instead, the Ministry of Indigenisation says it is determined to put into the hands of the people those platinum, gold and diamond mines which for so long squirrelled the nation's wealth into foreign bank accounts.

But who will benefit?

Will the ministers who took the farms also take the mines?

Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and the poor is wider than the Victoria Falls; houses being built in affluent suburbs are large and feature imported Italian marble; and I for one miss the cafe society feel of Harare with its many restaurants and excellent bars.

And it is easy to spend an entire weekend at The Stones in Highfield township watching football and eating grilled intestines at the Jambalaya Inn.

But the poor out in the villages are finding it increasingly difficult to get their hands on a US dollar; the country still needs food aid and the citizens of this flame lily of a nation have been leaving in droves, tucking away their education to bolster the economies of other lands, other cities, other lives.

But wherever I am I still feel the pull of that umbilical cord and think I should really have taken up Dr Hunzvi's offer of land.

Thanks for your comments. Please read a selection below:

Great article, well illustrated. I would love to read more from the writer. Sadly it's true many Zimbabweans are now scattered across the globe. In 30 years my family is now divided. I live in Australia, my brother and sister in UK, I have first cousins in South Africa, USA, Canada and even Norway and we all yearn to return permanently to live one day, but at present it's a mere illusion.
Samanyika, Sydney, AU

A well balanced article that describes the tragedy of the last ten years. The eviction of white farmers, the destruction of the economy of what was once the bread basket of Africa and now the take-over of diamond mines by Mugabe and the heads of the armed forces. The tragedy is that the few elite grow richer and the poor are jobless, face hunger and an absence of medical facilities. It is time for Mugabe to move on to for free and fair elections that are not tainted by the cadre of senior officials using the forces of the army, the police, the air force and the youth militia to intimidate the voters. Yes, Zimbabwe, it is time for the people to take back control, and for democracy to herald a new era of prosperity - though this will take time.
Jim Peters, Irmo, SC, USA

We in South Africa pray every day that Zimbabwe will come to its senses. I am a regular visitor to the country and it is absolutely amazing what can be achieved if the leaders can stop trying to re-live the past. We Africans must stop looking at each other and see a white or a black fellow countryman. I pray for the day when anyone who want to contribute positively to the development of Africa is accepted as an African regardless of colour.
Greg Mackett, Johannesburg, South Africa

I think the only people 'celebrating' independence in Zimbabwe are the 'fat cats' in power. People talk of independence but millions are living abroad trying to make ends meet. Zimbabwean people are starving and are dependant on Foreign and government handouts. I went to school in Zimbabwe and all but a few of my fellow pupils remain there...People are saying the future is bright, well things can not get any worse... And to my fellow Zambian, Misheck Jawhara Masarakufa, the only people which need to be kicked are the government... kick them out of power mwe!!!
Anonymous, Male, Maldives

What upsets me the most is that most of the comments saying that Zim will make it are by people from Zim currently living in first world countries. They are not there, they do not see the suffering of their people. They do not see the refugee lines of starving scared people from Zim entering South Africa. They do not see the babies tied to their mothers backs. They do not see us helping them best as we can. If you are in the UK or the USA or in a stable country where basic services are met, where you have food in your belly every night and you sleep without fear. Do not go on about how Zim is going to to make it. You are not there. I hope and Pray for Zim because there is no reason that justifies any kind of human suffering. There is no one helping those poor people that swarm our borders in pure desperation and fear. Once you have lived through that........ then you can have hope Zim, not from afar in a well heated room with good food and security. It honestly sickens me
Sarina, Durban South Africa

A very good and well researched article presented in a chronological order in terms of dates. I feel a little bit of more history is needed to educate those who are not familiar with the Zimbabwean situation. Well done, Farayi.
tatenda ndizvo, London, England

there is nothing to celebrate, while more than a half of the population leaving under unsuitable conditions. eg unemployment, poor health facilities, food shortages etc.
gift molokomme, pretoria, sa

Zimbabwe will never be a colony again, yet Ndebele people are still colonised by the Shona people. I've stopped dreaming of having a Ndebele president. All the Shonas are the same they'll never change. very greedy indeed.
oggie, joburg, south africa

You know what makes me laugh - all these people who have commented against this are not even in the country. If you loved your country so much and your now 'wonderful' government why aren't you there supporting it - No, you have fled to other 'Western' countries to make a life for yourself still preaching over the seas from the western world countries your Zanu-PF & You hate so much, The grass is always greener on the other side...

In my opinion, the Shonas of Zimbabwe are simply the smartest tribe on the African continent. I have followed their story since the early 1970s and I am always amazed as to how they play the game of politics...even against the so called big powers. They are the only people I know who fought a war without destroying their country's infrastructure. I have seen them using their own (i.e. Muzorewa) as a dummy to fool their enemies the Rhodesians. They have just won this land thing against the British...probably using that Tsvangirai guy as another dummy. They always know how to engage and beat their opponents. Anyone who reads their history can tell they are a very cunning and smart little tribe...probably the smartest on the African continent. I wish other Africans would study their methods and learn how the game of politics is supposed to be played.
Dr Okelo Omuru, Lagos, Nigeria

Great article, I always smile when I read the responses to such articles. The biggest supporters of the existing regime always seem to live anywhere except Zimbabwe.

The truth of the matter is simple Robert Mugabe has destroyed Zimbabwe and condemned the people to years of misery and poverty. Once productive farms lay barren and those that do produce or owned by government ministers, even Mugabe's wife own a high volume milk farm.

Why don't farms produce? why can't Mugabe's henchmen run the farms as the white farmers did?

Why is the once beautiful country barren and destitute? Mugabe can only blame himself and his policies, no one else is to blame.
Watcher, London UK

What happened to Zimbabwe is what happens when a Black Man stands up to a Imperialist that dictates much of the land called Africa. The Land Called Zimbabwe was stolen in living memory from Lobengula and then when Mugabe takes back what is ours the backlash is the result and everyone must suffer. The same scenario is about to play out in South Africa (wonder why still called South Africa anyway), with media houses like BBC that echoing Imperialist agenda. Why do they fear us so much, I wonder?, that is the reason why White supremist like that Hitler of AWF continued to live as long as he did.
Joseph Oluoch, Irvington, NJ

i wonder why farai did not take his land? it is time for zimbabweans to do things for themselves and do it well. do it without corruption, thieving or torture and without the help of any other nation or people. enough talking it is time for doing!
vaughan smith, baltimore, usa

Do you really think Zimbabweans suffer 30 years of pain? Mugabe was a good leader in the 80s. I will say 10 years of pain not 30 years. I blame Mugabe for all the suffering in Zimbabwe, but I blame his supporters more.
Troy, Toronto, Canada

A very responsible person would not let a visitor start controlling his home affairs. Tomorrow he will even claim your wife. You my relatives in Zim please don't let the stranger administer your affairs. Kick the stranger if he start to claiming what is not belong to him (land).
Misheck Jawhara Masarakufa, Kitwe, Zambia

To the people of Zimbabwe I say congratulations on this historic day. The eighties had lots of revolutions; the music, cellphones, internet and computers, coup d'etats and counter coups. The Zimbabwean Revolution was special in Africa. Bob Marley was surely there on this day, asking each and everyone of you to get up and stand up for your rights. On this day redemption songs were the only songs you wanted to hear. The problems in Zimbabwe are historical, only legal means and co-existence can address these problems. Civil society organizations and legal minds should began to ask questions; what was promised to Mugabe and others at the Lancaster Meeting that former Zambia Kenneth Kaunda has discussed as the problem in Zimbabwe. Holding the Queen of England, the British Government, and Robert G Mugabe and the Zimbabwe Government accountable is the only way out of this mess. It is easy to use black and white as the problems in Zimbabwe, and forget the failures of the Queen, the British Government, Robert G Mugabe and the Zimbabwean Government. Maybe South African is a case study for Zimbabweans.
T Chuku Welwolo, South Plainfield, NJ, USA

The real cause of the problem is easily traced back to the whole dishonesty of the Lancaster House Agreement. Ten years after the signing of the agreement that brought peace and independence to Zimbabwe, the agreement was exposed as a big fraud. Ten years on later, Mugabe lost patience with those "White Rhodesians" as they loved to be called. God Bless Africa!
Dele Olubodun, London

Farai, good writing, but i would want you to tell our children stories beyond 1980. kids born during our transition period will curse us for getting independence. Those who dug and farmed in southern Rhodesia started their economy a long time ago more than 200yrs. Mugabe has just started a journey, it can be to nowhere or to self empowerment. Do not forget German and Japan after the 2WW .The people of libya and their leader had seen worse yet libya today has the strongest economy in Africa. Judging Zimbabwe over a period of 30yrs is like you do not know were you are coming from. This victory is not for this generation but for your great grandchildren. Zimbabwe UNITE.
Bandawe, Gloucester, England

We need to do things a lot different. Remember that Zimbabwe is not the first African country to send people to the Diaspora as students and professionals. Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Ivory Coast, Sudan have done so in the past and their economies have not improved much resulting from the Diaspora experience. What can we do different that our brothers from the listed African countries did not do?
Thumani, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

The piece examines a country which has cracks all over. But the truth of the matter is that accountability should have consequences in order for the country to walk direct. Our great friends should not allow their weapon of hope to be discarded by the few eating class. Once the people know that the time for change is close, they will automatically stand against poor governance and clear for their own path.
Mulungana George, Kampala, Uganda.

That is why there is history. Only God is there forever. The world must be patient with Zimbabwe.
keffas mwenda, belabela, south africa

Thank you Farai for yet another great article. I congratulate my Zimbabwean brothers and sisters on the celebration of their 30th independent anniversary. It is a bitter sweet celebration. It is bitter in the sense that the country is stagnant and things are not moving in the right direction... economically, politically etc. It is sweet in the sense that it is day to be celebrated but nothing to write home about. Citizens of a country expect to see progress made at certain time in the existence of a country but if that is not forth coming as it is in Zimbabwe, then there is a need for second thought. At age 30, a man/woman would have achieved certain goals in life depending on what the individual sets for his/herself. I wish my brothers and sisters well in their struggle for political and economic freedom.
Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA

This article makes me really feel at home on one hand and on the other it pains to think of family and everyone left back there to endure the suffering. When you mentioned the Stones in Highfield, my heart skipped a bit and the Jambalaya effect which used to make my weekends, just kicked in - watching football and gotch gotch. Those days were really something."Tanzwa nekugara munyika dzevamwe" so to speak. Translation -We are exhausted with living in people's neighbourhoods when we have a home of our own. It's just that we have no choice, families need to be fee, work needs to be done and goals need to be achieved. Zimbabwe will always be home, we can only hope for the best as time wears on.
Chengetai, Brisbane, Australia

Farai's comments lacked substance and the true zimbabwe 1980 zim$ was at par with major international currencies had plenty gold reserves what happened to it. corruption & nepotism is root cause of our problems.our new masters dont care about development of our country they just want to feed themselves. they cant survive outside govt and they stage a smart coup in 2008 everybody knows it they lost the elections. changing govts helps the country to develop you cant correct your mistakes look how the americans and british works l yearn for that day africa will have smooth transition, clean govt change over.
Raymond Shoko, Gweru, Zimbabwe

What an absolutely brilliant self-examining article written by a Zimbabwean with no punches pulled. As incisive as a surgeon's knife dissecting a diseased organ. No sychophancy, just plain truth. A riveting read.
Rick Almeida, Skelmersdale, UK

As Zimbabweans we need to hold our leaders and institutions accountable to the electorate and taxpayer that they should serve. Merely changing ruling parties from Zanu-PF to MDC is not a sure recipe for peace order and prosperity in our country. Living under MDC may just turn out as bad as Zanu-PF if accountability does not become the norm. Bribery and corruption is more wide spread than most of us Zimbabweans would want to admit. If our leaders have been corrupt in big things, so too have a lot of people and institutions been corrupt in the small things.
Thumani, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

I am over forty now, and I have seen Zimbabwe's transition through colonialism, liberation struggle, and now, a fettered independence. I have known a few wonderful Zimbabweans and I find the article melancholic and deeply saddening. Pity!
Julius Umogbai, Lagos

I do not believe for a moment that Zimbabwe is over. I am a young man, patriotic for my county and many others around the world like me. We have leant a lot in diaspora. We have come to love our homeland more. Watch this space in the next 5 years. 30 years is a good age, even Jesus started off at the same.
Chamu Kanangoni, Coventry

I don't hold out much hope for Zimbabwe. There are people who are now more equal than others in the present Zimbabwe much like the Old Rhodesia order and this is a recipe for disaster. There's a more insidious population explosion tsunami which everyone is not aware of. If the government is unable to look after the present population what of the population in 5 -10 years time? No housing, no jobs, no potable water.
T Ndemera, London, UK

what my brother said is true zimbabwe has a better future any other country in Africa. i have been waiting for the day the natural resources that once made Great Zimbabwe, to belong to the people of Zimbabwe and now we can start rebuild the once great nation. but we must remember only love can set us free, so i call for all of Africa to unite we are all brothers and sisters. one love to the hole of Africa. jah bless
Tendai Godwin, UK

Independence is not about having a black man in the State house. What is Independence when people do not have food on table? What is Independence when my brothers and sisters cannot go to school? What is Independence when I cannot voice my opinion on political matters that affect my livelihood? Zimbabweans have very little to celebrate after 30 years. Independence from what or from whom?
Simbarashe Dziruni, UK

The House of Stone, it's great that its not a house built on sand. We might fall once but we will rise once more never again to be challenged. The picture that gets painted by the Farai is exact but heart rendering. I am not in support of the way things were done but i am a firm believer in the great future this or the next generation will realise. We have had enough abroad.

I believe that Zimbabwe has a bright future, its failures has been caused by greed, corruption and mismanagement. Credit goes to Zanu-PF for the education system they put in place to make sure many Zimbabweans were educated. The fact that younger Zimbabweans are better educated and are tired of being the laughing stocks of the world will bring positive changes to Zim. I am not taking sides in the political situation in Zimbabwe, people will decide on the election day. I think from there on it will be exciting to be living in Zimbabwe.
Sam Ndebele, Kansas City, Mo, USA

Interesting read Farai. Ditto about the revisionist history. I also do not have any liberation stories to tell except from the stuff I have heard from my parents and I did leave for other lands with a bleeding heart. But mukoma Farai, matangira nyaya yenyu pakati pezhira? Why start narrating from round about 2000? That picture is incomplete and I get very frustrated when I read about Zim from that angle. But you are right, the current state of affairs is a mess. But you know what, no matter how hard things have been in my 29 years (yeah am almost as old as the country), I have never cursed the day I was born and I look at the House of Stone like that. May be its the umbilical cord you mentioned.
Fadzie, Canada

Zimbabwe has a better future than any other country in Africa, SA included. They are smart to reorganise their economic organs now, in the early phases of their nation. Their own indigenous people will control Zimbabwe's untold wealth entirely while we in South Africa will remain servants to white masters from Europe and elsewhere. In SA we even have white supremacists and neo-Nazis still marching as they please. Would they dare to march in Zim? Those Shonas and their old leader are smart people, and time will confirm it.
Sidney Mhlanga, Cape Town, South Africa

Thirty years as student in college we were excited that Zimbabwe was free at last, then came Bob Marley record on Zimbabwe. It made everyone proud. I am a Nigeria but we as college students were supportive of freedom fighters across the continent. It is an irony that Gen Obasanjo who played a key role in the freedom of Zimbabwe was called upon to offer olive branch to displayed farmers in 2003
Tayo Olayiwola, Tallahassee, FL, US

A new Zimbabwe embryo is alive and well. There are many of us waiting to bring back our training, education... we were driven to become global nomads. The tacit knowledge we all collectively possess as a result of this experience will make Zimbabwe one of the fastest growing economies on earth. Think about it. We know how to make anything the Far East can make and at lower prices because we have the raw materials on our doorstep. Things may have been tough in the past, but in the next four or five years, Southern Africa is a lot closer to becoming a stable democracy then some other large Asian nations are.
JM, Cambridge, Ma, US

Well, things in the House of Stone have been moved rapidly to their natural end: a vast chasm between rich and poor. Why lament the predestined outcome which will be foisted on all the ruled by the rulers: 'Them that has gets more'?
Robert, Palm Springs, CA, US

Well written and so sad that i have shed a few tears thinking of all that has gone on before and since the birth of that gorgeous country.
Jonathan Fairlie, United Kingdom

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