What was Rhodesia

The broken dreams of Zimbabwe

Many Zimbabweans no longer know exactly what their independence is actually worth. On April 18, it will be 40 years since Great Britain released its former colony of Rhodesia into self-government. Today, not a few think that the promises of independence have not been fulfilled: the liberators of that time have increasingly turned themselves into oppressors.

This year, for the first time, the independence celebrations should not have taken place in the capital Harare, but in the second largest city, Bulawayo. They were ultimately canceled because of the corona pandemic.

Started well

Not far from Bulawayo, in a national park, is the grave of Cecil Rhodes, a British colonial entrepreneur who agreed on a dubious deal with a local chief. In doing so, he heralded the period of white foreign rule that lasted from 1888 to 1980 and even gave the British crown colony its name: Rhodesia. When many colonies became independent in the mid-20th century, the repression of the white government of Ian Smith increased in Rhodesia. A tough civil war ensued, in which black militias finally gained the upper hand and sealed the end of the last British colony in Africa.

The "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" stands for all those who died during the struggle for independence

Zimbabwe's independence raised high hopes among the black majority. In the first few years after that, the economy picked up and it seemed as if Zimbabwe was developing towards political tolerance, towards a liberal democracy with values ​​such as peace, justice and reconciliation. Zimbabwe's first prime minister and later president Robert Mugabe enjoyed a good reputation abroad, and was seen by some as an alternative to the apartheid regime in neighboring South Africa. Mugabe has been praised for economic growth and a good education and health system, but the picture has changed over the years.

A regime perpetuates itself

As early as the mid-1980s, Mugabe's troops massacred the civilian population around the home of his political rival Joshua Nkomo. In a hectic and violent land reform around the turn of the millennium, he drove thousands of white farmers out and destroyed the productivity of an industry that had been flourishing up until then. The older Mugabe got, the more openly he acted as a nefarious dictator. Many say the worst of the violence was in 2008, when Mugabe's Zanu-PF party apparently lost the election in the midst of an economic crisis: After weeks of violence across the country, the actual election winner Morgan Tsvangirai embarked on a unity government led by Mugabe.

Mugabe held on to power as long as possible - it was only in 2017, when he was 93, that he had to watch the military overthrow him. For a short time, the population hoped that his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, would stop the country's downward trend, but economic problems and repression against critics escalated. This is one of the reasons why the western sanctions imposed on individual Zimbabwean politicians and companies after the land reform remain in place.

Economy in need, citizens without hope - government satisfied

Today Zimbabwe is suffering from the worst economic crisis in recent history. In addition to years of mismanagement, there is a drought, for many citizens it is difficult to find food, water and energy. "The government did not feel it was responsible for correcting certain mistakes," said political analyst Alexander Rusero of DW. "You cannot speak of independence if it does not go beyond a national anthem and a flag. There are no equivalent approaches to national resources."

Long queues for fresh drinking water: Even the basic supply is a daily struggle

For the government party Zanu-PF, which has been in power for 40 years, the freedom from the colonial rulers is sufficient reason to celebrate the anniversary. In an interview with DW, Zanu-PF spokesman Tafadzwa Mugwadi said: "The country has endured many external threats over the past 40 years. There have been many international problems, but it is a victory that we are against all external and internal ones Threats alleged - that makes the 40th anniversary memorable. "

Zimbabwe's generation conflict

The former heroes of liberation still maintain a claim to rule in the country - critics say that it was precisely this claim they fought against when the colonial rulers were still in power. Many young people who grew up in an independent Zimbabwe say the old are preventing progress in the country.

On one side of the generational conflict is the old guard, which, as analyst Rusero puts it, "feels a kind of superiority and heroism in the face of their actions in the liberation struggle". On the other hand are the younger ones: "Someone who was born in 1980 has waited in vain for the comforts of modern life until his 40th birthday," says Rusero.

From the opposition's point of view, the old generation's aspirations are contributing to election disputes, where Zanu-PF is notoriously accused of manipulating the results. The chairman of the main opposition party, the MDC, Nelson Chamisa, wrote on the occasion of the anniversary that it was a "dream shattered by the pain of tyranny, violence, corruption and stolen elections".

Look forward

Many of Zimbabwe's citizens believe the country's problems lie less with those in power than with the system. Instead of perfecting the oppressive regime of their predecessors, they would have to change something about it. "The country must be healed and united," says 30-year-old digital developer Alexander Gusha. "There is a lot of division that is undermining the unity of the nation. We need to think about future generations and overcome selfishness."

ZANU PF held on to power for decades - the opposition complained about electoral fraud

Perhaps the deep crisis in which the country finds itself 40 years after its independence also offers an opportunity for a fresh start: "The liberation struggle was aimed at free, fair and credible elections," says Ostallos Siziba, who is in the opposition MDC the party youth cares. "A generation of young, technology-savvy people can advance the development of the country. We honor the achievements of the liberators, but you cannot be a hero in two epochs," said Siziba in an interview with DW.

Reconciliation and debating past injustices could bring Zimbabwe forward and bring the dreams of the younger generations within reach. The country has great potential if its resources are used for the benefit of all Zimbabweans.