Last week we had the pleasure of having a distant aunt (currently resident in Zambia) visit us in Zimbabwe. It was during my conversations with her about the situation in her country that I could not help but remark at the stark similarities between Zimbabwe and Zambia between the years 1964 to 1991 when Kaunda finally lost the presidential election to Chiluba.
Before I plunge into a few similarities, there are a few words this aunt of ours shared that I found not only scary but very touching. If we think Mugabe is a dictator, Kaunda was black Hitler. If we think basic commodities are expensive, we ought to know that during Kaunda’s reign – there were no commodities at all on the shelves, moreover the currency itself was scarce. But above and beyond all, Zambia survived it all, albeit after 27 years of iron fisted rule. When God decides it’s enough, it’s enough.
President Kaunda ruled for 27 years and did not allow any opposition, banning all ‘unlawful’ demonstrations. Sound familiar? Mugabe has similarly ruled for 27 straight years, and has made it difficult for opposition parties to form and operate.
In 1972 Kaunda officially outlawed all opposition parties. For a while, political rallies were banned in Zimbabwe which in essence was a clear signal that the so-called opposition was not allowed any freedom to communicate with their supporters.
In 1975 the world copper market collapsed, plunging Zambia’s economy into devastation. Chaos reigned supreme with the cost of living sky-rocketing. Violent protests resulted in a number of deaths, unprecedented price hikes that led to more rioting and finally a coup attempt against Kaunda. Kaunda was forced to move Zambia towards multi party democracy. Almost similarly, in Zimbabwe the ‘fast- track’ land reform programme put into place in the year 2000, is said to have fueled or hugely contributed to the beginning of the collapse of one of Africa’s most stable economies of all time. Currently, the parallel market is running riot, so are inflation, prices of commodities and practically everything including people. The once docile and peace-loving Zimbos have suddenly put on an unfamiliar coat of violence. Petrol bombings, outward dissent and the assault of once feared and well respected uniformed forces are occurring. We are yet to see the effects of this new behaviour.
Now it is often said that those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it. Post colonial Africa has indeed followed a carefully crafted script. I came across a paragraph that highlighted this:
African nationalists, such as Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Hastings Banda and Robert Mugabe – who won independence for their countries from white colonial rule, were all applauded. They were hailed as heroes, swept into power with huge parliamentary majorities, and deified. Statues were built for them, monuments, stadia and streets named after them. Currencies bore their portraits. They heaped vainglorious epithets upon themselves, Osagyefo, the Guide, the Messiah, the Redeemer and the teacher. They brooked no criticism. Criticizing them was sacrilegious. Newspapers that did so were banned and their editors jailed. Next, they used their parliamentary majorities to subvert their constitutions, outlaw opposition parties and declare their countries “one party state” and themselves, presidents-for-life. Some even vowed to transform their countries into Marxist-Leninist states. Even a moron could see clearly that Marx and Lenin were not black Africans or bore no affinity with black African culture.
When I consider the president’s current “go- hang” policy, coupled with the frantic efforts our uniformed forces are making to thwart voices of dissent, it all smacks of panic. If Zambia could survive the worst, we can too. As a people, we are probably heading in the right direction if we continue to confront the issues affecting us head on.