National unity: is there really anything to celebrate?

December 22 will be a national holiday. Only three days before the big day, Christmas, to some people it will be more of a nuisance because they will break, go back to work for two days and then break again.

Some have even been asking why the government could not have switched the date to December 24 or 27 to extend the Christmas period.

But December 22, is very significant, particularly this year. It is the day, President Robert Mugabe, then Prime Minister, as leader of ZANU-PF and president Joshua Nkomo as leader of PF-ZAPU decided to amalgamate under the umbrella of ZANU-PF ending a six-year civil war that saw thousands of people in Matebeleland and Midlands killed in the government's quest to eliminate "dissidents". This year is special as the country will be marking the 10th anniversary of that unity.

But while it is indeed a significant day for ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU under the united ZANU- PF, some observers are querying why it was declared a national holiday because this implies the nation is united when, they argue, it is not.

"As far as I am concerned, it should be a national day of mourning for those who were killed or maimed during the bitter civil war not a day to celebrate because there is nothing to celebrate about," one observer said. "The fact that two parties came together to form one party in their quest to establish a one-party state in this country should not be celebrated. It should be abhorred. It is in fact the height of the arrogance of the ruling ZANU-PF to declare the day a national holiday.

“There is no national unity in this country. This is a political game between Mugabe and Nkomo. They were together in ZAPU in the 1960s. They split up to form ZANU and ZAPU, then united to form the Patriotic Front in the 1970s. They split again before the elections to form ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU and now they are united under ZANU-PF.”

Words of a bitter and disgruntled observer! Perhaps! But they have a ring of truth in them. At the same time, it would be totally misleading to completely deny that the country gained from the unity.

“It is true that the unity resulted in peace, but it is a fragile peace, a peace that may not be sustained. Otherwise there have been no tangible gains, except that a few individuals from the former ZAPU have gained something but they have gained as individuals in that they can now drive Mercs and Cherokees. It is an empty gain," the observer said.

Apart from peace, which on its own was a major gain, unity brought about perestroika both in Parliament and the public. Members of Parliament began to question some of the things that they were being asked to approve by the government.

Although they ended up backing down, at least, issues were being debated. People, particularly those who supported ZANU-PF began to ask questions and query things, even the party leadership, something that had been taboo until then. Some even began to question President Mugabe himself, a thing people had not dared to do even among themselves as everything including walls seemed to have ears.

The unity also brought about transparency. Some people even argue that had it not been for the unity, the now famous Willowgate Car Scandal which saw five cabinet ministers resign following a scandal in which senior government officials and ministers procured cars from the government-owned Willowvale Motor Industries and resold them at exorbitant prices, three to four times the government-regulated price, would not have been exposed, and from Bulawayo for that matter.

While the unity effectively killed the opposition since ZAPU had been the main opposition, controlling at most 20 seats not enough to stop a two-thirds majority but enough if they ganged up with the Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe (formerly the Rhodesian Front) which also had 20 seats but were being scrapped, it also saw the springing up of a new generation of opposition political parties like Edgar Tekere's Zimba bwe Unity Movement which gave President Mugabe a scare in the 1990 general and presidential elections.

Although the parties have fizzled out, human rights groups including the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association which together with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions organised the highly successful nationwide demonstrations on December 9, were born.

Leaders of ZAPU themselves gained because they were elevated to senior positions in the government. They were also given key ministerial posts like Home Affairs and Local Government which would generally not have been given to an opposition party. But the biggest winner was President Mugabe himself. With a new group of people who were beholden to him he now had something to fall back on especially in view of dissensions from trouble prone- Masvingo and Manicaland where Tekere was ruling supreme in the initial days.

With the support from Matebeleland, he had the leverage he required to cut down his lieutenants in the old ZANU-PF to size or knock each other's heads. He was able to neutralise people like Eddison Zvobgo, leader of Masvingo who could have formed a formidable (south-south) alliance with ZAPU as Zvobgo has close ties with Joshua Nkomo.

He was also able to neutralise other ambitious people from his own Zezurus who had began, through the highly secretive and feared Committee of 21, to threaten unity within the old ZANU-PF by trying to weed out people they regarded as not being pure Zezurus-  a thing that still seems to exist as President Mugabe pointed out at the ZANU-PF conference in Mutare this month.

The biggest losers were the people of Matebeleland, particularly Bulawayo, the country's biggest city. Development in most parts of Matebeleland has been stunted for the past 10 years. The only growth point one can talk about is Maphisa in Kezi, which even then is nothing compared to Mpandawana in Gutu or Gokwe Centre in Gokwe to name just a few.

But the lack of development is more obvious in Bulawayo, still largely considered the capital of both Matebeleland North and South, although Gwanda is technically the capital of Matebeleland South and Lupane has been declared the capital of Matebeleland North. Once the best town in the country, the cleanest, the most progressive, the industrial hub of the country, it has been reduced to an empty shell, facing perennial water problems, with factories closing, streets littered with vendors trying to eke a living and old historic buildings to remind the people of its glorious past.

“Bulawayo has been slowly dying while Harare is bursting to the seams,” one observer noted. “It is a pity that people, including the leaders who come from Bulawayo do not seem to realise this. Or perhaps they had stopped caring. The only major thing that has happened in Bulawayo since the unity accord, is the establishment of the National University of Science and Technology. But even then, the university, until this year, has been allocated so little funds that it is still scattered all over the city. Only one major building, the Fidelity life building, apart from the recently completed Bulawayo Centre, have been put up over the past ten years.”

But some observers claim that it is the local political leadership that is to blame for the city's lack of development. “There is too much politics in this town”, one Bulawayo resident said. “People look too much at who is doing what, so even if one has a good idea but does not belong to the right clique, the idea might be turned down.”

Others blame it on the national leadership from that area. “They are now too comfortable and are only trying to consolidate their positions. That is why they have never said a word about the report on the massacres of people in Matebeleland released by the Legal Resources Foundation. It's as if this did not happen to their people.”

Even President Mugabe seemed to be conceding that the present unity in ZANU-PF was very fragile at the party conference in Mutare. He asked the delegates to start looking at the quality of people they elected into office and not where they came from. The question is: will he be listened to?

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