Artwork by Katie Cottle
Virginia Dewa is a young Zimbabwean journalist passionate about development issues. She draws her inspiration from history and loves reading books.
I have spent the last 25 years of my life listening to fairy tales of how my beloved country, Zimbabwe, was once the envy of many nations and the food basket of the region. Somehow, such stories make me wonder how we got ourselves into such a mess. How the country I currently live in, so terribly associated with underdevelopment, is the same one from the fairy tales.
The stories are also ridiculous to a youth like me who has had one president from birth until barely three months ago. Over the past 37 years, Zimbabweans have been on a journey to an imaginary Canaan. This has led to painful moments, many of which I have witnessed. Unemployment levels have continued to rise with each year and the government has failed to provide the majority with a decent livelihood. Poverty, poor health care services, poor road networks, to name just a few, continue to haunt many of us.
At one time I failed to write an exam in college because my uncle who took over my welfare when my parents died had gone for six months with no salary. The only explanation we got from his employer and the government at the time was that times were hard and we just had to accept that our economy was deteriorating. I am not sure if I could blame those experiences on the economy, but I am confident that our economic meltdown was a result of misplaced priorities by certain politicians.
What forces me to loathe the good stories I once believed were true, is that someone or something has been blamed for the misfortune that has befallen millions of Zimbabweans ever since they attained their Independence in 1980. I recall learning about colonisation and its effects on our current livelihood as early as six years old. Such sentiments were used to create an attitude of resentment towards the White community and it worked in getting many of them to leave Zimbabwe. It would be a lie to say the colonial era did not contribute to some of our problems, but for the Government to shift blame wholly to our past experiences does not make sense to me.
A few months ago I came across what I would term a classic example of how blame can be misused by wrong doers to justify abuse of power and national resources as is our story in Zimbabwe. Our basic commodities shot up within 24 hours on September 23rd 2017, due to high levels of uncertainty and all our government could do was blame social media. Given the loss of confidence in our leadership coupled with cash shortages and high levels of unemployment, it was evident the situation would worsen.
Within a week, rumours of uncertainty had forced retailers to sky rocket the prices of their products. Eventually our then-president Robert Mugabe came up with the first ever Minister of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation. He moved Finance and Economic Development into this new ministry as means to curb, trace and prosecute ‘those’ whose social media activities had allegedly led to the increase of basic commodity prices. Somehow, the whole presidium bought into the idea that a Cyber Crime Bill, which has yet to be passed, should be debated in Parliament. The idea behind such a development was an urgency to bring to book individuals who had spread messages on WhatsApp.
Within days, basic commodities were scarce in most supermarkets and retailers maximised on the situation and hiked their prices. Not only did WhatsApp messages lead people into hoarding basic commodities but it also left many grocery shops empty as suppliers failed to keep up with the demand. This ended in disaster and by the time the Government reacted, it was impossible to convince retailers and business people to revert to the initial prices. Things changed for the worst and before we knew it, we had started to experience shortages of commodities from South Africa, since our own industry has been down for years. The only explanation we could get was that social media has been abused and we were told that the only solution was to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Since most Zimbabweans live off buying and selling in street corners and markets, vendors were among the hardest hit. Cash shortages meant business would be low as they are incapacitated to use plastic money for wares that costs as less as $0.10. “The leaders have failed us and it makes no sense that after 37 years of mismanaging resources, someone in their rightful thinking mind blames social media for the price hikes. If proper policies were in place in a healthy economy, no amount of falsehoods in social media was going to force retailers to hike prices,” explains Ms Sukoluhle Thebe, a vendor from Bulawayo.
According to Ms Thebe who is part of the 85 percent of unemployed Zimbabweans in need of decent jobs, the current situation is an indicator of fake and botched independence. “When President Mugabe stepped down, we were so fired up we predicted that prices would immediately go down. Sadly things have worsened since the change in Government and now we are not sure who or what will be blamed for our suffering,” she says.
Like many of us, Ms Thebe dreams of a country where leaders are not afraid to look back, reflect, and correct their mistakes for the betterment of the population. “The social media story is an example of how deep in denial we are, first as Zimbabweans and then as leaders. We have for a long time blamed the Whites, US sanctions, globalisation, the opposition parties and anything that sounds reasonable instead of facing our challenges head on. Nothing and no one should be blamed for our misfortune but us and until we rise and own up, we will never address our challenges,” adds Ms Thebe.
Schools opened a few weeks ago and only a handful of parents could afford school fees, stationery and uniforms because the situation seems to be getting worse with each passing day. Threats have been hurled at retailers who have gone against government policies on price hikes, but with the prevalent wait and see attitude, no one is willing to take the risk.
I long for the day when my government will (for the first time) admit that our past and present struggles are not a result of social media abuse, but that they emanate from a prolonged failure by Government officials and politicians. As a developing country, the majority of Zimbabweans got their full access to most social media platforms only a few years ago, years into their daily sufferings. Unemployment levels rose from early 2000 when the Land Reform Programme was imposed and implemented.
We cannot run away from the fact that someone, somewhere had messed us up, hence the need to own up and work towards building a better Zimbabwe. I yearn for a better Zimbabwe, a place where leaders take full responsibility for what has been done and do everything in their power to ensure we live our lives to the fullest. Despite this, I cannot fold my hands and blame the government for my misfortunes. Instead, I am working hard to secure my future as it purely depends on me and what I chose to do today.